Student flat developers 'devious' over small rooms

A 2015 artist's impression of how the student accommodation might look once completed.
A 2015 artist's impression of how the student accommodation might look once completed.

Developers building student accommodation in Wakefield have been accused of being "devious" after they built more flats than they'd had permission for.

Backstage Academy, which runs degree level courses in creative arts, were given the go-ahead in 2015 to convert Waterfront House on Thornes Lane into a purpose-built teaching complex with 37 rooms for pupils.

It was hoped the move would attract more young people to the city and help secure Backstage Academy university status.

But developers Turley have now been criticised at a planning meeting after they admitted straying from the original conditions "by mistake".

A total of 50 rooms have now been created instead of the 37 agreed and housing officers have expressed concerns that some of them are too small.

Although the building owners say that students will have access to large communal areas for cooking and relaxing, a report on the issue says that some of the bedrooms have just 4.4 square metres of "usable" living space.

Turley wanted retrospective planning permission to approve what they've already built, but have instead been told to consider merging some of the smaller rooms to create more space.

Councillors made the recommendation after they visited the site before the meeting.

Speaking to Matthew Sheppard, who spoke for the developers, Coun Kathy Scott said: "If you'd come here prior to this being built as it has, I'd have said 'no'.

"You can't swing a cat in some of those bedrooms.

"(Now it's done) I can't say 'no' to it now. That's quite devious really.

"These students are human beings. They deserve a reasonable living space to be able to live in."

Mr Sheppard said he was sorry that the work had been done without a planning application.

He said: "I hear exactly where you're coming from.

"It's a very unfortunate situation. There has been a misunderstanding about how the planning system works. This was a mistake and I can only apologise.

"There is a good amount of communal space for the people living in those rooms. Students and younger people are generally more interested in communal spaces."

But Coun David Jones said he was concerned about students being exploited.

He said: "I wouldn't like to go into some of the smaller rooms. I don't think they're an acceptable size.

"It's important that students aren't taken advantage of here. They may really want to do the course and be excited to start, and then be given a room that's just too small."

The committee voted to defer a decision on the application and asked for it to be changed to cut the number of rooms.