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Centros in secret development deal talks with City Council

Chris Satori
An earlier visual for Centros first plan for LancasterWhat has happened to developer Centros? In the current issue of Lancaster Chamber of Commerce's Business Matters we read that Lancaster City Council has had recent meetings with Centros who "... confirmed their commitment to progressing a mixed retail led scheme on the Lancaster canal corridor site.

"We are assured by our local authority that plenty is happening behind the scenes and every effort is being made to deliver the best schemes to meet the needs of the district," the Chamber adds in an article that offers a useful round up of development matters in the area.

The Council's Canal Corridor Liaison Group met for the first time in a long time in February in a meeting restricted from the public. The City Council Cabinet is due to deal next week with an Agenda Item concerning the Canal Corridor Development, and we surmise that another secret development deal with Centros is on the table. The matter is entirely restricted from the public, as befits a deal that would lease half our city centre for 250 years to Centros, a private company registered to a British Virgin Islands tax shelter. 

We have no details on what new changes have been made to the original deal; it included a new supermarket and the likelihood that retail anchor Marks & Spencer would move across town to the Centros development, which would leave a very large empty retail space next to the empty market and the second Sainsbury's planned nearby. The original development also proposed a 60 per cent increase in city centre retail space  However with two new giant supermarkets proposed alongside the A6 at Scotforth, plus a new discount supermarket envisaged for the old Booths site,  local retailers worry that shoppers and tourists coming from the South will simply spend most of their money outside the city centre.

Within the city centre struggling retailers will be in further competition with two Sainsbury's, a Tesco and a new supermarket in the proposed Canal Corridor Development.

The previous deal collapsed following strong objections from English Heritage to inadequacies in the plans and the process. Centros failed to attend the public enquiry leaving the council making empty noises about seeking compensation for all its expenses in attempting to defend the deal.  But that's all water under the bridge.

Consultations and fresh impact studies will doubtless be taking place again, hopefully before the council commits itself this time. (We remember with some irony the discredited telephone poll commissioned by Centros for the local Labour by-election campaign in 2007 that saw the Greens taking Bulk Ward from Labour in a landslide vote.)

Councillors approved the last development deal without actually being permitted to read it. It's to be hoped that the hard lessons of Asco and the market and Blobbyland and Bubbles have been learnt this time.