The consultation on the potential development of Freemans Wood in Lancaster for housing began with an event on Wednesday at the Storey. The consultation is now online (details below) and will close at midnight on Wednesday 26 April.
At the event it was explained that the owners of the site, the Bermuda-based Property Trust (PT) don't intend to develop the site themselves. However they hope to obtain outline planning permission for a housing development on the site, as this will increase the value of the land by an amount, I was told, 'in the £millions'.
As their documents explain, "We will be submitting an outline planning application, so details of the development - such as the exact number of houses, final internal site planning and road layout matters, and the type and style of the houses proposed will be decided in further detailed applications."
So, although their displays show images of a lovely housing development, with self-build, retirement and affordable housing along tree-lined boulevards - this is not what is being applied for - it is 'just a suggestion'. The actual development application will come later, from a different developer altogether, with their own ideas for the site.
What PT are seeking now is a general consent from the City Council that the land can be used to build housing. By whoever happens to own it.
14,000 new homes already planned for Lancaster District
Lancaster City Council's new draft Local Development Land Allocation Plan identifies land that can be developed for housing, and land which is protected. The draft Plan has identified a very great deal of greenbelt land for development - a plan that would see Lancaster extended by new housing estates southwards from Scotforth and Hala to engulf Galgate and reach J33 of the M6. North, the plan is for new housing to extend the city to J34 and along the new link road north of Skerton, Beaumont and Ryelands.
The draft plan is based on an 2015 assessment of local housing need by property marketing consultants Turley. Rather than base their calculations on figures from the government's Office of National Statistics (ONS), which predicted a need for 392 new homes per year in the district until 2031, Turley speculated that International Immigration was likely to rise exponentially. On the basis of this guess, they inflated the number to 700 new homes per year. The Council has inflated it still further, to 750 per year. The actual land allocation is even higher, offering space for 14,000 new homes by 2031.
But in fact, Turley had no idea what was coming. Last year's Brexit decision means that their 2015 guess about international immigration trends is now meaningless. ONS predictions suggest that there is now a very substantial over-allocation of land designated for new housing developments in the draft Plan.
So what does the District Plan have in store for Freeman's Wood?
The land allocated for new housing in the District Plan doesn't include Freeman's Wood. Instead, PT's land is designated as an 'Open Space Deficit Area'. (An 'Open Space' means any undeveloped land accessible to the public). The trees in the area are protected by a general Tree Preservation Order, and the more thinly wooded parcel of land between that owned by the Property Trust and the River Lune is designated a 'Woodland Opportunity Area'. The area adjoins the Lune Estuary and connects along the Lune cycleway with the Flora Nature Reserve, forming a recreational park of considerable natural interest for the East of the City, where there is already an overall deficit of open space, a deficit that will be made greater when the nearby brownfield area is developed.
Satnam, the Property Trust's agents, are arguing that their land isn't part of Freeman's Wood and therefore their trees aren't protected by the Tree Preservation Order. They say "The site consists of grassland, scrub vegetation and regenerating tree cover which is generally located to the boundaries. It is not a woodland and contains a large area of grassland, together with hard standings." They also say, "...the trees are crowded and the shading prevents the development of ground flora." They don't refer to the trees they chopped down to build their fence, despite the Tree Preservation Order. Or the mature trees chopped down later on their land.
It's unfortunate for the Property Trust that they didn't submit their application when the Land Allocation Plan was being drafted, as many notices were issued by the Council over the months preceding the consultation, asking for people's views about land suitable for potential development. Then there was the two month public consultation on the draft Plan, with many public events. Nowhere in this major district consultation was PT's plan to build houses on Freeman's Wood mooted to the general public.
Online Private Consultation
You can express your views about their belated outline planning consent application to Satnam via their consultation website at http://www.resultscommunications.co.uk/, where it is listed as 'New Quay Road, Lancaster'.
This privately commissioned consultation is for Satnam and their employers, The Property Trust. If you wish to make your views known to the City Council, there will be an opportunity when Satnam get around to making their actual application for outline planning consent for their land, sometime in the coming months.