This guide explains why Ambleside is an attractive Student Property location. It demonstrates the key drivers that make it a unique student town, with high demand for Purpose Built Student Accommodation – the UK’s highest yielding property investment.
It analyses the key factors that continue to make Ambleside a popular student destination in the UK, as well as the significant private investment and enterprise that will ensure this continues into the future.
- Introduction to Ambleside, Cumbria
- The local economy
- The University of Cumbria
- The case for investing in Purpose Built Student Accommodation
- Introducing The Chapel, Ambleside
Click on any of the above links to jump to a specific category or scroll down to browse through the entire guide:
Introduction to Ambleside, Cumbria
Cumbria, in the North West, is England’s second largest county at 2,613 square miles.
However, with a population of around 500,000, it is also one of the most sparsely populated with a density of 190/sq mile as opposed to the national average of 662.
Sharing borders with Scotland and North Yorkshire, and with a coastline on the Irish Sea, Cumbria is reached by the M6 motorway and by the West Coast main line from London to Glasgow. Manchester and Liverpool are easily accessible international airports.
Well-known Cumbrians include Beatrix Potter, William Wordsworth, Fletcher Christian, Stan Laurel and St Patrick.
The county’s main attraction is the world-famous Lake District, one of National Geographic magazine’s top 50 global destinations. The Lake District is England’s biggest national park at 912 square miles and includes over 2,000 miles of public right of way – attracting around 8 million hikers each year.
The park is home to England’s 10 highest peaks and, as the name suggests, 16 lakes – although oddly enough, only Bassenthwaite is officially called a lake, the rest being tarns, meres or waters.
The Lake District has been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status, which would rank it alongside the Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal and the Great Barrier Reef as a site of global significance.
Ambleside sits at the head of Windermere, England’s largest inland water, and ferries run from the town to Bowness and Lakeside. Ambleside is a popular centre for hikers, climbers and cyclists and boasts 10 pubs and bars within a quarter mile radius. One of Britain’s busiest volunteer mountain rescue teams is based in the town.
Although architecturally mainly Victorian, the name Ambleside derives from the old Norse for ‘River sandbank, summer pasture’ and just to the south are the Grade I listed remains of a Roman fort. Granted royal charters in the mid-17th century to hold a market and collect road tolls, Ambleside became a commercial centre for the Cumbrian wool and agriculture trades.
Today its economy is largely based on tourism and the Ambleside campus of the University of Cumbria.
The local economy
Unsurprisingly, given the global renown of the Lake District, Cumbria’s economy relies heavily on the tourism industry.
Last year the county attracted well over 40 million visitors – with 6.3 million overnight stayers spending £504 million on accommodation alone.
Tourism brought £2.62 billion into the county during 2015, and the economy grew by 7.1% representing an increase of £173 million.
The Cumbrian tourist trade accounted for 35,482 full time equivalent jobs, but because many jobs in the industry are part time or seasonal that figure rises to around 60,000 or 20% of total employment in the county.
However, industry also thrives in the area, and major employers include:
- Amcor: a global leader in responsible global packaging solutions with an annual sales of $10+ billion
- BAE Systems: the second largest global defence contractor, with a 65,000-strong workforce
- Centre Parcs: a network of 26 popular holiday villages across Europe
- GlaxoSmithKline: the 6th largest global pharmaceutical company, with its drugs earning £21.3bn in 2013
- Heinz: a global food manufacturer with factories on five continents and sales in more than 200 countries
- Kimberly Clark: a multinational personal care corporation, with 43,000 employees and sites in 37 countries
- Nestle: The worlds largest food company, it was 72nd on the Fortune Global 500 in 2014
- Pirelli: the 5th-largest tyre manufacture, it has a 10,000-strong network of distributors and retailers
- Stobart Group: a UK infrastructure and support services company, with interests in energy, aviation and rail
- Tata Steel: Europe’s 2nd largest steel producer, with manufacturing plants across Europe
Furthermore, the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership has recently submitted proposals that would bring a further 5,500 jobs and £367 million of investment to the county. Growth Deal 3 would aim priority funding at nuclear technology, agriculture, tourism, skills, site and transport infrastructure, connectivity and flood resilience.
The University of Cumbria
The University of Cumbria was created in 2007 by merging St Martin’s College, Cumbria Institute of the Arts and UCLan’s Cumbria sites. Already it has a student body of around 10,000.
In 2012 the Ambleside campus opened the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) and in 2014 it became the official home of the National School of Forestry and the Centre for Wildlife Conservation.
