Friday, 26 June 2009

Centros savage English Heritage over Canal Corridor


Despite choosing not to attend the Inquiry itself and leaving defence of its plans for Lancaster's Canal Corridor to its partner, Lancaster City Council - at considerable cost to the local taxpayer - developers Centros say they will not withdraw their £140 million plans for the area.

Instead, apparently like some Lancaster City Council councillors and staff, they are blaming English Heritage for the Inquiry fiasco that saw the Council withdraw from proceedings earlier this week.

In a press statement, Centros has slammed English Heritage for its questionable behaviour.

"It's high time that the Government called English Heritage to heel," argues Richard Wise, Chief Executive of Centros, who, as we have previously reported, has long railed against the more democratic elements of the British planning process. "Their contribution to this development has been erractic at best and is likely to send shockwaves throughout the property sector as well as local authorities trying to achieve regeneration of their town and city centres.

"In Lancaster, English Heritage firstly failed to engage meaningfully with us in the masterplanning process which we began in 2005. Then, following significant changes that we made in response to their input on our subsequent planning application, they stated that they were happy for Lancaster City Council to decide the application.

"After the council's decision in favour of our development, English Heritage then reneged and campaigned with other members of the heritage lobby for a call in.

"Whilst many people were surprised that we chose not to appear at the inquiry, we did so because we felt strongly that we should not have to finance a process that was not of our making."

Centros told the Architects Journal the estimated one million pound cost of their appearance at the Inquiry would have put paid to some of the "community benefits" included in their plan - presumably things like a new location for the Musician's Co-op and improvements to the Dukes and the Grand.

"Developers and investors need a level of certainty in the planning process - especially when economic regeneration is at the top of the nation's agenda. This level of performance by English Heritage - when their full attention has only really been given to the project at the public inquiry stage - is woeful. With the Secretary of State giving in to their late intervention, neither developers nor local authorities can have confidence in the planning system."

"But the Secretary of State still has the opportunity of demonstrating his authority by making a decision that gives clear guidance to both the council and us as developer that regeneration of Lancaster city centre outweighs the retention of a handful of unremarkable and unlisted buildings.

"If the Government really wants to deliver economic regeneration, then it needs to stand firm in the face of interventions like this and others such as the recent royal one on Chelsea Barracks, so that developers and investors can have confidence in the planning process".

Effectively, Centros would seem to rather local people have no say in the development process, favouring the kind of "consultation practices" campaign group It's Our City has contested, that have stood them in good stead in their success at pushing through now-struggling developments elsewhere in the UK.

Responding to the Centros attack, the Lancaster Guardian reports an English Heritage spokeswoman welcomed Lancaster City Council's recognition that there are significant problems with these applications, and also its decision not to present further evidence to the inquiry.

"We believe that Centros should now withdraw the applications to avoid the need for the further investment of time and resources in the continuation of the inquiry.

"If the present applications are withdrawn or refused English Heritage will aim to work with Lancaster City Council and other interested parties in the development of proposals that can command widespread support."

Despite Centros' bluster, the Architects Journal reports the Canal Corridor project now looks set to be scrapped. Perhaps then the Council will re-examine alternative proposals designed to enhance the community with no impact on existing retail space in Lancaster and Morecambe, but given the Council's earlier statement, we won't hold our breath... We also aren't expecting any councillors who've been backing Centros, or staff, to resign over the mess anytime soon, either...


Nemesis said...

Oh, what a tangled web we weave...

Unknown said...

Centros out of Lancaster!