Investing in bricks and mortar has long been considered a wise investment choice, but there are certain areas within the property market that stand out more than others. One such sector is the student property market, and the reason for this is clear.
Student property has outperformed pretty much every other part of the property market in the United Kingdom over the last decade or so. Offices, retail units, industrial estates, multi-family residential property, you name it, none have been as steady as the student accommodation market in this period. It’s also worth bearing in mind that this is a period that includes the global recession that hit everything hard back in 2007 and 2008.
In this guide we are going to look at student property investment in a very specific part of the UK, Chester, and explore why investing in this part of the North West of England makes sense. We will take a look at the current state of the city’s economy and find out what it has to offer prospective students who are looking for great places to study. We’ll also examine the regeneration projects happening in the area, including the proposed £300 million Northgate development.
So, without further ado, let’s jump in to our latest guide that aims to tell you all that you need to know about investing in student property in Chester.
Chester: An overview
Situated close to the border of Wales, Chester is one of the finest preserved walled cities in the whole of the United Kingdom. Only 100 metres of the Grade I listed walls are missing and the city has many medieval buildings within its boundaries, giving it a unique feel that is hard to find elsewhere in the country.
As with so much of the North West of England, Chester played a pivotal role in the formation of the industrial revolution. The era saw the opening of the Chester Canal that now forms part of the Shropshire Union Canal, but its existence did not bring the city the wealth that was intended. Dubbed ‘England’s first unsuccessful canal’, the stretch of water failed in its attempts to bring heavy industry to the city, as did its two large railway stations of the day. Thankfully, however, the city has gone on to thrive and it is now considered to be an integral part of the region’s wider economy.
Chester was awarded city status way back in 1541 and is the largest, most populous settlement within the unitary authority area of Cheshire West and Chester. The 2011 census showed that 79,645 people lived in the city, with 90,524 living in the outlying urban areas. Former Liverpool striker, Michael Owen and James Bond actor, Daniel Craig, are amongst the many notable people who hail from the city that sits alongside the River Dee.
Chester’s local economy
Like many other cities and towns across the north of the country, Chester’s economy is now largely made up of service sector companies. Industries that call the north west city home include public administration, tourism and retail sectors, and the city has a surprisingly large financial centre for its size.
Big names such as HBOS plc, Virgin Money, Bank of America and M&S Bank all have substantial offices within the city and the price comparison website moneysupermarket.com is also situated nearby in Ewloe, just across the Welsh border. The city itself is home to a significant number of technology businesses, too, putting it on the map in the tech world as having one of the highest concentrations of knowledge economy workers outside of the capital and the south east.
Tourism contributes heavily to the local economy, with domestic tourism accounting for a large proportion of the visitors who come to see the city’s historic buildings and famous walls. In 2014, 31 million people visited the Cheshire West and Chester district, an increase of 23 per cent since 2009. Spending increased too, with tourists splashing out a substantial £2.5 billion across the same time period, an astonishing increase of 51 per cent from the 2009 records.
The retail sector is remarkably healthy in Chester as well. The city is home to a number of chain stores as well as more unique boutiques within the city’s many rows and galleries. Chester has two large indoor shopping malls: The Forum and The Grosvenor Shopping Centre. However, the Forum is set to be demolished to make way for the new Northgate Development which is back on track after grinding to a halt in 2008 when the global credit crunch hit.
For what is relatively quite a small city, Chester is extremely well served by its transport links. Access by road is good, with both the M53 and M56 connecting the city with Liverpool and Manchester respectively. ‘A’ roads run across the border, making both North and South Wales easily accessible via the A55 and the A483.
As the city is so well connected to Manchester and Liverpool, air travel is not too far away. Manchester Airport is the third busiest UK airport.It has the capacity to handle around 50 million passengers annually and can be reached in around 35 minutes via the M56. With flights to over 220 destinations, Manchester Airport helps bring Chester closer to the rest of the world. Despite being smaller than Manchester Airport, Liverpool John Lennon Airport also offers international travel options to the people of Chester, and it too is only around half an hour away.
The city is also well served by rail, despite losing one of its main railway stations back in 1969. Only one station, Chester General, remains, but its seven platforms connect the city with the rest of the country, including a Virgin Trains link to London Euston via Crewe. The station was renovated in 2007, improving both pedestrian access and the station’s car parking facilities.
Buses run regularly around the city and work is underway to build a new bus exchange at Gorse Stacks. Work on the new exchange is set to be completed by November 2016, further improving the city’s already well regarded bus service.
