The local leader of the Conservative party has said Lancaster is the worst city centre in the North of England.
Councillor Peter Williamson slammed the Canal Corridor North area of the city as “a disgrace” during crunch talks over its future.
Coun Williamson was speaking at a meeting where councillors debated the future of the Canal Corridor North site which has remained undeveloped for more than a decade because plans to upgrade it have stalled.
The Tory leader said: “Our problem here is we have the worst city centre of any town or city in the North of England, it is particularly awful when you walk around there (the Canal Corridor site).”
But Green councillor Nick Wilkinson said: “It is a beautiful town and it is one of the best in the North West, not one of the worst!”
The comments were made on Wednesday night at Morecambe Town Hall.
The debate was held after Lancaster University revealed its backing for a scheme by developers British Land to revamp the area of the city which includes the Dukes, the Grand, the former Mitchell’s Brewery and the Musicians’ Co-Op.
British Land has recently confirmed it is still interested in developing the area into a new shops and food quarter despite fears they had gone cold on the idea.
Labour councillor Lucy Atkinson said: “I welcome that the university is coming forward.
“I have to sort of agree with Councillor Williamson. We want students to come to our city, the issues we are lacking in is quite a lot of retail development, shops and restaurants but it is still a gorgeous town.”
Coun Eileen Blamire, Labour leader of the council, said: “People want something different.
“The university is trying to attract students but also lecturers, lets get something vital and interesting in the city. They understand the need, these are things that keep our town lively and vital the theatres, it is not going to be massive, the style of it and the architecture will be important.
“We want to make sure that this is done well, not any kind of development, a really good development to match the historic parts of our town.
Tory councillor Charles Edwards said: “Is British Land going to put their money where their mouth is? Is the university going to put any money into it?”
Labour councillor Darren Clifford said: “I will not support any proposal in front of this council that doesn’t secure viability of the Dukes and the Grand.
“There are some people who don’t want this to go ahead at all. We need to get this right, we need discipline. The definition of discipline is what you want now and what you want most, and what you want most is a top quality development which makes Lancaster where you want to shop rather than Preston or Manchester.”
After the meeting, we asked Coun Williamson to clarify his comments.
He said Lancaster is “not the worst place in the world” and emphasised he did not mean that the recognised shopping area of Lancaster was the worst in the North.
He said: “There is no derelict site near shopping centres across anywhere else in the North.
“The Grand Theatre is the best known and best used theatre in the whole of the district. But the area around the Grand is a disgrace and it has been like that for 14 years. It is used as a car park at the minute.
“I don’t think there are enough shoppers at the minute to justify a big shopping centre. We have had various plans to try and improve it and so far, as far as I am aware, not one brick or bucket of sand has been used to improve the area.
“I have got nothing against charity shops, but they don’t add anything in my opinion to the high street.”
At the meeting, Lancaster City councillors voted in favour of continuing to work with British Land and Lancaster University for the possible redevelopment of the city centre.