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Residents react to plans to use Twerton Mill as a temporary hotel

News that a high-end student accommodation complex in Twerton could be used as a temporary hotel has prompted reactions from Bath residents.

The owners of the Twerton Mill site, a company named IQ Student Accommodation, submitted a planning application in December to turn 80 of the 330 bedrooms into an 'aparthotel' for a period lasting until October 2021.

An aparthotel scheme is one in which the guests stay in self-catering apartments using a hotel-style booking system. The company's planning statement explains:

The pandemic has had a significant impact on student numbers during the 2020/21 academic year. Therefore, bed spaces at Twerton Mill are significantly underutilised, and permission is sought through the enclosed application to temporarily make some of these beds available to non-student residents.

The aparthotel would operate alongside the student accommodation in a move which the company says would sustain the business so that it can continue to support the economy. The company also claims that having visitors occupy these apartments could help prevent the students from suffering feelings of isolation.

Parking and other issues

Not everyone has been supportive of the proposed change of use. One commentator on the council's planning portal argues that Twerton Mill has a poor record of enforcing the mandatory no-cars policy.

In a survey conducted in 2019 as part of an application to convert a bike store at Twerton Mill into a gym, a number of tenants disclosed that they travelled by car. And last year the Bath Chronicle investigated claims that some students were parking illegally on both sides of the Lower Bristol Road.

There is thus the question of whether guests of the proposed aparthotel would bring cars with them, worsening an already strained parking situation on this stretch of road.

The council's Core Strategy & Placemaking Plan indicates that a hotel outside the city centre should have one parking space for every three bedrooms, though it does not go into details that might inform the scheme proposed here. Twerton Mill has just five parking spaces for staff and disabled people and the application does not intend to increase this number.

Other questions surround the implications for the current hotel and B&B industry in Bath if student blocks are permitted to operate as aparthotels. Arguably the impact of the pandemic on tourism has hit the hospitality accommodation sector hard enough, without the further blow of there being competition from repurposed student apartments.

The reactions of residents

On a Facebook group covering Twerton and the surrounding area, some individuals have given their responses to the application. A few expressed support for the plan, describing it as a reasonable use of redundant rooms and important both to the sustainability of the company and to the economy.

However, most respondents appeared to see little merit in the proposals. One commentator said that he was "sick and tired of every morsel of land being handed over to greedy property developers" to build student accommodation. Another individual commented: "Why was it built in the first place? Housing for Bathonians is needed, not another hotel or student accommodation". One radical but popular idea was that the empty parts of the complex might be transformed into a hostel for the homeless.

The latter responses are perhaps not surprising given the setting of this site. In 2015 parts of Twerton entered the top 10% of deprived areas in the UK. But across the road, Twerton Mill typically rakes in £182 a week for a standard student room, rising to £244 per week for a "Platinum Studio".

Local residents on low incomes are representative of the many people who need affordable housing so badly - yet they look out over schemes where land has been carved up by companies seeking higher profits from the student rental market. Few people around here now feel sympathy for one such company that finds it is not making enough money.

The planning application by IQ Student Accommodation can be found by following this link.

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