|Aerial view of the site as shown in the application documents|
Residents in the Long Marsh Lane areas of Lancaster are campaigning to hold the City Council to keeping a long-standing promise to the local community - and reject a planning application submitted recently by Luneside East developers Persimmon Homes. This application, which can be viewed on Lancaster City Council's Planning Portal at 13/01200/REM, shows an intention to remove half of the former railway embankment bordering Long Marsh Lane, along with all of the trees that are currently on the embankment.
Residents claim that the the council made promises that this would not be permitted and have started a petition at Change.org (you can see it here) to oppose the application, which is due to come before Lancaster City Council Planning Committee at Lancaster Town hall at 10.30am on Tuesday 6 May.
Councillor Jon Barry explained why local people are so angry at Persimmon's plans:
“The City Council has undertaken a lot of consultation with local residents about Luneside East since the project started in around 1997. From numerous meetings, the two important demands from residents were that there should be no vehicular access from Long Marsh Lane and that the embankment between Long Marsh Lane and Luneside East should be retained. Both of these demands were agreed by the City Council and have formed the basis of approvals for the project by Cabinet and the Council’s Planning Policy committee.”
Local Long Marsh Lane resident Julia Russell said:
“It makes a mockery of the idea of public consultation that a plan which is so long approved can be changed so drastically at the last minute and without any further discussion with residents.”
“I and many other local residents were satisfied with the outcome of the many previous public consultation meetings we attended as, while wish to see this brownfield site developed, we also wanted the unique character of this area maintained with its mature trees and feeling of a quiet green oasis. When the site was being decontaminated using EU funding, we were again told that the embankment would be retained.”
Vincent Spratling was chair of the Long Marsh Lane Action Group in 1999 and still lives in Hasgill Court, next to the proposed development.
“I was not against the development in principle then and I am not now. Generally there was support for the scheme, but local people were unanimous on two points. Firstly we wanted all the railway embankment to be left completely alone, as it provides a valued green area and acts as a natural barrier against wind and the noise and pollution from Morecambe road. Secondly we did not want an access road from the development through to Long Marsh Lane, as this is unnecessary as access is already available through St George's quayside and Lune road.”
Residents and ward councillors have demanded an urgent meeting with Council officers to see if progress can be made towards saving the embankment. They are also monitoring the Council's adherence to the funding agreements it made to obtain funding from the European Union and the former North West Development Agency.
On behalf of the City Council, Coun Janice Hanson, cabinet member with responsibility for regeneration told Virtual-Lancaster:
"The council has advised the developer about the community’s expectations in relation to the former railway embankment. Our recommendation was that Persimmon should undertake detailed community engagement before promoting a scheme which departed from the original ideas for the site.
"However, they have chosen not to do so and ultimately it will be for the Planning Committee to determine whether the changes, when compared to the original aspirations for the site, are so material and harmful that they justify withholding planning permission."
Plans to develop the area have been in the pipeline for 15 years now, and it remains to be seen whether the council will consider that reneging on undertakings given for good reasons will constitute 'material harm', or if, as Julia Russell put it: "a developer is being allowed free rein to maximise their profits and the local community's views on which the original plans were approved mean nothing."
Virtual-Lancaster has contacted Persimmon's Lancaster office off Caton Road, and we are hoping to receive their comments in due course.