Historic Lancaster building to become student flats despite noise fears

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

Plans to convert an historic Lancaster landmark into student accommodation have been given the go-ahead.

The former Gillows building in North Road will become a range of student cluster flats, with 32 residential studios,
a gym and new glass extensions to the rear in a phased development by Lancaster based Cityblock.

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

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

But at a planning committee meeting on Monday, December 12, concern was raised by Lancaster University Students’ Union (LUSU) that noise coming from its Sugarhouse nightclub behind the building could prompt complaints from new tenants, and that this could result in the potential closure of the Sugarhouse.

Sophie Tarif, Vice-President (Union Development) at LUSU said that noise assessments for the development were incomplete, and that the granting of permission would pave the way for Lancaster City Council’s planned student accommodation in St Leonards Gate.

But Rachel Stainton, senior environmental health officer at Lancaster City Council said: “We’re confident that the noise levels will be acceptable.”

Miss Tarif said: “We’re extremely disappointed with the decision. We’ve done our best to represent the views of our members throughout this process.

An artist's impression of how the Gillows building would look.

An artist's impression of how the Gillows building would look.

“Our view remains that a decision has been made despite the numerous questions hanging over the design - meaning this well-established club may come under threat as a result of complaints from tenants. “In allowing this project to go ahead the council has paved the way for the development of its own building in St Leonardsgate. Sugarhouse now faces being surrounded by residential developments that have been approved on the basis of incomplete acoustic analysis.”

Trevor Bargh, from Cityblock, said: “We would hope to start work in early summer but only following the clarification and agreement on certain outstanding matters, with completion in August 2018.”

The old Squires building at the top of Penny Street, where Cityblock is constructing another student development, is due to be completed in August 2017.

Councillors unanimously approved the decision on Monday, despite the concerns.

Coun Dave Brookes questioned why noise monitors could not be used during construction of the new development to give LUSU more confidence.

Coun Brookes added: “I sympathise with the Sugarhouse’s view that they want surety, but I don’t think it’s possible at this stage to give them that.

“The pre-occupation testing gives a level of confidents to LUSU. On that basis I’ll be voting for approval.”

A range of conditions have been placed on the building, mainly concerning noise reduction measures.

Lancaster Civic Society supports the proposal, but the national Victorian Society raised objections.

Richard Barton, speaking on behalf of Cityblock said that independent acoustic specialists had no objections.

But a debate was raised over whether the Manchester or Leeds model of acoustic testing should have been used, and reference was made to scenarios in other parts of the UK where new living accommodation had resulted in the closure of late night venues.

Coun Sylvia Rogerson said that any potential noise complaints should be dealt with by the city council’s Licensing Act.

She added: “Let’s suck it and see.”

Miss Tarif added: “The union is committed to the future of The Sugarhouse and will do what’s needed to ensure it continues to thrive despite this setback. We now look forward to working with the developers of Gillows, who have pledged to contribute to further soundproofing measures at the Sugarhouse as appropriate.”

In September, Lancaster City Council and construction firm Robertson applied to convert the council owned St Leonards House in St Leonards Gate into a total of 180 student bedrooms.

The city council said the building, currently used for office space, had become an “expensive liability” rather than an asset, and the development would act as a catalyst for regeneration in the Stonewell area. The city council has not revealed how much cash it will be investing in the project.

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