Everything was supposed to be sorted. UK students accepted to Lancaster through Clearing had not been allocated on-campus accommodation this year, but they needn’t worry – plenty of ‘Lancaster University Approved Off-Campus Accommodation for First Year Students’ would be available, all of it ‘Lancaster University Homes APPROVED’. The glossy leaflet set out three recommended choices: 1 to 3 Cable Street (built and in use, run by The Student Housing Company); St Leonard’s House (refurb of an existing building, run by Homes for Students); and Caton Court, between Back Caton Road and Bulk Road (a new build, run by Aparto). The first two options were occupied without a hitch, but Caton Court? Ah.
According to the leaflet handed out to applicants attending Clearing open days, Caton Court would offer a mix of 10-bed townhouses and flats with en suite rooms, starting from £120 and rising to £150 per week. The artist’s impressions looked attractive and there’d be on-site support, a gym, a sky lounge and a cinema space. Everyone was confident it would be completed on time.
Of course, it wasn’t. Come the start of term, we understand that those destined for the top two floors were required to stay in hotels for Welcome Week before finally being able to occupy their rooms, and the block as a whole resembled a building site. Flyers were handed out on the Spine, noting ‘power cuts’, ‘laundry not open’, ‘frequent false fire alarms’, ‘unmarked fire escapes’, ‘leaking windows’, ‘broken tables’, ‘broken kettles’ and ‘microwaves in place of ovens’. All this, the (anonymous) flyer noted, was ‘proudly advertised by Lancaster University Students’ Union’.
The city councillors for the University were quickly on the case, detailing residents’ complaints in excruciating detail through a press release, complete with pictures of holes in ceilings, traffic cones blocking access to non-functioning lifts, and a fire curtain with ‘a hole cut through it to enable residents to escape if it is lowered again’:
The ‘Living’ office on campus, whose sign had been advertising that it worked in partnership with Aparto, has now covered up the Aparto logo with a sheet of red plastic. Caton Court was one of many subjects discussed at this week’s Students’ Union AGM, with one of the successful motions noting that LUSU Living ‘had a lucrative agreement (until its suspension on 17 October) to advertise Caton Court, an Aparto property, which has had serious concerns around its fitness for habitation. Aparto is a trading name for Hines, a US property giant.’
It would be very easy indeed to load the blame onto Aparto and their contractors the Eric Wright Group, but in their defence – delays happen, and these are often unforeseen. The staff working for Aparto (locally, at least) are working hard to solve their students’ problems. Any new build is going to resemble a building site for weeks, or even months, after it initially opens, and there will always be ‘snagging’ issues. Things now seem to be settling down.
If subtext were advising a disgruntled Caton Court resident, we might suggest they direct their annoyance instead at the University which promised them luxury accommodation in Caton Court, without mentioning anywhere on its publicity that at the time of printing, Caton Court didn’t actually exist.