Lancaster civic group calls for stop to more student housing developments

Lancaster Civic Vision has expanded on its recent concerns over an influx of student housing in the city - and asked for a halt until developments in the pipeline have been completed.

Tuesday, 11th January 2022, 4:55 am
The Old Filter House student development on the A6, which has not yet opened despite the original planning application being made in 2016. Photo: Google Earth

We reported last week how Lancaster Civic Socety - now known as Lancaster Civic Vision - warned the city council against the danger of “putting all the eggs into one basket” by allowing an increasing amount of student housing to be built.

The group's concerns were in response to our story last month, which highlighted plans for student apartments in historic Lancaster locations which are set to go before councillors this month.

One scheme is proposed for a site in St Leonard’s Gate, while another is suggested for a listed building in China Street.

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How the student flats might look in St Leonard's Gate.

"Lancaster Civic Vision is concerned that the city could soon be facing a glut of such accommodation, much of which could not then be used for other purposes," the group said.

"Civic Vision recognises the considerable contribution made by our universities to the local economy but has to warn against the danger of “putting all the eggs into one basket”.

"We would like to see developers divert their efforts into providing affordable housing for those struggling to gain a foothold on the property market."

Lancaster Civic Vision received so many responses to their concerns that they have now shared their fears in more depth.

And they believe no more student housing plans should be approved until those already given the green light have been built and their impact can be assessed.

"During recent years members of the Civic Society have become increasingly concerned about the number of applications for student accommodation in large purpose-built blocks, which have been granted planning permission by the city council," the group said.

"While fully accepting the significant importance of Lancaster’s two universities and their students to the local economy, we believe that the city is in danger of becoming overwhelmed by this form of development, to such an extent that its character and ambience is being fundamentally altered.

"Lancaster's attraction as a tourist destination and as a pleasant place to live is being put in jeopardy by the sheer volume of space which is being currently devoted to an extension of the university campus.

"There is also concern that the city will soon be facing a glut of such accommodation, much of which could not then be used for other purposes.

"While the University of Lancaster aspires to grow its numbers, the current uncertainties about the impact of leaving the EU, the increasing trend for countries such as China to grow their own institutions, and the current problems of finance for UK students, makes reliance on growth highly uncertain

"We are aware of the benefits to local retailers if they are able to rent out their upper floors to students living over the shops, thus making their businesses more viable and reducing the likelihood of dereliction, and we support those applications.

"However, we have suggested to city council members several times that consideration should be given to converting such premises to two-bedroom flats that couples can rent thus populating our centre - as has been done successfully by other cities around the country, Birmingham notably - when shops, cafés, restaurants, and entertainment facilities will be utilised by them with the city centre being peopled at all times.

"Our city centre would then have a vibrant population who cared about their area, much reducing the current problem of anti-social behaviour now prevalent there at night-time.

"We are also aware of the argument that the provision of new purpose-built accommodation will entice students out of the small, terraced houses in the city, thereby freeing up lower-valued property for first-time buyers. However, while we would welcome this shift, we should like to see evidence that it is actually happening.

"We accept that, in the main, it is property developers who are the driving force in financing these buildings and that the city council planning department has limited powers to refuse permission.

"We are also aware that planners are constrained by the knowledge that determined, well-financed developers can and will appeal against refusals, confident that the council cannot afford to enter into expensive litigation.

"However, we would argue that it should be possible to exercise greater control over plans, where criteria are open to subjective assessment."

The group said the impact on transport and other services will be significant, with issues about congestion and student lifestyles becoming more prominent.

The prospect of further large-scale developments - in Cable Street, Mary Street/Dalton Square, and the Oddfellows Hall - all of which have been granted planning permission - together with the Filter House on the A6 and Galgate Mill, and other possible moves in the Canal Quarter, all add to their mounting concern.

"Lancaster Civic Vision has already observed a growing mood of opposition to further expansion to these developments at all levels in the city," they added. "This is articulated in the local press by the Lancaster Guardian, and in the level of opposition to specific schemes

"We suggest it is time to call for a moratorium on further student accommodation blocks until the construction of the schemes already in the pipeline has been completed and their impact assessed."