Major south Lancaster development scheme decision praised by leading county councillor

Lancaster City Council’s amended conditional agreement to work with Lancashire County Council in the south Lancaster Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) scheme has been welcomed by a leading county politician.

Part of the south Lancaster development site.

The government-backed HIF scheme offers to partly-fund infrastructure work in south Lancaster such as drains, roads and flooding features, while the city and county council are required to find other sources of funding too.

Critics fear the HIF deal could mean up to 9,000 new homes under national government pressures – which is three times more than suggestions in local plans. But this has been denied by Lancaster’s Labour Group of councillors this week, who supported an amended deal on HIF.

Support for a legally-binding HIF agreement between the city and county councils was needed by August 30 to move forward with a future funding deal with Homes England, the government’s housing and land development agency.

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An artist's impression of how the Bailrigg scheme could look.

On Wednesday night (August 25), Lancaster City Council voted to enter an HIF collaboration agreement with the county. But Greens and Eco-Socialist city council leaders opposed it and had argued the HIF proposals make a mockery of the council’s housing and environmental priorities.

They also warned city councillors not to repeat past alleged mistakes, such as the sale of a market and ‘Blobbygate’ – Morecambe’s former Crinkley Bottom theme park fiasco.

Green councillor Caroline Jackson, leader of the council, claimed councillors had not received enough details or legal advice to make a fully-informed decision on HIF.

But councillors rejected her alternative plan and accepted a number of extra amendments from Labour designed to strengthen the HIF recommendation. The amendments reflect environmental, transport and public information worries and potential future financial risks.

Since Wednesday night’s vote, Lancaster Labour Group leader Coun Erica Lewis has received a letter from County Coun Aidy Riggott, the cabinet member for economic development and growth at Lancashire County Council.

Coun Riggott thanks Coun Lewis for her ‘willingness to seek an agreement that works for both the county council and the city council and the residents we are here to serve.’

Coun Riggott also states in the letter:”This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to support a really ambitious scheme which will make a real difference to many peoples’ lives and boost the local economy for years to come.

“It will allow improvements to Junction 33 of the M6 and include measures to prioritise and encourage buses, cycling and walking in and around the city, which have been going on for years.

“We strongly believe it will benefit local business and jobs, and will provide many opportunities for people to increase their skills and employability, as well as support local supply chains.

“The green ethos also dovetails with our commitment to protect the environment and achieve net carbon zero by 2030. Already as a sign of our commitment, we have created a new post of cabinet member for environment and climate change, to work towards these aims.

“Going forward, we would seek to continue working jointly with the city council to ensure that residents, businesses and interested parties are kept completely up-to-date, and are able to ask questions and raise concerns.

“Through our consultation events we would want to ensure that everyone feels listened to and their views are taken into consideration as the scheme continues to be designed.”

Since Wednesday’s vote, Lancaster City Council’s Labour Group has sought to clarify the amended HIF agreement and denied it will be a green light for 9,000 homes.

In a statement, the Labour Group said: “Lancaster City Council did not agree to 9,185 homes being built in south Lancaster. Future consultations and planning processes will determine how many homes are built and where . ”

It said Wednesday night’s debate was complex but Labour councillors had sought to hold as much in public as possible. It claimed the Green and Eco-Socialist leadership was prioritising campaigning on HIF over accurately representing it.

The statement added: “Labour councillors have repeatedly asked and been assured that the collaboration agreement does not determine future local planning decisions. This was confirmed again during the debate on August 25.

“Planning applications will still have to come through the usual processes of consultation, review and planning committee approval.

“There are also further public consultation phases of the Bailrigg Garden Village masterplan and South Lancaster Area Action Plan. It is the outcome of these processes and not the motion passed at the full council meeting that will determine how many homes are built.”

Housing supply is a major issue in the UK and Homes England aims to speed-up building and land availability in urban and rural areas.

Some critics fear that national government priorities are being imposed on regions without local views being addressed.

The UK’s current planning system is also seen as favouring large, expensive family homes on greenfield sites rather than regeneration of ‘brownfield’ sites which do not need new roads, along with homes for smaller households and single people, and affordable homes.