LUSU threatens to sue council

SCAN has obtained a letter from the Union stating they are “prepared” for legal action against the council if student flats near Sugar are built without noise-testing conditions.

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Photograph: Ian Meeks

Lancaster University Students’ Union has threatened legal action against Lancaster city council if they overturn a condition requiring noise testing at the Gillows development, near the Sugarhouse.

SCAN has obtained a letter written by Students’ Union lawyers to the planning department of Lancaster city council. The letter explains that the Union is “prepared” to lodge a claim for judicial review if the planning department overturns a noise testing condition imposed on the Gillows developers, CityBlock.

The Students’ Union has previously expressed concern about development of the Gillows building due to its proximity to the Sugarhouse nightclub – and the risk that noise complaints could jeopardise the club’s future.

Josh Woolf, president of Lancaster University Students’ Union, said: “We have made it clear that we will consider taking formal legal action if the [noise testing] condition is lifted, but hope that the decision made by the committee in November will mean that this will not be necessary.”

But Trevor Bargh, CEO of Bargh Estates and CityBlock (the company developing the Gillows building) called the condition “impractical”.

The condition, Condition 18, requires noise testing to be carried out on the accommodation before it can be occupied. The compromise was put in place after hundreds of students lodged objections to the proposed development in fear it would lead to the closure of the Sugarhouse.

Bargh Estates and CityBlock – the developers – have objected to the condition. On 27 June 2017, the company made an application to the Council to remove Condition 18.

The Council’s Environmental Protection Team were, initially, opposed to the removal of the condition. However, Bargh Estates and CityBlock produced evidence that they could not receive funding for the project with the condition in place.

SCAN has seen this evidence. Two banks sent letters to Trevor Bargh, CEO of Bargh Estates and CityBlock, state that they could not finance the proposal due to Condition 18.

Since planning policy dictates that planning permission may not impose disproportionate financial burden on the applicant, planning officers (including the Environmental Protection Team) changed their recommendation to vary, rather than maintain, the condition.

In their letter to the Council’s planning department , The Students’ Union explained that LUSU “remains very concerned about its ability to operate [the Sugarhouse] once the development is carried out.”

“By taking away the essential controls that would ensure noise levels remain acceptable, the [Local Planning Authority] is once again threatening the existence of Sugarhouse.”

“If the [Local Planning Authority] is genuinely concerned about the future of Sugarhouse, it should not be allowing a development to be constructed next door to the club without proper means for monitoring noise impact.”

The letter goes on to explain that the Union believes, based on legal advice, that there are strong grounds to order a judicial review if Condition 18 is modified in any way.

“LUSU very much hopes that such legal action will not be necessary,” the letter explains, “however, in the event that permission is granted, LUSU will consider lodging a claim for judicial review.”

Councillor Lucy Atkinson, who was elected in 2015 to the University and Scotforth Ward, lodged an objection to the removal of the condition. She, along with other University and Scotforth Ward Councillors Nathan Burns and Sam Armstrong, were due to speak at a planning meeting on October 16 – but discussion of the Gillows development were delayed due to the letter from the Union

Atkinson explained: “I, like many students and the Students’ Union, am opposed to the removal of Condition 18. Noise testing is a simple measure that will protect the Sugarhouse and ensure students are not living in unacceptably loud conditions.”

“The final decision to keep or remove the condition will lie with the planning committee. None of the University ward councillors are on that committee, so we don’t get a final say.”

A Council spokesperson explained: “The decision was deferred to a future meeting of the committee to give the council the opportunity to seek legal advice on the contents of a letter relating to the application which had been submitted by legal representatives of LUSU.”

Trevor Bargh, CEO of CityBlock, said: “Our proposal for developing the building into student accommodation will bring an important historical building in a conservation area back into use and deliver significant regeneration to the area.”

“We have submitted designs supported by independent noise assessors showing that the scheme, including bedrooms and living spaces, will be properly soundproofed.”

“We feel [Condition 18] this is an impractical condition, and as such we have submitted an application to the planning department to remove it. Doing so will allow us to focus on rejuvenating the Gillows building, a much-loved local landmark with a huge amount of heritage in Lancaster, which has sadly been left stagnant for way too long while we spend time debating regulations.”

“We in no way wish to infringe on the Sugarhouse’s history, legacy and success in the city. Rather, we wish to further support it by welcoming a new wave of students to the local area who will no doubt spend a portion of their time socialising with friends at the nightclub, making great memories during their time here. However, The Sugarhouse also has a duty to operate in a reasonable manner so as to not cause a noise nuisance to local residents.”

President of the Students’ Union, Josh Woolfe, said: “We are concerned that lifting the requirement to test the acoustics of this accommodation prior to students moving in will not only be detrimental to those who live there, but will also potentially leave the Sugarhouse vulnerable to noise complaints.”

“The Students’ Union is in favour of development in the city, but we believe that the council, the Union, and student tenants should be confident that accommodation is built to appropriate standards.”

“Pre-occupation sound testing remains a requirement at the nearby St Leonard’s Gate House development, and in our view it would be inconsistent to drop this requirement for the Gillows site.”

The nearby St. Leonard’s Gate House will also be converted into student accommodation by a separate developer. A similar condition was imposed on this development and the developer has raised no objection.