Old Naafi building topped out as student flats reach key stage
BUILDERS hoisted a small yew tree to mark the topping-out of a landmark block of student flats in the city centre yesterday.
The former Naafi building on Hoe Street in Plymouth, which will be home to 522 students from September, was given its official welcome.
With the main structural work now complete, construction firm Leadbitter is working towards an August deadline to finish fitting out the building next to the Holiday Inn.
Bob Crompton, chief executive of developers Knightsbridge Student Housing, said the positive attitude of Plymouth people had given him "a warm feeling".
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Cllr Mike Wright, the Lord Mayor of Plymouth, praised the building, which has striking views across the city.
"We welcome students," he said. "This is definitely a student city, and the students in this building will help to bring more life to the city centre."
Knightsbridge Student Housing Limited bought the land from Plymouth University for £3.5million.
Tina Colley, faculty business manager at Plymouth Business School, said there was still a big unmet demand for student accommodation.
She said the university was still not able to offer all first-year students accommodation in halls.
"This will allow other students to move in and make room for first-years who need to be closer to the university.
"No matter what else you offer in a university, if you can't offer accommodation you haven't got a student."
Brian Welsh, Knightsbridge's operation director, said the total investment in the new building was more than £30million.
"We see Plymouth changing from a naval town to a university town. We're in the knowledge economy now."
The company operates about 5,000 student rooms around the country and is in the process of building another 4,000.
"The university is a fantastic asset for Plymouth," he said.
He said the council's planning department had been very helpful, but firm in demanding high building standards and materials.
This included demanding a road through the development, allowing views through to the Hoe.
"We think the building will be a credit to the city and not just a boring student block."
Mr Welsh said that purpose-built student accommodation benefited the rest of the city.
"When students live in converted houses, that skews the whole housing market and families have to pay more.
"This will free up local homes for local people."
Rob Bradley, Leadbitter's regional director, said they chose a yew tree to mark the end of the structural phase of building work in order to be traditional.
The building, which will be known as Astor House, is in three accommodation blocks on the 1.2-acre site.