Sep 05, 2019

How MMC can help meet demand for Purpose Build Student Accommodation

While students are starting to pack their laptops ready for a new year, there has been no let up in the demand for the construction of more purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA).

Full-time student numbers searching for accommodation outweighs available bed spaces by a ratio of 3:1, according to a recent report by Knight Frank And it’s not just in the UK. Any country which is attracting international students faces the same problem, with global education hubs such as London, Boston and Sydney struggling to keep up with demand.

The current landscape is providing investors with the perfect environment, and the figures already speak for themselves, with global cross-border investment into student housing sitting at 37 per cent, higher than offices and retail, according to a recent Savills World Student Housing report.

But with investment on the rise firms are looking to capitalise on the demand, turning to MMC to deliver the much-needed accommodation quickly, affordably, but importantly, ensuring they remain high quality and sustainable.  

It’s where the adoption of modern methods of construction with the use of offsite timber frame becomes absolutely key. The window to deliver bed space is very limited as the bed space needs to be available for the new input of students at the start of each academic year in September.  This is where the offsite solution can deliver speed of build and meet the demands of technical specifications, sustainability, health & safety and performance on site.

As more and more purpose-built student accommodation schemes pop up around the UK, they are also becoming increasingly competitive, with Universities using their design and amenities in a quest to stand out and attract students amongst a crowded and competitive higher education sector. We’ve seen PBSA in the form of town houses, cluster flats and private studios, all specifically-designed with a range of facilities, such as shared leisure, games rooms and cinemas.

The value of offsite construction offers architects and developers much more scope for creativity and flexibility to create these types of spaces desired by Universities, and working together with the timber frame provider from the initial design and concept stages right through to the construction phase enables a seamless, collaborative approach in delivering what’s required.  Ideally timber frame suppliers need to collaborate with other offsite providers and integrate them with their designs, for example a bathroom pod provider.

Recently, Stewart Milne Timber Systems worked with construction company Vinci to deliver a 215-bed purpose-built student accommodation development for the University of Gloucestershire. Vinci have to date been more traditional in their approach to building in the UK, but due to various issues with the site itself – being in the city centre, and on the site of a former Roman settlement which could not be disturbed – they turned to offsite timber frame as a solution to the build, due to its lightweight structure.  

The four, five-storey blocks were constructed in just 24 weeks, delivered as and when needed with minimal disruption.

Other issues surround this build include gaining planning permission and the fact that there was an archaeological dig taking place for 2 months whilst building work began.  Additionally the buildings themselves needed to complement the many historical buildings in the area – all challenges met by the design and use of timber frame in this instance.  In fact Vinci were so pleased with the positive outcome they are looking forward to building the next phase in timber frame also.

Across the country, some 11,000 student beds are currently in planning to be delivered in the 2019 and 2020 academic years. To keep up with this momentum while ensuring quality and sustainability are not compromised, integrated, modern methods of construction are the solution. If used and scaled across the industry - which, at present is simply unable to keep up with the demand, it will have transformational impact on the purpose-build student accommodation sector and act as a catalyst for its widespread adoption into other sectors in UK construction industry, where the benefits will be vast.

Homes For Scotland Home Builders Federation National House-Building Council Royal Institute of British Architects Structural Timber Association Constructionline British Board of Agrement Wood Campus Build Off Site Building Research Establishment WOOD FOR GOOD

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