Mediation aimed at Canal Corridor North solution

Developer Centros, Lancaster City Council and English Heritage will sit down as part of a government pilot mediation process to try and resolve differences over the Canal Corridor North retail scheme.

The 400,000 sq ft planned retail project was rejected by Communities Secretary John Denham before Christmas and the project is being reviewed by all sides. The inquiry was called after strong objections from English Heritage to demolition of historic buildings among other concerns.

Cllr Keith Budden, chairman of the planning and highways regulatory committee at the local authority, said the inquiry decision should be viewed as constructive. He added: "Having obtained the positive steer that the council needed, it has now agreed to take part in a new Government pilot scheme of mediation with the other principle parties to attempt to set an agreed benchmark on how to proceed."

The inspector concluded that the controversial link bridge in the heart of the scheme was essential, but the Secretary of State wants to see detailed designs and more evidence to convince him that it is the right solution. It was accepted that the retention of the Stonewell frontage would not be in the best interests of linking the existing centre to the site.

Additional work needs to be done to address the Secretary of State's concerns about the amount of retail floor space and this might mean some reduction in scale.

In addition the inspector and the Secretary of State have given clear guidance about the repair and viability test which must be proven before they can agreed to the loss of the unlisted buildings which would need to be removed to facilitate the scheme

Centros chose not to appear at the public inquiry, an unusual move that not only saved it money but also made the statement that the developer was content the plans had already been justified by local planning consent.

Cllr Eileen Blamire, chairman of Lancaster's planning policy cabinet liaison group, said: "The inspector's report, and the Secretary of State's decision, has given ample support for the principle of the scheme.

"It accepts that this is the only site capable of facilitating this form of retail and mixed use growth, and that, contrary to the view put forward by some objectors, it is sustainable and easily accessible for people inside and outside the city."

The proposed solutions to accommodate additional traffic were accepted as were the conclusions of the impact on air quality.

Looking at the prospective details of the scheme there was agreement that the overall approach to layout and levels made sense, that a contemporary design with a good public frontage to Stonewell could work and the linkages to the existing centre are of critical importance. Acknowledging that evidence needed to be provided that the various buildings could not viably be retained, it was clear that the impact of retention of the ability to provide a viable new development would still be a major consideration.

Centros could not be reached when called by Place today.

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