Sunday, 14 June 2009

Agenda Set For Centros Inquiry

The public inquiry into the Centros-proposed plan for Lancaster's Canal Corridor opens on Tuesday, with the City Council presenting its evidence as partner in the project during the first week - saving Centros the cost of doing so at the expense of local taxpayers.

Local people will get the chance to present their case during the third week of proceedings, including the concerns raised by campaign group It's Our City, which has other more community-based ideas for the area.

This week, the Inspector hopes to deal with as much as possible of the City Council's case in the first week and plans to hear from the City Council's witnesses (though circumstances may cause it to change): Mark Cassidy (in charge of development control matters), Keith Nutter (Retail), Dominic Mullen (Highways), Stephen Gardner (Conservation) and Andrew Dobson (responsible for strategic and policy overview).

It's also expected that Nicholas Howard will give evidence on air quality impact the scheme will have on the city towards the end of the first week. However, if progress appears to be leaving a substantial amount still to be covered after the end of the first week, then the Council's evidence on air quality will be postponed to be dealt with immediately before It's Our City's case (with the opportunity, perhaps, of hearing all of the air quality evidence consecutively).

Later in the Inquiry, the Inspector will hear from Save Britain's Heritage and English Heritage's evidence, which the Inspector thinks will take up not quite two days, on 23 and 24 June. Local people, the Campaign For the Protection of Rural England followed by It's Our City will present their case in the third week.

The Inspector has noted, however, that the planned three-week timetable for the Inquiry depends on progress with the City Council's case in the first week, and has "distinct reservations" that it can be completed within the week. However, progress in the first three days should make it possible then to be more precise about the programme for the second and third weeks.

Let's just hope the City Council witnesses don't try and string things out to the detriment of other parties who might have adverse things to say about the project...

One element of the Inquiry already causing concern among campaigners is that the Inspector has ruled that arguments that whether or not there was proper public consultation about the scheme are not considered to be within the Inquiry's remit. It's Our City strongly disagree with the Inspector's opinion that the matter of consultation in not material to the planning merits of this case and are urging him to reconsider the matter.

"We intend to ask Lancaster City Council's witnesses questions in cross examination about the consultation process," say It's Our City. "A major source of frustration among many local people is that there has not been proper public consultation on this scheme. Many have looked forward to this inquiry to have these concerns aired and now we are told that whether or not local people support this scheme, whether or not they have been properly asked for their views and whether or not they have been listened to by anybody are all irrelevant. This cannot be right.

"If it is, then the consultation demands of national, regional and local planning policy are empty word forms and the 'masterplanning' process itself is a sham."

No comments: