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...

Corrie Stars Back in Morecambe for Charity Footie

Soap fans will get the chance to see their favourite stars at Morecambe Football Club when a team drawn from Coronation Street and other TV shows will play in a charity football match.

On Sunday July 26 the Soap Stars will be playing against the Bay Radio All Stars with local companies Hargreaves Garages and VVV supporting the game.

Last year Royle Family star and football fanatic Ralf Little stole the show with his silky skills on the pitch and by signing autographs off it. He also met up with Morecambe FC's physio Dave Edge who has been known to appear as Ralf's TV dad 'Jim'.

The event has been organised by Heysham Power Stations with all proceeds going to the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Martyn Butlin, of Heysham power stations said: "British Energy has linked up with the MS Society for the year and the sites have already raised £26,000.

"We're delighted the Soap Stars team has again agreed to play in the game which I'm sure will be of interest to many people. Again we are grateful to Morecambe FC and The Bay for all their support in this game."

Martyn added: "It should be a great day out and a real chance to see some famous TV folk up close and in shorts! And the real winner will be the MS Society as every penny from the day will go them."

It's hoped that the money raised from the year-long link will help the local MS group set up its own base in the area for those affected by the neurological condition.

• The gates open at Christie Park at 12 noon, with the game kicking off at 1.00 pm. Admission at the turnstiles for the day is £5 for adults and £3 for children and £12 for a family.

Centros Inquiry a "Fiasco" say Greens

Green Party City Councillors say that Lancaster City Council has wasted tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money by withdrawing from the inquiry after two weeks (see news story).

"In April we put a motion to Full Council saying that because of Centros' decision not to attend the inquiry, then the City Council should not spend taxpayers money defending the developer," explained Councillor Chris Coates. "However, planning officers were adamant then that the Council should attend the inquiry and pay tens of thousands of pounds for a barrister and expensive retail and traffic consultants.

"Now, having spent the money, the Council is doing what it should have done in the first place. But by withdrawing at this late stage, and blaming Centros' non-appearance, the Council has made itself a laughing stock.

"In my view, the real reason that the Council withdrew was because its case on conservation issues was unravelling," he continued. "The Council has now resorted to playing games to try to keep Centros' development alive, by, for example, asking the Inquiry to agree the principle of the level of retail and car parking on the site, allowing Centros or another developer to tweak the original proposal and re-submit it."

Like other campaigners such as It's Our City, the Greens are not against developing the Canal Corridor site - but do not see a large commercial expansion like Centros proposed as the best use of the area.

"We think there needs to be a very different type of development," argues Chris, "one without the large increase in car parking spaces, that has less retail and which is worked in with the existing buildings - rather than simply bulldozing them."

It's Our City
reported yesterday that the Council will not be making closing submissions and will not cross examine the other parties. English Heritage, SAVE, and It's Our City, however, remain anxious to present their evidence before the Inspector reports to the Secretary of State.

SAVE barrister, Andrew Deakin was “extremely keen” that heritage aspects of the Canal Corridor are properly presented. “Request with force” was the way he put his appeal to the Inspector that architects, Ptolemy Dean and Richard Griffiths, have the opportunity to speak at the Inquiry.

It is now hoped that a proposed September extension will be unnecessary and that the Inquiry can be concluded at the end of the planned three week period.

Read the It's Our City blog of the Inquiry

'Cycling Shorts' Film Competition 2009

Lancaster City Council and the Dukes are working in tandem to launch a short film competition to promote and celebrate cycling and film making in the Lancaster district.

The competition, entitled 'Cycling Shorts', asks all local budding film directors to make the most of the sunshine and enter the competition by producing a short film (three minutes maximum) highlighting the varied aspects of cycling - from bmx and mtb to commuting and family rides.

All films worthy of being featured on the big screen will be premiered at the Dukes Gallery in October.

Prizes will also be awarded to the winning films and runners up in each of the following three categories: under 16, over 16 and mobile phone (one minute only)

Documentaries, sports, action and animation are all welcome and should preferably depict cycling in the Lancaster district although those located in Lancashire and/or Cumbria will also be considered.

Films should be sent on a DVD or CD in the following formats - wma, mpeg, mpg, 3gp, avi, mov and mp4 to Celebrating Cycling, Morecambe Town Hall, Marine Road, Morecambe, LA4 5AF. Full contact details of the film maker should also be included.

Alternatively, films can be uploaded to Once you have uploaded your film simply go to, choose ‘Join this Group’ and select ‘Add Videos’.

• For more information and conditions visit or contact the council’s Cycling Demonstration Town Team by email to or call 01524 582392/582616.

• The closing date for submission of films is Friday, 18 September.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

North Rises with John Robb Event

Author and Goldblade lead singer John RobbLocal performance and visual arts group Totally Wired have announced a special Spoken Word Event with author John Robb at The Book Room, Lancaster on Monday 6th July 2009.

John Robb's latest and critically acclaimed oral history of Manchester Music The North Will Rise Again: Manchester Music City 1976-1996The North Will Rise Again: Manchester Music City 1976-1996 was published in May, but his credits also include The Stone Roses and The Resurrection of British Pop and Punk Rock: An Oral History.

