City flats upgrade is approved but one councillor raises accusation of being ‘misled’

Drawing of landscape and courtyard upgrades to Lune and Derby House blocks of flats, Lancaster
-Credit: (Image: Lancaster City Council)

A plan to upgrade two Lancaster blocks of flats - which are part of wider regeneration work and also the focus of political debate and some protests over affordable homes and council housing - has been approved at a city council planning meeting. But one councillor claimed councillors have been misled about the project.

A planning application for improvements to Lune House and Derby House near the River Lune, historic Skerton Bridge and the 1960s Mainway housing estate was backed by councillors this week. Details include new flat roofs to replace existing pyramid-shaped roofs, new balconies, doors and windows; new brickwork and new communal and courtyard areas.

The applicant is a housing and regeneration organisation called Place Capital Group. It is involved with a number of schemes in Lancaster and Morecambe, including the Mainway estate and overseeing the restoration of the Winter Gardens.

Lancaster City Council has an interest in the development so the application was sent to councillors on the committee to consider. Historically, the two blocks were owned by Lancaster City Council.

But it said it needed to sell them because of changing circumstances including fast-rising construction costs and interest rates. It has other housing projects including at Mainway and Skerton. Earlier this year, protesters from Lancaster and Morecambe Tenants and Community Union called for a halt on selling the two blocks by the city council.

Drawing of upgrades to Lune and Derby House blocks of flats, Lancaster
Drawing of upgrades to Lune and Derby House blocks of flats, Lancaster -Credit:Lancaster City Council

They also raised concerns about the future of other council homes plus the cost of private housing, to rent or buy. This week Labour Coun Martin Gawith criticised the Lune House and Derby House project at the planning committee when the plan came up for a decision.

He said: “I disagree with the whole concept. We have been misled on this for far too long. They [the flats] were actually sold last month.

"We were told months ago that they have been sold. Because I’m unhappy with the whole scheme, I will abstain on this.”

The proposal includes removing pyramid roofs and replacing them with flat roofs. These would look more contemporary and reduce the visual impact of the blocks in the wider area near Skerton Bridge, councillors were told.

Drawing of upgrades to Lune and Derby House blocks of flats, Lancaster
Drawing of upgrades to Lune and Derby House blocks of flats, Lancaster -Credit:Lancaster City Council

But this was queried by some councillors.

Conservative Coun Keith Budden said: “Normally, I would be supportive of upgrading properties. I’m sure there is a wish to do this work overall and upgrades to these flats are long overdue. However, I think people would be surprised that we are thinking of going from peaked roofs to flat roofs.

"I think we’re building problems a few years down the line. Elsewhere, we have welcomed people going from flat roofs to other types. I support this scheme in principle but I have an issue with this roof element.”

Lib-Dem Coun Paul Hart said: “I’m a veteran of flat roofs. I can tell you they are universally troublesome.”

He also raised questions about the impact of fitting solar panels to roofs, which might need to include weights on fittings. He added: “I think this needs further work to be clear about what we’re signing up for. I would reject this.”

Green Coun Sally Maddocks asked if planned balconies overlooking new communal amenity areas could lead to anti-social behaviour. She added: “Can we put in a condition about CCTV cameras, to nip any issues in the bud? In licensing, we recently had to consider some anti-social behaviour issues in Skerton.”

However, planning officer Mark Jackson said: “Modern flat roofs are seen as better designed, with some degree of slope and made of better materials. Flat roofs are also part of the overall aesthetic package by the applicant. Maintenance of the roof would be responsibility for the registered [housing] provider. I don’t think it’s an issue for refusal of the planning application.”

Regarding CCTV, he said: “There are no conditions about CCTV. If there were problems, then proposals would have to be put forward. But at this stage we have no reason to think it will be an issue. There’s no evidence for the need . It can be done – but why without any evidence?”

Labour Coun Robert Redfern said anti-social behaviour had been an issue in a different part of Skerton, not near the blocks New boundaries and courtyards are proposed. But public access to an underpass will remain.

In a vote, the majority of councillors backed the application.

A spokesperson for Lancaster City Council said: “As any homeowner will know, selling a property takes time as there are many legal processes which must be undertaken before the transaction is completed. The agreement to sell these properties is in place and the council is in the process of finalising the necessary legal paperwork before they are officially transferred to their new owners.”