A-Z: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Student accommodation

Supplementary Planning Guidance

In June 2016, we introduced Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) on Purpose Built Managed Student Accommodation (PBMSA) in Belfast.  It gives extra advice and guidance to developers, the public and planning officers when working on planning applications for PBMSA developments in the City.

The guidance is structured into six planning issues, including:

  1. Location and accessibility: the development should be at a location that is easily accessible to university or college campuses by sustainable transport modes.
  2. Design quality: the layout, design and facilities provided within a development should be of high standards.
  3. Impact and scale: the development should be designed in a way that does not conflict with properties close by or the general amenity of the surrounding area.
  4. Management: the development has appropriate management in place to create a positive and safe living environment for students while reducing any potential negative impacts from occupants.
  5. Need: there is a need for the type of accommodation proposed.
  6. Planning agreements: planning agreements and related developer contributions may be required for Purpose Built Managed Student Accommodation where conditions alone cannot secure planning.

The SPG was introduced following public consultation and a summary of the consultation responses and the changes made to the final guidance document is available below. The guidance has also been subject to a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) screening exercise and Equality and Good Relations screening.

We recommend that you read the SPG document alongside the wider regional and local planning policy context and our associated Best Practice Guide below.

Best Practice Guide

We have also developed a Best Practice Guide for Purpose Built Managed Student Accommodation (PBMSA) in Belfast which will encourage prospective developers to develop good quality PBMSA in the right locations.

This guide explains how new developments can be planned and designed before planning applications are submitted and provides advice in the following eight areas:

  1. Pre-application: encouraging early engagement with us and local communities
  2. Location: promoting suitable locations within the city centre 
  3. Policy: outlining relevant planning policy constraints
  4. Design: encouraging good quality, well designed PBMSA in terms of layout, accommodation mix, open space, parking, facilities, waste and recycling, safety and crime prevention and energy reduction
  5. Impact: reducing negative effects whilst capturing any positive impacts of PBMSA development
  6. Management: ensuring effective management arrangements to deliver a safe and positive environment for students, whilst reducing the risk of negative impacts on the local community
  7. Need: ensuring the right balance between meeting student housing needs and preventing an over-supply of PBMSA
  8. Planning agreement and developer contributions: summarising issues in relation to PBMSA where we may consider the use of planning agreements

Other student accommodation work

We want to support Belfast’s universities and colleges as they try to grow their student numbers, particularly within the international student market.

The Supplementary Planning Guidance and Best Practice Guide follow on from a range of work we have been doing with our partners to develop strategies that will make Belfast a destination of choice for students and a suitable location for good quality, safe and well-managed student accommodation.

Our partners and stakeholders include universities and further education providers, the community, local businesses, the Department for Communities, and Department for Infrastructure, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Strategic Investment Board.

Student life research

New research has revealed that students in Belfast have the lowest monthly rent prices compared to students across the UK, paying £124 less each month than the average student. 

These findings come from the Student Living Index 2017 which compared student life and spending across 35 popular UK university cities. Belfast came out great in the survey with a few key findings:

  • Belfast students work the third highest amount of hours part time and unsurprisingly earn £58.70 more than the average student each month.
  • Students spend below average on household bills, at just £64.74 each month
  • Students like to enjoy themselves and spend an above average amount on going out with friends.



Provides a summary of the consultation process, comments received and changes made as a result during the preparation of the PBMSA SPG.
Reviews the impact of the PBMSA SPG on the environment in accordance with the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Regulations.

Summarises the Equality and Good Relations consideration taken into account when preparing the PBMSA SPG.

Provides detailed, technical planning advice around the approach to PBMSA in Belfast and how good quality developments can be encouraged in the right locations.

Executive Summary of the Framework document, which sets out a criteria-based approach to assessing future proposals for PBMSA, advocating a vision and direction for the supply of student housing and PBMSA in Belfast.

The Framework sets out a criteria-based approach to assessing future proposals for PBMSA, advocating a vision and direction for the supply of student housing and PBMSA in Belfast.

Report provides an analysis of the economic impact of higher education students on the Belfast economy.


Report summarises a study commissioned in October 2010 to identify long term solutions to the issues facing the Holyland and wider university area, within a city wide context. 

Contact us
Belfast Planning Service
028 9050 0510
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Cecil Ward Building
4-10 Linenhall Street