The University of Bath has said continued use of city centre property is part of “vital contingency planning” for further disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
It has been granted permission to keep using the top floors of Lewis House until October 2022 as a study space for 160 students in a deal that will net landlord Bath and North East Somerset Council another year’s rent.
Social distancing has meant teaching space at the campus shrank from 8,500 seats to around 1,700 and the library’s capacity has been slashed from 2,500 to 450 seats.
Most teaching moved online, but with additional mental health challenges for students and staff due to the disruption to study, working practices and uncertainty, the university committed to offering face to face contact in a safe environment.
The extension application said: “Since the application’s approval last October the UK has been subject to an even greater second peak of infections during the autumn and winter months and two further lockdowns.
“In April 2021 the Department for Education also published further guidance for higher education providers which requires universities to still maintain social distancing measures to minimise transmission rates.
“As such the response to the Covid-19 crisis and associated contingency mitigation measures very much still remain in place, thus representing exceptional circumstances.”
Supporting the application, Martyn Whalley, the university’s estates director, said: “Whilst it is hoped that we can return to business as usual we have learnt over the last 12 months that we cannot take anything for granted.
“The virus remains a huge business continuity risk and new strains or vaccine resistant variants may develop. For these reasons the opportunity to retain access for a further year to Lewis House is seen as vital contingency planning.”
Lewis House, home to the council’s One Stop Shop and a police enquiry desk, proved an ideal short-term solution as it would have needed to sign a five to seven-year lease on most other offices. It is immediately opposite the university’s city centre hub, the Virgil Building.
Approving the extension, the council said the benefits of complying with public health guidance outweighed the temporary harm to Bath’s office supply.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter