New backer steers city shops vision

The former Mitchells Brewery in Lancaster
The former Mitchells Brewery in Lancaster

New developers have taken over the reins to bring a £75m retail and business development to Lancaster.

London-based British Land have acquired the Canal Corridor North site previously earmarked for development by Centros.

The firm has bought a 2.3 acre section of the site – including the former Mitchell’s brewery – and now has a development agreement in place with Lancaster City Council for the acquisition of its adjoining land, which they say will “enable the delivery of a significant canalside, 
mixed-use scheme across a 10 acre site.”

They promise to “significantly improve public space, the city’s cultural attractions and retail provision and further enhance the fortunes and overall appeal of the city.”

It is understood Centros will be working alongside British Land as project managers to deliver the scheme.

Richard Wise, head of retail development for British Land, said: “Working closely with Lancaster City Council and English Heritage, our aim is to deliver a scheme that complements the site’s historical setting.

“Lancaster has seen very little retail investment over the last two decades and we look forward to creating a retail and leisure destination to serve local people and attract significant numbers of visitors into the city.”

Coun Janice Hanson, cabinet member with responsibility for regeneration at Lancaster City Council, added: “This investment by British Land is a major coup and a vote of confidence in the future of Lancaster and the district as a whole.

“Along with the other exciting developments at Lancaster Castle and Luneside East, the Canal Corridor North site holds the key to our regeneration and future economic growth.

“These are exciting times for the Lancaster district and shows we are well placed to build our economy and create jobs for local people.”

Ann Morris, chief executive of Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce, said: “This latest news presents an opportunity to make real progress on the re-development of this site.

“The chamber supports a retail-led mixed use development proposal, but always had issues with road access and integration with the existing retail centre.

“We look forward to seeing whatever development proposals now come forward and to representing the views of our members in any consultation process.”

Detailed discussions will now take place with key stakeholders including Lancaster City Council and English Heritage, before an extensive public consultation process.

However, campaigners who had previously fought against aspects of the Centros plans have aired their concern about British Land.

In October 2011, the company was placed at number one, with 135 subsidiaries, on a list of FTSE 100 companies that use tax havens for their operations, as revealed in a database of their subsidiaries compiled for the first time by the development charity ActionAid.

Green councillor Chris Coates said: “The government is urging action to stop tax avoiders such as Starbucks, but the city council is actively supporting a massive tax avoider in British Land.

“I think this sends out an appalling message to tax payers in the district.”

Billy Pye, a spokesman for campaign group It’s Our City, said: “I think the council has got some questions to ask at a time when the country is focusing on people who aren’t paying tax in this country.

“We were never anti-development or anti-Centros so we will wait and see what happens.

“We are more than happy to participate in any consultation process.”

The Canal Corridor North site has been clouded in controversy in recent years.

Centros revised their original scheme in March, after Lancaster City Council agreed to extend the period of its development agreement by five years.

The developer previously had a scheme rejected by the Secretary of State following a public inquiry in 2009.

British Land has a portfolio which includes 82 retail parks, 92 superstores, 13 shopping centres and nine department stores, including the Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield.

It is also building the Leadenhall Building, informally called the Cheesegrater because of its distinctive shape, in London, which will become one of the tallest buildings in western Europe when it is completed in 2014.