City 'must embrace students'
PLYMOUTH needs to embrace the business opportunities brought by the thousands of students coming to the city, the boss of a leading property company says.
Henry Hutchins, pictured inset, a director of North Hill-based Clever Student Lets, said the "average student" spends up to £4,500 a year on accommodation and another £4,000 around the city.
And with about 30,000 students at Plymouth University each year, that represents a huge opportunity for businesses.
Yet Mr Hutchins said: "Plymouth does not seem to understand the value of the university.
"It's massive, the amount the university and students bring into this city.
"And the university will continue to expand. It's a very well-run business.
"Plymouth has to sit up and take notice of what the university does for the city and stop taking it for granted."
He said the university is also a huge employer and is "driving" the city centre.
And having a student population in Plymouth is pulling in investment income, too.
Mr Hutchins set up Clever Student Lets two years ago with Phil Rump, having already run established property company IPS.
It has been an instant success turning over £5million so far and has already let 85 per cent of its 1,000-unit portfolio for this September.
The firm, which employs 11 people, either manages properties for their owners, or finds and converts buildings for an investor.
He said wealthy investors from places such as India, Sri Lanka, Malta, Iraq, Jersey, London and the M5 corridor, are ploughing cash into Plymouth properties.
"I'm proud of what we do," he said. "We have brought into this city, in the past two years, a minimum of £40million in investment.
"And we are continuing to invest. We are getting three serious inquiries a week."
That investment then goes into the city's economy, he said, adding: "Last August we had 17 building firms working for us, refurbishing buildings ready for the September intake."
But he stressed the firm is only interested in properties in "grade A" condition – because today's students are a far cry from the slovenly tenants of yesteryear, an image personified by TV's Young Ones comedy in the 1980s.
"There's a misconception students are untidy – but 95 per cent look after the property," he said. "If you treat students with respect they will treat you with respect."
He said students now demand more from a property, wanting wifi, computer games – even a hot tub in one house.
"The industry can't stand still," he said. "Students won't accept an inferior product.
"There's some students that want to save money, and I can't argue with them," he added. "They will take accommodation at £40 a week in Keyham, Devonport or St Budeaux and commute in, but the vast majority want to be close to the university, in quality accommodation, paying £90 to £110 a week."
And he said students don't deserve the reputation they sometimes are saddled with, for noise and mess.
"Students are a pretty decent lot. If you treat them as responsible adults they will behave as responsible adults," he said, and added there are safeguards should tenants cause problems for neighbours.
"If you work with the university, landlords and police you will not have any problems," he said.
Mr Hutchins also feels student numbers will not decline, despite fees rising to up to £9,000 per year.
"We were concerned but the university talks to us and tells us what's likely to happen," he said.
That includes bringing foreign students, including a large number from China, to Plymouth. And if they have a good experience, which Plymouth can deliver, as, he says, it's such a safe city, students are likely to stay or return to invest. The student population has also had the knock-on effect of displacing "undesirables" from some areas, improving neighbourhoods as houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) are converted to student lets, he said.