Set in one of the most beautiful areas of the UK, with the Lake District National Park on the doorstep, the university provides a unique, varied and memorable student experience.
Given its exceptional surroundings, it’s no surprise that Ambleside specialises in the great outdoors; it teaches more outdoor students than any other European institution, offering innovative courses such as:
- Animal Conservation Science
- Conservation Biology
- Marine and Freshwater Conservation
- Forest Management
- Woodland Ecology and Conservation
- Outdoor Adventure and Environment
The case for investing in Purpose Built Student Accommodation
PBSA has consistently been the top performing, highest yielding UK property sector since 2011. It was awarded World Class Asset status in 2015 by the Wall Street Journal and in the same year, a record £4.2 billion was spent on PBSA – 40% more than the previous peak in 2012 (Savills).
Higher education is an important part of Britain’s economy, with around 130 universities providing first degree and postgraduate courses for nearly 2.5 million students. The student population has been increasing steadily over the last decade and a half, and even more so since the government’s removal in 2015 of the cap on numbers. The summer of 2016 has seen an all-time record intake of students for the next academic year – 424,000 of them, an increase of 3% according to UCAS.
A degree from a UK university is highly prized around the world; so much so that more foreign students travel to Britain for their higher education than any other country after the USA – last year we welcomed nearly 430,000. They obviously need somewhere to live and, with the pound struggling as it is, the exchange rate helps them with premium rental rates.
Serious undersupply of student housing
However, there is a chronic shortage of purpose built student property – in fact, 74% of students are unable to find a room in a purpose built student block. This is inevitably leading to levels of demand that simply can’t be satisfied; for the investor, however, it means occupancy levels of 99% (CBRE) and high yields.
Modern student expectations are high; they demand comfortable, well-equipped accommodation with all their social and academic needs on the doorstep. They expect an extensive range of onsite facilities, both communal and individual, and they want their daily lives to be as care and stress-free as possible. PBSA offers all this, for which many are prepared to pay a premium of up to 40%.
Exceptional value for overseas property investors
With the post-referendum pound dropping to a 30 year low against the US dollar, and putting up a weak performance against the Euro, overseas investment in UK property in general and in PBSA in particular represents the best value for generations.
Ambleside’s unique accommodation quandary
As noted above, only 26% of UK students have access to PBSA; in Ambleside that figure drops further to 20%.
This is because few university campuses are located right in the middle of a major tourist attraction; in Ambleside, 30% of all property is set aside as leisure accommodation while another 37% of all housing stock has been bought up by incomers as holiday homes.
And as a nominee for UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition, strict regulations mean property development opportunities anywhere nearby are severely limited.
Understandably, rents in one of the UK’s most visited areas are at the higher end of the scale, and students have found themselves pushed further and further away from their place of study; in many cases this now involves a 2 hour commute from Lancaster.
The university has been running an appeal for accommodation from private landlords since 2011, but it still estimates that between 480 and 520 additional beds will be needed for the coming academic year.
Introducing The Chapel, Ambleside
The Chapel is the only private student accommodation in Ambleside. A tastefully converted 19th century church, it is situated just 320 metres from the campus. The Chapel has been operational for over a decade and has been 100% occupied throughout that time.
It has 27 student rooms split into nine self-contained apartments of varying sizes – 8 bed, 6 bed, 2 bed and 1 bed. Appropriately for such an environmentally-conscious campus, The Chapel is internally wrapped in a blanket of insulation and consequently costs little to heat.
The Chapel offers investors immediate 8-10% NET fixed income for 10 years. A professional management team is onsite 24/7 to take care of all administration and maintenance, so this represents a truly hands-off investment opportunity with no additional costs whatsoever for the fixed income term.
Enhanced security for buyer and developer is provided by summer rentals to seasonal workers, when the rooms can earn up to £150 per week.
Excellent resale prospects
A fully operational PBSA property like The Chapel, delivering a proven income stream, is one of the most attractive propositions on the market; last year, such properties accounted for 80% of all sales in the sector.
Buyers with a 10 year fixed NET income period are perfectly free to sell the property during this time, with the remaining term fully transferable. This means you can offer attractive terms to new buyers while still benefiting from a yield-driven increase in value.
When the 10 years are up, you can extend your contract or, if you prefer, you still have a highly desirable 240-year leasehold to sell, with no capital gains tax liability.
Discover more about The Chapel in our comprehensive Investor Report.