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Earlier this week Kevin O’Neill published a special report on Cork City student accommodation in the Irish Examiner. It makes for interesting reading and shines a light on some of the lesser understood issues, including local resistance to development and the real need for further development, despite a demonstrable increase in delivery to this sector over recent years. 

Thousands of student accommodation units are currently under construction in Cork City or are in the pipeline for delivery. In fact, this is currently one of the most active sectors within the construction industry locally. Many commentators have expressed frustration over the lack of student accommodation near Irish universities, and not just in Cork. The 2017 NSAS (National Student Accommodation Strategy) predicted a need for 70,000 student beds by 2024 as the level of enrolments in Irish universities continues to rise; however, Covid-19 has put a halt to some of this. The national shutdown put the brakes on all non-essential construction sites until May 18th, when sites nationwide commenced a phased re-opening. Anecdotally, it has been difficult to regain momentum on many of these vital projects. This has, in many cases, pushed out the delivery of beds needed for the 20/21 academic year, which will inevitably have a ripple effect. Of course, it is still not clear whether or not universities will embrace a fully-digital or virtual offering this year, or perhaps they will trial some hybrid solution? Lorna Fitzpatrick, president of the Union of Students in Ireland says, “It is likely that many institutions are going to have some level of blended or online learning for the new academic year and that will most likely have repercussions on student accommodation. The issue at the moment is that many have not actually given clear guidance as to what the new academic year will look like, which is causing concern for students who need to plan for the new year.” 

This short-term situation has people questioning the long-term demands of the sector. Should the need for social distancing extended for months or even years, can apartment buildings with communal space be delivered in accordance with existing designs? And if courses are going to be conducted online, will students move out of their parents’ homes to be closer to their university? If courses are online then it will be more difficult for students who are not working part-time, or involved in other pursuits, to justify high rents. Again, there appears to be a questioning of long-term policies as a result of a short-term situation, which only delays tackling the very real need for more student beds. But perhaps a building redesign and a re-thinking of construction delivery methods holds the immediate key to development in this sector.

The Construction Industry Federation has spoken repeatedly about the likely productivity losses as a result of the lockdown and ongoing productivity losses as the traditional industry grapples with the new HSE/CIF Covid-19 safety protocols for building sites, including social distancing. Many of these new measures are inherent in the offsite construction process, which makes offsite construction a more effective solution for developers and project owners right now – we have detailed this in an earlier article and you can read it here: Offsite & Other Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) are Key to Getting Projects Back on Track 

About Horizon Offsite

Established in 2017, the team at Horizon Offsite have decades of combined experience pioneering non-traditional or modern methods of construction (MMC). The company currently employs 22 people at a 35,000 sq ft. facility in Cahir, County Tipperary and is involved in projects across the private rented sector (PRS) in Ireland and the UK.