Newsbrief 68 18 May 2020
Lancaster Local Plan - nothing new to report since Newsbrief 67 on 9th April.
Housing Infrastructure Fund bid - M6 Junction 33 improvements & “up to 9185 new homes”.
Planning Applications - arrangements during Covid-19 lock-down.
1) Local Plan
We have no new information as to when the Planning Inspector’s report on the Lancaster Local Plan will be published or what its contents may be. The information on the City Council website is unchanged from when we issued our last Newsbrief in early April. Their expectation seems to be that the Inspector will find the Plan to be (essentially) sound. The Council is then committed to an immediate review of the Plan to take account of its 2019 declaration on Climate Emergency - this declaration coming after the Local Plan had been prepared and submitted to the Planning Inspector. At this stage it is not clear what form the Council’s review will take, whether there will be opportunities for public involvement (whether by individuals or organisations like CLOUD), which elements of the Plan are going to be reviewed and whether this will include any of the issues raised by CLOUD at the hearings with the Planning Inspector.
We’re sure that all CLOUD members appreciate that the Council is fully committed at present to the Coronavirus pandemic and rightly so, meaning that we must be patient regarding progress on the Local Plan.
As we write this Newsbrief, central government has announced the first tentative steps in easing the Covid-19 lock-down, but with much confusion and uncertainty about what this actually means. What does seem clear is that it will be a long time (if ever??) before we return to the ‘old’ normality and this will have widespread implications, including how local planning issues are progressed. Before Covid-19, the city planners were intending to arrange drop-in sessions this year on the South Lancaster Broad Area of Growth Action Plan - but such gatherings seem unlikely for a very long time.
Note also item 3 below in this connection.
2) Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) Bid
One of the measures announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 11th March was the granting of additional funds to the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) - the aim of this fund is to provide the infrastructure such as roads needed to enable new housing schemes to proceed. One of the projects on his list of approved schemes was: “£140 million from the Housing Infrastructure Fund for the ‘South Lancaster Growth Catalyst’ proposal which will unlock up to 9,185 homes.”
No further details have been provided. We don’t know what is meant by the South Lancaster Growth Catalyst - this is a new term and not one that has ever appeared in any Local Plan documents we have seen. The figure of 9185 houses is completely new to us. Not only is it a remarkably precise figure, but it is expressed as up to 9185 houses. Where and when these houses might appear is a complete mystery. Also unclear is what the £140M would be spent on - improvements to M6 Junction 33 in all probability, but also possibly the bus rapid transit system?
In view of all this uncertainty we are putting together a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Communities and Local Government to try and find out more. Whether we will be successful remains to be seen. However when we made a similar request at the Local Plan hearings for information on the original HIF bid for Junction 33 etc, we were refused on grounds of “commercial confidentiality” - so we may face similar obstruction this time.
3) Planning Applications during Covid-19 Lockdown
We have contacted the City Council Democracy Department regarding the conduct of Planning Committee meetings during the Covid-19 lock-down, particularly with regard to the right for local citizens to attend and speak at these meetings.
We had noticed that, at the 27th April meeting, an explanation was given of the procedures adopted at the previous meeting on 30th March. On that occasion, due to Covid-19, the Chief Executive had made decisions in consultation with the Chair of the Planning Committee. The 27th April meeting took place via video conferencing and so we have asked for further clarification on the arrangements for future meetings. These are the questions we asked on 1st May.
Could you confirm whether should, as seems likely, lockdown continues whether the public can access the video link.
Will it still be possible for the public to speak at planning meetings.
Could you also clarify how decisions will be made?
Will major strategic planning decisions go before councillors or will they be made by officers?
How will consultations be carried out?
How are meetings publicised and what information are the public given to be able to see and hear them?"
Are people able to see and hear meetings after the event?
This request was acknowledged on 4 May by J McGrath, Information Governance Officer, with a commitment to reply by 2nd June. The next planning meeting is 1 June 2020
Tony and Mary Breakell on behalf of