New residence means 1,000 more students will live at Portsmouth’s heart

An artisit's impression of the redeveloped Zurich House site, as viewed from Victoria Park.
An artisit's impression of the redeveloped Zurich House site, as viewed from Victoria Park.

Councillors in clear over paying up council tax

  • Portsmouth City Council approves 1,000-bed student residence
  • Plan will transform the empty Zurich House site
  • Concerns were raised about parking and traffic management
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A DERELICT building at the heart of Portsmouth is to be transformed into a 1,000-bed student residence – with only 29 parking spots.

The curved, black monolith of Zurich House in Stanhope Road is to be refurbished and a 12-storey extension will be built beside it to help fill the housing demand for University of Portsmouth students.

I hope that this time it will actually get built

Ken Elcombe

As part of the deal, developer Knightsbridge Student Housing will pay £1.7m to the council to put towards new infrastructure projects.

Portsmouth City Council’s planning committee unanimously approved the plan at a meeting at the Portsmouth Guildhall.

But concerns were raised over the visual impact the extension would have on nearby Victoria Park, as well as parking, traffic and sewerage issues.

Principal planning officer Kelly Porter recommended the plan, saying: ‘We have come to the view that the design of the building does cause harm to the setting of Victoria Park.

‘Whilst there are concerns over the design there are other public benefits that the scheme brings that outweigh the harm to the heritage asset.’

Councillor Colin Galloway questioned the lack of parking, but was told residents would be asked not to bring their cars.

The 29 parking spaces will be primarily for staff and disabled residents.

Councillor Ken Ellcome said he was ‘slightly disappointed’ by the plan and would have preferred to see a hotel and restaurants on the site. But Cllr Ellcome also said he wanted the development to move ahead unlike other failed bids to redevelop the site in the past.

‘I hope that this time it will actually get built,’ he said.

The plan includes a new public walkway connecting Stanhope Road to Victoria Park. Three trees in the park will need to be cut down for it to go ahead.

Cllr Darren Sanders said: ‘It seems to me that we could refuse this on the basis of harm to the park but then the issue is, what good would that do to the site?’

Cllr Scott Harris welcomed the plan, noting that it would free up family housing space in other parts of the city.

The building has stood empty since the insurance giant abandoned it in 2007.

Zurich House was opened in 1973.

The committee was told that the student blocks would not take up all of the site, and there was room for further development. It is hoped construction will be finished by summer 2016.