Plans for student rooms near Arena

Student accommodation developer Unite is seeking approval for a new 800-bed scheme next to the Metro Radio Arena.

Student accommodation developer Unite is seeking approval for a new 800-bed scheme next to the Metro Radio Arena. Bristol-based Unite, which only a fortnight ago won the race for a 350-bed site next to Newcastle's Discovery Museum, agreed to buy the site on the south side of Railway Street from Benfield Motor Group six weeks ago.

The agreement to buy the two-acre site, currently Benfield's Fiat and Alfa Romeo Newcastle showroom and workshop, is conditional on Unite getting the go-ahead from planners, who are undertaking a wide-ranging review of development of student beds in the city.

It is likely Unite will try to tap into Newcastle College's degree students, as well as students from the city's two universities.

Tim Mitchell, Unite's head of UK development, said: "It is going through the planning process. It has taken quite a long time for us to get going properly in Newcastle. But we have made sure we have a city-wide strategy in place and that site is just one of a number that we are looking to bring forward in Newcastle, providing us with a range of different sorts of accommodation to suit the range of students in the city. We would see that as a good value product site, given its location."

Benfield chief executive Mark Squires said the group was "in discussions" with Fiat and Alfa Romeo for "continued representation of the two franchises in Newcastle and Tyneside".

He added: "Until such time as the planning process is concluded and plans to proceed with re-development are made it is very much business as usual at the site".

Unite, the UK's biggest quoted student property owner and owner of 785 beds in three student hostels in the city centre, revealed plans in late 2005 to spend £100m on acquiring central Newcastle sites suitable to develop as student accommodation within 12 months.

It had failed to acquire any sites by last May but reiterated its commitment to that target by opening an office on Newcastle Quayside and making the city to its number one target for acquisitions. Last month it secured a proposed 458-bed student accommodation block on Pandon Bank from Metnor.

Any planning application may need to wait until the outcome of the council's public consultation - due later this summer - on where student accommodation in Newcastle should be built.

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