UNIVERSITY students have been forced to start the academic year in a city centre hotel after construction delays prevented them moving into their apartment block.

The Unilife accommodation at Sparkford House, directly opposite the Winchester Univerisity campus in Sparkford Road, remains some way off completion.

A total of 15 tenants of the 88-studio apartment block are currently staying in temporary accommodation while contractors work to complete the building.

Apartments at Sparkford House, which was marketed to open in September this year for the start of the university semester, range from rents of £240 per week to £350 per week.

A Unilife spokeswoman said: "We have been in regular contact with the students involved since we became first aware of the delay in July, working closely with each individual to find the most suitable solution to their situation.

"After liaising with the students concerned and understanding what their most important requirements were, we secured rooms at a top rated hotel in the city centre, offering bed and breakfast and daily housekeeping.

"We are covering the cost of the hotel and will be crediting rent during the time students will spend at the hotel, which means that they are living rent-free whilst the development is completed.

"Construction had been on schedule but despite the very best efforts of the building contractors, due to unforeseen issues, the site hand-over has been delayed."Unilife said some tenants decided not to proceed with their booking and found alternative accommodation after being informed of the issue in July.

A revised completion date for the construction of Sparkford House has not been offered.

"We recognise how important location is to our students and this is the reason why we have secured the highest level of temporary accommodation available in the centre of Winchester," the spokeswoman added. "Our main focus is our students and their welfare and wellbeing. We continue to assess the situation and are ensuring that our students are kept fully informed with updates on progress."

Students have been provided with a storage facility in Winchester and services including free laundry. Tenants travelling from overseas were provided with free airport transfers and a personal welcome from Unilife staff at the hotel, while a member of the company's team is at the hotel every day.

Megan Ball, Winchester Student Union president, said: "Where students have been affected, and have identified themselves to us, we are working closely with the university to look to minimise any negative effects that this may have on them and their student experience."

Last month, Unilife submitted an application to Winchester City Council seeking permission to loosen the restriction on who can stay in the accommodation up until the start of the 2020-21 academic year to prevent the building from remaining "empty".

A planning statement submitted on behalf of Unilife says the only suitable alternative occupants are university and Royal Hampshire County Hospital employees and young professionals looking for short-term lets before relocating to more permanent housing.

The statement adds: "It is proposed to extend occupancy to these groups for the temporary period (to September 2020), after which, occupancy will revert to full-time university and college students only. During this period, occupancy is expected to range from a minimum of one-week to the full six to eight months up to September 2020, but with a typical stay of between one to 4 weeks.