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Campaigners welcome Council rethink on Canal Corridor development


Artist's impression of the proposed Canal Quarter development, as seen from Moor Lane
Artist's impression of the proposed Canal Quarter development, as seen from Moor Lane
John Freeman

(Story updated 28/3/18 to include a response from Eileen Blamire to comments from Jon Barry)

Campaigners have welcomed Lancaster City Council's decision to withdraw from its arrangements with developer British Land.and is moving to re-shape ambitious plans to transform acres of prime land and buildings on the city's Canal Corridor, after extensive discussion.

The council announced it was rethinking the scheme to redevelop the area known as Canal Corridor North, with a more diverse mix of uses, including further housing and business opportunities combined with retail space.

After working alongside its commercial advisors GVA and following months of detailed assessment with its development partner, British Land, the parties have concluded the plan as envisaged should be withdrawn.

Key to this decision was a determination not to expose council taxpayers to the level of risk which had arisen following a number of constraints around commercial terms. Instead the city council has announced its commitment to press ahead with new proposals for a multi-use development for the 16-acre site, which it is rebranding, The Canal Quarter.

The council, supported by Lancaster University, has reiterated its belief the area will have a crucial role in the growth and development of Lancaster as a vibrant, modern city, but has identified seven key factors the re-shaped scheme must focus on.

These are that any new development brings significant and wide-ranging economic benefits without exposing the City Council to an unacceptable level of financial risk, a concern raised by many, some fearing another, larger "Blobbygate"; less reliance on additional retail floor space, thereby instilling confidence in the future of the existing city centre shopping area; and the development must include new uses for historic buildings, capitalising on the canal side setting as part of the physical transformation and regeneration.

Any new development must offer a range of residential accommodation to suit a variety of purposes, which campaigners had long proposed. There will still be an  increase in Lancaster University’s presence in the city centre and it's hoped the new Canal Quarter will provide more business space especially for Lancaster’s thriving digital sector. This will provide units for future expansion and shared spaces for collaboration.

The new approach will include the delivery of an "arts hub" that achieves the goal of making Lancaster the North West’s primary cultural centre outside of the main cities.

Councillor Janice Hanson, cabinet member with responsibility for planning and regeneration, said: "We have a huge obligation to get this major development right. We’d very much like to thank British Land for the considerable expertise they have brought to this highly complex process up to this point, but we have agreed to conclude our partnership.

"While the city council remains absolutely committed to the regeneration of the site, the new proposal will be a different scheme, one which supports greater multi-purpose use and is easier to deliver.

“We now want to bring forward for the people of Lancaster an exciting transformation that delivers on everyone’s ambitions for this great city. This includes working with partners to achieve our aspirations for high-calibre arts and culture provision."

Councillor Hanson said the authority recognised the need to end the uncertainty generated by the long-running history of Canal Corridor North, so it wants to agree an overall plan as soon as possible and for development to be delivered in visible stages. This includes a possible on site start date of 2019 – two years earlier than envisaged in the previous scheme.

The council also wants to take advantage of the latest in green energy development to make the site as self-sustainable as possible.

A report setting out the council's current position and proposals to look at a new way forward for the site will go before a meeting of the full council on 11th April 2018.

Council's Community group welcome Council rethink

Lancaster community organisation, the Canal Corridor Action Group welcomed Lancaster City Council’s announcement that it has decided to withdraw from its arrangements with developer British Land.

“We welcome the decision and hope that this marks the beginning of real consultation and community participation in future planning for the Canal Quarter,” said a spokesperson for CCAG. “We don’t just want to be fed information, we want to be treated as equal partners, as outlined in the Council’s own published  engagement guidance.”

CCAG are an informal community group for concerned locals to get involved in creating our own vision for the Lancaster Canal Corridor North proposed development. They believe that the land in the area is in need of redevelopment, and that it should reflect the needs of the City and its residents and be community rather than developer led. 

Greens welcome move away fromn British Land deal

Commenting on the decision to abandon the existing canal corridor scheme with British Land, Green group leader Jon Barry said "abandoning the scheme with British Land is the right decision.  The Green Party has been calling for a mixed-use scheme for the last 13 years and we are delighted that the Labour group and Council officers are now on board."

"Whilst I am pleased with the new direction for the canal corridor, the decision should have been made much earlier. It was clear to us 18 months ago that this scheme was far too risky for the taxpayer - but our protests were not listened to. As a consequence, in this financial year alone, the City Council has spent £283,000 on consultants for the negotiations with British Land."

"The scheme with British Land was done with no public consultation or involvement. It is very important that the public is able to comment and be involved in any new plans. After all, it is their city and their money."

