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Conservatives to back outline Canal Corridor development plans

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The Lancaster Canal Corridor North site
The Lancaster Canal Corridor North site (click to enlarge)
Author: 
Chris Satori

Update: 1/11/17

The motion passed with 35 votes in favour, 11 against and 2 abstentions

Council and Labour group leader, Cllr Eileen Blamire, said: "This is an important milestone in progressing a scheme which could transform a tired area of Lancaster city centre, attracting new shops and restaurants, establishing an exciting new home for arts organisations like The Dukes and Ludus Dance, and creating hundreds of new jobs.

"It would bring new investment with the potential to deliver a real economic boost for the district, and give residents and visitors more reason to spend time and money in the area rather than travelling elsewhere.

"However, this decision only indicates the council's support for this kind of development and its financial support for the scheme in principle.

"The council and its officers will continue to be diligent in ensuring that the deal reached in the negotiations that follow will be in the best interests of this authority and everyone in the district."

 

31/10/17

Lancaster City Council's Conservative Group say they have agreed to back the new Canal Corridor development proposals, so long as the Council agrees to their amendments backing the existing small businesses in the city centre and requiring further diligence into some financial aspects of the proposals.  In fact a statement from the Conservative Group says that 'they will vote against any move by any party to block or slow down the progress of the development.' 

However very few people as yet know what the actual development plans actually are. The Council will be voting tonight on their next steps with British Land (BL) at an Extraordinary Meeting of the Council being held this evening, but the council's discussions with British Land have been shrouded in secrecy to date. Press and public are excluded from the meeting, which is being held in Morecambe, and only the broadest details were disclosed last week on the council's website.

History of Rejected Plans

BL's Canal Corridor website at http://www.canalcorridor.info/ has not been updated since 2013, when they also published an information leaflet about their plans in which, at that time, they named Chapman Taylor as their masterplanning architect and Centros as their managing agent. 

It's perhaps not surprising that the Council wants to keep a low profile on the plans for the time being. Previous plans for the site from Carillion and then Centros raised a great deal of controversy and were finally scrapped in 2008 after being refused on Appeal by the Secretary of State - but not before Bulk Ward, where the site lies, had swung from Labour to Green in 2007, ousting the then Leader of the Council from what had previously been considered a safe seat. A slightly revised plan was tentatively brought forward by Centros in 2012 but eventually shelved due to 'economic considerations'.

Grave concerns were raised about Centros' plans, particularly the idea of of adding such a significant amount of retail space (an additional 60%) to a city centre which was already struggling to find occupants for its many empty shops. Another issue was the pressing need for decent affordable housing, which wasn't addressed in the earlier plan (nor in this one). Connectivity between the old and the proposed shopping centres was poor, and an injunction was taken out by English Heritage to prevent demolition of the old Mitchell's brewery. The future of the two theatres and the Musicians' Coop over the lifetime of the lease was another point of contention, as were impacts on traffic, lack of clarity around design issues, financial liability, skewed consultations and the lack of available short- or long-term projections around its proposed 250 year lifespan. See our many, many, previous stories.

We really don't want to go through all this again so we're hoping for a realistic, lung-friendly city centre traffic plan this time, from the outset. And then we'll see. 

New Proposals

The reports pack for tonight's meeting contains an abridged summary of the new development proposals. It notes that they have had significant input from Lancaster University, and that "The key elements of the scheme provide for:

  • a retail/food and beverage development with some 250,000 sq ft of high street comparison retail floorspace and 70,000 sq ft of food and drink retail incorporating one anchor (high street comparison retail) store;
  • an 82 bedroom hotel;
  • a new student village of around 1,000 units of student accommodation;
  • an underground car park with 786 spaces; and
  • a new “arts hub” building which could house the Dukes, Ludus dance and other arts organisations."

Conservative amendments

Local retailers might well have some concerns about the idea of a student village drawing student retail activity away from the city centre. Perhaps in the hope of assuaging such concerns, Conservative Group Leader Peter Williamson has given advance notice of two brief amendments to the Council's proposals to move the development along in the Extraordinary Council meeting this evening, saying:

"This is an opportunity to develop a site that has been up in the air for nearly two decades. The plans look really exciting and in principle our Group backs them. We want to ensure that the financial arrangements for these proposals are sensible and sustainable. This Council has a less than prudent history in some of its financial dealings which have ended up costing taxpayers millions of pounds. So, it’s important that at this stage any recommendations do not tie our hands behind our back. The Conservative Group want the scheme to go ahead. We also want to ensure that whatever deal we end up with is one that benefits all the investors – Council taxpayers, the University and British Land.’’

The proposed Conservative amendments to the recommendations under debate tonight are as follows:

1.      Amend Recommendation 2 Paragraph 3 (Dash 2) to insert the word 'explore' thus:

in principle it agrees to explore the financial ‘asks’ from key partners as set out in section 4 of the report; and alongside these’...

2.      Add a Recommendation 5 as follows:

‘This Council recognises the importance of businesses in the existing city centre of Lancaster and will maintain its commitment to those businesses alongside any development of the Canal Corridor North site’.

Cllr Charlie Edwards tells us he will join his Conservative colleagues and vote in favour of the Canal Corridor development:

"Developing Lancaster City Centre is something we all want to see, jobs, investment and better shopping and leisure in our town. Our proposals are added to guarantee that the businesses already in Lancaster are supported by this Council, and that we look at every option available in terms of how to fund the project for the best value for council taxpayers. This Council has made some dismal financial decisions in the past, and it will not happen again on our watch.

"We want big brands to come to Lancaster, but not at the expense of the businesses that have already invested here, so we want assurances from the Council that they will be supported during and after the development."

 


 

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