Student flats scheme approved for former home of popular city centre restaurant Louis Cafe

New plans for student apartments at the former home of an iconic city centre café have been given the green light.

The business started in Ryhope in 1924, later relocating to premises in Park Lane in 1975, where it traded for more than four decades.

However the building has sat vacant since 2018, when business owners made the decision to cease trading.

Louis Café, Park Lane, Sunderland

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Previously approved plans from MTA Land Investments Ltd included extending the building upwards by two storeys to provide “cluster-type” student apartments.

However the plans were taken back to the drawing board following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the additional upper floors scrapped by developers.

Revised proposals for the site were recommended for approval by council planning officers at Monday’s (July 4) meeting of the council’s Planning and Highways Committee.

Retiring Maria and Stephen Lee with staff at Louis Cafe in 2018.

This included 16 student flats – less than half the 34 originally proposed – a ground floor commercial unit and an exterior “refresh”.

While welcoming the plans, councillor James Doyle offered a “word of caution” over a report on the scheme, which claimed student apartments would “contribute to regenerating and transforming the urban core into a vibrant and distinct area”.

Cllr Doyle added: “I think that that is possible but we have for example […] the refurbished student accommodation in the old Joplings building, that hasn’t quite worked and I wouldn’t describe John Street as a vibrant area”.

According to a committee report prepared for city councillors, the plans are expected to “contribute to meeting a shortfall of purpose-built student accommodation” on Wearside.

The proposed development would also “primarily target the overseas student market”.

The committee report adds: “[The development] would also provide a retail unit within the primary shopping area of the urban core, within a building which is currently vacant.”

The planning approval is also subject to a section 106 legal agreement, which is expected to secure cash from the to fund other improvements in the area, including upgrading “neighbouring existing greenspace” within the St Michael’s ward and “mitigating recreational impacts generated by the proposed development” on designated ecology sites.