Born in Fleetwood, Lancashire but based in Manchester, John is many things to many people: TV pundit, journalist, Radio DJ, author, songwriter and current lead singer with Punk Rock band Goldblade, John has a vast wealth of knowledge regarding popular culture.

He was inspired by the DIY ethic of Punk to form the critically acclaimed Membranes, who released several albums in the 1980's. He then went on to write for the music paper Sounds and was the first person in the world to interview Nirvana as well as being the first to write about the new Madchester Scene of The Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays.

He's also currently Morrissey's favourite journalist, which takes some doing!

• Tickets for this event cost £3 and are available in advance from The Book Room, 9 Meeting House Lane, Lancaster. For More Info on this event go to

Canal Corridor Inquiry: City Council Statement

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.

Council Backs Out of Centros Inquiry

Lancaster City Council has just announced its withdrawal from the Centros public inquiry.

The Lancaster Guardian reports this announcement comes just days into the proceedings, apparently following damning evidence on the heritage impact of the £150 million redevelopment scheme.

The Council was already under fire for committing some £5000 of local taxpayers money to presenting the case for the scheme, after developer Centros refused to appear at the Inquiry.

At this early stage it is believed that unless Centros withdraws the application, the inspector is still required to report to the Secretary of State.

Read the full story on the Lancaster Guardian web site

Chapel Island Walk In July

The Morecambe Bay Partnership has arranged a perfect early summer evening walk on Saturday 4th July over the sands of the Leven Estuary to Chapel Island on Saturday 4th July.

Apart from a small area at the north of the island the land is completely overgrown with an impenetrable mat of brambles and the island can only be accessed on foot at low tide. However, Morecambe Bay is notorious for quick sands, and the Ulverston Channel usually flows between the shore and the island so this guided walk is a rare opportunity to visit.

Everyone is welcome on the walk but under 16s must be accompanied by an adult and suitable clothing and footwear must be worn. Remember the coast can be breezy and cold - take an extra/windproof layer and your hat!

The very first part of the walk crosses sticky and slippery mud, but this soon eases to firm sand - it is just best to come prepared.

Those wishing to visit Chapel Island should not attempt the crossing at any time other than low tide or as part of a guided walk and should seek local advice.

• Meet at 4.30pm at Canal Foot, Ulverston. GR SD315775 [LA12 9EL] in time for registration. (If you are unsure of the location to meet up, please check the map from the website The walk will finish by 7.30pm (if not before). Cost: £10 Donation requested in advance to Morecambe Bay Partnership, 32 Market Place, Kendal, LA9 4TN.

• Full details at

• Contact: Morecambe Bay Partnership 01539 735900 or 0787 5845693 or

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Wild Writer's Talk Announced

Author Jay GriffithsCannibals and deserts, polar bears and passion, songlines and shamans – the author of a book on the essential wildness of the human spirit comes to Lancaster in July.

Jay Griffiths, author of Wild: An Elemental JourneyWild: An Elemental Journey, reads at the Storey Auditorium on Thursday 16th July in an event organised jointly by Litfest and the Centre for Study of Environmental Change at Lancaster University.

In Wild, which was shortlisted for the Orwell prize in the UK in 2008 and was awarded the 2007 Orion Book Award in the US, Jay describes an extraordinary odyssey, courageous and sometimes dangerous, to wildernesses of earth and ice, water and fire. The book is by turns funny, touching and harrowing. It's also a journey into that greatest of uncharted lands – wild mind – as Griffiths explores the words and meanings which shape our ideas and our experience of our own wildness.

Wild which was also shortlisted for World Book Day ‘Books to talk about in 2009’, is described as an evocation of the songlines of the earth, the result of long journeys among Native people; meeting cannibals; anchoring a boat to an iceberg where polar bears slept; drinking shamanic medicine with Amazonian healers; visiting sea gypsies and journeying to meet freedom fighters in West Papua.

• Tickets for the event, which starts at 7.30pm, cost £3 (no concessions). Ticket-buyers can get £3 off a copy of Wild – normally £8.99 - on the night of the event. For more information visit

Women on Wheels Tours Continue

Lancaster City Council continues its programme of guided Sunday cycle rides for women this weekend (Sunday 5th July) with a seven mile ride to Morecambe Bay.

Guided 'women only' rides have been taking place on the first Sunday of each month since March to encourage women who might not have the confidence they need to cycle on their own, to get out and about with other like-minded ladies.

Following routes included in the council's Cycling for All Guide, these interesting and relaxing rides suitable for all levels of ability have already taken groups of women to the Sunderland Point, Crook O’Lune, Glasson Dock and Carnforth Railway Station.

This ride promises to be breathtaking and exciting, taking in the breezy shores and fantastic views of Morecambe Bay.

The guided ride is free and kicks off at 11am from the south end side of Lancaster’s Millennium Bridge. There’s no need to book - just turn up.

• For more information on these rides and other events taking place this year, pick up a copy of the council's free 'Go by Bike' Events and Rides 2009 brochure from customer service centres at Lancaster and Morecambe Town Halls or visit Alternatively, you can contact the council’s cycling team on 01524 582392/582616.