Concerns have been raised over the amount of student housing planned for Norwich.

A report from real estate company CBRE claims that the full-time student population in Norwich has exceeded 19,000 since 2021, with 33pc of those unable to access purpose-built accommodation. 

Eastern Daily Press: An artist's impression of the Debenhams siteAn artist's impression of the Debenhams site (Image: Lanpro)

An advice note from the city council also estimated more than 17,000 full-time students will require accommodation in the 10 years up to 2029.

To meet this need, plans have been lodged for more student digs across the city - including proposals for 400 flats at the former Debenhams department store.

The Debenhams proposal

Stanford Real Estate is hoping to convert the 1950s-built former Debenhams department store in Red Lion Street into 400 student flats and new shops. 

The plans, lodged this month, would see all but the basement and ground floor torn down to make way for a new building.

Multiple retail units are expected to take up the first two floors, while the rest of the new site would become student accommodation.

The various sections of the building would vary in height, but at its tallest, it would be three storeys higher than the current six-floor building.

If approved, work is expected to begin in 2025 but many readers of this newspaper responded to the plans asking if more student accommodation is needed.

However, Lanpro, the planning agent for Stanford, states: "CBRE explain that based on the 2021-22 Higher Education Statistics Agency student data and the known operational purpose-built student accommodation beds in 2023/24, there is a potential unmet demand of approximately 6,000 full-time students in Norwich who could potentially need, but would not be able to access, purpose-built student accommodation."

Recent student housing

The Debenhams project - dubbed 'Orford House' - will join a host of developments seen across the Fine City in recent years. 

The £42m St Crispin's House, off Duke Street, was opened last year while plans were confirmed in December for more student suites at the former Eastern Electricity Board site in Duke's Wharf. 

Eastern Daily Press: St Crispin's HouseSt Crispin's House (Image: Newsquest)

Other sites include Benedict's Gate in the city centre, Pablo Fanque House in All Saints Green and large buildings in St Stephens Street and Queens Road.

Both Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) and University of East Anglia (UEA) offer on-site accommodation - though the latter was recently forced to close its 750-bed Ziggurats block due to the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac).

'Residents have raised concerns'

Martin Schmierer, a Green city councillor for the Mancroft ward, has raised concerns over an increase in "inappropriate" purpose-built student accommodation blocks. 

"At the moment it is really hard for many people in Norwich, including students, to get housing that is affordable and decent," he said. 

"Yet more exclusive student flats will not help solve the housing shortage.

Eastern Daily Press: Green Party councillor Martin SchmiererGreen Party councillor Martin Schmierer (Image: Newsquest)

"Many students cannot afford to live in these kinds of what are in effect very expensive bedsit flats.

"I fear building so many student blocks in the city centre could leave Norwich with white elephants that are unused in years to come.

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"The housing crisis in Norwich is much wider than just student accommodation, and the priority should be more affordable housing and flats.

Eastern Daily Press: Some of the student housing that looms large in St Stephens StreetSome of the student housing that looms large in St Stephens Street (Image: Denise Bradley)

"Residents rightly have raised concerns about the height, scale and massing of these PBSA (purpose-built student accommodation) buildings that have started to dominate the city's skyline.

"If we are to see more PBSA then it needs to be sympathetic to the environment in which it is situated as well as the needs of residents of Norwich."

A university perspective

A spokesman for the UEA agreed there is "an increasing need" for student accommodation in Norwich - but stressed a shortage had not yet been felt by its students.

“Some university cities have experienced challenges in recent years, with students unable to find suitable, quality, safe accommodation which is within reach of their place of study," they said. 

Eastern Daily Press: The Ziggurats at UEA recently closed over the presence of RaacThe Ziggurats at UEA recently closed over the presence of Raac (Image: Newsquest)

"So far, we haven’t seen those issues in Norwich but as the student population grows, we are aware that demand could grow with this.

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"UEA works with Norwich City Council to monitor demand and plan for student accommodation needs in the city.

“The UEA campus is well located, with accommodation in the city centre just a bus or cycle ride away, so provides a great living option for our students.”

Norwich City Council declined to comment. NUA was also contacted for comment.

Eastern Daily Press: Pablo Fanque House in All Saints GreenPablo Fanque House in All Saints Green (Image: Brown and Co)