University College Dublin (UCD) has shelved plans to build more than 1,200 student apartments on its campus, as the development was no longer “viable” due to inflation in construction costs, according to correspondence.
The university wrote to Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris, earlier this year, stating the planned project could not go ahead, due to “increased construction costs and constraints on further rent increases.”
Mark Rogers, acting UCD President, said the university had sought a contractor to build the extra campus accommodation, but the prices received by bidders were all too high.
In letter sent on 12th May, Rogers said the significant student accommodation project was “not viable” at present, and the university was “not in a position to go ahead with the development at this time.”
In the correspondence, which was released to the College Tribune under the Freedom of Information Act, Rogers said that “in order to provide future student housing that is affordable to our students, it must be viable for us to construct.” He added that with further Government support, the university could “play a significant role in alleviating the [accommodation] problem” for students.
The university currently provides some of the most expensive student accommodation in the country, charging up to €10,745 for a nine-month lease.
A spokeswoman for UCD said that the expected cost of construction for the accommodation had “doubled,” and as such “the university could not afford to go ahead with the project.”
The estimated costs received by contractors bidding for the project in a tender process were impacted by “war in Ukraine, supply difficulties and rising inflation,” she said.
The Department of Further and Higher Education said officials had met with UCD and the Irish Universities Association to “discuss the project for UCD’s student accommodation.”
A department spokesman said, “this engagement is ongoing at present and options are being considered to activate this project.”
“This will include for the first time the State assisting with the cost of building student accommodation beds and unlocking projects which has [sic] been postponed in return for affordable rents for target students,” he said.
Harris has previously said his department was progressing plans to provide funding to help universities build student housing, where developments had planning permission but had stalled.
Students faced a major scramble to find accommodation at the start of the college year this autumn, due to a shortage of housing and unaffordable rental prices across the private market.
UCD submitted a planning application to An Bord Pleanála in 2018 to construct 3,006 student beds, across seven residential blocks. The extension would cover 98,275 sqm of the Belfield campus and would also result in additional spaces for bicycle and car parking.
The plans were to double the amount of student accommodation on campus through three phases of buildings that were to take place over a ten-year period.
The first phase of construction was completed last year at a cost of €145 million and provided 924 new student residences, along with a student facilities building. This development has brought the total number of student residences on the Belfield Campus to more than 4,100, the largest number in any Irish College.
The second phase, which has now been paused due to escalating construction costs, was due to add a further 1,254 beds, with 828 on-campus beds envisioned in the third phase of construction.
Speaking to the College Tribune, Molly Greenough, UCDSU President, said the university was already “sorely lacking in on-campus accommodation,” which would now be compounded by the second phase of the student housing development being shelved.
Greenough added, “Considering the university’s commitment to a market-based and developer-led model of delivery, the provision of student housing has not been a priority over the last decade. While UCD boasts the highest number of on-campus beds in the country, it is also the most expensive.”
“That being said, perhaps this delay will give the university time to reflect on their approach and strategy on delivering on-campus accommodation to date and shift their focus from luxury-style accommodation to genuinely affordable accommodation,” she said.
Greenough said the Government had to “step up to the plate” and get involved in providing student accommodation.
Emma Hanrahan and Hugh Dooley – Co-Leads of Investigation
Featured image of phase 1 of UCD residence construction is credited to Stephan Kisbey-Green.