The vice-chancellor of the University of Portsmouth warned a firm behind an unfinished halls of residence must face its ‘moral, social and legal responsibilities’ after forcing hundreds of students into temporary accommodation.
Around 200 students due to live in the £30m Stanhope House development in the city centre were told this week they still cannot move in - two weeks after The News revealed it was not ready for the start of term.
Professor Graham Galbraith is concerned Prime Student Living, the operator, is not communicating enough. The firm axed around 50 students’ contracts from the 256-bed development with just two days’ notice. They now have housing.
Speaking yesterday, Prof Galbraith said his institution had put aside a £50,000 contingency fund to handle the problem at the privately-owned 19-storey block, developed by Crosslane Student Developments, and its own housing team was helping.
Prime has insisted the delay is the fault of its contractor and has not yet been told of a completion date. It said the ground floor is a shop and most student bedrooms are in place. It has extended hotel stays until next weekend.
One 18-year-old student ‘living on takeaways and crisps’ in a hotel room is considering leaving university altogether. Others are living off Portsea Island at the Marriott Hotel, in Southampton Road, unsure how to claim back travel expenses from Prime Student Living.
This year 22 student halls across Britain have not been ready for the start of term, an industry body confirmed to The News.
Prof Galbraith said: ‘We would hope that the company would face up to their moral, social and of course legal responsibilities but the way that the contracts have been constructed with the students, the students have very, very little power as consumers to do much about this.
He added: ‘The communication with students is not in any way adequate in terms of supporting them, and I have written personally to the managing director as has the university lawyer and I am patiently awaiting a response, which I think is, to be honest, unacceptable.
‘It doesn’t indicate to me that at the highest level in Prime Student Living they are taking this situation with the seriousness it deserves.
‘I’m concerned because this is supposed to be one of the most joyous, exciting experience in any student’s life, so they arrive at university, they’ve chosen halls of residence because they want to be with other students, they want to have that social, supportive environment that halls provide and they’re paying an extremely large sum of money as consumers to have this privilege, and their freshers’ week and first week of term is enjoyed in a hotel room. I’m afraid that’s not (good enough).’
A Prime spokesman said: ‘Please be assured that the situation in Portsmouth is of utmost priority to Prime Student Living and we are working extremely hard in difficult circumstances.
‘This is the first time in over 11 years of successfully managing purpose-built student accommodation that Prime Student Living have been put in this situation, where handover of a new building to the operator has been late.’
Most students have been given accommodation or are staying with friends, he added.
It comes after 23-storey Crown Place, run by CRM Students, just a stone’s throw from Stanhope House, failed be finished in time last September. The exterior needed more work but students moved in on time.
Prof Galbraith said it was ‘upsetting’ for this to happen for a second year.
READ MORE: Permission granted for £30m student housing
He said: ‘It’s uncertain, students need certainty. They need to know they have a safe place to go at night to live, with their friends and colleagues, so they can focus on the very hard work of studying at university and developing the right social interactions for them to make them feel secure and happy.
Union president Helena Schofield, a recent graduate, said: ‘They don’t know what to do, so it is really stressful, especially for students in their first year as well, they’re coming to a completely new city, and if they’re placed in hotels they’re just completely isolated.’
The university ended up moving people into its own halls or other providers, helped with transport to move, offered out-of-hours support and will host drop-in sessions next week with the union. There is university accommodation available.
ANUK, which runs a voluntary code of conduct, is considering bringing in penalties for developers whose student properties are late.
Simon Kemp, from the group, said: ‘It’s to put the pressure back on the developer to see if you’re not going to be open and honest about this then it’s going to hit you in the pocket.’