Former student accommodation in Luton set to become co-living housing

Lea Halls will be able to house up to 459 people
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Ten student halls of accommodation in Luton can be turned into a co-living environment capable of housing up to 459 people, a meeting heard.

The internal layout of Lea Halls in Bute Street will remain unaltered, the borough council’s development management committee was told.

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Applicant Luton Halls Properties Limited submitted full plans for the conversion and change of use of student flats to co-living accommodation, with the demolition of the warden’s bungalow.

The proposed plan for Lea HallsThe proposed plan for Lea Halls
The proposed plan for Lea Halls

The project on nearly two acres of land includes building new entrance canopies, changes to parking arrangements, cycle storage and landscaping.

LBC planning officer Abi Chapman said: “This scheme won’t have a detrimental impact on any neighbouring occupiers. There’s no policy for Section 106 contributions for this type of accommodation.”

The current buildings are four-storey with a small vacant warden’s bungalow at one end of the site, according to a report to the committee.

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“It occupies a highly prominent location within the town centre in a gateway position, establishing immediate context for those arriving there,” explained the report.

“The development reuses the premises to deliver 84 co-living properties, capable of providing accommodation for up to 459 co-living residents. Each unit has a private bedroom and shared kitchen, bathroom and living room.

“The only exterior alterations are new entrance canopies and front doors. An ancillary office space in block three on the ground floor will be retained. Shared outside gym equipment will be provided for residents.

“Car parking will be reduced from 42 to six accessible spaces, with a single vehicle and pedestrian access, while storage is available for 118 bicycles. Each co-living unit will have cooking and laundry facilities.

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“The development will be under single ownership, with short-term tenancies of three months to one year for occupiers. A draft co-living operation and management plan has been submitted with the application.”

Planning permission for the conversion of these buildings into flats in 2021 was rejected by the local authority, added the report.

“The reasons for refusal were primarily because keeping the buildings was considered to be in conflict with the regeneration objectives of the town centre, in particular the creative quarter.

“LBC’s master plan framework aimed to regenerate this key gateway site into a mixed-use development to provide a positive connection with the nearby public transport links. The applicant appealed the decision and there was a public inquiry in the summer of 2022.

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“The inspector dismissed the appeal, while noting ‘the appeal site isn’t allocated for any site-specific development in the Local Plan’, and he considered it ‘would bring new use and activity, without harming the balance of uses in the area’.

“It was established in the 2022 appeal there’s no longer a need for the site as student accommodation. It’s considered this application adequately shows the need for this type of housing, particularly younger people looking for a sociable low cost form of rent.”

Liberal Democrat Barnfield councillor David Franks said: “I’m not 100 per cent happy about this scheme, but it’s better than the appeal application. On that basis, I’m inclined to support it.” Councillors unanimously approved the project.

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