Responding to Jon Barry's comments, Coun Eileen Blamire, council leader and leader of the Labour group said: "When there was the prospect of significant external investment in our city centre it would have been silly not to investigate the prospect of a financial agreement which was in the best interests of taxpayers and the possibility of a sustainable scheme which would appeal to residents and visitors alike.

"We made it clear from the outset that if this did not prove possible we would look again at the plans and we have reached that point.  Now we have the opportunity to look at the development afresh and at alternative sources of funding."

• The Canal Corridor Action Group are holding a consultation stall at the Spring Market in Lancaster’s Market Square on 30th March 2018, where you can talk about your ideas for the area.

Council’s Community Engagement Guidance can be seen online here

Canal Quarter FAQ

The Council has released this Q&A guide to the proposed development - the full announcement is here on the Council web site

How much is this new project going to cost? How will the council be financing it?

Key to the decision to ending the partnership with British Land was not to expose council taxpayers to an inappropriate level of risk. The financing of the new proposals will have to take into account these same considerations. They need to be worked up in more detail before costs will be available. What we do know is that by building in phases, the level of exposure is reduced and the city’s finances are helped by a faster return on investment.

Will the public be consulted over these proposals?
The city council and the University of Lancaster believe this series of developments offer the city a fantastic opportunity. We want residents and all stakeholders to be proud of their city and feel they have a role to play, so there will be ample opportunity as a new scheme is developed for public consultation.

Do the new proposals still retain provision for an arts hub?
Commitment to an arts hub, comparable with any in the North West, is undiminished. Lancaster is rightly proud of its arts and cultural heritage and the city council wants to help existing and new providers develop and flourish.

What will happen to the Musician’s Co-operative?
The council wants to see Lancaster as the North West’s primary cultural centre outside of the main cities and recognises the importance of the Musicians Co-op and the role it plays. Discussions will take place with the Musicians Co-op and other city cultural assets, such as the Dukes, Grand and Ludus, as the proposals develop.

Is the Homeless Action Service on Edward Street included in these plans? What will happen to it?
The future of the Homeless Action Centre always needed to be part of the discussions over the regeneration of the area and these will continue as the council moves forward with these proposals.

Does this mean more student accommodation being built in Lancaster?

The proposal is for a mixed-use development that will contain a variety of elements. There’s scope for a range of residential housing, exciting public spaces, retail, leisure and food and drink outlets. There will also be space for the university to increase its presence, including some student housing. We are keen that outside of term time this could be used as extra bed spaces for visitors to the city, so it could form a dual purpose.

Would the residential properties be affordable housing or is it high end apartments?

Including more dwellings in a new scheme provides the potential to cater for all sectors of the housing market including an element of affordable housing and different tenures. We want the city to be able to offer good quality, affordable homes to buy or rent for key workers and others. More people living in the city supports our shops, services, cultural and leisure facilities.

Is an underground car park still part of the plans?

An appropriate amount of car parking within the development would be retained, but proposals for this to be underground will not now be taken forward. Any car parking will need to be in-keeping with the scale of development and not dominate the scheme. It will be located to minimise the need to drive through the city centre and managed to incentivise more use of the park and ride site at junction 34.

What will happen to the land that British Land owns in this area – is the council going to buy it from them?

Although the council will no longer be in a formal partnership with British Land, we will still be working with them as a major land owner. Negotiations will take place over their holdings as the council progresses these plans.

What level and type of retailing are you planning?

Although we are nowhere near this level of detail yet, we are proposing a balanced mix of uses. Retail will play a part in this, but not to the level that was
originally envisaged. We want the new scheme to be part of a wider thriving city centre and give certainty to existing traders and potential investors to encourage continual improvement to our commercial offer for locals and visitors.

How much has this project cost the council to date?

To date, previous schemes have been led by private developers (Centros and then British Land). The council’s role has been limited to essential due diligence and the exercising of its statutory functions (principally planning). What we are very clear about is that it is only through the rigour of the recent due diligence carried out by the council that we are now able to present a way forward that we are confident in asking the whole city and wider region to support.

Will there be provisions for green energy development?

Embedding green initiatives in the design will be a guiding principle for the regeneration. There are many UK and international examples of sustainable
development that we would want to consider. We should also explore the opportunity for flood mitigation measures, such as underground water storage, to help other areas of the city.

When is work likely to start?

With support it is anticipated the first stage could start as early as next year. That’s two years earlier than previously thought. Therefore residents and businesses would see the Canal Quarter coming to life much sooner under this proposal.

What are the next stages?

A report will go to full council on April 11. This is likely to ask authority to progress with the re-shaped scheme and get under way with discussions with the many stakeholders.