Monday, 21 January 2008

Lawson's Field Update

The City Council’s cabinet will be voting on whether to go ahead with selling off fields at Lawson’s Bridge (view a PDF map; view an aerial photo) on Tuesday 22 January at 10.00am in Morecambe Town Hall.

If you are free that morning, campaigners against the plans, who include Green councillors, are urging people to help to make councillors aware of the high level of public concern about this by joining the protest from 9.00am at Morecambe Town Hall, and observing the meeting.

Please also email the cabinet members – details at

"Although the large number of emails sent to them in October didn’t appear to make much difference, there are signs that some of them are starting to feel the pressure from concerned residents and shift their positions somewhat (especially the Lib Dems)," says councillor Emily Heath.

At the Overview & Scrutiny Committee on 17th January 2008, the draft tender brief for marketing Lawson’s Bridge was looked at in some detail.

The cabinet had asked officers to draw up a general brief (not mentioning a food store or other specific use), although the original cabinet report on 9 October 2007 was focused entirely on selling the land for a food store, and councillors were told that the £4m estimate for the value of the land in the Council’s capital budget was based mainly on retail value – although it could apply to other uses as well, such as housing.

"Councillor Sheila Denwood (Labour, Scotforth West) gave a speech about how she’s always having to get the Council to clear up litter and dog poo on the path behind Ray’s Drive (I'm not sure what relevance that has to selling it)," says Emily, "and expressed a view that public concern about the land can’t be very high because otherwise there would have been far more members of the public at the meeting. (It was pointed out to her that the recent public meeting in Scotforth Parish Hall was packed!). She also claimed that the idea that the land will be sold for a supermarket is just a myth."

With Booths engaged in expansion plans across the North West and Tescos continued expansion, Denwood's claims should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt. (At the Scotforth meeting Tim Hamilton Cox, from Lancaster's It's Our City Group, suggested the potential impact on existing food shops in Lancaster. He also gave details of residents groups around the country who are opposing Tesco’s attempts to bulldoze their way into their towns.).

"The land will be advertised in the general property press and local press, not targeted at a specific sector," Emily erxplains. "However, the cabinet will inevitably be influenced by which bids have the most chance of getting planning permission (even though they’re not explicitly taking planning considerations into account) because the Council only gets the full capital receipt upon completion of the development, and has budgeted for this to happen by 2011.

"I commented that a housing development would be highly unlikely to get planning permission in the foreseeable future because there are strong policies against the release of greenfield sites for housing in this part of the country.

"Coun Susan Bray (Conservative) implied that the local community would be welcome to put in a bid to buy the land for public open space (so shall we have a quick whip-round to raise the four million?!). She also claimed that land can either be used for grazing or for public access – not both - which made me wonder whether she’s ever been for a walk in the countryside. Her Conservative colleague Coun Ken Brown stated that the land is ‘white land’, not a ‘green field’ … (I think he meant it’s not protected as green BELT).

"Several members of the public spoke about what the fields mean to them, about the lack of public consultation and joined-up thinking about the needs of the community, and about the Council being custodian of assets on behalf of the community (including for future generations), so it shouldn’t automatically sell off any assets that are not essential to the Council’s current operational requirements.

"Tim Hamilton-Cox raised issues about alternative ways of funding the capital programme, the covenant on the neighbouring land (which may still allow the Council to control the type of development and claim a 40 per cent clawback of any increase in value since the Council sold it) and the legality of the Council not choosing the highest bidder if there is a gap of more than two million between that and the winning bid.

"The Green members of the committee proposed that the cabinet should not approve the tender documents and not sell the land. This was defeated 6-3, though the fact that Lib Dem Councillor Stuart Langhorn voted with us shows that there has been some progress since October. Coun Janie Kirkman (Lib Dem, Scotforth East) also had a statement read out in her absence saying that the traffic impacts of a supermarket would be bad, and she supports looking into designating the land for a town green."

The Greens then proposed that the community woodland containing the footpath adjacent to Ray’s Drive should be removed from the area to be sold, that the Council should make the footpath a statutory public right of way, and that the Council should retain a narrow ransom strip to the south.

This was voted through, along with a motion to submit all the comments made in the meeting to cabinet for their perusal.

• Visit the Green Party's Lawson's Field Campaign Page:
• Support this campaign by contacting Coun Emily Heath (Tel: 01524 380169
or email: emily”AT”
Email your comments to these cabinet members:

Roger Mace -
Tony Johnson -
Eileen Blamire -
Abbot Bryning -
Evelyn Archer -
David Kerr -
June Ashworth -
John Gilbert -

• Support the Friends of the Earth campaign against a proposed change to planning rules which would make it even easier for supermarkets to be built. FOE Real Food Campaign

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