I connected by Zoom to the ‘Bailrigg Garden Village Masterplanning Meeting’ you held on Tuesday 19 January 2021. That Lancaster City Council has invested in your service was unexpected. The proposal to develop a Bailrigg Garden Village [BGV] was first publicised in January 2017, and in the past four years the matter has been the subject of public consultations and examinations. The Local Plan was approved by Council in December 2017, though it was acknowledged by officers that much work needed still to be done.
The 'Masterplanning' process that JPT has now embarked on causes me serious alarm on a number of issues: the climate emergency; the number of houses expected to be built and their location; the shops, schools and a health centre that would be needed; access routes into the garden village; public transport; flooding. My anxieties are presented in detail below.
As we are all aware, the Local Plan for the whole of Lancaster District was reviewed by a Planning Inspector and, with modifications, it received his approval in June 2020 – but BGV had been excluded from his consideration. BGV was set aside to allow more time for its planning. Lancaster citizens have been waiting for those plans to be presented, so that they could send in responses to the Planning Department for consideration, and for possible modifications or objections to be made and considered before, eventually, a second Planning Inspector was appointed for her or his assessment.
It was therefore disappointing that JTP has not presented us with a BGV plan. Its limited brief seems to have been to take central government’s criteria for what would constitute a garden village and to indicate that if BGV were constructed then it would, unsurprisingly, conform to those criteria. What was provided was the marketing of an ideal, but with only a little reference to the site. Until a properly detailed plan is published it is not possible for members of the public to make an assessment.
Similarly, though of course more briefly, ‘The Bailrigg Garden Village Newsletter’, January 2021, also summarised the qualities which a garden village should display, and we are told that a ‘Masterplan Vision’ for BGV is being prepared for a further public presentation on 9 February. Once more, it is the emphasis on ‘vision’ rather than on ‘plan’ which troubles concerned people like myself.
All we can gather from one small map on the Newsletter is that the ‘Area of search for garden village development to 2031’ would stretch from the west side of the railway (or the A6) as far as a substantial northern section of the A588 - and this would entail part of BGV being on the far side of the Lancaster Canal. The limits are, to the north, Scotforth (Piccadilly Gardens) and, to the south, the housing estates in Galgate west of the railway. ‘Areas of separation’ north and south had previously been accepted by Council.
The second map is also disturbing. This is referred to as ‘Areas to explore for potential development beyond 2031’. This includes a huge swathe of land to the south of the first. It seems to take the Glasson Dock spur of the Lancaster Canal as one of its boundaries, as far west as Conder Green. I assume that the proposals in these maps were supplied by the City planners, but they are being marketed by you.
Please do not consider this an impertinent question, but have JTP staff and other involved outside experts made site visits? I hope so, because informed and informative answers to the following questions require detailed knowledge of the proposed BGV site. This cannot be gleaned from maps but only by on-the-spot exploration - and knowledge of recent history.
Lancaster residents, and especially those living in or close to the proposed BGV site, have raised the following questions, and let me begin by observing that the City Councillors have accepted that there is a climate emergency, and are endeavouring to ensure that Council policies address that matter.
1. When public consultations on BGV were first held it was said that 3500 houses (even possibly 5000) were to be built on the site. Living in a garden village sounds attractive, but 3500 houses suggests a population of over 10,000 people. That is quite a community. How will a City Council seeking to address climate change address the transport issue?
2. Would electric or hybrid cars and plugs outside each house eliminate that problem? Perhaps, but I understand that the cost of such plugs to charge up batteries quickly is expensive. Can it be expected that developers, whose understandable aim is profit-making, will accept that cost as necessary?
3. A community of 10,000 people would also constitute a significant market. Establishing a general store on site, such as SPAR, might reduce the use of cars for shopping, but whether private enterprise would be attracted cannot be taken for granted. Moreover, are there yet such things as electric delivery vehicles of sufficient size and affordability to supply a business located in BGV? Access for large vehicles is also an issue, addressed below.
4. A community of at least 10,000 people may well include 3500 children. The nearest primary schools are in Scotforth to the north and Galgate to the south, too far to walk, and in any event these two schools are always oversubscribed. The Local Plan when first sketched out referred to a new primary school being built to serve BGV. What confidence can we have that such investment in education will be available, before any development begins?
5. It was also said that BGV, with its population of 10,000, would need a health centre. Will the NHS have the funds for that, or must BGV residents travel to other local surgeries?
6. Public transport might be the solution to these challenges to the Council’s green agenda. There has been Council talk of a ‘rapid bus transport system’, the success of which would depend on frequency, routes, accessibility and price. Would our local private bus company be attracted?
7. I come now to a major issue which certainly requires familiarity with BGV’s intended location. BGV will largely be located on both sides of Burrow Road. To the north this is accessed by an awkward bridge over the railway. Midway south, there is an equally tricky access from off the A6 near the University. The third connection is from the south end of Burrow Road, where it becomes Highland Brow and subsequently Salford Road. This leads to the traffic lights on Main Road in Galgate, at a crossroads which Highways says cannot be improved. The only other exit from Burrow Road, half way along and to the west, is narrow, sinuous and requires a crossing of the canal by a narrow bridge, and a dangerous exit on to the A558. These existing access routes would be challenging to large delivery vehicles. In October 2020, Lancashire County Council provided local people with a ‘Transforming Lancaster Travel Newsletter’. This set out six road options, extending from Jct 33 on the M6. All involve massive investment in impermeable surfaces. One in particular would lead from Hazelrigg Lane, across the A6, over the railway and eventually to what is evidently (though not named) BGV. Has Network rail been consulted on this proposal, and, if so, what has been their response, and if not….?
8. Another reason why I hope representatives of JTP and their colleagues have made site visits is because the site of BGV is not protected by nature from flooding from east of the A6. On that eastern side the land rises, and there are substantial housing estates, beginning with Hala close to the A6 and other locations rising up to Bowerham and Newlands. It is important to stress that Burrow Beck, which starts high up in the Bowland Fells, runs through these housing estates, down to and under the A6, and onwards through the site of BGV and, indeed, under the Lancaster Canal and on to the River Lune. But in November 2017, a severe storm led to Burrow Beck bursting its banks, flooding over the A6 and swamping the BGV site. The devastation to homes was severe, the legacy of uninsurable properties has followed – and the loss of personal items and the trauma of the experience remain. It is no longer acceptable to say that such an event was exceptional. References to floods ‘once in a hundred years’ must be disregarded, and even the use of a 1% risk a year has become an obsolete assessment. Hala was recently again flooded. At the ‘Masterplanning Meeting’ on 19 January there was a reference to ponds being included in the BGV plan to ‘capture our own water’. Would those plans cope with water not ‘our own’ coming down from the Bowland Fells, and splashing into BGV water? There are other becks too which affect the BGV site and access to it. Several times Galgate has been damaged by the Whitley Beck, which also runs down from the fells, has frequently burst its banks, filled up the River Conder, and covered farm land on the northern edge of Galgate. The Shearset Beck (higher up called the Ou Beck) is another which, when it rose rapidly in 2017, threatened the structure of the road bridge which crosses the beck at that point on Burrow Road. Senior members of the Environment Agency, attending public meetings, have acknowledged that their attempts to obtain public money to tackle this problem have been unsuccessful. A simple question: given that Lancaster City Council has accepted that climate change has caused a climate emergency, is it sensible to build a large housing estate in a vulnerable area?