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KCL Accommodation Still Empty Four Years After Evacuation

Image courtesy of Emma Carmichael

KCL’s Champion Hill student accommodation remains unoccupied after four years, even as the university spends tens of thousands of pounds on its upkeep.

Four of the five blocks at the Champion Hill residence in Camberwell were closed with students and staff relocated following the discovery of fire safety concerns.

At the time, King’s College London (KCL) stated that the blocks in question were “timber framed buildings built on a reinforced concrete beam foundation and include high-pressure laminate cladding.”

As a result of the potential fire safety concerns, King’s explained the need for “further investigation to ascertain the level of any risk and identify any remedial works required… to ensure this work can be carried out safely, [they] are moving students and staff to alternative accommodation.”

Since the concerns were raised almost four years ago, Champion Hill has remained closed to students and staff. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request from Roar revealed that KCL spent £77,560 in the 2022/23 financial year on the upkeep of the buildings at Champion Hill.

‘Upkeep cost’ was interpreted as: “the costs expended on external contractors to keep the fabric of the buildings and the landscaping of the associated outside spaces maintained to an acceptable level”.

Student accommodation has become a larger issue in recent years, in part due to the cost-of-living crisis and the subsequent rental crisis. In their 2023 report on student accommodation costs, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) identified that in the current academic year (2023/24), the average annual rent stands at £7,566 across England.

In comparison, the average maintenance loan received by English students this year is expected to be £7,590. A student receiving the average loan and paying the average rent would be left with £26 to spend. Additionally, the HEPI report reveals that the average rent equates to around 76% of the maximum maintenance loan.

Ahead of the 2023/24 academic year, 13,525 students applied for King’s student accommodation, a small increase on the previous year. Of these, 7,476 were unsuccessful in gaining a place. The FOI report clarifies that “as [King’s] operate[s] a self-allocation booking system these are students who chose not to secure a room with King’s Residences after initially registering their interest”.

Prior to its closure, Champion Hill had a capacity of 714 bedrooms. It is worth noting that the Platanes block in Champion Hill was unaffected by the assessment conducted on the other four blocks. The University has reported that the Platanes block has space for 74 students.

While students and staff remained in the Platanes block until the end of the 2019/20 academic year, it has remained empty since July 2020 as the university “decided that it was not practical or feasible to operate the site long-term for a small number of bedrooms”.

The affordability of available accommodation has also caused concern among students. For 2023/24, 1,301 students applied to be approved for King’s Affordable Accommodation Scheme (KAAS). Almost 70% of these were unsuccessful.

King’s has said that “KAAS rejections are based on applicant [sic] not meeting the scheme criteria, mainly declaring a household income above the threshold (£42,875)”. The university says that none of the 905 students were not approved due to oversubscription.

According to KCL residence rates for 2023/24, a KAAS ensuite’s weekly price is £169 (£163 for Angel Lane). This increases to £215 for an ensuite not included in the KAAS scheme (£255 for Angel Lane and £319 for Hayloft Point). Therefore, if a student’s household income is even slightly above the threshold, their weekly rent increases by at least £46, or £1,840 across the 40-week contract.

A spokesperson for King’s said: “We have 1200 rooms – 20% of our beds – which we subsidise to below market levels and which are prioritised for students from underrepresented groups, including care leavers and those in receipt of the King’s Living Bursary. We support students on a case-by-case basis if they do not qualify for the household income threshold, recognising that they may have additional needs and reasons for requiring support.

“We also work together with KCLSU to consider all aspects costs of living, utility bills, transport costs to campus and the range of accommodation available to our students.”

The number of KAAS places for the academic year accounts for “circa 20% of the total portfolio”, as stated above, and does not change. It is unclear if the number of KAAS places in other accommodation buildings was increased after the closure of Champion Hill.

This coming September, KCL will open a new accommodation in Battersea with 452 rooms available, including 305 KAAS rooms. King’s states that “this residence will be home to postgraduate as well as undergraduate students”.

As to when Champion Hill will open to students again, the University states that “the development plan is a work in progress”, so “it is not possible to confirm a figure at this time.”

A King’s College London Spokesperson said: “We are working to refurbish these buildings with the aim to have them available as student accommodation as soon as work is completed, and it is safe to do so.”

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