At the beginning of 2017 this blog was the first to reveal that the Old College Bar, which makes a credible claim to be Glasgow’s oldest pub, is set to be levelled to make way for a towerblock of student flats on High Street. While that development is still trundling through the planning system, under a revised (and even taller) design, there has been a near constant stream of other proposals for student flat newbuilds and conversions in the city since.
Later this week we will disclose the offshore, tax haven ownership of two separate proposed developments in prime locations in the city, both of which include student flats alongside other uses. Today we can reveal that the Woodlands Road building which is currently the headquarters of the Scottish Trades Union Congress is set to be sold to developers intent on converting it into student accommodation. The STUC represents around 600,000 workers across 36 affiliated trade unions, and has been based in its prominent existing premises – which it owns – for 20 years.
Earlier this month, a planning application was submitted to erect an extra floor and turn the building into a 79-room block of student halls “comprising a mixture of mezzanine studios and one-bed flats”.
It comes at a time of mounting criticism of the sheer volume of new privately built student accomodation, both in Glasgow and in university cities across the UK. The developments are attractive to investors, with much lower standards in terms of living space and light and no requirement to provide or contribute towards affordable housing, or to provide parking spaces. With the ability to cram rooms together, and a veneer of luxury justifying sky high prices, they promise huge returns to investors who have sought to capitalise on rapid growth of international students.
The west end around Woodlands currently has the most expensive student accommodation in the city. Rooms at nearby Woodside House, which is ultimately owned by the Saudi Binladin Group in the Cayman Islands, are marketed at between £173 and £280 per week. Rooms within the former Willowbank Primary School are being marketed at between £143 and £257 per week, for entry in September 2018.
A joint planning application has been submitted by the STUC and a Northern Irish registered firm going by the name of OBARCS No. 7 Limited Liability Partnership.
Although OBARCS No. 7 LLP was only registered as a company in 2017, they share a director with Urban Pulse, the company behind controversial plans to build a huge block of student flats on Sauchiehall Street, close to the A-listed Glasgow School of Art Mackintosh building. It was feared that the 181-bedroom development, which would replace the existing Jumpin’ Jacks nightclub building, would cut off light to the GSA. After initially being rejected by Glasgow City Council, the developer appealed to the Scottish Government. They too rejected the scheme just before Christmas, judging it would be “detrimental to the historic environment”. Documents submitted in the current application make reference to “Urban Pulse STUC” being the applicant behind the new 333 Woodlands Road scheme.
The proposed redevelopment of the STUC building is also likely to prove controversial. Last week, local MSP Sandra White warned that the developers behind the influx of student accomodation are pushing out social providers.
“There are absolutely swamping the area,” White told the Evening Times. “Housing associations are desperate to build but all the land has been bought up by developers. They are then priced out of the market to be able to build decent social housing for families. This is skewing the whole area.”
The STUC building takes in other offices, including Labour MSPs, as well as The Stand comedy club in its basement. However, the club is expected to remain with the Agent of Change principle, recently adopted by the Scottish Government, meaning that the obligation for soundproofing falls on the developers rather than the entertainment venue.
There is likely to be surprise that the STUC – which has a broad social and political remit and, as well as advancing workers’ rights, has campaigned on housing issues and led the Scottish campaign against the Bedroom Tax in 2013 – is pursuing a deal that will see profiteering private student housing developers swallow up more of the west end. The building remains under the ownership of the STUC and the fact that they have submitted a joint planning application indicates that they are waiting for the outcome of this process before the sale is finalised. Consent to convert the building to student accommodation will substantially increase its sale value.
The STUC told A Thousand Flowers that they are selling the building “to prevent funds which are currently dedicated towards campaigning on behalf of workers in Scotland being diverted to building upkeep costs” and that they have “undertaken due diligence with respect to OBARCS No. 7 LLP as far as is reasonably practicable.”
The sale of their building was agreed by STUC congress in 2017 and confirmed by its general council this year. They intend to relocate and are considering options.
We asked the STUC if they will be taking social concerns about the influx of private student housing in Glasgow into consideration in any deal to sell the building. Their spokesperson said: “The STUC is aware of and campaigns on a range of housing issues across Scotland, but does not consider itself to be in a position to sell the property at under market value to the detriment of workers who pay a proportion of the their union dues to the STUC. The STUC did however engage with the developers to ensure a commitment that the housing by provided would be of good standard and affordable.”
Recent analysis of student rental costs in Edinburgh revealed a huge price disparity between providers, with the student-run Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative charging tenants an average of £320 per month. University and college owned halls were priced between £494 and £620 per month. Private providers were uniformly more expensive, averaging between £679 and £1,083 per month.
COMING SOON: Tomorrow we will reveal the full scale of existing and planned student housing developments in Glasgow. Later in the week, we will expose the mystery offshore tax haven ownership of two Glasgow developments currently going through the planning process.