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PBSA roundup – new Leeds scheme, £133m tie-up and hottest towns revealed

Real Estate Capital Holdings has agreed to sell a prime PBSA development opportunity in Leeds for £18.5 million to global living specialist Scape in its joint venture with Dutch pension fund APG.

44 Merrion Street, which has an approximate gross development value (GDV) of over £100 million, has planning permission for 660 student bedrooms split across two towers – standing at seven and 32 storeys – cutting an ‘impressive’ figure on the Leeds skyline.  

Scape aims to transform the way in which people live through its design and service. Carefully planned and ‘designed from the inside out’, Scape properties are shaped around the person who calls it home.


It says everything from the layout to the materials and finish is designed to give residents ‘everything they need in the smartest way possible'.

The new 44 Merrion Street property will feature a mixture of studios and en-suite cluster apartments, alongside extensive communal and amenity spaces such as a fitness studio, cinema and shared kitchens. The development will also restore public realm space at the ground floor level, benefitting both student residents and the general public.

Merrion Street is recognised as a prime student accommodation cluster in Leeds, with other PBSA developments Symons House and Vita St Albans located nearby. The area is popular with students, benefitting from its proximity to the University of Leeds and Leeds Beckett University, which can both be reached on foot in under 10 minutes.

Paddy Shovlin, founder, director and shareholder of Real Estate Capital Holdings, comments: “We are delighted that Scape will be delivering this world-class tall building – designed by SimpsonHaugh – which will significantly raise the bar for architecture in Leeds’ Cultural District.”

“The scheme will provide new street-level retail, arts and cultural space, as well as delivering public realm enhancements and new trees within the vicinity of important historic assets such as the Grade I Listed St John’s Church.”

Adam Brockley, co-founder and chief development officer of Scape, added: “This an important and exciting first step in Scape and APG’s expansion strategy. We are really looking forward to completing this landmark site with SimpsonHaugh and contributing to the local community. This is going to be a truly iconic building on the Leeds skyline and the beginning of further developments for Scape in leading academic cities both in the UK and globally.”

The site identification to completion happened within a one-month period, with exchange happening after 10 days.

Student property developer sells 8 buildings for £133m

Student accommodation developer Unite Group has sold eight buildings to Aventicum Real Estate for £133 million.

It has sold the blocks with 2,284 student beds in Coventry (two), Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Exeter (three) and Manchester to Aventicum Real Estate and Host. 

Host, the student housing specialist, has been appointed by Aventicum Real Estate as property and development manager for its newly acquired portfolio, providing value accommodation to a broad cross-section of students. 

The residences vary in terms of age and provision of facilities. The amenity space, rooms and facilities will be improved to broaden their appeal to students and enhance the operating performance and investment value of the residences. Host will manage the refurbishment works on behalf of Aventicum Real Estate. 

The appointment has further strengthened Host’s accommodation offer for private students in the UK. It now operates around 13,500 student beds over 42 sites in UK and Europe and is one of the largest independent operators with nationwide coverage.

The transaction marks Aventicum Real Estate’s first investment in the student accommodation sector in the UK.

Christophe Tanghe, managing director of Aventicum Real Estate, comments: “While Covid-19 has disrupted campus life for many students, the proven operating resilience of student housing through economic cycles continues to attract more institutional investment capital to the sector. The properties that we have acquired provide for many asset management opportunities that we look forward to pursue with our partner Host.”

John Nesbitt, managing director of Host Student Housing, adds: “We’re looking forward to working closely with Aventicum, with this appointment strengthening our geographical reach, taking our Host brand into new cities, and providing more students the opportunity to live in, study and enjoy our hassle-free, all-inclusive offer. We will be modernising the acquired assets and their facilities, giving students the same comfortable, stylish and safe places to live as our other award-winning accommodation.”

Revealed – students are flooding the market in these university towns

There has been a sharp uplift in student rental activity since the government’s announcement on returning to higher education just a month ago, fresh analysis from UniHomes shows.

On February 22, the government announced that in-person learning can resume for students on practical or practice-based courses who require specialist equipment and facilities.

While all other students have been asked not to return to either their campus or term-time accommodation just yet, it seems the lockdown exit plan has boosted confidence amongst those searching for term-time accommodation for the following academic year.

Following the announcement, UniHomes saw a 68% increase in students searching for rental accommodation, with enquiries on student rentals also climbing 234% compared to a year ago.

A separate survey of letting agents conducted by UniHomes suggests this trend looks set to increase as we continue to creep out of lockdown.

When asked what they thought would drive demand for student rentals in the coming months, the return of domestic students (41%), the easing of travel restrictions for international students (22%) and the influx of new students for the new academic year (20%) were the most significant influences.

Phil Greaves, co-founder of UniHomes, says the recent announcement has also boosted hopes that it will be business as usual come the next academic year, with a substantial rise in interest from students who want to secure a place to live in anticipation.

He comments: “With the ability to finance their rental payments via student loans, financial concerns have been less of a deterrent for landlords within the student letting sector. So, we expect to see this segment of the rental market return to full health far quicker than other areas over the coming months.”

UniHomes also looked at the UK’s top 100 universities to highlight which are currently seeing the highest demand from student rentals.

The key findings from its Student Rental Hotspots Index are as follows…

Hottest university towns

When it comes to the university town with the highest levels of student rental demand, Chichester ranks top, with agents seeing a huge 92% of all properties listed already being snapped up by students.

Falmouth is the second most thriving market for student rental demand, with 78% of all accommodation already taken. Both are relatively small university towns which highlights why student rental stock might be in short supply.

In terms of the larger university towns to see the highest demand, York (72%), Durham (64%), Lancaster (64%), Bournemouth (63%), Bristol (59%), Exeter (58%) and Bath (49%) all appear in the top 10.

Hottest universities

The index also looks at which individual university ranks top when it comes to rental demand immediately surrounding the main campus. This is based on the percentage of lets already agreed but restricted to those within the same postcode as the university itself.

Chichester comes out on top again, with demand for student lets in the PO19 postcode coming in at 94%.

The University of York is the second most in-demand university for student lets in the immediate area, with 89% of properties already taken.

Newport’s Harper Adams University ranks third with demand at 76%, while Queen Margaret’s (67%), Durham University (64%), Lancaster University (64%), the University of Nottingham (64%), Falmouth University (60%), the University of Exeter (57%) and the University of Bristol (57%) also rank within the top 10.

Greaves explains where students traditionally may have settled for cheaper or smaller accommodation, the focus in recent months has been on finding a home which they aspire to spend a greater proportion of their time whilst studying.

This direct influence due to lockdown restrictions and the requirement of remote learning means there has also been a focus on larger homes with four to five bedrooms or more, to help maintain the social aspect of living together with friends.

He adds: “We anticipate the strong demand for high-quality HMO houses to increase, as the situation for UK students continues to improve with a return to face-to-face lectures over the coming months, taking us one step further towards normality.”

“This presents a great opportunity for landlords, who can minimise any pandemic impact caused to rental income, by taking advantage of this influx of student interest.”


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