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Planning Inspector criticises Lancaster city council and postpones start of inquiry into the Lancaster Local Plan


Proposed area of growth for Bailrigg Garden Village
Proposed area of growth for Bailrigg Garden Village (click to enlarge)

The Lancaster Local Plan was approved by the city council in December 2017. It was then submitted to central government for the Secretary of State to appoint a planning inspector. His role is to consider the objections to the plan submitted by Lancaster residents and to decide on its soundness. Under this plan 12,000 new houses would be constructed over the period to 2034 and a substantial number of these would be in the proposed Bailrigg garden village.

In October, the start date for the planning inquiry was announced as 8 January 2019. However, in a strongly worded letter to the city council, the Planning Inspector, Richard McCoy, postponed the start date indefinitely. He criticised the council for failing to deliver evidence on time and attempting to amend the plan after it had been submitted for inspection.

The Inspector’s letter is a damning indictment of the city council, reminding them that the Plan as submitted should have been sound and finalised and should not have been submitted unless the City Council Planners were confident of this:

“…I am concerned that there is no provision in statute that allows the Council to revise and re-submit a plan that has already been submitted to the Secretary of State for examination without first withdrawing it. I consider that it would not be lawful to examine/make recommendations on what purports to be a ‘revised plan’ as there is no statutory basis to do so. The Plan being examined is therefore the originally submitted and not the revised Plan.

The Inspector’s letter also states:

“I would also remind the council that it is for me to consider how any suggested modifications to the submitted plan should be addressed and therefore, whether they are necessary for the soundness of the plan and acceptable.”

Full text of Planning Inspector’s letter.

The letter was sent on 19 November and so far there is no response on the Lancaster City Council Planning Department website.

The date of the Planning Inquiry remains uncertain as does the future of the Local Plan. This hardly builds confidence. CLOUD (Citizens of Lancaster Opposed to Unnecessary Development) have challenged the housing-need statistics and job forecasts which underpin the Local Plan. They have also argued that the Local Plan lacks key components especially relating to transport and infrastructure costs and included this argument in their response to the Planning Inspector in April. In his letter, Mr McCoy has now raised concerns which have been troubling Lancaster people ever since the Local Plan was first published. There have been widespread criticisms of the way the Plan was first and inadequately drafted and yet approved by Council, and then repeatedly and still incoherently modified after it had been submitted for central government approval. The key question must now be: where does this leave Lancaster City Council? The ‘story’ has yet to unfold but it does not inspire confidence. The letter leaves little doubt that the Planning Inspector is unimpressed by proceedings so far.

UPDATE - 7th January 2019 - The City Council sent us this repesonse just before Christmas, but unfortunately it was missed

Coun Janice Hanson, Cabinet member with responsibility for regeneration and planning, said: “The dates for the hearing sessions had not been set by the Inspector, so this is not a formal postponement but a later start than had been anticipated.

“It is not at all unusual for local plan hearing sessions to be postponed or even suspended once they have begun.  Often the inspector will open examination hearing sessions and then decide that they should be suspended for further work to take place.

“Simply put, the local plan process is extremely challenging, especially when you consider the strong vision for the future and level of growth that the city council has set out, compared to many other local authorities.

“The council will be responding to the inspector’s pre-hearing note shortly, but in short the inspector has asked for clarity on the evidence to be completed.

“Transport assessment work in particular has continued to evolve following the completion of the Bay Gateway and the re-opening of the city’s Greyhound Bridge after major refurbishment.  This transport assessment work is nearing completion and will be ready shortly.

“The completed evidence will to be made available for consultation and any comments about this evidence, for the soundness of the submitted local plan, will be made available to the inspector so that he can take this into account during the examination.

“The city council is also working closely with Lancashire County Council on the preparation of a bid for Housing Infrastructure Funding to support transport infrastructure and enable development, including a Garden Village, in south Lancaster.”