Large new Coventry student accommodation to be built as warnings rejected

Plans for the student block to replace Progress House at Westwood Heath -Credit:GDL Architecture/Design & Access Statement
Plans for the student block to replace Progress House at Westwood Heath -Credit:GDL Architecture/Design & Access Statement

A Coventry student block can be built after the council agreed to grant a new lease for the land. But a plea from the public for councillors to be able to examine the move in more detail and potentially reject it was denied.

Land in Westwood Business Park can be used for student housing as part of a 're-gearing' of the lease, a councillor agreed yesterday, May 13. It means offices can be torn down and replaced by the building with 544 student beds.

But more than a dozen residents called for the council to allow the decision to be 'called in' by scrutiny councillors. This would have allowed members to review it and potentially recommend a rethink.


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The chair of scrutiny, Labour councillor Naeem Akhtar, was at the meeting, which was held to agree that the decision is so urgent it does not need to be 'called in.' Meeting papers said this was to avoid a delay that would push back the opening of the student block by a year, meaning "improved income" for the council would have been delayed.

Progress House at the Westwood Business Park -Credit:GDL Architects/Design & Access Statement
Progress House at the Westwood Business Park -Credit:GDL Architects/Design & Access Statement

But a petition signed by 17 locals challenged whether the decision is 'urgent' in the sense that it would seriously prejudice the council and public interest. They pushed back on statements about the scheme in the report, highlighting that city centre student blocks are being repurposed due to lack of occupants.

"Urgency would deprive the public of that scrutiny," they said. Petition sponsor, Conservative councillor Marcus Lapsa, referred to the "strength of feeling" of residents in neighbouring Westwood Heath in his comments to the meeting.

"This is student accommodation on top of student accommodation," he said. A call in would mean a range of factors could be considered, including losing the area's employment land, he added.

"Whatever that decision is, the local community can be assured that the correct steps of scrutiny worked," he concluded. Residents also had concerns about a possible conflict of interest on the call-in decision as Cllr Akhtar had voted for the student block as a member of the planning committee last year.

New Westwood councillor Grace Lewis, from the ruling Labour group, also asked that a call-in be allowed. "Urgency should not be considered only on a matter of costs," she said. Cllr Lewis also referred to student blocks in the city that are not fully occupied.

But council officers said student accommodation in Westwood Business Park is full and highly in demand. They said there is a need to promote the growth of the university, and office blocks in the park are 22% vacant.

Officers also told Cllr Akhtar, when he asked, that there was no conflict of interest. They said the decision was not about if the scheme should get planning approval, but whether the council as a landowner should allow it, and added that he was there in the role of scrutiny chair.

Labour councillor Jim O'Boyle, Cabinet Member for Jobs, Regeneration and Climate Change, made the decision. Cllr O'Boyle thanked the councillors who had represented their residents but also said he needed to consider wider issues.

His role involves looking at how the council can maximise the return for the taxpayer from land it owns, he said. In the case of the business park, businesses "vote with their feet" and offices have to meet modern standards.

"We get criticisms as a local authority, if our property portfolio is not getting the income it recieves that you would expect given [its] size," he added. "It's a difficult decision but I think it is the right one."

The amount of extra income the council will get in rent from the new use of the student block has not been revealed publicly, and the meeting went into a private session later to discuss it. But Cllr O'Boyle claimed it is "significant."

He added: "In the end I suppose the point would be, if I don't make this decision today the developer will walk away, that property will lie empty with no future prospects." Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Lapsa said he is "very disappointed that they did not allow a call-in."

"Scrutiny is a very important part of the process," he added. "Without a call-in allowed, people haven't got all of the facts."

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