Referendum demand for final say on future of Lancaster’s Sugarhouse nightclub

The decision to potentially close The Sugarhouse nightclub was made by “unnaccountable and unelected” trustees with no connection to Lancaster, students and councillors have said.

Friday, 13th September 2019, 3:56 pm

Further opposition to Lancaster Students’ Union’s (LUSU) plans to close the university’s only student nightclub in the city and sell it to private developers for residential use have been voiced by Lancaster city councillors.

A “Save Our Sugarhouse” petition has also been signed by more than 1,100 students.

Labour city councillors representing University and Scotforth Rural Ward say the proposal, announced at the weekend, is “outrageous”, and claim that LUSU has “repeatedly failed” to fight for the interests of students.

Lancaster City Coun Jack O'Dwyer-Henry

Today, September 13, two members of LUSU’s Trustee Board resigned their positions.

A spokeswoman for LUSU said that students and their representatives have a clear majority on the Board, but that “changes to the neighbourhood around The Sugarhouse mean that its long-term future cannot be guaranteed”.

Opposition to LUSU’s plans has also come from Lancaster University alumni and Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith, as well as former Top Gear presenter James May, who studied music at Lancaster University’s Pendle College.

They launched the Save Our Sugarhouse petition, which has been signed by over 1,100 students.

The petition asks the Students’ Union to reconsider the decision, to release the full minutes of the meetings where the sale was decided, and to hold a general meeting where the Trustees who made the decision can be questioned by students.

Lancaster developer Cityblock, which is converting the neighbouring Gillows building into student accommodation, says it is “astonished” by the plans, after investing £400,000 into soundproofing measures to mitigate potential noise issues.

Next week, the Students’ Union will decide on holding a student referendum in response to the petition.

Councillor Jack O’Dwyer-Henry, who represents University and Scotforth Ward, said: “The Sugarhouse is a central part of Lancaster’s student life and night-time economy.

“It is outrageous that the Students’ Union is planning to close down The Sugarhouse to make way for even more unaffordable private student accommodation, despite the mass opposition of students.

“The Sugarhouse is a uniquely safe and inclusive venue, and its closure would result in almost 50 student staff losing their jobs.

“In the interests of its members and its staff, the Students’ Union should ensure The Sugarhouse stays open.

“The Sugarhouse remains popular and profitable, and the Students’ Union have failed to provide a convincing reason for its potential closure.

“Such a contentious issue should not have been decided by an unaccountable Trustee Board, which includes unelected Trustees with no connection to Lancaster.

“This should be decided by Lancaster students, and we are pushing the Students’ Union to hold a referendum on the sale of The Sugarhouse.

“A Students’ Union should fight for the interests of their students, but Lancaster’s Students’ Union has repeatedly failed to do so.

“This incident has highlighted the dire need for the complete cultural and constitutional reform of the Students’ Union.”

The LUSU spokeswoman said: “The changes to the neighbourhood around The Sugarhouse mean that its long-term future cannot be guaranteed. As a charity our Trustee Board have a duty to consider any offer made and to act in the best interests of both current and future students.

“Nothing is happening in the immediate future. The Sugarhouse will be open for Welcome Week. We have spoken to our staff and we have guaranteed work for our student staff until at least Christmas.”

“Funds raised by any potential sale will be invested in the student experience and we will consult students about how we do that.

“The Trustee Board is made up of fourteen members of which six are the elected full-time officers and three are current students, so students and their representatives have a clear majority. The students’ union as a charity is also regulated by the Charity Commission.”

“We can confirm that Laura Davies (Vice Chair) and Jane Riley (External Trustee) have resigned from the Trustee Board. Laura has stepped down to focus on other opportunities and Jane has stepped down for personal reasons. We would like to thank them for their invaluable contribution to the students’ union and we wish them well for the future.”