Lancaster City Council have ended its partnership with developers British Land for the Canal Corridor site.
The city council is rethinking the scheme to redevelop the area known as Canal Corridor North, with a more diverse mix of uses, including further housing and business opportunities combined with retail space.
After working alongside its commercial advisors GVA and following months of detailed assessment with its development partner, British Land, the parties have concluded the plan as envisaged should be withdrawn.
Key to this decision was a determination not to expose council taxpayers to the level of risk which had arisen following a number of constraints around commercial terms.
Instead the city council today announced its commitment to press ahead with new proposals for a multi-use development for the 16-acre site, which it is rebranding, The Canal Quarter.
The council, supported by Lancaster University, has reiterated its belief the area will have a crucial role in the growth and development of Lancaster as a vibrant, modern city.
Councillor Janice Hanson, cabinet member with responsibility for planning and regeneration, said: “We have a huge obligation to get this major development right.
“We’d very much like to thank British Land for the considerable expertise they have brought to this highly complex process up to this point, but we have agreed to conclude our partnership.
“While the city council remains absolutely committed to the regeneration of the site, the new proposal will be a different scheme, one which supports greater multi-purpose use and is easier to deliver.
“We now want to bring forward for the people of Lancaster an exciting transformation that delivers on everyone’s ambitions for this great city.
“This includes working with partners to achieve our aspirations for high-calibre arts and culture provision.”
The council has identified seven key factors the re-shaped scheme must focus on.
*Significant and wide-ranging economic benefits without exposing the city council to an unacceptable level of financial risk.
*Less reliance on additional retail floor space, thereby instilling confidence in the future of the existing city centre shopping area.
*New uses for historic buildings, capitalising on the canal side setting as part of the physical transformation and regeneration.
*A range of residential accommodation to suit a variety of purposes.
*An increase in Lancaster University’s presence in the city centre.
*Providing more business space especially for Lancaster’s thriving digital sector. This will provide units for future expansion and shared spaces for collaboration.
*Delivery of an arts hub that achieves the goal of making Lancaster the North West’s primary cultural centre outside of the main cities.
Councillor Hanson said the authority recognised the need to end the uncertainty generated by the long-running history of Canal Corridor North.
Therefore, it wants to agree an overall plan as soon as possible and for development to be delivered in visible stages. This includes a possible on site start date of 2019 – two years earlier than envisaged in the previous scheme.
The council also wants to take advantage of the latest in green energy development to make the site as self-sustainable as possible.
Commenting on the decision to abandon the existing canal corridor scheme with British Land, Green group leader Jon Barry said: “Abandoning the scheme with British Land is the right decision.
“The Green Party has been calling for a mixed-use scheme for the last 13 years and we are delighted that the Labour group and council officers are now on board.
“Whilst I am pleased with the new direction for the canal corridor, the decision should have been made much earlier.
“It was clear to us 18 months ago that this scheme was far too risky for the taxpayer - but our protests were not listened to.
“The scheme with British Land was done with no public consultation or involvement.
“It is very important that the public is able to comment and be involved in any new plans.
“After all, it is their city and their money.”
Lancaster community organisation, the Canal Corridor Action Group (CCAG), has welcomed Lancaster City Council’s announcement.
“We welcome the decision and hope that this marks the beginning of real consultation and community participation in future planning for the Canal Quarter,” said a spokesperson for CCAG.
“We don’t just want to be fed information, we want to be treated as equal partners, as outlined in the Council’s own published engagement guidance.”
The group are holding a consultation stall at the Spring Market in Lancaster’s Market Square on March 30, where you can talk about your ideas for the area.
The Lancaster Conservative Group heralded Labour’s U-Turn on the proposed development on Canal Corridor as a huge victory for common sense.
Charlie Edwards, city and county councillor said: “We desperately want the site to be invested in, but the financial proposals that were brought to Council before Christmas would have saddled us with debts for 40 years with no guarantee of a return.
“You can’t make huge decisions with a budget written on the back of a fag packet.”
The scheme has been in the pipeline for some time and the Conservative group lay the blame for constant delays on Labour’s inability to make sound decisions.
Peter Williamson, Leader of the Conservative group, said: “The Labour Group has at last bowed to the inevitable.
“They need to account for the four or five wasted years since it became apparent that the earlier plan would have to be changed, and the possibility of having a new development partner in place of British Land was first raised.
“It’s a clear indication they are not fit to run this Council, and should step aside in order for our team of experienced, commercially aware and innovative Conservative Councillors to take control and improve our city.”
Coun Eileen Blamire, council leader and leader of the Labour group said: “When there was the prospect of significant external investment in our city centre it would have been silly not to investigate the prospect of a financial agreement which was in the best interests of taxpayers and the possibility of a sustainable scheme which would appeal to residents and visitors alike.
“We made it clear from the outset that if this did not prove possible we would look again at the plans and we have reached that point.
“Now we have the opportunity to look at the development afresh and at alternative sources of funding.
“It’s a bit rich of local conservatives who have always made it clear they would pull the plug on support for the arts in Lancaster to claim they would be better placed to deliver a scheme in which leisure and the arts could be an important focal point.
“They would take the district back to the dark ages with their funding cuts.”
A report setting out the council’s current position and proposals to look at a new way forward for the site will go before a meeting of the full council on April 11, 2018.
More to come.