The Galleon - Portsmouth's Student Newspaper

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Blade building plans held up

  • Accommodation for 600 students unlikely to be ready for 2013

  • Plans to redevelop Mercantile House as 200 new student residences

  • Delays due to complications over controversial sprinklers

An artist's impression of the new Blade accommodation building

An artist’s impression of the new Blade accommodation building

The Galleon can reveal that the ‘blade’ accommodation building is unlikely to open in September 2013 as planned.

The 330ft building, which is due to provide accommodation for 600 students, is believed to be delayed due to complications in adding a sprinkler system to the existing plans.

The sprinkler system was confirmed in August after concerns over safety by senior firefighters and it’s estimated to cost up to £400,000.

It’s unclear whether the University or the building developer Watkin-Jones will have to foot the bill but the building will be owned and operated by Watkin-Jones with the University nominating which students will be housed.

It’s also unclear whether the building’s unique design hinders the installation of an adequate sprinkler system.

The currently empty Blade building site

Sarah Jackson The currently empty Blade building site

Described as “a landmark building for the city” by Vice-Chancellor John Craven, the building was planned to open in September 2013 in time to provide an additional 600 accommodation places for first year students.

In April’s planning application it was noted that: “due to the complexity of the application, the University was several months behind schedule,” and that it was “the intention to start work on the project as soon as possible.” However development has stalled and no building work has taken place at the site since July. Construction logos for Watkin-Jones have since been removed from the site.

With just 19 months until the building is due to open, it’s unlikely that the accommodation will be ready for new students in time for the 2013/14 academic year. The East Side Plaza Tower in Gunwharf Quays, commonly known as the ‘Lipstick’, took three years to build and is a similar size to the planned Blade building.

The University refused to comment but did confirm that they are “in discussions with the developer”.

Meanwhile, the University is “exploring opportunities” to redevelop Mercantile House as accommodation for 180-200 students.

Mercantile House is being considered for redevelopment as accommodation

Sarah Jackson Mercantile House is being considered for redevelopment as accommodation

The eye catching tower has been the centre of controversy since being announced.

During planning English Heritage said it believed the tower would dwarf the Grade II-listed Guildhall and was “vastly too big”.

The council’s parks department were also concerned about potential shadowing over Victoria Park and wind turbulence caused by the building.

Concerns were raised by senior firefighters in June last year after it was revealed that the building would not have sprinklers. The University and developers backed down in August after facing strong criticism and agreed to add a sprinkler system to the building plans.

Accommodation for first years has been a problem for the University for many years, with those whose first choice is not Portsmouth unlikely to receive a place in halls and having to find a place in private accommodation. The University has a relatively low number of students living in university accommodation.

Tensions between residents of the city and students have also risen with a number of reported incidents of anti-social behaviour this year and new parking schemes adversely affecting students. The new building is expected to release 100-150 students homes to be used by residents.