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It's Our City calls Canal Corridor Conference

John Freeman
Campaign group It’s Our City will hold a conference in Lancaster later this year, to discuss the future of the Canal Corridor North site and how it might be developed.

After the current Centros scheme was rejected after a Public Inquiry, the group believes the most positive way to now move forward is to ensure that the local community is fully involved in any future decisions concerning how the site will be developed.

Local organisations such as the Civic Society and the Chamber of Commerce will be invited to participate in the conference, as will local councillors, SAVE and English Heritage, and Lancaster City Council.

“This conference is intended to be a forum where anyone and everyone, including people who supported the Centros plans, can have their say on how they think the Canal Corridor should be developed" explains group spokesperson Billy Pye.

"We urge all interested parties, including the City Council and Mitchells as well as the local community, to now come together to cooperate in order to identify an appropriate, acceptable and achievable vision for the canal corridor”.

The Centros application for the development - which focused largely on extnding retail space in the city - was refused at a recent Public Inquiry which Centros declined to attend. The council has claimed that Centros owes it costs for leaving them in the lurch but offers have yet to ensue.

Since then, Mitchells Brewery building has been listed after attempts were made to demolish it by the owners. Retention of this building is not compatible with the Centros proposal, which, as far as It's Our City is concerned, means the scheme as it stands is officially and finally pronounced dead.

Lancaster City Council is organising its own 'independently facilitated discussion’ about the area's future. It's Our City announced earlier this month that it would play no part in that consultation, feeling it would not be feasible to take part in this process for several reasons - but primarily because the process seems to be solely a means to amend the rejected Centros plans.

“The Centros plans were rejected at the public inquiry," explained IOC's Emilie Secker, "so we do not see any point in taking part in a process which takes these plans as a starting point. Instead, we should go back to the original 2004 development brief for the Canal Corridor, find out what local people actually want and need, and then find a developer who can deliver that.”

IOC also argues the process is not fully transparent, as evidenced by the continuing discussions between Centros and City Council, away from the process; and participation in the process, would not, the group feels, ensure influence over any future planning applications.

“The process we agreed to enter into before the outcome of the public inquiry was known depended on all parties acting in renewed good faith," says IOC's Tim Hamilton-Cox. "Regrettably, the council has failed to do this. It stopped the city centre conservation area review in its tracks last autumn; and has not resumed it even now when the malthouse in Mitchell’s brewery complex has been listed.

"The council issued two press releases after the inquiry outcome was known which gave the inquiry report the sort of spin which gives PR such a bad name. And, instead of opening up to new ideas on development of the site, the council persists in trying to get Centros back onside (whilst at the same time claiming costs against Centros for the company’s non-appearance at the inquiry) when it could have terminated the development agreement and started afresh.

"To continue this dialogue with the deaf is just to waste public money. The council seems stuck in a pre-credit crunch timewarp.”

The group has issued a big thank you to all the people of Lancaster who fought a long and determined fight to keep us out of "the hideous mess now being perpetrated by Centros on the sorry folk of Bury St Edmunds (where the new mall has struggled for tenants, even with sweetheart rent deals)) and Portsmouth (where work on the emptied site has ground to a halt pending new development agreements)."

"And, while we're at it, another big thank you to the thousands who, in the last month, campaigned to save the market and networked tirelessly with victims across the region to uncover the appalling scam threatened by ASCO."