Published: 06:00, 11 December 2020
| Updated: 16:41, 11 December 2020
Ambitious plans for 1,000 student flats, a sports pavilion and squash centre in Canterbury have been unveiled.
The University of Kent and St Edmund’s School have put together the proposals for Giles Lane, on the UKC campus in the north of the city.
Reaching heights of six storeys, the central bulk of the student accommodation will be converted into a hotel offering 240 beds and conference facilities in holiday time.
With about 2,200 new student beds already in the pipeline for elsewhere in Canterbury, there will be questions over the need for such a huge scheme.
But developers have dismissed fears the new project will become a white elephant and stress the demand for purpose-built flats is “severe”.
They say the “much-needed” expansion will encourage more students to live on campus - freeing up more than 250 student houses in the city for other families.
The developers estimate the project will provide a £101 million boost to the local economy during the construction stage, creating more than 800 building jobs.
In total, there will be 935 beds across five different student blocks, generating a “continuous income stream” for the cash-strapped university of about £6.5m per year.
The development also includes a new “state-of-the-art” home for the outdated Canterbury Squash Club and a new sports pavilion for St Edmund’s on Jackman’s Field.
The applicants say: “Recent studies demonstrate that there is insufficient purpose-built student accommodation within the city. As a result, several housing estates contain a large proportion of student houses.
“This adversely affects the local housing market.
“The scheme will deliver vital capital receipts and an income stream for both educational institutions, and provide much-needed, high-quality, additional, purpose-built student accommodation at the university campus, new sports facilities for the squash club and a sports pavilion for the school.
“There will be highway benefits flowing from the widening of the congested Giles Lane and Whitstable Road junction, and with a scheme which will be car-free, incorporating sustainable transportation initiatives.”
The applicants also say turning the flats into a hotel and conference suite during holiday time will “make a significant contribution to the local economy by attracting additional tourists and conference goers”.
If given the green light, the first phase of the development is hoped to be complete next year - allowing students to move in at the start of the academic year in 2022.
UKC says extra beds for students are much-needed in the city, and predicts an increase in the number of potential university applicants in the next few years despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
A spokesman said: “There is a requirement for these extra student beds in Canterbury.
“Only 36% of students in Canterbury have access to purpose-built student accommodation.
“The numbers of young people of university age will increase in two to three years’ time when this scheme is likely to be available. In addition, Local Plan policies support development like this on the university campus.
“The scheme will also enhance the city’s offer to the business and tourism economies as it not only incorporates much-needed conference facilities, but it will also provide additional tourist accommodation during the vacation period.”
UKC says no decision on how the £51m will be financed has yet been made but it states “the project has already attracted numerous offers of funding from high-quality commercial partners”.
While focus will first be devoted to the accommodation, the remaining sport projects are planned to be delivered by July 2023.
The creation of a sports pavilion will allow cricket to return to Jackman’s Field, while the new squash club will boast five courts and a large warm-up area.
Planners state: “With the technological advancement of cricket equipment over recent years, it is no longer safe for senior cricket to be played on the existing cricket pitch.
“The school has been unable to play home fixtures on site and has needed to drive the pupils across Canterbury to Polo Farm Sports Club to use their pitches.
“A pitch has already been created on the Jackman’s Field but there are no facilities to host opposing teams, including changing and toilets.”
The larger squash club and new pavilion are also expected to create a handful of extra jobs.
Father and son developers Ralph and Alastair Noel had previously eyed up the site for a striking hotel and new squash centre but the plans were thrown out by the city council.
UKC’s original pre-application plans were made up of about 850 student beds but when the nearby Langdon House went up for sale, opposite the main part of the site, it decided to expand the project and add an extra 92 beds.
The car-free development is hoped to “provide an attractive western entrance to the campus and an overall enhancement of its image”.
The poor water quality at Stodmarsh nature reserve on the other side of the city has momentarily put a huge spanner in the works for major developments across east Kent. But waste water from the Giles Lane scheme will be treated on site, so the current water quality hurdles seen elsewhere will not have an impact.