Lancaster City Council has been accused of “backtracking” for failing to rescind its eviction notice on Lancaster Music Co-op.
At a lengthy meeting on November 14, Lancaster City Councillors voted unanimously to revoke the eviction notice served on the building in Lodge Street, give the Music Co-op a long term lease, and carry out vital repairs to the building.
But at a meeting on December 19, further questions were asked about the situation, and some councillors were left less than impressed with the response.
Coun Janice Hanson, Lancaster City Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for regeneration and planning, said the council is “unequivocal in its support for the Co-op and whatever the future of its current building, has pledged to ensure this continues, wherever it might be physically based”.
Coun Caroline Jackson, who represents Bulk Ward, said: “Despite the unanimous vote last month to keep it in Lodge Street and give it a more secure lease, Coun Janice Hanson told councillors that she could not give a commitment until after the consultation and the masterplan for the area had been drawn up that the Musicians Co-op would be staying where it is.
“This was a cross-party matter and all parties were in agreement. Now the Labour Party seems to have gone back on its word.”
Coun Tim Hamilton-Cox, who also represents Bulk Ward, said he was “amazed and concerned” by the comments.
He said: “Every member, including Coun Hanson voted to give the Co-op a lease on 1 Lodge Street only a month ago.
“Coun Hanson seems to think she can overturn the democratic right of councillors to make decisions.
“This is outrageous.”
David Blackwell, a director at Lancaster Music Co-op, said: “We are really disappointed that the eviction notice has still not been revoked.
“We have provided all the necessary insurance documents to council officers (as requested in the motion) and have carried out all the urgent repairs which have been reported back to the council by our structural engineer.
“These were the only caveats within the motion to rescind the lease and we have carried out all the requirements asked of us. Instead council officers have tried to sideline the issue, trying to take us to task on minor issues within our fire safety assessment, which was not mentioned as a condition of rescinding the lease in the motion.
“We feel this is simply a tactic used by officers to stall the process of rescinding the lease. We are bitterly disappointed by the lack of democratic process here.
“As you know the chamber voted unanimously to rescind the lease as long as we carried out certain demands.
“We have met those demands but still the eviction notice is in place.
“At the meeting of full council, further questions were asked about the status of the Musicians Co-op.
“Despite the unanimous vote last month to secure our future within the building and provide us with a long term lease, Coun Janice Hanson said she could not give a commitment until after the consultation and the masterplan had been drawn up for the Canal Quarter.
“We are absolutely outraged by this as at the previous meeting in November assurances were given to the Music Co-op regarding our future at 1, Lodge Street. “In fact it was unanimously agreed to give us a long term lease on the building and carry out significant structural repairs at the council’s expense.
Councillor Charlie Edwards said: “My prophecy that was right, the only reason the Council are evicting the Co-op is to go ahead with the Canal Quarter development.
“This statement has nothing to do with concerns about fire safety and Labour’s concern for the safety of the Musicians in the original Council vote was clearly smoke and mirrors.”
Coun Hanson said: “Following Wednesday’s meeting of Full Council at which I was asked a question about the Musicians’ Co-op, I would like to clarify my response.
“Let me first be clear – Lancaster City Council values the work of the Musicians’ Co-op and will implement in full the resolution made by Full Council in November.
“This includes rescinding the notice to quit once the most urgent safety-critical concerns are completed, at least on a temporary basis, and that valid insurance is in place.
“While significant progress has been made, some items, particularly in relation to fire safety, are still outstanding, and for this reason the terms of the resolution have not yet been completed. The council continues to work with the Co-op and is confident that this position will be soon resolved and the notice rescinded.
“Secondly, the council is committed to the long-term future of the Co-op and this includes investing in the building to bring it up to a standard where we are legally able to offer a commercial lease, placing the organisation on a more secure footing so they can develop their business plan and operation.
“My comments at Full Council related to the long term future of the building as part of the Canal Quarter – not the work of the Co-op itself.
“We do not yet know what the masterplan for the Canal Quarter will contain and it would be premature to pre-judge the outcome of a public consultation that has not yet taken place. It may be that 1 Lodge Street remains as a home for the Co-op, but there is also the potential that an alternative use is identified for the site.
“However, this must not be misconstrued by stating that the future of the Co-op is at risk.
“All of the property in the Canal Quarter area will be looked at as part of the masterplan and it may be that synergies with other users and buildings/development emerge that may be better for the Co-op in terms of developing their aims and ambitions.
“In the event that the current building is required as part of the development, we would work with the Co-op to identify alternative premises so they can continue to operate.
“The council is unequivocal in its support for the Co-op and whatever the future of its current building, has pledged to ensure this continues, wherever it might be physically based.”