Regeneration in Chester
Twenty-five years on from when the plans were first mooted, the Northgate Development regeneration project looks to be finally taking shape in the city. The £300 million scheme is set to bring a new market square, hotel, retail units, theatre, restaurants, cinema and residential accommodation to the heart of Chester’s city centre, a plan that will undoubtedly improve what is already a very welcoming city. As we have already mentioned briefly, the development came to a shuddering halt back in 2008 when the global financial crisis hit, but the scheme looks to be back on track, which is great news for the area as a whole.
Other developments that will drive economic regeneration in the city are the introduction of a new £20 million Waitrose superstore which opened in November 2014 and the £40 million Islands Project undertaken by Chester Zoo. The ambitious project is the largest expansion in the history of UK zoos and it has added 15 more acres to the already sizeable 110 acre grounds upon which Chester Zoo is situated.
Residential regeneration is also well underway in the city. Places such as Crown Park – the former Ministry of Defence Saighton Camp – will create 1,200 new homes once phase two has been completed and Upton Dene, just two miles outside of the city centre, will also add to the new accommodation being built in and around Chester. Another development of note is Northgate Point, a stunning new site that is a mere 10-minute walk from the city’s university campus and 200 metres from the city centre.
Commercial property is being invested in, as well. One City Place is a six-storey Grade A office building that will be right at the heart of Chester’s brand new £100 million Central Business Quarter. The new development will bring an additional 70,000 sq ft of office space to the city, as well as an extra 240 residential units, too.
Why invest in Chester?
As you can see, there is already plenty of financial backing for the city, with investment coming from many quarters and being placed into a wide variety of schemes and projects. The diversity of the investments being made should bode well for the future of the city as the improvements that are already well underway will secure Chester as not only a place to visit, but also as a place to do business, make a home, and come to study.
We believe that, as more and more investors begin to move away from London and the south east in search of better value and greater yields, cities such as Chester will see large increases in residential property prices, making now the perfect time to invest.
Unlike some of the other cities that we have shone a spotlight on, Chester only has one main university within its walled boundary lines. However, despite not having quite the volume of students that other cities nearby may have, Chester does still offer investors an opportunity to purchase student property that will be in high demand thanks largely to the lack of good quality accommodation specifically designed with the student in mind.
So, what of this single seat of learning? Let’s take a closer look.
The University of Chester
Five campuses are situated in the city itself, with a sixth based in Warrington completing the university’s teaching grounds. The University of Chester was awarded full university status in 2005 and has since been given the right to award its own research degrees, which are widely regarded as being of international quality.
The university has around 19,500 students currently studying there, but this is a figure that is expected to rise over the coming years as the university’s status grows along with its physical expansion. A 2010 audit by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education gave praise to the university’s standards and its quality of learning opportunities available to its students.
One key statistic that is likely to bring more attention to the university is its record for graduate employability. Over 95 per cent of its graduates are either in work or currently undertaking further studies, making it the best performing seat of learning in the whole of the North West of England for employability. The university has a ‘work-based learning’ module that gives students the opportunity to take a placement related to their studies. This gives their students both experience and confidence when the time comes to enter the workforce.
Outside of study, what does Chester hold for the student?
Chester itself has a few bars and clubs, but for those students who crave a hectic nocturnal social schedule, the nearby cities of Manchester and Liverpool offer the better options. However, not all students want the hustle and bustle of big city living, and Chester wins in this regard.
As a smaller city, Chester comes across as a much warmer, more personal place to be, something that will undoubtedly suit many students. That being said, Chester is far from dull and it is big enough to give its residents something to do, with multiple experiences on offer throughout the year. Students will no doubt love Thursday stand up comedy routines at The Commercial and live music is catered for by Alexander’s and The Live Rooms amongst others.
For the foodie student, Chester has a number of good quality restaurants to pique their interest. Places such as The Chef’s Table, Marmalade, and Upstairs at The Grill will satisfy those evening cravings, with the ever popular Bluebell Café at Barrowmore perfect for a daytime treat just a few miles outside of the city.
Chester also has a good range of shopping options as well. The cobbled streets and famous 700-year old two-tiered rows are home to some amazing and unique boutiques shops, but the ubiquitous chain stores are also well represented here too. Perfect for when you just need to grab something quick.
All in all, Chester is an amazing place to visit and to study. With such great transport links to other major cities in the region, students can have the best of both worlds and enjoy all that the north west has to offer.
If you enjoyed this guide and want to learn more, check out What To Look Out For Investing In Student Property and Everything You Need To Know About Student Property Investment In The UK.
If you’re ready to start your Chester investment journey, you can contact us here.