The purpose built student housing (PBSA) development nexus and its impact on inner-urban Sheffield

Carl Lee
Carl Lee
PhD student
Housing and real estate, Planning, people and place
Carl's research aims to measure, describe and explain the PBSA dynamic in Sheffield.

Supervised by Dr Sarah Payne (primary supervisor) and Professor Adam Leaver (secondary supervisor).

Between 2000 and 2019 Sheffield experienced a significant change in its city centre built environment through the development of over 22,000 bed spaces in private sector purpose built student accommodation (PBSA). This development continues and is resulting in one of the highest spatial concentrations of students in the UK.

The PBSA development nexus that has pushed forward this rapid urban change is the inter-action between the political economy of higher education, expressed through Sheffield's two universities, the local authority, expressed through the planning process, and private sector capital, expressed through the private sector companies planning, designing, building and operating PBSAs.

The research positions itself in the tradition of critical realism and draws upon an explanatory, sequential, mixed methods methodology that first aims to measure and describe the PBSA dynamic, and then looks to explain it. The explanatory aspect is addressed through semi-structured interviews with actors within the field of Sheffield's PBSA development nexus.

The research utilises a theoretical frame adapted from that posited by Stones (2005 p85) known as a quadripartite nature of structuration. Within this the external structure is acknowledged as neo-liberal capitalism within which agents (nexus components) operate with specific knowledge & habitus that informs their decision-making and partnerships. Such intellectual positionality enables the research to fall within the description of the political economy of private sector student accommodation.

The research also has a practical element in helping to inform citizens in Sheffield of the dynamics that lie behind the transformation of their city centre which they may be minded to express through the political process. Personally I have lived through this whole built environment transformation as a long-term resident of inner-urban Sheffield.

I arrived in Sheffield in 1982 aged 20 to study geography at Sheffield City Polytechnic. I have been a geographer ever since. I was awarded a PGCE by the University of Nottingham in 1987. I taught in secondary schools from 1987 to 1996 interspersed by two year long trips across Asia, and a part-time degree in Social Policy from Sheffield Hallam University awarded in 1993. In 1996 I was appointed Lecturer in Geography at the Sheffield College and spent the next 19 years teaching A level Geography, Adult Access to HE and AS Critical Thinking. I was Curriculum manager for Social Science and English and an elected staff governor.

In 2015 I took voluntary redundancy and have since worked for The University of Sheffield as a Lecturer in Community Development (2016-18), Associate Lecturer in Social Science at The University of Sheffield International College (2018-to present) and Associate Lecturer in Geography at Sheffield Hallam University (2018-19).

I first became a member of the board of directors of Heeley City Farm, Sheffield in 1995. Today I am vice-chair and it is a £1m a year urban sustainability project focused on urban food, renewable and affordable energy, rare breeds, youth-work and health projects. It also hosts a yearly community festival of 39 years standing.


Lee C (1994) ‘Review: Preliminary Study of China’s Juvenile Delinquency by Shao Daosheng; Crimes in India, Problems and Policy, by R. R. Bhatnagar.’ The British Journal of Criminology Volume 34 No 4
Drake G and Lee C (1999) ‘The Urban Challenge.’ Hodder and Stoughton. London.
Lee C (2009) ‘Home. A Personal Geography of Sheffield.’ Fou Fou. Sheffield
Lee C (2011) ‘Wake up and smell the masala: contested realities in urban India.’ International Journal of Geography: Volume 96 Part 2
Lee C and Dorling D (2011) ‘The geography of poverty’ The Socialist Review October 2011. Access at
Lee C and Mclean D (2013) ‘Local And Global: The University Of Sheffield Connecting With A More Plural Sheffield. An Analysis Of Civic Engagement.’ Unpublished University of Sheffield Report – lead commissioners Professor Vanessa Toulmin and Professor Paul White.
Lee C (2014) ‘Everything is connected to everything else.’ Fou Fou and Human Studios, Sheffield.
Dorling D and Lee C. (2014) ‘Inequality constitutes a particular place.’ Chapter 7 in ‘Riot, Unrest and Protest on the Global Stage.’ Pakes F and Pritchard D. (eds). Palgrave Macmillan. London.
Lee C. (2015) ‘Power to the People. Community Energy in the UK.’ Angle Journal. Imperial College, London. 22.06.2015 Access at
Dorling D and Lee C. (2016) ‘Geography’s place in the world.’ Times Higher Education 24.03.2016
Dorling D and Lee C. (2016) ‘Profile on Geography’ Profile London.
Dorling D and Lee C. (2018) ‘Geography’ – Chinese language edition. Scrmcbs. Chengdu, Sichuan.


‘Made in Sheffield. From Steel to Sport’ (2002) Norton College and Sheffield First Production. Written and produced by Carl Lee. Directed and edited by Stuart Dunn. Access at
‘Money: N.A.S.A. featuring David Byrne – Grant Phabao remix’ (2010) Worldmapper video re-rub by Danny Dorling, Ben Hennig and Carl Lee
Access at
‘A Personal Geography of Injustice’ (2010) 5 short documentaries on elitism, exclusion, prejudice, greed and despair written and presented by Danny Dorling and Carl Lee. Filmed by Jonathan Young. Edited by Carl Lee. Access at
‘Inequality in Bangalore’ (2010) Skype teaching film made by Carl Lee and Megan James. Access at
‘A City in Context. Everything Is Related To Everything Else.’ (2012) Danny Dorling, Ben Hennig, Carl Lee and Human Studio Access at
‘Generation Rent’ (2014) Carl Lee and Joe O’Connor with Danny Dorling –.
‘Endless Cities’ (2017) Dfuse, London – associate producer
‘Geography’ (2018)(In Chinese) Carl Lee, Danny Dorling, Qiujie Shi and Jake-Bennett-Young