Gillian Harrison

My Place | Lancaster

As Lancaster grows, maintaining its unique identity will become more crucial than ever, writes Gillian Harrison of Levitt Bernstein.

Lancaster packs a lot of punch for a smallish city: tucked away between Morecambe Bay and no less than four AONBs or National Parks; and with a historic centre featuring a 1,000-year-old castle, winding cobbled streets, and some truly excellent pubs, restaurants, and coffee roasters. Growing up, it felt like a fairly small place. But Lancaster is only the 31st smallest city in the UK, home to more people than Cambridge or Gloucester.

More recently, Lancaster has become synonymous in development circles with student housing. The ongoing success of Lancaster University is a huge feather in the city’s cap and has led to a renewed feeling of ambition. As an architect, I’m thrilled to see such high-quality buildings appearing on the campus, with fantastic schemes by John McAslan and Hawkins\Brown soon to be added.

With a thriving university will come greater employment opportunities and a growing economy that demands more housing choice and should demand better housing quality. Wrapping around the university campus is the proposed site for Bailrigg Garden Village, that could see 3,000 new homes built over the next decade. Lancaster needs to aim high and deliver an extension to the city that exemplifies the principles of placemaking.

I have heard discussion of leaders wanting “something like Poundbury”, a phrase that sends shivers down a contemporary architect’s spine. I implore Lancaster’s commissioners and designers to look to recent exemplar city extensions like those at Great Kneighton and Eddington in Cambridge to see what can be achieved. The focus should be on creating a new sense of place without losing the variety of quality architecture that makes our historic urban fabric so special.

Looking further afield to neighbouring Morecambe, there’s perhaps the most exciting prospect for the whole region: Eden Project North. Morecambe is the epitome of the English seaside town fallen on hard times since the arrival of package holidays.

And yet as a gateway to the Lakes and with the breath-taking Morecambe Bay, the town has always had a lot to offer. In recent years things have started to improve: Urban Splash reinstated the Midland Hotel to its former glory, the Winter Gardens are gradually and painstakingly being restored, and Placefirst’s refurbishment of terraced streets in the town’s West End has seen new demand for homes in the area.

Eden Project North would be an enormous boost; a world-class visitor attraction designed by one of our greatest living architects in a spectacular location – cementing the growing regional reputation for outstanding design.

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New development is to be welcomed but needs to be sympathetic to the existing feel of the place. A case in point would be the new student digs near Bulk Road which now spoil the natural flow from the river up to the Ashton Memorial, as you look across from the other side of the river or coming across Skerton Bridge.

Also, Lancaster City Council need to embrace more innovative tech – from upgrading the car park machines to installing green walls around the one way system etc. In fairness, they do a great job generally in terms of public realm, parks and beaches etc.

By Lune local

A great piece which revealed my ignorance of the place. Shows the value of genuine local knowledge

By Ignoramus

A very underrated city and possibly the most beautifully positioned city in the North,

By Elephant

Visited Lancaster Town end July stayed at the Toll House brilliant
All pubs restaurants brill
But the amount of rough Sleepers or homeless whatever was intimidating scary upsetting spoilt our weekend

By Sberry

Having lived in Lancaster for the last 40 years I have watched the city systematically destroyed by both the council and developers. Lancaster has turned into a student only city full of bars and fast food places and is now overrun with ill fitting, badly designed student accommodation popping up all over the place. The city has completely lost its identity and the council have lost the plot!

By Elly Walsh

Lancaster needs to stop letting more university students in and there isn’t enough private accommodation for that so I would suggest that the university Hales there own accommodation

By Nadine hardman

I’m so excited for the Eden Project! I just can’t find any more news on if it is absolutely going ahead or not! Do you know anything?

By Stuart

I have lived in Lancaster all my life and its a shame to see all the student accommodation being proposed by building firms and passed by the council planning department Student by definition do not have a lot of money to spend so will do little to boost Lancaster economy.

By Anonymous

Just another form of manipulation and wealth transference. Power to the people.

By Bill

“With a thriving university will come greater employment opportunities”

Really? Care to explain where, as I’ve heard it all before since the 80s! We’ve had twenty plus years of dodgy fly-by-night ISPs (think Business Serve et al), timeshare flogging companies and decimated industry. Where will these lovely new jobs be created?!

By David

I visit the Lancaster area from Yorkshire quite often, and the Lancaster District rather than just the city has a lot to offer. Also one other selling point that needs to be mentioned is the fantastic geographical location of the area, the area sits on the M6 motorway, and the west coast main line railway. Finally I think that people need to move with the times, and stop living in the 1970/80s.

By Saulpaul

Nothing wrong with student accommodation going up – the problem is the incredibly short sighted planning of Lancaster Council!! There are plenty of available locations on the outskirts of the city (yet still close enough to the centre) which would be far better suited for student villages. Instead, it feels like every piece of available commerce in the city centre is being converted to residential. This means that the commercial areas of the city centre will never be able to rejuvenate!

This is becoming a real problem for Lancaster University recruiters “Come to Lancaster! We have a great uni… but err, there is nothing else to do, because we converted all the town centre into houses”. The one night club remaining literally only opens, 1 night per week. Again, something the students at the university are noticing and complaining about.

I can hear the nay-sayers already “but all the shops are empty” … Yes, indeed they are. Due to the highest ever business rates making it near impossible for small businesses to thrive, or start up – along with the nationwide problem of online competition such as Amazon etc. However, should the government finally realise that overtaxing the high streets is folly, and actually support SMEs to thrive once more – then Lancaster will be in the tricky situation of having no-where for the commerce to expand.

Finally, for the more ignorant locals decrying “poor students not adding to the economy” – don’t be so naive. The economy is driven by more than local expenditure in shops and pubs by students. The very existence of the university employs over 2,000 locals – and as that expands, so does the local economy, in a far more complex manner than you will ever seem to understand.

By Un-IgnorantLocal

I love Lancaster. It has a fascinating urban character linked to its history. And nearby Morecambe and the Eden Project North will really add to its appeal. But it does need to grow. Lancaster is almost hemmed in between its small historic old town and its university. And yes, it can seem too small for the size of its student population that dominates the small streets south of the town. An urban extension in the form of a garden village sounds like a great starting point. How about extending the city north of the river along the Lune too. I know there’s that ‘millennium bridge’ across and I’m sure there is underused land westwards.

By Roscoe

Lancaster has been for me a fantastic place to live. It has a superb location and good connection to the larger cities and lakes. The population is increasing and the amount of development across the city shows how well Lancaster is doing :)

By Paul