During the past six months, construction on the largest student accommodation in Portsmouth has been underway. But is the new accommodation pricing out its target market? Lisa Foote reports.
Greetham Street halls in the city centre (see main image) will have 836 rooms to rent out to new students from September 2016. According to the University website, the price range for living here is £141-£146 per week, making these the most expensive city centre, self-catered halls the University has to offer.
The University accommodation buildings in Portsmouth are owned by Unite Group, a private company who provide student accommodation across 28 of the UK’s top University cities. As it stands, nearly a third of all students who join the University don’t receive a place in halls of residence and have to look for private accommodation elsewhere. There is no doubt that this new development is needed to improve the University and give new students an opportunity to live in halls. But are these new halls the answer to the problem or will Pompey students feel out of pocket?
Surrounding halls in the area, such as Trafalgar, Harry Law and James Watson are all relatively cheaper in price, but still offer an en suite, self-catered, city centre location, so what makes Greetham Street halls any different? Sarah Matthews, an engineering student and soon to be Resident Assistant for the new halls explains exactly what facilities the future residents of Greetham Street halls should expect.
“The University know they need more halls, they can currently only accommodate two thirds of first year students. There is also an increased demand for self-contained studio flats that are more likely to be allocated to mature or international students studying for their PhDs. They are building new accommodation because they know they will fill the rooms as they’re in such demand.”
Whilst the demand for places is obvious, will the price put people off, and what are students really getting for their money?
Sarah says: “Greetham Street halls will have a common area, something not considered during the building of previous halls. Most of the facilities will be the same as other Unite buildings. The self-contained studios in the building will benefit from having double beds but will be priced higher at £150 a week. During the summer, improvements will be made to the other halls along with Greetham Street and they will be looking to fit computer suites and printers in common areas of all the halls and 24/7 reception as standard.”
I think the price is incredibly unrealistic, students are signing contracts that I don’t think they have really considered…Most students are not going to need accommodation for that length of time, meaning they will be paying rent at the end of the last term for a room they probably won’t be using.
Sarah Matthews, Engineering student
My loan just about covers my rent and I had to get a part time job to be able to afford to live. I’d one hundred percent not be able to live in Greetham Street halls
Jo Culley, Fashion and Textiles student
If these plans go ahead, it will be interesting to see if the prices increase as a result. When asked about the price, Sarah admits: “I think the price is incredibly unrealistic, students are signing contracts that I don’t think they have really considered. Not only is the weekly price unrealistic but so is the contract length. Studio flat contracts will be 51 weeks and en suite rooms 40 weeks. Most students are not going to need accommodation for that length of time, meaning they will be paying rent at the end of the last term for a room they probably won’t be using.
“The University endorses Unite halls and yet is allowing such outrageous pricing. I feel this was a very short-sighted move and ultimately I can predict an increase in applications for the hardship fund, increased pressures on the wellbeing department, as students will feel the financial stress, and an overall effect on the city’s shops and nightlife, as students will simply not be able to afford the shopping trips to Gunwharf or wild nights in Astoria as promised in prospectus photos.”
An important question to consider is will the pricing make a difference to students considering a move to Portsmouth University? Liam Foote, a 17 year old college student who is considering coming to University told me, “Coming from a family who falls into the higher income bracket, I receive a lower maintenance loan compared with some of my friends. Whilst my parents will do everything they can to help me financially, they don’t have the spare money to pay for my rent. If I got a place at these new halls personally I would have to turn them down and apply for private housing. As great as they look and sound, if my loan can’t even cover my rent what is the point in having these new halls if half the students can’t afford to live there?”
So will the University be able to fill the 836 rooms of Greetham Street Halls?
19 year old fashion and textiles student Jo Culley, who currently studies at Portsmouth University, said, “It just wouldn’t be financially realistic for me. I live in Trafalgar at the moment which costs me £117 a week and I still struggle. My loan just about covers my rent and I had to get a part time job to be able to afford to live. I’d one hundred percent not be able to live in Greetham Street halls; I would have had to turn them down. I feel sorry for students in my position who get allocated those halls and have to turn down the opportunity of living in halls for first year. It’s such a great experience.”
Whilst some Pompey students discuss what Greetham Street halls will have to offer, others are asking whether the money being spent on the new development could have been used to improve the halls that already exist.
Portsmouth student and resident of Trafalgar Hall, 21 year old George Mackey insists that the money should have been spent on his halls to improve facilities that just weren’t up to scratch.
“I pay £117 a week to live in Trafalgar, and whilst it is a great central location, things need improving. We have two lifts for 14 floors, and one of them has been broken for 5 months. I live in a flat of 6 people and we have one fridge to share. It is simply not enough room to the point where I don’t even bother buying fresh food anymore because it just doesn’t fit. We have complained so many times and they just fob us off and tell us we’re on a waitlist for a new fridge but the funding just isn’t available at the moment. Instead of building new halls and overcharging students to live there, they should be solving these problems in the current halls as a priority. It makes me wonder if these problems will still occur in the new halls as well. Either way, I don’t feel like I get my money’s worth at all living here.”
Most of the Pompey students and potential students I spoke to share the opinion that Greetham Street halls are a bit too pricey for most. While the shortage of halls places in the city is an undisputed problem, could the University of Portsmouth still re-evaluate the pricing of these new halls, listening to the people who saying no to the rent price and yes to other Universities? Because if it doesn’t, Greetham Street Halls could be driving away the future students of Portsmouth.
Main image copyright Google 2016.