Category Archives: Student Accommodation

John Bell House granted planning for 413 student beds


Joint venture partners, Watkin Jones Group and Lacuna Developments, have achieved planning permission for the development and refurbishment of 413 private student bedrooms at John Bell House – the former Belfast Metropolitan College building at College Square East.

Newry based O’Hare & McGovern, the leading Northern Ireland construction company, has won the competitive tender for the £16 million project that will see the development of this iconic Belfast city centre building into high-level student accommodation.

The joint venture partners worked in partnership with Belfast City Council, the planners and their consultees to attain planning permission within a tight timeframe. Completion is planned for September 2016, in time for the start of the academic year.

Anthony Best of Lacuna Developments, Belfast commented: “We are delighted to be working with local contractors to bring such a landmark building back to life. This is the first major private student accommodation scheme of its kind in Northern Ireland and we’re pleased to have gained the support of Belfast City Council and the planners so quickly. The new accommodation will no doubt provide a real boost to the local economy, attracting hundreds of students into the city centre.”

The accommodation will consist of 292 bedrooms and 121 studios. Other ancillary accommodation will include a reception/ management suite as well as indoor and outdoor communal amenity areas.

O’Hare & McGovern are already involved in major developments throughout the UK and Irish Republic, including the £30m upgrade of Northern Ireland’s international soccer stadium at Windsor Park. The firm’s managing director Eamon O’Hare said he was pleased to be associated with such a prestigious scheme close to the centre of Belfast. He added: “This is a magnificent landmark building which is going to be completely revitalised to provide up-market student accommodation. It’s an exciting project which will be great for Belfast.”

Dave Roberts, Design Director at Watkin Jones Group said: “The many interesting historical features within the building and the challenges these presented will undoubtedly make John Bell House a great place to live. We look forward to developing these wonderful facilities with local construction company O’Hare & McGovern.”

In November 2014, The Belfast Metropolitan College building was renamed ‘John Bell House’ in honour of the famous Belfast scientist who once studied at the College. Considered by some scientists to rank alongside Newton and Einstein, Bell was widely believed to be a front-runner for the Nobel Prize in Physics but died in 1990 from a stroke.

Watkin Jones to Unleash North Wales’ Potential

Owen Hughes Interview Image

Developer Watkin Jones wants to unleash North Wales’s potential after seeing sales revenues almost double thanks to its booming student accommodation sector.

The Bangor based builder revealed it had enjoyed a highly successful year in its Group Statement up to September 30th 2014 with sales rising to £255m, from £138m the previous year.

This is mainly credited to the firm’s continuing success in the student market but Managing Director Mark Watkin Jones says there are now housing projects in the pipeline in North Wales that will move forward in 2015. He added that there was real potential for the region and that they were working to bring operators to North Wales, particularly in the leisure sector.

Their success has seen staff numbers rise from around 250 to 320 over the last year with hopes it could break the 400 mark in 2015.

Speaking to Owen Hughes, Business Correspondent for the Daily Post, Mark said he had seen a pick-up in the local housing market.

“We are seeing those sales coming through so we will open up new sites in North Wales. We have a big site to start in Caernarfon for 136 units, the infrastructure is in on that. We bought that in 2006 and it has been on hold but now we have seen more positive signs. All in, it would be a build of around £20m which would be very good for the local economy with a lot of subcontractors also involved in that project.”

The firm also hopes to move forward a major project in Bangor.

Mark said: “We have phase two at Dickies Boatyard in Bangor. We are looking at how we develop that site, I think that part will be a quite spectacular site once we get that going. We are still working up the planning but we think it will be about 40 to 50 units.

We need to add some sort of commercial aspect to make it a destination and have walkways around the perimeter to add value and link it through to the pier. Those are the things we are looking at and through consultation trying to decide what we do to make this attractive as possible. Flood protection work for this project will only benefit the whole of Hirael, the works we have to do strengthens the whole defence work for the area. It helps and hopefully it will be seen positively.”

He said while working nationally they are always pushing the North Wales region.

Mark added: “We are looking at opportunities in North Wales for other projects, we are trying to attract businesses to come into North Wales. We need to find the operators to come in, there are great opportunities here, we just have to persuade people to come and look past the pure demographics point of view.

On demographics it doesn’t meet their business plans but what we are trying to say is that ‘there won’t be the competition’ so you do extremely well. Look at Fictoria Doc in Caernarfon which is doing well now but we had to persuade those operators to come in in the first place. It took time but when people come they realise they have cornered the market. Now firms like Premier Inn have expanded here because they have seen the business is here.

The likes of Hickory’s in Rhos on Sea have opened and can’t believe the response, the same with Dylan’s in Menai Bridge. For those brave enough to make the investment they do pretty well if they offer the right product at the right price.

In leisure I think there is a huge shortfall in facilities. When we talk to people about other projects in the UK we are always saying ‘what about here’ because it is a good market.

Everyone who sets up a good business seems to trade well, that is the message we have to get through collectively. We need the support from the local councils that we are open to business and we want people to come in. Development brings jobs and people then think ‘we could do something similar’.”

He said despite the improving situation the recovery in other parts of the UK had not fully filtered through. Mark added: “It is positive for the future but we are still to see confidence ripple in to North Wales. It will come, it is that ripple affect it will take that little longer.

Planning is still an issue, we are working with clients wanting to invest, waiting six months for planning, it is a problem and remains a problem. In towns and cities across the UK we are welcomed with this investment, councils work alongside us. It does not always happen in North Wales.”

Despite these notes of caution he remains very optimistic about 2015. They continue to be strong in the student hall market with further schemes underway across the UK – including a £60m project in London.

He said: “We are very positive about where we are as a Group, we have a huge amount of work on across the UK. We are now actively recruiting, we are up to 320 and we need more people. I would hope to reach 400 this year and for every job here there are far more jobs created with subcontractors.”