Lancaster City Council has released a full statement regarding its withdrawal from the public inquiry into plans by Centros to redevelop the Canal Corridor North site, saying it will not be taking any further part.
As we reported earlier today, this announcement comes just days into the proceedings, apparently following damning evidence on the heritage impact of the £150 million redevelopment scheme.
virtual-lancaster understands the Council's decided that it would no longer take an active role in the inquiry after its Senior Conservation Officer, Stephen Gardner's gave his evidence to the Inquiry earlier this week. Among other concerns, Gardner told the inquiry that he would not have assented to the demolition of the brewery if it had been in a conservation area; and that the link bridge needed to be a 'fixed' part of the application to be acceptable because of issues of design and the way it would relate to new and existing buildings.
After the completion of Gardner's evidence, the council's barrister Paul Tucker initiated adjournments that led to the Council's formal withdrawal. The barrister told the Inquiry that there were "issues with the application"; and that "details were problematical" and went on to say that it was "naive and mistaken of Centros to expect that LCC would defend its application."
We understand Centros was given an opportunity to address the inquiry but appears to have held to its declared intention not to do so, which has led to the Council's decision to withdraw from proceedings.
"At the time the applications were considered by the council’s Planning Committee they were considered on the information that was then available," the Council says in a press statement.
"However, while the city council is firmly committed to the redevelopment of the site, the rigorous testing of evidence at the public inquiry has identified a number of issues which need to be addressed.
"In light of the decision by Centros not to appear before the inquiry these questions remain unanswered.
"In addition, English Heritage has substantially revised its position and now opposes many elements of the scheme which it previously accepted."
"Lancaster City Council remains firmly committed to the redevelopment of the Canal Corridor North site," says Coun Stuart Langhorn, Leader of Lancaster City Council.
“The site itself is rundown and decaying with many derelict buildings. Without its regeneration we run the risk of falling behind other towns and cities in the north west.
“However, the public inquiry has raised a number of questions which need to be answered.
"It has always been the city council’s position that it would present evidence to the inquiry in relation to its own decision to grant the development planning permission – not to defend the applicant.
"As many of the questions which have arisen are only ones which the applicant could answer we have decided to withdraw from any further participation."
Council barrister, Paul Tucker, told the Lancaster Guardian: "My client considers itself badly let down by the stance taken by Centros.
"This has caused unncecessary expenditure to the council tax payers of Lancaster," he added.
The inquiry itself will continue and will next hear evidence from English Heritage. A decision on whether the SAVE and It's Our City witnesses should take to the stand could be made next week: Inspector John Gray has said he is happy to take written evidence.
Exactly what all this means for the proposed development still remains unclear at this stage but it seems the entire development has turned into another nightmare for the City Council.