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Housing problems

Devolving business rates to local authorities could create more carbuncles on the student accommodation landscape.

The tallest building in Leeds is a tower called Sky Plaza, which opened to residents in 2009. It is architecturally almost daringly nondescript―a tall and featureless grey shaft. But Sky Plaza, and the lower towers around it, are notable for two things. One is the revival of system-building, the construction of a building almost wholly via the assembly of prefabricated, factory-made parts (a method that mostly disappeared from housing in Britain after the collapse of the system-built Ronan Point tower in East London in 1968). The other is the fact that it is a tower of student housing, marketed to and inhabited by students and nobody else. Since 1997, these towers have proliferated at an astonishing rate, making student housing a unique and instantly recognisable typology, with its own methods of construction, space standards, aesthetic and specialised developers. Especially outside London, these have become some of the most dominant buildings on the urban skyline.

In a sense, these are one of the main legacies of New Labour and its policy of expanding student numbers and encouraging private means of financing it. The policy encouraged universities to sell off parts of their estates to pay for the increase in numbers and to build new facilities to impress potential fee-payers.

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