A rundown area of Lancaster is set to become a “student village” with a university venue at its centre.
Multi-million pound plans have been submitted to convert the iconic Gillow building in North Road into 90 student cluster flats.
Lancaster City Council is also proposing to sell St Leonard’s House for student accommodation, although the decision has since been called in by the overview and scruting committee, the Lancaster Guardian can reveal.
Wider reaching plans to develop a “Gillow Quarter” incorporating the two buildings and others in close proximity, with a residential element, have failed to get off the ground.
Bulk Ward City Coun Tim Hamilton-Cox said the plan “brings investment and breathes new life into a substantial and historic listed building” but is disappointed that an integrated plan for the whole site was not made.
Lancaster Civic Society said it welcomed the buildings being brought back into use, but warned of the creation of “student ghettos” in the city, and suggested using part of the site as low cost homes for single working people. Lancaster developer Cityblock, which owns the former Gillow showroom, has applied for permission to convert the building with a glass facade at the rear.
Up until recently the Grade II Listed world famous furntiture hub has been a nightclub, but now stands mostly empty.
Cityblock boss Trevor Bargh said the proposal would deliver a “transformational change for the site”.
The project, subject to planning approval, is scheduled to open for student intake in autumn 2017.
Mr Bargh said: “The designs respect the historic conservation area setting whilst outwardly expressing and celebrating the building’s main function as vibrant living space. I love Lancaster, and we really do care about what happens to it, but in the absence of a more holistic view (of the site) we’re minded to push forward with our own development.”
Coun Hamilton-Cox said: “Last week the city council’s cabinet approved the use of St Leonard’s House for student accommodation and now CityBlock has independently produced its own design for more student rooms in the Gillow building.
“By default it seems that the ‘quarter’ is turning into a student village around The Sugar House night-club.
“But it will be good to see buildings which are so prominent in the cityscape being rejuvenated and perhaps provide the encouragement for other property investment in the vicinity.”
Martin Widden, from Lancaster Civic Society added: “The Society would very much like to see the city council adopt a policy that places a limit on the proportion of accommodation in any area that is aimed particularly at the student market.
“The council must strike a balance between the needs of students, of residents, and of tourists and visitors.”
In 1881, the Waring and Gillow furniture company moved to North Road from Castle Hill and developed a factory in St Leonardgate.
The firm was taken over and closed down in 1961, and the factory at St Leonardgate was purchased by Lancaster University in 1964 as temporary accommodation. Trevor Bargh bought the old showroom in North Road from Tesco in the 1990s and it became a nightclub under various guises. It also currently houses Living Woods furniture showroom.