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MP Cat Smith and SU President George Nuttall discuss Caton Court housing outcry
Private developer Aparto opened their new Caton Court housing for Lancaster students this year, but many residents there have already expressed dissatisfaction with both general living and safety standards.
Lancaster University’s housing quality insurance service, LU Homes, endorses the Caton Court student housing. The University also recommended the housing to first-year students who could not find on-campus accommodation this year.
Aparto had agreed on a contract for Caton Court to be marketed via Lancaster University Students’ Union’s letting agency, Living. However, the Union suspended their contract with Aparto on 17th October 2019.
The University and Scotforth Rural Ward Labour City Councillors released a statement on 15th September 2019 detailing the situation. Issues they highlighted include:
- The accommodation was still under construction when students moved in, despite being advertised to be completed in September 2019.
- On the 5th October 2019, during a fire alarm, a fire curtain trapped about 100 residents inside the entrance to the main stairwell.
- On the 13th October 2019, a complex-wide blackout left a student trapped in a lift.
- The laundry facilities consist of seven washing machines, meant to accommodate the needs of the 444 residents who live there. Aparto has no plans to expand the laundry provision.
- Other problems included internet problems, heating issues, faulty door handles and tables, and holes in the walls and ceilings.
LA1TV conducted interviews with MP Cat Smith and SU President George Nuttall on 18th October 2019 about the living and safety standards at Caton Court which have been the subject of recent concern.
Cat Smith – Member of Parliament for Lancaster and Fleetwood
“Caton Court has now just been opened up in the city centre, and you can tell just by walking past it that it’s still obviously a building site. Students have been moved in before its ready. Normally you get snagging issues with a new build, but this is something on a completely different level. I’ve been contacted by several students, and they’ve been emailing me photographs, and videos of door handles falling off, lighting not working, windows not opening, issues with toilets not working, as well as lack of facilities that they were promised, so things like laundry facilities and communal areas – clearly not finished. Added to that: false fire alarms going off through the night. It’s really been very difficult for these new students in our area to move into Caton Court and begin their studies at what’s obviously a very stressful time of their lives. So, I’ve been contacting the parent company of the company that’s built Caton Court, challenging them about the quality of build that they’re making Lancaster students live in.”
Do you think it’s an issue that students should feel more empowered to speak out about? Stuff like this – maybe not to this extent – a lot of the time does happen, unfortunately.
“Caton Court’s an extreme example of bad student housing. I was a student many, many years ago at Lancaster University and I’ll be honest I’ve had my fair share of bad Landlords in Lancaster. I’ve also had a good share of good Landlords as well, and it’s not always bad, but as a tenant it’s really important that you read up on your rights – all it takes is a quick Google search […] I’d really encourage students when they’re just moving into a property to photograph everything […] you need to have that photo evidence now because you might need it in about twelve months’ time. I think as a tenant its best to assume the worst of your Landlord but hope for the best.”
Have you also been getting in contact with the city council and Lancaster University for their LU Homes accreditation and whether that’s fit for purpose?
“I think it’s really important that the Students Union, as representatives of students, really challenge the University’s accreditation scheme. If something is not a good property, it needs to be flagged up, and we need to make sure that students are aware of facilities that they can feedback as well.”
George Nuttall – President of Lancaster University Students’ Union
“I took the decision along with other members of the officer team to suspend our marketing deal with them. Myself and Hannah, the Vice President Union
Have you spoken to students living at Caton Court?
No, I’ve not been down there whilst there were students there, but we did go down in summer. We received assurances from the people down at Aparto that it would be built on time, that it would be finished on time (potentially with some snagging issues) but apart from that we have not been down to Caton Court.
I would encourage anyone who is living there to get in contact with myself or another member of the officer team to talk to us about the issue.
The FTOs have since posted photographs on social media showing that they visited Caton Court on Monday 21st October.
What actually is meant by suspended?
We are no longer promoting them on our website. You may see down at the living building on the spine, we’ve taken it down off the front (the graphics on there). And there is, of course, the potential that we may decide to enter into an agreement with them later down the line, but that is far too far away to think about at this moment. All we’re thinking about at the moment is protecting our students’ welfare and looking out for them.
Lancaster University responded:
“The safety and security of our students is extremely important to us, and we were very concerned to learn about the complaints about Caton Court. Lancaster University has met with Aparto, the Fire Authority and LCC Housing Standards to progress work to ensure that there is confidence in the safety standards at Caton Court. The Fire Authority and the City Council have the ultimate regulatory and enforcement powers.
“Some first-year students who came to the University through Clearing (and did not have a guarantee of Lancaster University accommodation) were able to choose their off-campus accommodation through the LUHomes website which is a partnership between Lancaster University, the University of Cumbria and the City Council.”