Following the introduction of £9,000 tuition fees at the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University this September, trebling what it has previously been, local businesses are finding that one of their main sources of revenue, the enormous student population, has dwindled in numbers.
Business had been booming for over a decade in Headingley, one of, if not the most quintessentially student area in Leeds, with many bars and pubs lining its main street. But now the usually thronged student streets are strangely quiet, a very clear indication that something has changed.
A study by Unipol Student Homes and charity Re’new has said that there may be as many as 2,500 fewer student in Leeds as a whole, which will result in a loss of at least £31.5m to the city’s economy over the coming year.
The study also highlighted the current migration trends of students, which show that students are moving from areas like Headingley into new apartment blocks in Leeds city centre. In the last six years, the number of students living in inner-city apartment blocks has almost doubled, now standing at over 18,500.
Businesses in Headingley are therefore being hit double. Nicola Fletcher, manager of The Skyrack for the last six years, has said that students once made up 90% of their clients, but has now dwindled to little over half. She said, “I can’t speak for anybody else but bar and pub owners do all speak and we are struggling a little bit, but it’s not a simple thing.
“If these tuition fees keep going up like they are, it’s definitely not going to get any better.”
Her observations are echoed by Siobhan Heaton, assistant manager at The Headingley Taps, who said, “We have noticed the difference, especially in term time.”
Other businesses are being hit hard too, as pointed out by Lydia Sweeting, part-owner of Love Rouge Bakery, who said, “There are businesses coming and going all the time, no-one seems to last.
“Freshers’ Week came and went and we didn’t realise it had happened.”
The number of bed spaces required by students is thought to have fallen from 31,500 to 23,000 in just seven years. Landlords with properties in traditionally student areas like Headingley, Hyde Park, and Burley, are having to change them to house shares for professionals so that they can fill them, because the students simply aren’t numerous enough anymore.
In addition to the development of city centre apartment blocks like Opal and Sky Plaza drawing students away from their traditional areas, Leeds Metropolitan University has moved some of its courses from its Headingley campus to the city centre campus, making living closer to the city the more desirable choice for students.
Despite the negative impact this student exodus is having on local businesses, not everyone is convinced that this is necessarily a bad thing overall. The drop in student numbers has led to less traffic on the roads and quieter nights for the local residents. As the demographics of the area change, the businesses too will have to change in order to lessen the economic damage.
Mark Goldstone, head of business representation and policy at Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said, “Businesses across the city have had to adapt to changing market conditions as the economy remains challenging.”
Councillor Martin Hamilton (Lib Dem, Headinley) said, “If we saw this pattern over two or three years then clearly we are going to have fewer people in the area, fewer students in Leeds in general and then we start to say what the economic impact of that is.”
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