Type: Student housing
Price: £16 million
The University, once the symbol of any thriving city/town, now a common feature of towns reinventing themselves as an educational/technological hub. As a result, swaths of students flock to the city allowing for investors to develop huge sites into student accommodation, maximising profits by building, high and large on the cheap, quickly, allowing for a fast turnaround on profits. Yet, Ipswich has only seen the construction of one large dedicated block of student housing – Athena Hall.
A few years prior to the construction of Athena Hall (which was also planned in 2008), a number of proposals for dedicated student accommodation were being planned. The largest of which was the Luminis Student Accommodation building on Star Lane and Grimwade Street. The proposal, submitted in 2008, sought the construction of a 3 – 6 storey building containing approximately 406 units with commercial units on the ground floor.
The planning committee stated the building was a;
bold and contemporary design utilising a varied palette of external materials of varying colours and textures, including, most notably, a blue glazed brick, a yellowtoned rainscreen cladding system (Trespa), and stack-bonded red brickwork to the main street elevations, with light coloured render and buff brick to internal elevations. There would be a strongly defined corner element with a double height glazed foyer entrance, recessed behind large angled columns and feature recessed balconies on the corner. Elevational treatments proposed to Star Lane and Grimwade Street are intentionally different to respond to the separate contexts.
If accepted, the building was planned to open in two stages to coincide with the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 academic years. The building would also increase capacity for the proposed stages of the University master plan. The first of which was the Waterfront building, stage two, which saw the addition of Athena Hall, was the construction of the James Hehir building.
However, the application lapsed as investor interest waned as opposition rose. There are a number of reasons for the collapse of this project. The design was proving a contentious issue as was the possibility of oversupply (Phase 1 of the university was only just constructed) and the project was ultimately shelved, as was a number of other large proposals for student accommodation in the same time period.
In terms of design, the massing was seen as too large for the context, especially the Grimwade Street elevation, where the building was adjacent to a row of 2 storey houses. This elevation was ‘broken’ into two sections with the right section stepping down the scale of the design. This did not appease those who were concerned. The Star Lane elevation was also concerning those who believed it to be a poor backdrop to St Clements’s Church. The general massing and scale of the project was seen as a concern, especially due to the relatively low rise surrounding.
Despite this, the project possibly could have been built given the right circumstances, however, the University had been constructed a few years prior to the economic crash. With the concern of oversupply and with a bleak, uncertain economic landscape, a quick return on profits was an unlikely outcome. Furthermore, Athena Hall was planned the same year thus the possibility of oversupply made the investment a risk in times of recession. The project was too large and ambitious given the circumstances, therefore, it is most likely that the developer got cold feet and pulled the plug on the project.
It is interesting to note that, the council and planning committee seemingly tried to push this development through the planning process as quickly as possible, despite design concerns and developer doubts. Why? As mentioned, Ipswich, or moreover the council, is desperate to brand itself as a
Waterfront town, University town… a Waterfront, University town? (its still confused about what it wants to be). This emphasis on the Waterfront and subsequently the university is what is leading to the ultimate demise of the town as a whole and lack of investor interest in large developments in the town centre.
This was just one of 6 large scale, dedicated student accommodation proposals in the space of 4 years. 5 of which fell through, only Athena Hall was built.