August 2021 CLOUD Press Release: Concerns over rushed and inadequate consultation process

South Lancaster housing development - Council rushing to a risky decision? 

Local residents welcomed the opportunity provided by Council Leader Caroline Jackson for public discussion about the South Lancaster Growth Catalyst (SLGC), which includes the Bailrigg Garden Village development.

 

Two briefing sessions were held on 4th and 11th August. They were the first time that residents were able to put key questions to council officers about the evidence for – and impact of - the 9,185 new houses proposed for south Lancaster. A special meeting of Lancaster City Council has been called for August 25th to decide whether to accept a Housing Infrastructure Fund grant which would cover part but not all the of the associated infrastructure costs. 

However, the sessions raised more concerns and questions than answers. In particular : 

● Residents asked repeatedly for evidence to support uplifting the housing target from 3,500 (agreed in the 2019 Local Plan) to the current figure of 9,185. This equates to a new town of 30,000 people – rather more than the population of Kendal! Council officers’ attempts to justify the 9,185 figure as only a ‘business case figure’ met with scepticism. 

● The briefing sessions were told that housing developers would be expected to contribute to infrastructure costs through payment of a ‘roof tax’. The high level of such funding needed for south Lancaster, combined with evidence from other developments that developers find ways of reducing or even avoiding paying the tax altogether, led to real doubts that this amount of roof tax could be secured. 

● There are very serious financial risks for the city council which it appears are only just beginning to be understood and made public. It would seem that any shortfalls on the massive £261m budget would have to be picked up by council tax payers. 

● The impact on already stretched local health provision was reported in the Lancaster Guardian on 22nd July 2021. Similar concerns surround the provision of schools for the additional residents of south Lancaster. 

● It would seem that we would be facing 25 years of construction traffic as the south Lancaster development is expected to extend into the 2040s. It’s not hard to see why residents are so worried.

 

● And all this in the same week that the UN has published its Climate Change Report which will surely make Lancaster residents sit up and think about whether they want developers to concrete over a extensive greenfield site, increasing both carbon emissions and the risk of flooding in an area which has all too recently suffered as a result of extreme weather events. 

● One final question – why the rush? The city council has been asked to meet on 25th August to take a final decision on whether to go ahead and approve the the HIF money. Given that there are still so many unanswered questions and Councillors are being asked to vote on the biggest strategic issue in the city for over 20 years, it seems almost farcical that a date in the middle of the holidays, when some councillors are likely to be away, has been chosen. The reason being given for the August date is a deadline of 30th August for the Council to sign the legally binding Partnership Agreement. 

In view of the scale and gravity of this matter, the Cloud group is calling for the decision to be deferred until there has been an honest and open debate with the wider community – and for all concerned to be in possession of the full facts and evidence. After all at Full Council on 24 March 2021, a petition was tabled signed by 718 residents regarding the rushed nature of the Master Planning process. Janice Hanson, Deputy Leader of the Council, said that she recognised the frustration experienced by residents and accepted that substantive issues had been raised. She therefore made a recommendation.  Council was asked ‘to mandate that consultation on the subsequent South Lancaster Area Action Plan should include structured questions and provide feedback to those registering comments/objections’. This was seconded by Councillor Gina Dowding, who gave a strong critique of existing consultation problems. This was passed unopposed by Lancaster City Council. Surely time should now be provided for proper residents’ consultation over the HIF bid, in the spirit of that vote?