Lancaster canal corridor scheme ‘full of risks’, say councillors

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Councillors called for a community led approach to plans for the Canal Corridor development site in Lancaster at a public meeting this week.

Green Party councillors said that the proposed British Land scheme was “full of financial and environmental risks” and the council needed to take back control of the project.

A new planning application for the Canal Corridor area of the city is expected towards the end of 2018, and work could start in 2021

A new planning application for the Canal Corridor area of the city is expected towards the end of 2018, and work could start in 2021

The current proposals for the land bounded by St Leonard Gate, Moor Lane, and Lancaster Canal, include an arts hub, underground car park, student village and a retail/food and drink offer.

But Coun Tim Hamilton-Cox, who addressed the meeting of around 70 people at The Gregson Centre on Tuesday March 13, said the proposals put to councillors in October last year would mean the council is locked into 25 or 30 year leases for the arts hub and underground car park and would be liable for rents regardless of income.

He said: “This is exactly the same situation as with Lancaster market and ended up with the council incurring big six-figure losses each year - as the rents from market stalls declined - and having to buy itself out of the lease. British Land is ‘de-risking’ the scheme for itself by transferring risk to the taxpayer.”

Nick Wilkinson said a community-led scheme had already been successfully adopted by Winchester City Council.

A new planning application for the Canal Corridor area of the city is expected towards the end of 2018, and work could start in 2021

A new planning application for the Canal Corridor area of the city is expected towards the end of 2018, and work could start in 2021

He said: “The council owns 50 per cent of the land and is in a strong position to drive this development.

“We envisage a phased approach where the council would start by commissioning a mix of private and social housing by the canal.

“This would then give it revenue to pump-prime a development of an arts quarter with restaurants and other leisure facilities. The former Mitchell’s Brewery would make an excellent venue for housing or small business units and retail units.”

Green group leader Jon Barry said the council-led approach would remove many of the risks, including the need for the council to gain seven per cent income per year on the its £25m input into the project and having to pay upwards of £1.5m rent for the car park and arts hub.

Parts of the Canal Corridor North site in Lancaster have been fenced off for several months

Parts of the Canal Corridor North site in Lancaster have been fenced off for several months

He added: “We need to end our association with British Land as the main developer. It would then be fantastic if all the political groups on the council would work together for a scheme without these risks that would truly benefit local citizens.”

The Lancaster Guardian has contacted Lancaster City Council for comment.