Why the student hall invasion of Commercial Road is no bad thing.

Portsmouth’s Commercial Road looks, at best, tired. A mismatch of interesting architecture and downright ugly shop fronts mix together to form one of the most average looking city centres I’ve seen. The failure of the northern quarter redevelopment is an utter joke and something needs to be done to improve the overall look of the area. There has been a recent story that around £300,000 has been earmarked for repaving the whole precinct which is a good start. There seem to be very few vacant shops which is reassuring too. Regardless I feel something still needs to be done to dramatically shift the fortunes of the area.

Speaking to someone who actually lives here the flats are apparently very nice.

And it’s happening already. Soaring upwards and scaring the skyline with its appalling yellow top, Greetham Street Halls is a fitting garish carbuncle to Portsmouth’s proud history of ugly buildings. The former Zurich Building is starting to receive a cladding of black plastic rectangles that will mimic the original structures but swell the city centre with a further 700 students. Across the road planning permission has been granted for another student hall and the demolition of two former sites nearby are the start of, yep you guessed it, more student halls.

I think it looks a little sexy.

That’s a bucket-load of students sat in the city centre surrounded by a major shopping precinct. I mean Liquid and envy next door is going to do fine for sure and they might even replace the carpet in there. But the main town centre? Well what are students expecting? Good quality night-life, cafes, restaurants and bars along with all the convenience of the shops that they need. There’s that huge empty BHS lot in Cascades now and number of other empty properties in prime locations that can be used. An influx in first year students with disposable incomes is no bad thing when concentrated around your prime commercial district.

My main issue is how this influx of one type of social group will impact on some of the most deprived wards in the south. A teacher friend of mine once told me that the kids in his school rarely go to Gunwharf Quays as they don’t feel it’s for them. Could this happen to locals who may well enjoy commercial road as it is?

For me the answer is simple. If people want to invest money in using completely disused sites in the city centre (and they have been empty for many years) then crack on. The construction surely uses at least some local labour and further employment will be gained through other essential contracts (maintenance, cleaning etc). Areas that have been disused are converted or redeveloped to look a damn sight nicer than what used to exist in its place (Greetham Halls excepted but check out the view below). I also cannot be alone in my feelings that seeing things being constructed is a pleasure – and they say cranes are the lifeblood of a city.

Not a bad view from a student hall.

One issue that I have heard is that what happens if the university collapses and you end up with all these disused halls? It’s a stupid question really because these are halls that already have plumbing and electrics dotted around the building could simply be turned into normal flats. The same way old office buildings have been converted into halls the same transition into apartments is more than logical.

Any redevelopment in Portsmouth is good in my books. If it draws more people into the city that wish to invest in its future then that’s fine by me. Portsmouth is a gem on the coastline that only need enough individuals to realise it. A good starting point is by improving the look of the heart of the city. So build these halls, improve the look of a tired area and create a demand for other businesses. It’s better than doing nothing surely?


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