Approval of south Lancaster's Bailrigg Garden Village ‘vision’ report paves way for next planning phase

A ‘Vision Masterplan’ report for the proposed new Bailrigg Garden Village south of Lancaster has been approved by the city council’s cabinet.

By Robbie Macdonald, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Friday, 11th February 2022, 3:30 pm

Approval of the report will clarify the council’s preferences for Bailrigg Garden Village itself, which has evolved as a project since 2017. It could also influence other future developments in the south Lancaster area, possibly including seperate developments linked to the controversial Housing Infrastructure Fund agreement with the government.

Organisations including Lancaster University and planning consultancies have also been involved with the Bailrigg project. Consultations have also been held with residents in areas such as Galgate, community groups and public services, such as health bodies.

Now, a new phase of planning work will commence, followed by government and local hearings over the next two years. The Vision Masterplan report will also feed into the city council’s wider Lancaster South Area Action Plan for the future anmd talks with official bodies such as Natural England and the Environment Agency.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

An artist's impression of Bailrigg Garden Village.

In addition, the Bailrigg report should also be a consideration in the controversial Westminster government-backed Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) agreement for thousands of additional new homes, plus roads, drains and M6 junction changes, in the south Lancaster area. The HIF deal between the government, Lancashire County Council and the city council was agreed last year. But it divided city councillors. The Green Party and Eco-Socialist groups opposed it while other parties generally supported it.

An update about Bailrigg was given to the city council’s cabinet this week. Councillors were asked to endorse the Vision Masterplan report and to acknowledge it will be a significant ‘material consideration’ in future planning activity.

The new Vision Masterplan was prepared in 2021 by architects consultancy JTP with extensive community engagement and close working with stakeholders, the cabinet was told. The pandemic delayed some talks but consultations continued during 2021.

Green councillor Gina Dowding recommended the Bailrigg Vision Masterplan’s approval. She said: “We want to take forward the masterplan by JTP to the next stage of the planning process. It was commissioned by our Economic and Regeneration Service to set a design code for buildings in south Lancaster. We now need a South Lancaster Area Action Plan and we propose that it uses the JTP report as its basis.

Part of the land which would be occupied by Bailrigg Garden Village. Photo: Google Street View

“There’s been a lot of work about public consultation in UTP’s preparation of their Vision Masterplan. The council and public have had the choice to listen to JTP.

“We all have aspirations about what is wanted for south Lancaster, for sustainability and other considerations. Now, the Vision Masterplan moves into a planning strategy process for the next phase of work.”

Labour councillor Erica Lewis recalled a previous council meeting when a petition signed by residents was discussed. One of the things it called for was the ‘robust reporting’ of public comments and what the council did with comments, she said.

She added: “We have asked at various times if data can be shown. Are we having any luck on generating what we said we’d deliver to residents?

A ‘Vision Masterplan’ report for the proposed new Bailrigg Garden Village south of Lancaster has been approved by the city council’s cabinet.

Coun Dowding said: “I think there were some comments that our consultation process should be as robust as possible. But it was at this stage that consultation would take place. My understanding is that tonight we agree that this planning strategy process should start and people’s feedback, points and input will be taken on-board.”

Conservative councillor Andrew Gardiner, who is not on the cabinet but was asking questions, said: “This is a massive project. We also have the commitment with the government and county council on the South Lancaster Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF). Will this delay anything or will be be on-schedule to deliver our 20-year target?”

Coun Dowding was not aware of any delays at the city council but could not speak for the county council or government. She added: “We are doing the best we can to honour that agreement.”

Coun Lewis then asked about relationships between the city council and landowners since last August’s heated city council debate over the south Lancaster HIF agreement.

An artist's impression of Bailrigg Garden Village.

She also suggested an extra recommendation be added to the Bailrigg Vision Masterplan recommendations, asking a council’s economic and regeneration director, to write to local landowners to reassure them the council wanted to work with them. She feared last August’s city council debate had damaged relationships.

She said: “I remain deeply worried that landowners in south Lancaster think Lancaster City Council is hostile to the south Lancaster development, which by a majority vote of full council last August it isn’t. We understand that landowners moved away from working with the council in the uncertain period around the council vote.”

She said she had attempted to write to landowners but was ‘thwarted’.

A council officer said paid officers, not elected councillors, would normally write those types of letters. Only in exceptional situations would a councillor put their own name to a letter such as that.

Coun Lewis added: “All I was trying to do was to put Lancaster City Council in the best possible position, to deliver the best version of south Lancaster it can. By inviting landowners to partner with us to meet the climate emergency, strengthen the local economy, reduce inequality and increase well-being and ensure strong local community engagement, while recognising that they will also have their own priorities.”

However Coun Dowding said: “Thank you for the proposal but I cannot accept that as a friendly amendment. This [Bailrigg] project is huge and has many elements. We need to be clear as a council about what parts we are involved with, who is taking responsibility and accountability. This is very much about planning processes and working with the consultants.

The area of land which would be occupied by Bailrigg Garden Village.

“Your proposal may have merit but I cannot address it now. It may be more about economic issues? Or for a more political environment outside the cabinet? ”

And Green councillor Dave Brookes added: “We have received this recommendation out of the blue. We’ve not had the chance to get officers’ advice on this. We can’t decide it on-the-hoof.”

Morecambe Bay Independent councillor Tricia Heath said: “I fail to understand why, if this is so urgent and has been bubbling since August, it has not been brought to cabinet before? And I can’t see the relevance of this recommendation to these planning issues tonight. But we could look at it at a future cabinet meeting.”

Coun Lewis said she had mentioned the topic of landlords at various meetings but had only recently taken-on some council roles linked to south Lancaster, so had not raised it formally with the cabinet. She said discussions with Eccleston Homes had been productive. The council did not own a lot of land in south Lancaster. Talks were needed ‘urgently’ with owners because talks were underway elsewhere and decisions were being taken.

Coun Gardiner urged land owners not to ‘race’ into development deals which fell short of council ambitions, They should instead relate to the city council. He said compulsory purchase orders to buy land may be used for parts of the government-backed HIF programme. But landlords should talk to the city council in the meantime.

Another council officer said planning staff were attempting to speak to landowners and had been working on this over the past two years.

Coun Lewis’ extra recommendation failed but the two original Bailrigg Vision Masterplan recommendations were supported by the cabinet.