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Centros: new draft masterplan for city centre

Chris Satori

Centros' revised draft masterplan for the Canal Corridor North Development SiteFollowing Lancaster City Council’s Cabinet approval of the principles for a five-year extension to the Canal Corridor North development agreement, which was originally due to expire in October 2011, Centros has released its revised master-plan proposals, pictured above, for the development of the Canal Corridor North site. These have been worked up in consultation with the both the City Council and English Heritage, who vetoed their previous proposals. This new scheme is estimated to reflect a proposed investment in Lancaster in excess of £100 million.

Centros director, David Lewis, explained:
“Since the public inquiry in 2009, we have revisited our previous proposals whilst liaising with English Heritage to address their concerns. This week’s decision by the Council’s Cabinet represents a key milestone in the delivery of this major regeneration in the city centre.

"Once legal formalities are concluded, we will be in a position to prepare a new planning application. In the meantime, we intend to continue our engagement with both statutory consultees and local stakeholders, as well as the public.”

You can read the heritage assessment report for the Canal Corridor site on the City Council website here.
Those with an interest in local history and architecture will also find it an interesting read.  The new plan integrates more of the existing buildings, including the now listed brewery, bringing them back into use.

The revised scheme comprises:
· An open pedestrian shopping street leading from Stonewell to a new public square, with multiple pedestrian links to and from Moor Lane, the canal towpath and St Leonard Gate
· A new department store, a variety store and around 30 other new shops including a supermarket
· New cafés and restaurants
· A broad surface-level Toucan crossing at Stonewell and landscape enhancement of lower Church Street, including a shared surface with pedestrian priority
· New public squares in the centre of the scheme – also on St Leonard Gate, on Moor Lane, St Anne’s Place, Stonewell and adjacent to the canal / Heron Works
· A new public park leading up from Alfred Street to the Lancaster Canal
· Re-housing of the much-admired Lancaster Musicians’ Co-operative in the restored Brewery Building
· Creation of a restaurant quarter adjacent to the Lancaster Canal – utilising refurbished Joseph Storey buildings and the courtyard
· An enhanced canalside environment
· Re-engineering of the Parliament Street/Caton Road highways network to provide much-improved road access for the city - as before
· 800 car parking spaces including part undercroft below the new retail street - providing direct pedestrian access to Stonewell, the historic city centre and both theatres
· New residential accommodation, including a terrace of cottages on Alfred Street.

The significant changes to the scheme include:

· Removal of the proposed pedestrian bridge over Stonewell
· Upgrading of the public realm on lower Church Street, Stonewell and lower St Leonard Gate, including a much-improved pedestrian crossing
· Retention and re-use of the listed malthouse building and adjoining brewery tower and courtyard buildings
· Retention of parts of the Joseph Storey/Heron Works
· Part retention of Swan Court
· A 20% reduction in the overall commercial floorspace to 34,500 sq m.

At the end of last year, Centros agreed terms with Mitchell’s of Lancaster to acquire its interests in the development site. It is anticipated that a new planning application will be submitted at the end of this year. On superficial reading, the new scheme appears to be a significant improvement on the previous efforts, with   listed buildings restored and integrated into the plan. With these and additional public space included the development is likely to feel significantly more relaxed than the previous stock shopping precinct plan. However many still have serious qualms about entering into a 250-year deal that leases most of our city centre space to a company based in a British Virgin Islands tax haven. It will put them almost on a par with the Victorian era's Lord Ashton as Lancaster's most powerful lobbyists - after the nuclear power station, a French holding.

Centros to meet with It's Our City on Tuesday
Local group It’s Our City (IOC), who campaigned tirelessly against Centros’ previous, flawed development proposals, (which indeed fell at the Public Inquiry stage) are reserving judgement until they have had the opportunity to scrutinise the full proposals in detail and consult locally. Centros has invited their ‘leadership’ to a meeting at the Dukes next Tuesday 27 March at 7.30pm. As the group has an informal structure its supporters are requested to email directly should they wish to attend as spaces are limited to 30.

Bury St Edmunds £5million down on Centros link passage deal
Scrutiny is called for. Suffolk's 'Coastal Scene' reported in 2010 that, rather than build a promised £6 million link between the new Centros-built Arc shopping centre and the city centre, a critical part of the development plan, Centros instead gave the St Edmundsbury Borough Council a parcel of land worth just £750,000. Council leader John Griffiths said: “Once it became clear that Centros were not going to make the anticipated profits on the Arc necessary to widen Market Thoroughfare, the borough council tried everything - including the use of a compulsory purchase order - to force them to do so.'
To no avail.

According to their website portfolio Centros was acquired by Delancey in 1999. According to their latest press release Centros 'is owned by funds advised by property investment company, Delancey'. The small print could prove expensive. During the last development agreement, the companies set up by Centros as guarantors for their proposals were restructured, leaving them with barely £200 in assets - making Centros' guarantees to the City Council worthless should liability arise. A new proposal for this 250 year scheme will need to prove that its guarantors are more than letterheads - for the forseeable future.

The Centros page on the Delancy portfolio website may look familiar - the image currently shown is the artist's impression of Centros previous proposal for Lancaster - which was chucked out by the 2007 public enquiry.