Is it true? Myths about Lancaster Musicians’ Co-Op

From left, Mick Armistead, David Blackwell and Ian Dicken outside Lancaster Music Co-op
From left, Mick Armistead, David Blackwell and Ian Dicken outside Lancaster Music Co-op

Lancaster councillors are due to make a decision on the future of the city’s music co-op this week.

A motion to rescind an eviction notice handed to Lancaster Music Co-Op by city council officers is due to be voted on at a meeting at Morecambe Town Hall on Wednesday night, November 14.

The motion, submitted by Lancaster City Coun Kevin Frea, calls on the council to rescind the eviction notice and formulate an action plan to address the building’s condition and how best to raise funds to pay for repairs.

It is estimated that an initial cost of around £70,000 would be needed to fix the Lodge Street building’s roof.

It is understood that the ruling Labour group on the council are split down the middle in terms of how to deal with the situation.

Green Party councillors support the motion, but it is unclear how Conservative councillors will vote.

Tom Myall, David Blackwell and Ian Dicken outside the Co-Op when it first opened.

Tom Myall, David Blackwell and Ian Dicken outside the Co-Op when it first opened.

Thousands of people have signed a petition in support of keeping the music co-op open, and the campaign has also received high profile support from musicians and celebritites across the country.

In a detailed question and answer submission to the Lancaster Guardian, Bulk Ward Councillor Caroline Jackson provides her take on some of the historial issues surrounding the Music Co-Op over the last 33 years:

Is it true the Musicians’ Coop has paid only £200pa for 33 years so it should have got together the money to replace the roof?

It was impossible for the Musicians Coop to borrow or bid for any money to replace the roof because it did not have a lease on the building so no one would lend or give any money. In 2006 the Coop wrote a lottery bid, drew up plans for a complete refurb of the building and were given planning permission but had to abandon because they could not get a lease. In 2012 when the council had funds that Lancaster district arts organisations could bid for to improve their buildings, council officers refused funds to the Coop to replace the roof on account of the building’s uncertain future.

Coun Caroline Jackson

Coun Caroline Jackson

Is it true as stated by officers that the Musicians’ Coop were given a peppercorn rent with an express understanding that “ a heavily discounted rent would …provide capacity for business-critical maintenance and repair”.

It has never been stated to the Coop in writing or verbally by officers that the reason they had a peppercorn rent was so that they could make enough money to do major repairs. None of the current officers were in post when the tenancy at will was given to the Musicians’ Coop so it is difficult to understand when there is no evidence of any written communication how current officers can know this is true.

Is it true the Musicians’ Coop has paid only £200pa for 33 years so it has been receiving a subsidy from the council because it has never paid a commercial rent.?

The Musicians Coop has done the job of caretaker, as the council has acknowledged, on the building for 33 years – there has never been any vandalism or damage beyond some broken windows – in contrast the Dance studio left empty for a few months next door has already been subject to arson and cost us as a council, money to repair and secure.

A still from Glass Roof.

A still from Glass Roof.

It is true that the council has paid the buildings insurance – currently £500 per year on this building as it does on all its buildings.

However, due to having the Coop as caretaker in place it has not had to make any claims on this insurance, it must also be true that the council has made savings on the cost of cover.

Other council buildings have required security cover paid for by the council (anyone know about the West End Coop building??) So the council has had a service in return for its peppercorn rent.

Furthermore the Musicians’ Coop has been asking to pay a commercial rent since the 1990s. In 2002 full council finally listened to them and told officers to give them a lease.

Two years later officers offered a lease of £38500 more than three times the commercial rate which at today’s prices would be £12000. Whilst the Coop was still trying to negotiate, in 2005 Cabinet, without consulting full council, withdrew the offer of a lease. The irony of this situation is that if the council officers had given the lease in 2002 when required to by full council, not only would the repairs all already have been done at the Coop’s expense but by now the Musicians Coop would have paid over £150 000 into council funds.

Below is an extract from the Council leader’s report February 2006

Lancaster Music Co-Op

Lancaster Music Co-Op

Much misleading comment continues to be made about the Cabinet decision in October about the Canal Corridor and the Musicians Co-operative. It is said that the Cabinet has decided to evict the Musicians’ Co-operative; in fact the Cabinet decision guarantees a place in the new development…… I understand that Centros Miller have now contacted the Musicians about their aspirations for a future development and I was pleased to read in the local press that the Musicians found their approach satisfactory ….

Is it true as officers state, that the Musicians’ Coop cannot show any evidence that the subsidy provided by the council – of about £300 per year in buildings insurance, was” best value/value for money from the public purse”?

This is a critical question – the Musicians’ Coop has been left in limbo, taking a peppercorn rent of £200 per year, when they wanted to pay a lease, being propped up by £500 insurance from the council.

So over more than twenty years they have patiently built up the skills and resources to support local bands. Unlike MORE music in Morecambe who do the same job, they have never been offered any money for doing this job, or any guidance as to what the council wanted. The result here in Lancaster is a huge contribution to the thriving, far reaching music scene of the city.

The evidence is there most nights of the week in Lancaster and in the support expressed over the last few weeks.

It has cost the council 33 times £300 ie the annual insurance less their annual rent, approximately £10 000 altogether. If we want a comparison that is approximately 6 weeks costs for our highest paid interim officer.

We know our interim officer is necessary and well worth the extra cost but as far as Best Value for the public purse goes the Musicians’ Coop has done far more to put actual £££s in the pockets of actual businesses and real musicians in Lancaster District.

The Musicians’ Coop is not concerned for the safety of its users or the validity of its insurance.

