The owners of a half-empty university hall of residence in Bankside want to be allowed to take in tourists to stay in the building during term time in a move they claim will help lonely students boost their mental wellbeing.
The owners of the iQ Bankside student accommodation in Ewer Street have applied to Southwark Council to be allowed to operate the building as an apart-hotel open to the general public in the first half of 2021.
The application has been made by the Luxembourg-based entity that owns the building, which is ultimately controlled by New York-based private equity giant Blackstone.
"The proposals are linked to the exceptional circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, its impact on student numbers attending university, and the corresponding underutilisation of bed spaces at the property," wrote Helen Rodger of planning consultancy Quod in a letter to Southwark Council officers.
The building already has planning permission to provide visitor accommodation to the public during the summer months between university terms, but now iQ wants to be able to offer some of its rooms on an 'aparthotel' basis at the Ewer Street property until May 2021.
iQ Bankside has 150 studio units of student accommodation, and up to 80 of these rooms could be made available to the public if the council gives the proposal the green light.
Quod says that the COVID-19 pandemic has provided "an immediate opportunity, as well as an economic need" to pull in more guests during term time.
In its submissions to the council on behalf of iQ, Quod claims that "the proposals will benefit existing residents by increasing the prospect of having 'neighbours' and reducing the mental health implications of isolation; take advantage of an available resource of high quality sustainably located accommodation; and encourage economic recovery in the local area by supporting the visitor experience as restrictions on movement are slowly eased".
The document goes on to claim that allowing tourist stays would offer "greater scope for social integration and personal well-being" for the existing student residents of the block.
No mention is made of any safeguarding, security or public health implications of accommodating transient visitors alongside university students.
Prices for students booking to live at iQ Bankside during the 2021-2022 academic year range from £411 to £509 a week.
Earlier this year Blackstone bought iQ Student Accommodation from Goldman Sachs for £4.7 billion, in what was described as the UK's largest private real estate transaction.
• See planning application 20/AP/3712 for further details of the proposal
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