Former student accommodation in Luton town centre to become flats as demand has decreased in recent years

The premises has been vacant for at least 5 years

By Euan Duncan
Wednesday, 30th March 2022, 1:21 pm
Updated Wednesday, 30th March 2022, 1:22 pm

Former student accommodation in Luton town centre is to be turned into 28 flats.

Serian Properties Limited's full plans for a change of use and conversion of Lawrence Hall at 40 to 46 John Street were approved by the borough council's development management committee on March 23.

The project includes a fourth and recessed fifth floor roof and back extensions to create 14 two-bedroom and 14 one-bed apartments, with a roof garden, landscaping and other works.

The John Street site

A mid-terrace four-storey building occupies the site, but has been vacant since late-2016 or early-2017, according to a report to councillors.

The location lies within the town centre's creative quarter and the Plaiters Lea Conservation Area, explained the report.

"The plans involve converting the premises and building a two-storey roof extension and five-storey infill extension at the back.

"Of the 28 flats, 17 would have a private amenity space, proposed as Juliet balconies, balconies, patios and terraces.

"Those flats which don't benefit from such a facility are located towards the front of the site within the building, where it wouldn't be possible to offer any provision.

"They would have access to the communal amenity space on the roof and the provision at surface level in the courtyard.

"The site is in a highly sustainable location where it would be inappropriate to provide parking."

One objection was received in April 2020 about its viability in response to the initial consultation, said the report.

"But the scheme was subject to significant amendment and a second consultation was undertaken in November/December 2020, after which no representations have been received.

"The need for student accommodation has declined dramatically in recent years, with many sites sitting vacant or having been subject to planning applications seeking alternative uses.

"This prevailing situation is shown most acutely within the creative quarter, where a number of former student blocks, including the application site, have been empty for a number of years.

"The proposal would provide an even split of one- and two-bedroom flats. It's anticipated that proposals for extra housing, even within the town centre, would provide for a great number of two-bed and bigger homes.

"This is complicated when considering plans seeking to convert a building, as the surrounds are usually restrictive limiting the chance for an appropriate mix, while achieving the number of properties necessary to bring the development forward.

"In these circumstances only, it's considered that the proposed mix of housing for this application would be acceptable and would not result in overdevelopment."

The surrounding area is defined by a historic environment that grew up around the hatting trade from as early as the 1820s, added the report to the committee.

"Consequently, the detailed design of buildings within the locality are predominantly industrial. This building suffers from a bland appearance that blends with its attached properties to the east and west.

The result is a mass of properties of limited merit which line the southern side of John Street. While it does benefit from some character, seen in the projecting bay elements above ground floor level, it's otherwise indistinguishable within this poorly defined street scene.

"The development also includes two extra storeys. One of these would be recessed and break from the height of the adjacent buildings, resulting in a flat roof form.

"This would allow this site to differentiate itself from the remainder of the terrace, so there's no objection to the extra height."