What’s the latest on the Lancaster Music Co-op eviction?

David Blackwell and the leaking roof at the Music co-op Lancaster in 2012.
David Blackwell and the leaking roof at the Music co-op Lancaster in 2012.

Councillors are calling for an urgent review into the process behind a decision to evict Lancaster Music Co-op.

They are also calling for the immediate retraction of the eviction notice which has given the organisation just six months to leave its premises.

Lancaster City Council issued the eviction notice on October 12, but has this week sought to reassure the Co-op, insisting that the notice is only “intended as a precautionary measure, and one we hope will never be enacted”.

Lancaster Music Co-op has been operating from the council owned building in Lodge Street since 1985.

Documents from 2013 show that the Co-op uses the building under a “caretaking agreement”, and therefore is not liable for major repairs.

The eviction notice was issued after officers deemed the building unsafe for public use due to a leaking roof and electrical issues. As far as the Co-op was aware at that time, it would have to vacate the building by April 2019.

The Co-op, which provides rehearsal and recording space for hundreds of musicians from Lancaster and the wider region, has raised the issue for years that the building is in need of repair.

But uncertainty over plans to re-develop the “canal corridor” area of the city has meant that the Co-op has been unable to secure a long term lease on the building.

This, it says, would have allowed it to apply for funding to make repairs and improvements, and realise its dream of creating a new 300 capacity music venue in the city.

More than 6,000 people have signed a petition in support of the Co-op, and high profile names such as Chris Packham, Phil Jupitus, Marc Riley and Billy Bragg have also called for a resolution.

This week, Lancaster City Councillor Kevin Frea proposed a motion to the Mayor of Lancaster requesting an extraordinary council meeting to “recognise the incredible value that the Music Co-op has brought to the culture and economy of Lancaster for more than 30 years.”

Signed by 15 other councillors, the motion calls for the cancellation of the eviction notice and an urgent meeting between the Music Co-op and the council to review the situation, and explore possible arrangements that support the Co-op’s long term future.

It also calls for an action plan to address the building condition report issues and how best to raise funds to pay for them, and if repairs aren’t viable, that the council will work with the Co-op to find suitable alternative premises before they have to move.

Finally, it calls for an urgent review, led by councillors, into the process by which decisions are made about council properties occupied by external users, which could have a significant impact upon these users.

Lancaster City Council said in a new statement this week that it recognised the vital role the Co-op plays in Lancaster’s cultural scene, but was obliged to issue a six-month notice due to the safety issues, “hopefully providing enough time to allow it to work with the Co-op to resolve issues and ensure the safety of the building.”

The council said it “understands the public’s concern over the uncertainty this has created”, and it has approached the Co-op directly to arrange a further meeting, which it hopes will offer reassurance that it intends to work with the group to find a solution.