A £10m investment plan for the University of Cumbria’s Lancaster campus will see up to a fifth of the site sold off to developers.
The university has outlined a vision for a major refurbishment of the Bowerham site – which includes the development of new buildings as well as proposals to demolish or sell off other run-down or disused buildings.
Developers representing sheltered housing, student housing and health organisations have already expressed an interest in the unwanted 9,000 square metre plot which makes up a corner of the campus.
But local residents fear the plans could mean an increase in traffic in an already congested area.
The university’s chief operating officer Janet Whitworth said: “This is good news for Lancaster – more than £10m will be invested into the campus.
“Some of our facilities are a little bit tired and in need of refurbishment.
“Many of our existing buildings are set up in an old fashioned way – the more modern way is working in small groups rather than in lecture theatres and some of our buildings don’t lend themselves to that. We need more flexible space.
“Students are paying a lot of money these days and they expect a lot so we have to make sure we have the best possible facilities.
“This will make the campus better for the students and for local people.”
Plans include a new teaching block to be built alongside the playing field which backs onto Coulston Road.
This will replace existing disused buildings.
A new landscaped courtyard will form a centrepiece to the campus.
Improvements will also be made to pedestrian and vehicular routes around the campus.
Car parking on campus is expected to remain a similar amount, or slightly increase.
As part of the project, the university will put up for sale a stretch of land in the south east corner of the campus between Coulston Road and Golgotha Road.
The land currently houses a disused art block, some temporary buildings and some former barracks buildings now used as academic offices.
It will be marketed as a single plot, with the exception of a small car park at the end of Anderson Close which will be sold off as a separate housing plot.
Mrs Whitworth said: “We don’t know what it will be sold for yet but we have had interest from representatives of sheltered housing and health and from developers for student accommodation.
“Student housing is not a preferred option for us but it’s our duty to get the best value for the land.
“Residents have generally been supportive and positive but they are worried about what the land will be sold for.
“The main thing is that we have an engagement with the community and we are open and honest with it.”
Residents had also raised concerns about the historical value of some of the buildings which will be lost.
Lancaster Civic Society said it would be examining the proposals carefully.
Mrs Whitworth said: “We are very sensitive to the heritage value of most of the key buildings, and the ones we have got that are included in the disposal area that are of historical value will be marketed as such.”
It is hoped that the new university buildings, landscaping and centrepiece will be in place by September 2016.
One resident who lives close to the campus, who did not wish to be named, said he was concerned by the plans.
He said: “There doesn’t seem to be any detailed analysis.
“What they are proposing is very insensitive and illogical.
“The fact that they are considering selling off a third of the land that is backing on to a lot of streets is worrying.
“It seems to me that they want to make some improvements but will be financing it completely by selling off assets to give them capital.
“This is short sighted because it leaves them no room to expand or develop if there were any future opportunities.”
City and county councillor for the area, Richard Newman-Thompson, said the plans he had seen appeared to be “exciting” but he had concerns over how it would affect local residents.
He said: “In terms of the development itself it seems to be quite an exciting vision.
“It seems to be an interesting way forward and I think it will be a more dynamic campus.
“I can see why they are doing it and I agree with some of the plans but I think they have got to be careful about adding to the problems with the traffic in the area.
“If the disposal of buildings puts extra pressure on the traffic then I think they will come under severe criticism.”
Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw said: “Having last week seen the plans for Cumbria University campus here in Lancaster, I am quite excited about the project given they were just a few short years ago considering pulling out of Lancaster.
“However, I do feel that any project at the campus must now offer some solution to the daytime parking problems created on surrounding streets by staff and students of the university.”