Creating community value through student accommodation-led development

The Chairman and Founder of Sama Investments explores how student accommodation providers can better connect with local communities.

Bilal Ahmed, Chairman and Founder, Sama Investments | PBSA News
Bilal Ahmed, Chairman and Founder, Sama Investments.

For decades, demand for higher education has been on the rise, with the number of UK 18- year-olds and international students applying for a place at university or college rising to 316,850 in 2024. This figure represents just a fraction of the millions of students currently in the UK higher educational system. However, combined with this rise of people attending educational institutions has been an inevitable growth in demand for student accommodation.  

By Bilal Ahmed, Chairman and Founder of Sama Investments 

Students require places to live when undertaking their studies, but with a reported 35% relying on HMOs in cities, this is placing a strain on local housing for families. 

To help alleviate this problem has been the emergence of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA), which not only provides quality living space for students, but releases  homes for those in the community. 

While this is of benefit to communities across the UK, PBSA providers understandably still face concern from residents who feel that long-lasting value may not be created through these student-led schemes.  

With the relationship between community and developer more important than ever, it is imperative that PBSA providers actively seek to identify, create, and manage places where both students and residents can thrive.  

Nurturing social cohesion 

Social cohesion is vital for building sustainable and prosperous communities. Simply, PBSA providers must show how much they want to help the local ecosystems to thrive. The more they show a genuine care for the local community and demonstrate the value to them through quality development, the stronger the bond between both will become. 

One example of this is through the delivery of retail and commercial spaces within PBSA developments. These spaces provide an avenue to invite the wider community in and help create strong ties to those locally and value for all.  

The results are beneficial both socially and economically. For example, at our recently approved Garrison Circus scheme in Digbeth, Birmingham, we are bringing forward plans which incorporate independent shops, cafes, and a dedicated space to support the local arts industry as part of a large student-led regeneration scheme.  

Through the delivery of spaces such as this, we will help create a link to Digbeth’s strengths as a centre for culture and creativity. Active frontages can also significantly improve people’s perceptions of public spaces and their safety, comfort, sociability, and liveliness. Meanwhile, it provides an excellent way to generate or support local jobs and businesses in the community.  

Enhancing urban green spaces  

The need for green spaces across our urban cores is well-recognised among local authorities, landowners, developers, and communities. 

Amidst the rising challenges of the climate crisis, these green havens help store carbon and offset greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality, and limit the impact of heatwaves by reducing urban temperatures. 

They also indirectly impact our own health. People who live in neighbourhoods with greater amounts of green space tend to be happier, healthier, and live longer lives than those who live in less green places.  

When it comes to delivering PBSA to our cities and towns, green spaces and enhanced biodiversity is a worthy way of creating value for the whole community. It is why our planning team will always strive to incorporate sustainable features such as bio-diversity walls, green pocket parks, and tree planting, fauna, and foliage beyond biodiversity net gain requirements. 

Local communities can use these green spaces for physical exercise and social interactions, for relaxation and mental restoration, or simply to move through to their destination. 

In addition to this, while it is likely that everybody benefits from green infrastructure, it is suggested that more disadvantaged communities may benefit the most. PBSA developers can help contribute to this push for social equality and a greener, brighter future for all.  

Brownfield-first 

The need to prioritise brownfield regeneration in the development sector has been on the rise. Indeed, at the start of February 2024 the UK government announced that every council across England must prioritise brownfield development with an instruction to be less bureaucratic and more flexible in applying policies that halt building on brownfield land.  

There are few others that this focus applies more readily to than PBSA providers, with much of the sector’s activity centred around towns and cities.  

At Sama Investments, we are proud to be specialists in finding brownfield sites across Britain’s regions and regenerating them through responsible, sustainable developments. However, progress still needs to be made within the sector to take full advantage of the opportunities brownfield sites present to deliver widespread community benefit.  

In many instances, a brownfield-first approach can help promote conservation efforts. Often these places house derelict buildings which while unappealing are an important part to the fabric of communities. Through regenerating these sites, we can help reignite a sense of place and pride amongst those in the community.

For example, our plans at Garrison Circus in Birmingham will see the retention and restoration of the former Myona Building, historically home to Jacobs Biscuits, to provide a new lease of life through flexible amenity space. This was warmly received by the community and local authority.  

Investing in the clean-up and reuse of brownfields can also attract new private investment in an area that would not have otherwise existed. Redevelopment of brownfield sites can motivate community regeneration, particularly when communities are bought into the early stages of planning and development. 

While building on greenfield can seem like the more cost-effective option at face value, brownfield regeneration produces the greater, and more wide-reaching, long-term results.