CONTROVERSIAL proposals to convert former British Gas offices in Southampton into student flats alongside a new 16-storey student tower have been approved.

Councillors voted narrowly in favour of approving the application by Liberty Living, which would see the number of university students housed at Orion’s Point in St Mary’s double to 854.

Residents in Newtown and St Mary’s, who organised a campaign of opposition to the proposals, said they were “extremely disappointed”.

Other plans to be submitted in coming weeks for the former Co-op car park site at 60 to 64 St Mary’s Place next to Charlotte Place could see a further 700 new students flats built.

The site was previously earmarked for an ice rink by local developer Colin Warburg but he was out-bid by another developer.

Nazrul Chaudhery, chairman of Charlotte Place Campaign Group, said they were not opposed to existing offices being converted to student accomodation but they were “strongly opposed” to the new tower block.

“It is not in keeping with the existing buildings and is clear overdevelopment of the area,” he said, predicting an increase in antisocial behaviour.

Labour ward councillors opposed the development while residents also raised fears for community relations and an increase in parking congestion.

Planners said student residents would be barred from getting parking permits, although they could park on surrounding streets after 6pm.

Under the plans the 12-storey British Gas offices in Dorset Street, being closed with the loss of 500 jobs, will be converted into student flats, while additional rooms will also be created at neighbouring blocks, where 423 students already live.

The new 16-storey high-rise will offer 154 new beds across a mix of studio apartments and shared flats. The plans will reduce the number of parking spaces from 71 to six and increase cycle racks from 96 to 312.

A new supermarket could also be built under the flats. Three or four staff in addition to the current five will be employed to cope with the added influx.

As part of the works a new security fence and secure pedestrian entrances will be created.