University needs to be more involved in planning

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During recent months we have reported on many schemes to provide university accommodation in Portsmouth.

The planned blocks now add up to many hundreds of new rooms, with developers seizing on the lifting of the cap on universities, which can now take on as many undergraduates as they like.

And so we have the huge block of flats being built in Greetham Street that will house 1,400 students, and the 1,000-bedroom redevelopment of the former Zurich building in Stanhope Road.

But as revealed by a story last week about a plan for Chaucer House in the city centre – 484 rooms, planning permission approved – all is not as simple as it sounds. At that meeting the university raised valid concerns about the safety of students during construction, but it was a statement sent in by the vice chancellor Graham Galbraith that really caught the eye.

He wrote: ‘We have been disappointed with the lack of engagement by Unite in relation to the proposals for the proposed new development at Chaucer House.’

This lays bare that ‘student accommodation’ can be built without the blessing of the university – a situation which many outsiders will find bizarre.

And this is where it ties in with a story we report today about plans for a 250-bedroom student block being turned down by the city council. Councillors objected, quite rightly, as there would be only one kitchen. Whether this application was, as one councillor feared, a ‘smokescreen’ for something else or not, it does not sound like acceptable accommodation for new arrivals to our city.

Deregulating markets may be all well and good, but it is clearly time that the university was listened to – and consulted more – over the provision of accommodation in the city. The government should examine this quickly and make it a statutory duty on planning applications – to make sure that we are not left with surplus tower blocks, nor sub-standard building conversions. At the moment the game is weighted in favour of the developers, and not students or university. In the long run, this will lead only to problems.