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Planning Permission for Student Accommodation

Planning permission is a legal requirement for various types of development, including building new structures or significantly altering existing ones. This is particularly relevant for student accommodation, which often involves converting a residential building into a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) or constructing new halls of residence.

To get the approval needed, project managers must ensure that any development is in line with local planning policies and regulations, including considerations for the environment, infrastructure, and community needs.

The requirements for planning permission vary across different parts of the UK, so it is important to understand these regional differences to ensure compliance.

Here, we explain the complexities of planning permission and the considerations you will need to make when planning for student accommodation, ensuring your projects align with UK laws and regulations, and outlining what you can do to ensure this.

The Process of Securing Planning Permission

Securing planning permission involves a series of steps that need careful attention to ensure legal compliance and project success:

  1. Initial consultation: contact the local planning authority (LPA) to discuss your project plans to understand any specific requirements or constraints
  2. Application submission: this should include all relevant plans, drawings and documents that demonstrate how the project complies with local planning policies.
  3. Public consultation and decision: once submitted, the application goes through a period of public consultation, where objections or supports can be raised by the community. The LPA will then assess the application against local planning policies, environmental factors, and any feedback received during the consultation period.

Planning permission applications typically take eight to 13 weeks to be decided upon. Undertaking development work without the necessary planning permission can result in an enforcement notice, requiring reversal of the changes. Ignoring such a notice is illegal and can lead to severe penalties.

Different regions in the UK might have unique planning requirements. It is important to familiarise yourself with these variations to ensure your application is compliant with local policies.

Specific Regulations for Student Accommodation

When it comes to student accommodation, project managers must pay close attention to specific regulations, especially if the property is classified as a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). These regulations are designed to ensure that properties are safe, well-maintained, and suitable for the number of occupants.

An HMO is a property rented out by at least three people who are not from one 'household' but share facilities like the bathroom and kitchen. Student houses typically fall into this category. In England and Wales, landlords may not need an HMO license for properties with less than five tenants. However, in Scotland and Northern Ireland, a license is required for HMOs of any size. Obtaining a license requires adherence to legal standards, a clean criminal record, and compliance with the code of practice.

Regulations dictate that the minimum room sizes should be 6.51 square meters for single-occupancy rooms and 10.22 square meters for double-occupancy. Fire safety is paramount, with requirements for smoke alarms, fire doors, emergency lighting and fire extinguishers on each floor.

Local councils may have additional regulations. For instance, changing a property’s use-class to an HMO might require planning permission. Fines for non-compliance can be substantial, emphasising the importance of thorough research and adherence to local laws.

Project Manager Responsibilities

Project management in the context of student accommodation involves various responsibilities, from ensuring compliance with planning permissions and regulations to overseeing the project's execution. Effective project management is key to the success of these developments.

Key responsibilities of project managers include:

  1. Compliance with planning permissions and regulations: including local planning laws, building regulations, and HMO licensing requirements. Project planners must stay updated on regional variations in planning and building regulations across the UK.
  2. Liaising with local authorities: establishing a clear line of communication with local planning authorities and councils. This includes managing the planning permission application process and addressing any issues that arise during public consultations.
  3. Overseeing project execution: supervising construction or renovation work to ensure it meets the approved plans and specifications so the development complies with safety standards, especially fire safety regulations in HMOs.
  4. Budget management and financial oversight: including costs associated with planning permissions, renovations, and compliance with regulations. Monitoring financial health throughout the project will ensure its economic viability.
  5. Risk management and problem solving: identifying potential risks and challenges associated with student accommodation projects, and implementing strategies to mitigate risks and resolve issues promptly and efficiently.

By meeting all of the above criteria and making a strong planning permission application, project managers can ensure their project complies with legal requirements and meets the practical needs of student tenants.

Temporary Solutions for Student Accommodation

In the stages leading up to project completion, students and institutions can face difficulties finding space for the ongoing academic year. Solutions such as hotel stays, or moving to less convenient accommodation or back home can lead to further expenses such as for commuting, and can leave students less motivated to continue their studies. Portable, temporary accommodation units are an effective solution for bridging this gap, providing comfortable space for students to reside in while construction work is underway, and cost-effective means for housing students for institutions and project managers, if they are required to present a solution.

Portable accommodation units often face fewer barriers in the planning permission process compared to permanent structures. Their temporary nature can simplify compliance with local planning laws, making them a viable option for project managers dealing with stringent zoning regulations or resistance to permanent construction.

In projects where permanent construction is planned in stages, portable units can provide immediate accommodation solutions. This helps in maintaining the project timeline while permanent structures are being developed, thereby aligning with the long-term planning permissions granted. Project managers must strategically plan the integration of portable units into the overall development, balancing the immediate needs with the long-term vision of the project.

Project managers need to be aware of the specific local regulations regarding portable accommodation. While generally more lenient, some areas may have specific requirements or restrictions on the use of temporary structures. Ensuring the site is prepared for portable units involves minimal disruption and adheres to environmental and safety standards. This includes considerations for utility connections, access routes, and impact on the existing landscape. Effective communication with local planning authorities is essential to ensure that the use of portable units is in line with the overall planning permission for the site. This may involve discussions about the duration of use, the number of units, and their placement on the site.

The advantages of portable accommodation for student housing projects include:

  • Flexibility and responsiveness: portable units can be quickly deployed in response to fluctuating student housing demands, providing a flexible solution during construction phases or unexpected surges in accommodation needs.
  • Cost-effectiveness: they offer a cost-efficient alternative to traditional construction, allowing project managers to allocate resources more effectively.
  • Minimal disruption: their installation causes minimal disruption to campus life, an important consideration during academic sessions.

With a range of suitable units for student living, from Site Sleepers to amenities such as toilet and shower blocks, Bunkabin provides temporary accommodation solutions that align with the specific needs and constraints of student housing projects. Our experience ensures that portable units not only meet planning permission requirements but also provide comfortable and functional living spaces for students. Learn more about how we can help house students here.

If you find yourself planning a purpose-built student accommodation construction project, such as for HMOs where you are required to house more than six residents, call us today to learn more about how temporary accommodation can assist with student housing needs and planning applications. Contact us on 0345 456 7899, or fill out an online form and we will return your call at a time suitable for you.


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