Prime Student Living reveals Stanhope House delays started with discovery of huge basement in Portsmouth as it sets aside £1m contingency fund

DELAYS immediately plagued the building of a student tower block when a basement was uncovered during demolition, The News can reveal.

Monday, 14th October 2019, 7:00 am
Updated Monday, 14th October 2019, 10:44 am

Today marks a month after Stanhope House was due to open for term but work is still going on at the 256-bed block in the city centre.

Operator Prime Student Living has earmarked a £1m contingency fund to cover costs while University of Portsmouth students are living out of suitcases in hotels, taking taxis to lectures and relying on takeaways while the 19-storey block is finished.

Activist and second year student Destiny Karakus, 20, was due to move into a £154-a-week ensuite room in a flat shared with four others but is staying in a hotel.

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Stanhope House in Sunday, October 13

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‘As students we were let down by the failure of a private building to supply us with the accommodation that we were promised,’ she said.

‘We were told that we would be in the building within two weeks. It’s been a month and they still have not given us a date as to when we can move in.

‘Students now need to stand up for their rights to a warm, safe and homely shelter.’

Student halls Stanhope House on September 25. Picture: Ben Fishwick

The politics and international relations student is set to protest outside the tower with other affected students tomorrow at 2pm over the delays.

Today The News can reveal:

:: Setbacks started when a 105,944 cubic feet basement 'not previously identified in surveys' was found after the former Co-op Bank was demolished.

:: It took the equivalent of 300 truckloads of landfill to provide a base for the tower.

Activist and second year University of Portsmouth student Destiny Karakus. The 20-year-old Londoner was due to move into Stanhope House while studying politics and international relations. Picture: Destiny Karakus

:: 'Violent storms' and poor weather meant external lifts and a 230ft crane could not be used during parts of construction.

:: Prime said dates of completion provided by its project team have ‘proven to be inaccurate, and which left Prime Student Living with no clear indication of when the building would be available to students'.

:: The firm said said reasons - ‘many out of the control of those involved’ - for the delays were ‘contractually confidential’.

Construction work at Stanhope House in June 2018. Picture: Google

:: Prime said the original completion date was August 19 but it paid substantial ‘acceleration fees’ when that was pushed back to September 6.

Conservative councillors Luke Stubbs and Donna Jones want Portsmouth City Council to write to Prime. In a motion due to be debated tomorrow they said the council should be disappointed by the ‘cavalier attitude of the company to deal with this issue properly’.

Prime told The News it was told on August 27 that all but the top four floors would be ready by September 14, with storeys 15-18 ready by September 23.

The firm said it sent more than 1,000 emails to students, called and met students ‘from the moment’ it was aware of the delay.

Contractor RGB Group insisted it is not responsible for the delay. On Saturday the Shrewsbury-based firm said it ‘handed more than half of the building over nine days ago’.

Hotel room where Destiny Karakus is living. Picture: Destiny Karakus

RGB previously told The News on October 4 its workers ‘have worked to accelerate the project to finish it over the coming 10 days’ and added: ‘RGB Group, at their own cost, are working all hours to ensure this project is completed as quickly as possible for the sake of the students’.

Prime said it is trying to ‘fast-track’ a usual two-week process from handover to check-in but added: ‘Prime Student Living wants to move students into the building as quickly as possible, but the health and safety of students has to take priority.’

This newspaper revealed 22 university student blocks across Britain have been late this year. Education minister Chris Skidmore is to meet with developers.

Portsmouth vice-chancellor Professor Graham Galbraith said: ‘Government needs to step up and consider that fact that it is important, of course, that students get value for money from universities - but it's equally important that they give value for money for the other part of their (maintenance) loan.’

RGB said developer Crosslane Student Developments and Prime, which share the same Manchester headquarters, ‘had knowledge during the entire process that the building would not be ready in time yet did not take appropriate action to ensure a quicker completion date’.

Prime, which said it became involved before its contractual obligation due to the delays, added: ‘We obviously regret the situation in Portsmouth, and the difficulties created for students.’

Stanhope House student accommodation building in Portsmouth on September 10. Picture: Habibur Rahman