Universities are more confident about investing in capital projects as the predicted volatility from the increase in student fees to £9,000 has failed to materialise, according to the University of Leeds.

Steve Gilley, head of estates at the University of Leeds, told the Built Environment Networking event on ‘Leeds Universities and Colleges Development Plans 2014’ at Aspire Leeds that “ambition has returned” to universities’ capital spending plans.

Gilley said his university is planning to spend £300m on capital projects over the next four years, while Leeds Metropolitan University also told the event it plans to spend £75m on capital projects over the next three years.

Gilley said: “We curtailed our capital investment programme in 2012 [when the £9,000 fees regime came into force] as we predicted a big reduction in student numbers, but actually that hasn’t happened.

“Ambition has now returned and all of our competitors are investing. The taps have started to flow open again.”

Further education college Leeds City College also told the event the college has major plans to invest in its estate.

All three organisations stressed they were interested in engaging in more partnerships with investors, developers and construction firms to advance capital projects.

Jason Challender, director of physical resources at Leeds City College, said: “We’re already talking to a number of developers about what they can offer us, for instance in terms of leasebacks.”

The three organisations also discussed their development plans in more detail –


The University of Leeds is a £550m-turnover institution with 31,300 students and 7,517 staff. It has 330 buildings over six million sq ft. It has 7,753 bed spaces. It is predominantly based across a 90-acre campus within Leeds city centre. Between 2006 and 2011 the university spent £375m on capital projects, delivering ten new buildings. Over the next four years the university plans to spend £300m on capital projects.


In design/procurement (£50m) –

  • Transport Studies refurbishment and extension – plan is to be on site middle of next year
  • Multi-storey Car Park. 630-690 space car park. Contractor tenders have been submitted and the plan is to be on site this autumn.
  • Summer Teaching Space refurbishment and Lecture Capture
  • Maths refurbishment
  • Fine Art relocation to former Geography building . At stage one design, with the ambition of being on site middle of next year.
  • Treasures Gallery £1.7M
  • Medical School refurbishment (levels 8, 9, 10, 11)

Projects in development

  • Generating Station Contract renewal (PFI); largest power plant that services a hospital or university. It will be worth £500 – £700m in utilities over 20-25 years.
  • New 33kv power infrastructure
  • The Engineering Building refurbishment
  • Refurbishment of Edward Boyle Library, 11,000 sq m.
  • Leeds University Union refurbishment
  • Clinical Sciences Building consolidation and refurbishment
  • Dentistry refurbishment
  • Innovation & Enterprise Zone
  • Biological Sciences Teaching Labs

Longer term projects

  • New masterplan is being developed to guide capital programme for next 10 years
  • Physics, Computing & Imaging, 11,500 sq m building
  • Purple Zone Residential Scheme
  • Business School Expansion
  • EC Stoner refurbishment
  • Biological Sciences Fitness for Purpose
  • Embedding Incubation & Innovation
  • Brotherton Library
  • Refurbishment of Victorian Properties
  • Public realm improvements


“Over the next period much more of our work will be refurbishment,” Gilley said. Hitting development timetables is particularly important to the university, as it has a string of refurbishment projects planned, so each disrupted scheme has a knock-on effect, according to Gilley. “Supply chain of contractors and consultants is absolutely paramount for us, and having certainty is key,” he said. The university “doesn’t necessarily” want to grow domestic student numbers and is focussing on “increasing student numbers from overseas.”


Leeds Metropolitan University has 29,000 students and 2,900 staff. From September 2014 it will be renamed Leeds Beckett University, after one of its original campuses, Beckett Park. Today the university is split over two main campuses, the City Centre Campus and Headingley Campus. The university has spent £200m on capital projects over the past seven to eight years and plans to spend a further £75m on capital projects over the next three years.


  • The university is planning a rolling programme of improvements to the City Centre campus, including improving circulation around the four component buildings, better branding, new facades, new entrances and incorporating more retail uses.
  • At the 94-acre Headingley Campus, the university is working up plans for several new buildings, including creating further space for the STEM, sport and performing arts subjects. Developments can be no higher than the existing James Graham building, or around four or five storeys tall.


The university is investing to develop more collaboration and social learning spaces, particularly in its libraries, Stephen Willis, director of finance and resources at Leeds Metropolitan University, said. “If you’d asked me ten years ago I’d have been looking at reducing library space – ‘you don’t need books’ – but what’s actually happened is libraries have developed so much into actual formal and social learning space. Our students spend more time there than anywhere else. It’s actually the space of most value to us because it is to them.”


Leeds City College is an £80m-turnover institution with around 40,000 students and 1,700 staff. It offers full and part-time academic and vocational qualifications, from basic skills to apprenticeships, A levels to foundation degrees. It has six campuses around the city – Technology Campus, Park Lane Campus/College House, Hosforth Campus, Keighley Campus, Joseph Priestley Campus and Printworks Campus


  • The college is partway through the development of its Printworks Campus in south Leeds, a series of college buildings being redeveloped out of a historic printworks. Phase one, consisting of three buildings, is already complete. Fuse Architects and Aecom are working on designs for phases two and three. Phase two – refurbishment of the grade two listed small print hall to house the college’s motor vehicle department – will go out to tender soon, with work to start in September. The college requires £10m in funding to complete refurbishment of the large print hall into a multi-use space. The large print hall has been stabilised, restored and reroofed. The large print hall was once home to largest printworks in the world, which specialised in printing playing cards.
  • The college is in discussions with housebuilders and consultants about selling off its South Leeds and Hosforth campuses for housing schemes. These operations will move to the Printworks Campus. More disposals are likely to follow. A Sweett study commissioned by the college found of 100,000 sq m of space, the college only needs 70,000 sq m, making 30,000 sq m ripe for disposal. Challender said: “Going forward we’re looking at rationalising the estate, selling off buildings, downsizing.” These disposals will fund redevelopment work in the remaining campus, Challender said.


Just as in higher education, further education colleges are looking to develop more flexible learning spaces. “In FE it’s not just looking at designated spaces, we’re looking at more multi-functional spaces to drive up utilisation,” Challender said. Future challenges cited included generating funding, a maintenance backlog, estate rationalisation, disposals and increasing utilisation.