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In a shock verdict going against the recommendation of Lancaster council’s own planning officer, the Planning and Highways committee has voted to maintain the noise conditions on a new student housing development that campaigners have branded essential for the survival of the Sugarhouse.
With eleven councillors voting against the developer’s appeal to scrap pre-occupation noise testing, the plan, which would have freed up developer Cityblock to pursue a development plan with soundproofing “at the technical limits” of acceptable noise levels, has been scrapped.
The news follows a sustained campaign from the Lancaster Students Union, who have branded the decision a “victory for common sense”. It was revealed in SCAN that the Students Union had threatened the council with legal proceedings should the conditions be removed.
The Union President Joshua Woolf gave an impassioned speech opposing the removal of the condition alongside the three university ward city councillors.
“The proposed variation completely dilutes the substance of the condition. It removes any safeguard for the Council…Students have every right to quiet enjoyment of their homes. What guarantee can this Committee give that the development’s noise attenuation will achieve what it says it will?”
Labour University Ward councillor Lucy Atkinson queried why the committee was even considering revoking the conditions that last year it had insisted were essential
“Now I would like the committee to think about what really has changed in the time period, because no new scientific evidence has come out to say that a major glass extension has brilliant levels of noise protection. No, what has changed is two letters from the bank to a developer!”
Another University ward councillor Nathan Burns invoked the spectre of Grenfell fire, where hundreds were killed or injured as a result of flammable low cost exterior cladding, as a marker of how importantly planning regulations should be taken. He made the case that the inhabitants were likely to include postgraduate international students, who would be left without a home if noise levels were found to be above acceptable levels after occupation had commenced.
A representative of the developer, Andrew Atkins, defended the proposed change of conditions as necessary to secure financial investment. He argued that the city would benefit strongly from the redevelopment of a Grade II listed building, that his company were prepared to finish the project by 2019, and citing two bank letters, that the conditions made it an unacceptably risky development.
Multiple opposition speakers threw scepticism on the validity of the letters, by pointing out that they had yet to be released into the public domain.
Director of Estates at Lancaster University Paul Morris reminded the committee of the role that the University has played in the regeneration of the city, and stated that the Sugarhouse remains a key part of the offering for potential students.
In reaction to the vote, which saw 11 votes against and two abstentions, Union President Joshua Woolf welcomed “a victory for common sense”
“It is essential for the welfare of student tenants that this development is appropriately soundproofed. It would have made no sense whatsoever to insist on rigorous sound control measures without any requirement to test that they were working.
“We hope that the developer will now accept the council’s decision and explore new ways of funding the project. We have no objection to this development going ahead, but we want to be sure that it is being built to appropriate standards.”
Speaking on behalf of the three Labour councillors who represent the University ward, Lucy Atkinson hailed the news
“I am very pleased that the majority of the committee voted to reject the recommendation to remove of condition 18. It was clear that my fellow councillors did not believe that a report was sufficient evidence of noise protection and agreed that testing was the only way to have full assurance that the sound levels are acceptable.”
The developers had themselves put pressure on the council with potential litigation over costs incurred due to the council decision; it remains to be seen if this will be carried out following the planning committee’s vote today.
Update: Trevor Bargh, CEO Bargh Estates and CityBlock Ltd. , made the following statement today
“Not for the first time, we are left disappointed that the planning committee is preventing us from rejuvenating a once loved, but now disused and run-down, building that could serve a great purpose.
“The planning committee is holding back a development that is much needed within the community; one that will be an excellent facility and built to be quiet internally. It is interesting to note that the planning officers support our position and demonstrated this at Monday’s committee meeting. But despite this, the committee has gone against the advice of its own officers.
“Our desire to go ahead with this development and have the condition amended, or entirely removed, will not stall. We will continue to appeal until we are granted permission to continue with this development, which will bring new life to the Gillows Building, and make it something Lancaster can be proud of again. Nothing else is preventing it from going ahead, other than the planning committee’s insistence on this invalid planning condition.”