The Musicians’ Coop has had no accidents or injuries in its 33 year history. Due to the deterioration of the building it has had progressively to put more and more areas out of bounds to musicians and curtail its operation. Since the City Council condition survey was received the Musicians’ Coop has commissioned its own internal electrical survey and then started the work which is on the point of signed off this week. In order to carry out further works identified by its own consulting engineer in order to achieve assurance on the safety of the roof the co-op may have to suspended its operation; it has already completed other urgent works identified by the council’s agent.

Is it true that according to its tenancy agreement, the Musicians’ Coop is responsible for all repairs to the Coop building?

The council in August 2018 told the Musicians’ Coop that it is responsible for all repairs to the building. This is the first time in 33 years that the council has stated that they believed this to be the case. The Musicians’ Coop have a Tenancy at Will which states that the Coop may do all repairs necessary for their business. This has meant the Coop has always taken responsibility for such things as electrical wiring, windows, doors, sound proofing. This is evidenced in the work they have just completed on the building. This is evidenced in the work they have just completed on the building. The tenancy gives the co-op no opportunity to raise funding because it has absolutely no security of tenure, and therefore no incentive to do more than is necessary to maintain its day-to-day operation. The Musicians’ Coop have never said that the council is responsible for all repairs but they have been quite reasonable in suggesting the landlord, under the tenancy at will may have some responsibility for repairs to items such as the roof. The truth about the Tenancy at Will is that it is very vague and was only suitable for a very short occupation of the building. The Musicians’ Coop has persistently asked for a lease to replace it, as a landlord, the council must take some responsibility for not making the situation over repairs clear.

Is it true as officers state that “a Coop representative stated that following their own legal advice, they considered responsibility for repair of the building rested with the landlord and they did not accept responsibility to maintain the building.”

This is untrue. Neither the Coop nor its representatives have ever contended that the Coop was not responsible for the repairs required to maintain the safety of the operations of the Coop. It has just signed off repairs to internal areas and electrics that cost nearly £1000. However, the Coop has taken and been given legal advice all of which amounts to the same thing. The Tenancy at Will is not a fully repairing lease and the council has never stated or acted in a way that suggests that it is a fully repairing lease. The Coop representative stated that because of the wording of the Tenancy at Will. the Coop did not accept responsibility for ALL repairs, particularly those linked to replacing the roof. This not the same thing as saying the council is responsible for all repairs, nor is it the same thing as refusing to maintain the building.

Is it true as has been asserted by officers that the noise from the Musicians’ Coop disturbs the users of the Grand.?

This was true years ago before there was adequate sound insulation. There is no problem now and the Grand has not made a complaint. This noise disturbance equally true for noise from some tribute bands playing at the Grand which can be heard very loudly when doors are opened but the noise does not disturb the users within the Coop rehearsal rooms.

Is it true the Musicians’ Coop is very exclusive and does not want new members to be involved in running the Coop?

The Musicians’ Coop has spent more than ten years in limbo. Believing the promises of the developers to create a new building for them and watching its available space shrink. The staffing has dropped to only one director employed full time plus some part time support so the Coop has not had the ability to take on anything new. The Coop is very keen to expand again, to widen its membership, to have more people employed, to do more for young people, to encourage new people to help run the facility. It has its expert support team to help with this. What it needs is a lease to allow it to access funds for its vision to become even more influential in developing the Lancaster music scene and to enable more music to come to Lancaster and more local bands to play to wider audiences.

Is it true that the Musicians’ Coop does not have the support in place in order to change its way of working and to manage to gain and use funding? Is it true it would not be able to run a new music venue?

The Coop has a committed and skilled support team which includes a professional business advisor and a fundraiser, an architect, a builder and a lawyer. It already has the plans passed in 2002 for the refurbishment and development of a venue. It already has a business plan which includes the venue and the plan has been reviewed and is being updated. When the Musicians’ Coop looks to change its constitution, possibly into a Community Interest Company, it is already able to call on suitable directors and these will include people with business abilities. The nearest similar venues are in Kendal or Preston so Lancaster is ideally placed for touring bands to visit and it already has a reputation amongst musicians nationwide. With the contacts and expertise available through the current Musicians’ Coop operation there is no reason to think that a new music venue would be other than a success. It is ideally placed for attracting a student population and will bring visitors into the city centre to use the many bars and restaurants situated as it is between the city itself and the new Canal Quarter. The music scene in Lancaster contains many people with a huge range of skills – their commitment to the future of the Musicians’ Coop in Lodge Street is such that the Coop will have practical support to carry out its new developments at a very realistic cost. That means every bit of funding whether it is from donations, from bid funding or from the city council will give full benefit to the city.

Is it true the council is unable to find any money for substantial investment until the budget process 2018/19?

No this is not true. The council set aside a large amount of reserves in the 2018/19 budget. This includes the Corporate Property reserve of £400 000 which is earmarked for “ repair works to municipal buildings and facilities” so would allow a contribution towards major works on the Lodge Street building. In addition it has a Budget Support reserve which we ae told can be used to support the development of “projects” as the Cabinet wishes as long as they develop “capacity”,” transformation” and “modernisation”.

This could support the development of the organisation, the acquisition of further funding through bids and the development of the business side.

Is it true that council cannot make any decisions about the Canal Quarter until after the Masterplan has been published so it cannot decide that the Musicians Coop should stay in the building and be given a lease once it is safe?

Full Council has the right to make the decisions over what is in the Canal Quarter area as long as it is sure that the people of Lancaster support their decision. If Full Council decides the Musicians’ Coop is to stay in Lodge Street the Masterplan will simply be reconfigured to take account of the decision.