An email obtained by Spineless under freedom of information laws reveals that a University employee compared Caton Court to the Twin Towers when deciding the marketing for the now-notorious student accommodation.
The Twin Towers, part of the World Trade Center, were destroyed in the 9/11 attacks by Al-Qaeda. The attacks resulted in 2,977 victim fatalities and over 25,000 injuries. 67 of those killed were British citizens.
Spineless can reveal that the comment was made by an LU Homes official, as part of discussions over the aggressive effort to push students towards living at the Caton Court 'student village', which is owned by a company based in Jersey. The comment was made in the context of a proposal to change the LU Homes logo to include Caton Court on its modified Lancaster skyline. The email continued, 'Don't think other landlords will notice or care. If they really want to complain... well they can build something stunning!'
LU Homes has been criticised for its role in accrediting Caton Court, which was found to have massive safety failings in October 2019. There were a number of incidents reported by the city councillors for the University ward, who had been in contact with residents, including students being trapped by a fire curtain and one being trapped in a lift during a complex-wide blackout. The Fire and Rescue Service inspected the property and issued the owners with an Enforcement Notice on 22nd October.
Student landlords in Lancaster who choose to be accredited by LU Homes have to pay £22 per bedspace, which means Caton Court developer Aparto will have paid the University around £10,000. But the true value in pushing students towards Caton Court was because the University took on too many students and forced hundreds of first-years to seek accommodation from private developers in town, as they had run out of space on campus.
Lancaster University senior managers knew that Caton Court wouldn't be completed on time at least as early as 23rd August, which was just eight days after A-Level results day. One direct result of this is that over 30 residents were housed in Travelodge in September, after arriving to stay at Caton Court.
But as well as LU Homes, LUSU Living were also huge advocates of Caton Court. LUSU Living is the landlord arm of the Students' Union, and had entered into a marketing agreement with Aparto by June 2019. Aparto co-sponsored the 'Student Big Night Out', sponsored some University sports teams, and were present at key events like the Freshers Fair in October. This was before weeks of backlash led LUSU to cancel their marketing deal on 17th October.
LUSU have refused to reveal how much they were paid by Aparto. The question was raised during the AGM in October, but VP Union Development Hannah Prydderch deflected, saying, 'I'm more than happy to speak to Finance and see if we can reveal that. Obviously, I don't do the budgets, I just read them through and sign off on them.'
None of the marketing by Aparto, LUSU, or LU Homes mentioned that the property was not going to be completed by the end of September. According to the CAP code, the non-broadcast advertising code enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority: 'Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information.'
The fire safety review being conducted by Lancaster University, which is due to conclude today, has included a review of LU Homes' processes. However, the University looks likely to keep up its relationship with Aparto and Caton Court. An email sent by a University employee on 31st October, after LUSU Living had cancelled their deal with Aparto, said that 'with much regret' the private developer couldn't attend the November housing fair:
This is due to the recent negative and high profile press attention which would be fuelled by public appearances just at this time, with serious consequences for the reputation of both Aparto and the LU Homes scheme.
However, not even a significant fire safety scandal could impact the University's relationship with Aparto. The email continued: 'All being well, we hope you will be able to attend the Fair in February and we will consider how else we may assist you once everything has settled down.'