Watkin Jones Fallowfield
Tim Groom Architects designed the project. Credit: via planning documents

Watkin Jones mulls next move following Manchester refusal 

Dan Whelan

The North Wales-based developer is “considering its options” after the city council turned down its plans for a 425-home student accommodation scheme in Fallowfield known as Oakley Gardens. 

“Naturally we are disappointed with the decision to refuse our planning application,” said Iain Smith, planning director at Watkin Jones Group.  

“The regeneration of the site for the delivery of student accommodation, including the retention and enhancement of Oakley Villa, would provide an alternative to homes of multiple occupancy within Fallowfield.” 

Last year, Manchester City Council said it wanted to entice students out of HMOs in areas like Fallowfield and into purpose-built student flats in the city centre in order to recoup £17m in council tax revenue. 

Students are exempt from paying council tax, meaning that the council is losing out on contributions as a result of students choosing to live in private rented accommodation instead of purpose-built student housing, or PBSA. 

In handing down its decision on Watkin Jones’ Oakley Villa proposal, Manchester City Council gave the following reasons for refusal:

  • The proposed development would introduce up to 425 students into an area already experiencing high levels of student accommodation and occupation. It is considered that this provision would give rise to unacceptable impacts
  • The proposal would not give rise to a positive regeneration impact or address the requirement for housing in the area 
  • The applicant has not demonstrated a formal agreement is in place with a university, or another provider of higher education.
Watkin Jones, Fallowfield, P.via Plannign Documents

The development was deemed to not address housing need in Fallowfield. Credit: via planning documents

Watkin Jones maintains that its proposals, designed by Tim Groom Architects, were supported by the University of Manchester. 

“We believe that the scheme accords with the council’s student accommodation strategy given the site’s location on a key arterial route close to the city’s universities and will now look at the committee’s reasons for refusal and consider our options for the future,” Smith added. 

Despite disappointment in Manchester, Watkin Jones’ pipeline is strong. 

A market update posted on the London Stock Exchange states that the company’s pipeline comprises 3,870 build-to-rent apartments and 6,750 student beds and is valued at £1.7bn. 

In Birmingham, Watkin Jones was recently granted planning consent for 551 apartments, while in Swansea and Bath plans for more than 700 student beds have been approved. 

The developer is also awaiting approval for almost 1,500 student beds across three developments in Nottingham and London. 

In June, Watkin Jones sold 159 affordable homes in Crewe to housing association Plus Dane in a £22.8m deal. An additional 245 homes on the site are available for open market sale. 

A further 23 units in Llay, North Wales, were sold to Adra for £3.5m. The remaining 51 homes at the site are available for open market sale. 

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Surely have PBSA in Fallowfield will entice students out of private rented accommodation in Fallowfield? The main issue in the PBSA vs private accommodation is the cost. PBSA is simply not an affordable option for a vast percentage of Manchester’s student population. At a time when we should be encouraging people from all socio-economic backgrounds into higher education, we should not be increasing the cost of student housing by limiting the options to expensive PBSA.

By Anonymous

The above comment is not without merit, however, surely an element of PBSA cost in the City are fueled by how MCC use Policy H12. It is a huge barrier to supply, faced with huge unwavering demand. Why on earth would the University – as the City’s biggest student landlord – give its support to private schemes? But how (on earth) can this be a planning test? This all stinks and is no ones interest.

By Handforth Harry

Owen’s Park is being refurbished across the road for the continued exclusive use of students for the next few decades. If MCC wants Fallowfield to be a family housing area to recoup Council Tax then they should have encouraged UoM out of Owen’s Park to allow Fallowfield to change it’s reputation as a “student area”. It doesn’t make any sense at all to encourage the refurbishment of Owen’s Park, permit a variety of student developments in Rusholme and Longsight, and then refuse this application stating they want students to go into the City Centre PBSA. As usual there is very little joined up thinking. Watkin Jones could quite easily take this to appeal and win this consent and also stick the Council for costs to boot as there doesn’t seem to be a real planning policy reason for refusal.

If Watkin Jones built a housing scheme there instead – it would attract a load of HMO landlords to buy them and rent them to students because no famillies would choose to buy a house and live opposite Owen’s Park…

By Ibby

Is the Toast Rack and Fried Egg still being renovated?

By Anonymous

RE Toast rack and fried egg, I hope not, ugliest buildings in Manchester

By Dan

The CGIs of the toast rack and fried egg renovation look good. Architecture with a bit of attitude.

By Anonymous

It’s strange that WJ couldn’t disclose which university in Manchester had given support to the proposal?

By MB

To the comment below. Owens park is no longer been redeveloped as the backers pulled pulled out. It was to costly to redevelop the site to revenue generated by students. . It’s a shame the 12 mansion houses on the site where pulled own and Owens park was built. It’s create a no win situation where student accommodation has no where to go as the area just can’t grow to the needs of students or residents.

By Anonymous