Controversial plan to revamp two Lancaster blocks of flats gets green light

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A hotly-debated project to upgrade two blocks of flats in Lancaster has been given the go-ahead.

A planning application for improvements to Lune House and Derby House in Skerton as part of wider regeneration work was backed by councillors at a Lancaster City Council planning meeting this week.

The project – which will include new flat roofs to replace existing pyramid-shaped roofs, new balconies, doors and windows, new brickwork, and new communal and courtyard areas – has been the focus of political debate and protests over affordable homes and council housing in recent months.

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Applicant Place Capital Group, a housing and regeneration group, is involved with a number of schemes in Lancaster and Morecambe including the Mainway estate and overseeing the restoration of the Winter Gardens in Morecambe

Lune House and Derby House are to be upgraded.Lune House and Derby House are to be upgraded.
Lune House and Derby House are to be upgraded.

Historically, Lune and Derby Houses were owned by Lancaster City Council but it said it needed to sell them because of changing circumstances including fast-rising construction costs and interest rates.

Earlier this year, protesters from Lancaster and Morecambe Tenants and Community Union called for a halt on the city council sale. They also raised concerns about the future of other council homes plus the cost of private housing to rent or buy.

But Coun Martin Gawith speaking at the planning committee claimed councillors had been misled over the sale.

“I disagree with the whole concept, we have been misled on this for far too long,” he said. “They [the flats] were actually sold last month. We were told months ago that they have been sold. Because I’m unhappy with the whole scheme, I will abstain on this.”

Councillors were told new flat roofs to replace the pyramid-shaped roofs would look more contemporary and reduce the visual impact of the blocks in the wider area near Skerton Bridge.

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Coun Keith Budden said: “Normally, I would be supportive of upgrading properties. I’m sure there is a wish to do this work overall and upgrades to these flats are long overdue. However, I think people would be surprised that we are thinking of going from peaked roofs to flat roofs.

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Coun Paul Hart said: “I’m a veteran of flat roofs. I can tell you they are universally troublesome.”

Coun Sally Maddocks asked if planned balconies overlooking new communal amenity areas could lead to anti-social behaviour? She added: “Can we put in a condition about CCTV cameras to nip any issues in the bud? In licensing, we recently had to consider some anti-social behaviour issues in Skerton.”

However, planning officer Mark Jackson said: “Modern flat roofs are seen as better designed with some degree of slope and made of better materials. Flat roofs are also part of the overall aesthetic package by the applicant. Maintenance of the roof would be responsibility for the registered [housing] provider. I don’t think it’s an issue for refusal of the planning application.”

Regarding CCTV, he said: “There are no conditions about CCTV. If there were problems, then proposals would have to be put forward but at this stage we have no reason to think it will be an issue. There’s no evidence for the need . It can be done – but why without any evidence?”

Coun Robert Redfern said anti-social behaviour had been an issue in a different part of Skerton, not near the blocks

New boundaries and courtyards are proposed but public access to an underpass will remain.

In a vote, the majority of councillors backed the application.

In response to Coun Gawith, a Lancaster City Council spokesperson said: “As any homeowner will know, selling a property takes time as there are many legal processes which must be undertaken before the transaction is completed. The agreement to sell these properties is in place and the council is in the process of finalising the necessary legal paperwork before they are officially transferred to their new owners.”