(Updated 24 April 2009 with Council response): It seems our local councils may have been a trifle slapdash -- to say the least - when it came to full disclosure over its application for funding for the controversial Lancaster Northern Link Road.
Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that, prior to the Governments decision to grant entry to the road building funding programme, Lancaster City Council failed to advise the Planning Inspectorate that the City Council had withdrawn its support for the controversial Heysham M6 Northern Link road.
Following the Public Inquiry on Lancaster’s Core Strategy, a draft Inspector’s Report was prepared by the Government Planning Inspectorate, and Lancaster City Council was asked to check it for errors and omissions. In June 2008 the Planning Services Department at Lancaster City Council replied, stating that "....the [City] Council has undertaken a thorough fact check of the report and appendices. The Council has found no fundamental errors of fact. There are a few very minor factual errors and typos which the Inspector may consider correcting. A list of these is attached to this letter."
Yet, in the draft Inspectors Report on the Core Strategy Development Plan, Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe has discovered, was an erroneous statement that the City Council "supported" the Link road. In fact, the full Council had voted on 20th June 2007 specifically to withdraw support for the scheme.
Despite this, Lancashire County Council, in its desperate bid to gain funding for the road, then told the Government that the City Council actually supported the scheme.
"It’s hard to see how the officers at the City Council could make such a stupendous blunder," said David Gate, chair of TSLM. "The polluting and destructive road plan is a massive controversy, and the full Council’s decision was so well publicised.
“The Inspector was misled," David argues. "The Government was misled. In a recession when £137 million of taxpayers’ money is at stake, the democratic decision of the Council, reflecting the wishes of its electorate to reject the HGV route, is clearly fundamental.
"The City Council and a great many people who live in the district, including the sitting MP, have given this under-performing road a massive thumbs down, and the Government should have been told that before it parted with scarce public money."
Responding to TSLM's claims, Mark Cullinan, chief executive of Lancaster City Council, said: "The Core Strategy inspector was fully aware of the facts relating to the council's original support for the scheme and its resolution of June 20 2007.
"He had the Heysham/M6 link Inquiry inspector's report before him and asked questions about the council's resolution at the Examination in Public.
"The Planning Services factual check letter refers to the inspector's draft report following the Examination in Public. In paragraph 7.109 he had stated that the city council still supports the principle of this new road.
"He did not say that that it supported the northern route and that was in line with the resolution which states that 'This Council confirms that Lancaster District needs a Heysham-M6 Link'.
"The wording in the Core Strategy to which TSLM object was in the original submission prior to May 2007 which reflected the Council position prior to the June resolution.
"The inspector did not decide that there was a need to change the wording and without a recommendation from him to do so the council, under the new planning system cannot make adjustments itself.
"It must adopt the inspector's final version or withdraw it. The council decided to adopt the strategy with the inspector’s amendments accepted at Full Council in July 2008."
• Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe web site