Green light for 630-bed Lancaster student village on “rat infested” land

The Bulk Road development from Derby Street on the river Lune
The Bulk Road development from Derby Street on the river Lune

The skyline of our city is set to radically change after a 630-bed student village was given the thumbs up.

The development at the northern gateway to Lancaster, approved by city councillors this week, is one of many planned in a shake-up of the city centre.

Artists impression of the 121ft tower of the Bulk Road development in Lancaster

Artists impression of the 121ft tower of the Bulk Road development in Lancaster

Two major new student housing developments were given the go-ahead this week.

St Leonards House in St Leonard’s Gate, and the derelict site in Bulk Road will together provide another 800 student bedrooms in the city.

Lancaster University estimates that three to four thousand more student beds will be needed over the coming years, councillors were told at a meeting on Monday.

Alongside Lancaster City Council’s Local Plan for up to 13,000 new homes, and major new housing developments already taking shape in the district, it is certainly a time of change and upheaval in the wider city area.

Photo: David Hurst'Gillows Building, North Road, Lancaster.

Photo: David Hurst'Gillows Building, North Road, Lancaster.

This summer, work is due to start on a 630-bed student village on a derelict strip of land at one of the key gateways to the city.

Described as an “embarassment” to Lancaster, the “rat-infested” land sandwiched between Bulk Road and Back Caton Road will become one of the biggest developments the city centre has seen for quite some time.

Its 37m high 11 storey tower will be visible across the city, overshadowing residents living in Bulk Road and Gladstone Terrace.

Less than a mile away, the former Gillows building in North Road will be converted into student accommodation by developers Cityblock - the company’s fifth student site in Lancaster.

St Leonards House

St Leonards House

The frame for its “Cityblock4” development at the former Squires Pool Hall in Penny Street, demolished last year, is also currently taking shape.

With St Leonards House getting planning permission for student rooms this week, despite concerns over the loss of heritage, and scores of smaller student developments above retail units in and around the city centre, it’s a hot topic locally.

The current mantra is that new build student developments will free up much needed family housing in more traditional residential areas of the city.

And of course more people living, and therefore shopping, in the city centre is good for business.

Cityblock 4 in Penny Street Lancaster.

Cityblock 4 in Penny Street Lancaster.

But not everyone is happy with the developments.

In the case of the Gillows building and St Leonard’s House, students themselves vehemently opposed the plans, with hundreds of letters of objection focussing on their proximity to the student run Sugarhouse nightclub, and the potential complaints that could ultimately result in the closure of the venue.

Bulk Ward Coun Andrew Kay said the Bulk Road student village represented a change in the balance in the city.

He said: “Everyone here would agree that the site needs development, it’s unsightly and rat infested.

“But there are issues with the height of the tower, and block four of the development, which has a gable end directly facing houses in Bulk Road.

“There’s no doubt about it that the scale and massing will have an overbearing effect on the residents of Gladstone Terrace.

“This changes the balance in the future. I support the development of the site, but does it really have to be that high?”

The “balance” is something the city council have had to weigh up with many of the recent student developments.

In the case of St Leonard’s House, Historic England said the level of harm caused to the Grade II Listed building in its conversion would be “regrettable”, but it would “reluctantly accept” the development.

Applicants Robertson Homes acknowledged that turning a former furniture factory into a 180-bed student block would cause harm to the building - the internal structure and the clerestory roof will be lost - but that “harm was necessary” to make the scheme viable.

In Gladstone Terrace, which will be dwarfed by the new 37m glass fronted tower block, Cheryl Beveridge told councillors she felt “sad, anxious and upset” about the development.

She said after the planning meeting: “I’m really upset about it. We’re going to have to move from here.”

But Coun Malcolm Thomas said: “This is the northern gateway into Lancaster, and in all the time that I’ve been here, it’s been an embarassment.

“You wonder what you’re letting yourself in for. Here you’ve got an improvement. It’s a much better approach to Lancaster than what we’ve had in the past.”

Planning chairman Coun Carla Brayshaw added: “I hope the developer has taken note of the comments here, particularly about being a good neighbour.”

Coun Janice Hanson, cabinet member with responsibility for regeneration, said after the meeting: “Over recent years student numbers at both Lancaster University and the University of Cumbria have shown a steady increase. Combined with the introduction of buy-to-let mortgages in the early 2000s, this has had the impact of housing supply being restricted due to traditional family housing being bought up by private landlords and converted to student lets.

“We need to rebalance the housing market and, over the longer term, dedicated student accommodation will help to ease demand for the traditional shared house, increasing the supply of much-needed low cost family housing, particularly in south Lancaster. Many of the buildings which we are seeing being converted, or sites for new build, are those where there are few alternative solutions and they would continue to lie empty and potentially become derelict.

“An increase of student accommodation in the city centre is also beneficial for the district’s economy with an increased number of consumers for services from local shops and businesses.”