LETTER OF THE DAY: Student developments are a positive for the city

The student developments around Portsmouth and Southsea station are a positive for the city, not least because the alternative is nothing: no development, no jobs and no growth.

Friday, 5th January 2018, 12:56 am
An artist's impression of what Venture Tower, in Fratton, will look like once it becomes student accommodation

It easy to forget, but what is now Catherine House spent 10 years as a giant pigeon loft after Zurich Insurance moved out.

It would be that still were it not for the growth in the market for student accommodation.

Some of the office conversions away from the university campus are less desirable, but they have had to be granted planning consent anyway as national policy effectively makes it impossible to do otherwise.

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Venture Tower, Fratton (artist’s impression pictured) is a case in point: the owners of the site had already informed the council of their intention to convert the building into more than 80 bedsits using rights granted by government to the owners of office buildings.

The remaining planning application was then in effect solely about cladding and not about the principle of the use.

I cannot however agree with either correspondents Jerry Bamforth or Jon Cole when both say that the council should buy these sites and use them for council housing.

Local authority budgets are under severe pressure, while government-mandated rent reductions and increases in the discounts for Right-to-Buy sales have increased the amount of subsidy necessary per unit.

Even on the lowest measure, every flat would require a £60,000 subsidy. The city council is currently building more than 150 affordable housing units, but there is no money available to add to that. As for the city centre road, abandoning that would be a monumental mistake as it would also mean abandoning all plans to redevelop the Tricorn area.

The £15m the council has set aside for its share is a huge amount of money.

It would take a decade at least to save that again were it spent.

Without any plan for new retail space and improvements to the area, there would be a danger that many retailers would quit Commercial Road forever.

Moreover the council cannot opt out of housebuilding, so if it gives up on the city centre then it would have no choice but to allow flats on industrial land instead.

The City Council is committed to affordable housing but it cannot do more than it is doing already. The only alternative would be a higher council tax following a referendum.

Cllr Luke Stubbs

(Cons, Portsmouth City Council)

South Parade, Southsea