‘Serious safety risks, delays, and failures’ at major new Lancaster student development

Caton Court in Bulk Road, earlier this yearCaton Court in Bulk Road, earlier this year
Caton Court in Bulk Road, earlier this year
The developers of a major new student development in Lancaster have apologised to students following “serious safety risks, delays and failures in delivery”.

In one particularly concerning incident, 100 students were trapped behind a fire curtain after fire alarms went off at the new 444-bed Caton Court development in Caton Road.

Lancaster City Councillors for University and Scotforth Ward say they have been inundated with complaints from students who have moved into the new development, built by Hines Ltd and run by Aparto, before it had actually been completed.

These include:

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Left: Areas still under construction, and right, the fire curtain which has had to be cut.Left: Areas still under construction, and right, the fire curtain which has had to be cut.
Left: Areas still under construction, and right, the fire curtain which has had to be cut.

The site was advertised to be complete in September 2019, but it is still under construction whilst students live there.

Over 30 residents were temporarily housed in a Travelodge whilst their rooms were still being completed at the end of September.

The laundry facilities have only recently opened, forcing students to buy new clothes as they were unable to access laundry facilities for the first two weeks of their tenancy.

The laundry facilities currently available consist of seven washing machines for the 444 residents. Aparto have no plans to expand laundry provision.

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Examples of broken furniture at Caton CourtExamples of broken furniture at Caton Court
Examples of broken furniture at Caton Court

All-day drilling noises and the presence of construction machinery on site had caused a significant ongoing disruption to residents.

The soonest date of completion Aparto have provided is November 11, but this doesn’t include the main entrance area, which will be completed by December at the very earliest.

There have been at least two power outages affecting the site - on October 9 between 6pm and 9pm, breaking the lifts in the 9-storey building until the following day, and on October 13, there was another blackout complex-wide. It took 2 hours for a repair agent to get to the site.

During this time, a student was trapped in a lift; another student was left to prise open the lift doors to let them out.

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Blackout at Caton Court.Blackout at Caton Court.
Blackout at Caton Court.

The emergency lighting failed in up to 60% of the complex, according to residents’ reports.

An email sent by Aparto management to residents implied that the electrical faults would continue. In a meeting with Council officials

and other statutory bodies on the afternoon of the 14th of October, it was confirmed that the cause of the power outage had not yet been determined.

Other issues listed include one tenant not having a functioning toilet for a period of at least two weeks, despite reporting it to Aparto promptly.

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Many occupied rooms are not yet entirely finished, meaning that further disruptive work is necessary.

These are mostly a case of messy wallpapering and sanding of edges or touching up scratches on the walls.

Studio apartments originally advertised as having ovens only have microwaves.

Issues with internet access not working.

Issues with the heating system not working.

Door handles and tables breaking upon first use.

According to the councillors, Caton Court is being delivered in a formal sponsorship agreement with Lancaster University Students’ Union and Lancaster University advised first year students who did not receive on-campus accommodation to apply to Caton Court.

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Caton Court is also accredited by Lancaster University’s housing quality assurance body, LU Homes.

The councillors said in a joint statement: “We have raised these issues with the City Council’s housing standards team, LU Homes, and Lancaster University Students’ Union. And we have met with Aparto management, the on-site contractors, representatives from the Fire and Rescue Service, and Lancaster University, and LU Homes.

“Whilst it appears that the immediate fire safety concerns are being dealt with, the fact that students were exposed to such serious safety risks is unforgivable.

“We will do everything in our power to impress on the University and the Students’ Union the severity of this situation.

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“It was unacceptable that this situation arose, and we trust that the University and the Students’ Union will accept their failings, and ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

“More broadly, there seems to be a breakdown of trust between Aparto, LU Homes and the residents.

“Whilst we are encouraged to see Aparto attempting to make good on their promises, this throws into question the trust that students can put into the Accreditation scheme if students are going to be moved into accommodation like this.

“We’re encouraged by the indications given to us that LU Homes will be reassessing their procedures and looking at where things have gone so terribly wrong.

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“In the immediate term, we’ll be chasing up Aparto to ensure that they deliver on their commitments to deliver a safe environment to live in.

“Once immediate safety concerns are satisfied, the wellbeing of the students will be the key priority.

“And before the end of the year, we need to be in a position where we can confidently asset that this will never happen again.

“Students must be able to have confidence in their Accreditation bodies and their Union.”

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A spokesperson for aparto said: “We are working hard alongside the contractor to resolve the issues in the building and are providing regular updates to students and the University, to whom we have offered our sincere apologies.

“We fully recognise that the delays and ongoing issues are frustrating for residents and we are doing everything possible to minimise further disruption.

“We are holding Q&A forum events to explain the issues and answer any questions residents have.

“We have also offered students compensation, including two weeks rent free and a 30 per cent discount until the outstanding issues are resolved.

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“Our number one priority is the safety of students and we take our responsibilities with regard to fire safety extremely seriously.

“We have updated fire exit signage and have clarified the fire safety procedure for residents within the building, including the correct exits to use.

“The development’s fire strategy, including temporary measures whilst the external works are being completed, has been signed off by building control and local fire officers at every stage.

“We will continue to follow the advice of local fire officers as the final construction works are completed.

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“We apologise to all of the students affected and thank them for their patience as we resolve this situation as quickly as we can.”

Lancaster University Students’ Union has suspended its marketing deal with Aparto Homes after concerns were raised by students about fire safety and other issues at Caton Court.

A union spokesperson said: “as with any new purpose-built student accommodation, the property should have building completion certification in place before occupation. All properties have been independently assessed to meet the Lancaster University Homes accreditation standard as managed by Lancaster University. We were therefore disappointed and concerned to learn that there had been issues at Caton Court.

“The Students’ Union President, George Nuttall, immediately wrote to Aparto this week to highlight our concerns, seek reassurances that the issues were being resolved, and ascertain the measures that are being put in place to mitigate and remedy the situation.

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“A response was received to the Union’s letter last night after further efforts to contact Aparto and the decision to suspend with immediate effect the Union’s marketing contract for Caton Court.

“The suspension will remain in place until an adequate response from Aparto, answering all of the Union’s and students’ concerns is received. We continue to liaise with Aparto, LU Homes and Lancaster City Council.

George Nuttall said: “The health and safety of students is our paramount concern and we hope the immediate suspension of our contract with Aparto will signal the seriousness with which we view this situation.

“We hope that we will receive assurances very soon that all the issues highlighted by students have been dealt with properly.

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“All properties marketed by Living are owned by independent landlords and we only let properties that have been independently assessed to meet the Lancaster University Homes accreditation standard.”

The union added that it will keep students informed of developments and any response they receive from Aparto or other agencies involved.