Plans for a massive shopping development in Lancaster have been thrown out by the Government.
The multi-million pound canal corridor development by Centros has been refused by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government following the public inquiry in the summer, in which the multi-million pound company refused to take part - leaving Lancaster City Council to pick up the bill to explain the plan to the Inquiry.
In his decision, the Secretary of State concluded that the application is not in accordance with the development plan or national development policy. "He considers that the proposal would contribute to the sustainable economic development of the city and surrounding area, and that it draws support from the strategic context, but concludes that the material considerations are not of sufficient weight to determine the application other than in accordance with the development plan.
"As the applications for listed building consent and conservation area consent are incidental to the application for outline planning permission, the Secretary of State also concludes that they too should be refused."
Both local and national organisations such as It's Our City opposed the scheme, set to open by 2012, which would have been anchored by a large department store. It also included a new home for the Musicians Co-op and improvements to the Dukes and Grand theatres, but those against the scheme argued it was the wrong kind of development for the area, favouring new housing, workshops for medium businesses and other smaller-scale improvements to the area, currently dominated by derelict buildings largely owned by Mitchells and Edward Street Car Park.
The Inspector's report shows that while arguments about the damage to existing retail in the area or increased traffic problems were not accepted, many issues raised by objectors were given due consideration and any future development proposals will have to take careful note of the report's conclusions.
"Those who were concerned about health issues will be happy to learn that the inspector roundly criticised Lancaster Council's lack of consideration for citizens health in their promotion of the Centros development given the parlous state of air quality management in Lancaster and high existing levels of air pollution," note It's Our City. "He said that no development generating extra traffic should be permitted until action is actually taken to improve air quality."
The Centros proposals for more shops ran counter to the City Council's own research undertaken back in 2006, which argued for two new food super stores for Lancaster and Morecambe, more quality shopping and careful consideration of "edge of town" retail developments (see news story).
It's Our City are clearly delighted by the news, thanking all who have stuck with the campaign against this scheme over the years.
"We're tremendously pleased with the decision by the Secretary of State to refuse planning permission to all of the applications submitted by Centros," say the local campaigners. "It's Our City has campaigned against the Centros plans for several years, on the grounds that they are completely inappropriate for Lancaster.
"We would like to thank all of those who joined us in our campaign to stop this development, including English Heritage and SAVE Britain's Heritage, and in particular all those from the local community who have supported us and who have made their opinions known both to Lancaster City Council and to the Secretary of State.
"This victory belongs to the whole community," they add.
"It's Our City now looks forward to working in partnership with Lancaster City Council, English Heritage and SAVE in order to find an appropriate way to develop this site. We also emphasize that any future development of the Canal Corridor must include the full involvement of the local community if it is to be successful. It's Our City have always maintained that this site should be developed.
"We are very hopeful that this can now be done in an innovative and exciting way, and in keeping with the heritage and character of our city."
The Council will now have to reassess their plans for the canal corridor north site in the New Year in the light of this decision, and of course the decision also leaves the fate of Mitchells Brewery hanging.
• Read the full report by the Secretary of State (PDF)
• Read the Inspector's decision (PDF)