This month PDPLA chair, Martin Silman and vice-chair, Alwin Oliver met with Fiona Bell, Head of Estates at the University of Portsmouth to discuss the outlook for the student housing sector, the number and quality of halls being built, the role of private sector landlords and some of the concerns our members have raised.
Fiona is keen to discuss the University plan to develop its estate over the next few years in a bid to continue its growth and to cement its position as one of the top performing UK universities. With that in mind, we have invited her to come and speak to members at one of our monthly meetings - details yet to be confirmed but we are hoping she will be able to make it in either January or February.
In the interim, some highlights from the discussion:
- The University want/need to be able to offer a place in halls to all 1st year students who want one. This is a basic requirement if the University is to compete and recruit the number of students it does today.
- Today there are approx. 23,000 students at Portsmouth of which around 40% live at home, so 12-15 thousand live in halls and the private sector
- The marketplace for Universities is likely to be smaller in the future. With UK students predicted to peak in 2020 and reduce in number thereafter, and with doubts about the volumes of international students post-Brexit, the University is likely to need to recruit a higher proportion of students from a smaller overall pool, if it is just to stay the same size
- With this in mind, the University had a plan to build 2,000 student halls rooms but cancelled that when the Unite building in Greetham St and the old Zurich building now renamed Catherine House were built, as the need was already met
- Subsequent developments will add at least another 2,000 rooms, probably more. The University has already objected at the planning committee to at least one development - that of its partner Unite because the development in Isambard Kingdom Brunel Rd currently under construction did not offer anything not already available. The Uni are looking for as wide a range of options as possible for students and thus objected to yet another development of 'clusters of 6 small en suite rooms around a communal kitchen/diner" as there are already many of those and the Uni does not believe there are enough students who can afford that offer
- We questioned the role of the private sector (PRS) and were shown the brochure that all Portsmouth students receive, explaining accommodation options. We were pleased to see that the PRS was prominently featured at the front of the brochure, ahead of halls rooms and the write up was very positive.
- We discussed the closure of the Langstone halls of residence next summer. The site needs much spent upon it to bring it up to current standards and given the large number of new halls rooms becoming available in the city centre, it is clear the Uni knows they would struggle to fill the rooms at viable prices, hence the decision to close the facility
- No discussion has been taken on the Uni bus yet. There will be a study undertaken in the next few months and one option would be for the Uni bus to continue but on a different route to help spread the impact of students living in the area more evenly.