South Lancaster housing update
You might have heard about plans to build new homes in south Lancaster, including in a new development called Bailrigg Garden Village.
In the next few months, the city council will decide whether to enter into an agreement with Lancashire County Council to develop the infrastructure necessary to enable development in south Lancaster.
The upcoming decision has provoked a lot of discussion, and we want to share the full facts as they stand right now.
Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF)
Lancashire County Council has accepted £140m of government investment for Lancaster under the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF). This money is specifically for infrastructure that will support areas where new houses are being constructed.
This funding would initially deliver:
- Reconfiguration of M6 Junction 33 and a Galgate by-pass, to improve air quality in Galgate
- Access roads and bridges to cross the West Coast Mainline and the canal
- Connect strategic utilities.
Then, with the addition of £4.6m from each of the city and county councils, other grant sources and developer’s contributions it will also unlock support for:
- A Bus Rapid Transit scheme connecting Heysham – Morecambe – Lancaster – South Lancaster & University
- A Cycle Superhighway, linking the University, Health Innovation Campus and Bailrigg Garden Village with the city centre
- Remodelling the city centre gyratory, to prioritise sustainable and active travel
- A south Lancaster Park and Ride
- Two new primary schools
- One new secondary school
- Expanded GP provision at Galgate and Lancaster University
Development happens in Lancaster already – we’ve seen new housing go up along the Quay and at the old Moor Hospital in recent years, and this will need to continue in the future to keep pace with population growth and enable our young people to own their own homes. What we want to stop is development that doesn’t come with shops, schools, GPs, or transport.
The ‘Local Plan’ for Housing
The UK has a growing population as people live longer. Furthermore, a 2017 household survey revealed that 6185 or 10% of households within the district are in housing need (table 5.1), for reasons ranging from overcrowding to lacking basic plumbing to needing disability adaptation to harassment. The Lancaster Independent Housing Requirements Study (2015) forecasts that we will need 13,500-14,000 new homes between 2020 and 2031 (p10). This study has to be carried out in a manner prescribed by the government and forms the foundation of housing plans for the district between now and 2031.
In finalising the Local Plan, a minimum target of 10,444 new dwellings was set:
- 2011/12 to 2018/19 – 400 dwellings per year
- 2019/20 to 2023/24 – 485 dwellings per year
- 2024/25 to 2028/29 – 685 dwellings per year
- 2029/30 to 2030/31 – 695 dwellings per year
Beyond the Local Plan period (which ends in 2031) it was estimated that we will need 522 dwellings per year on average for the next 3 years up to 2033/34.
The Local Plan that supports this objective was subject to extensive public consultation over many years (including over 1000 responses to the final draft) and was approved by an independent government inspector who took written evidence from local groups and held public hearings locally. Most of the planning system is controlled by the national government – councils, including Lancaster, are required to develop a local plan, to do it according to national methodologies and have it approved by a nationally appointed inspector. Labour routinely campaigns for changes that would allow a better reflection of local conditions and would respect local voices.
The homes detailed above won’t all be built in south Lancaster. In fact, between now and 2031 the Local Plan forecasts the provision of approximately:
- 1205 dwellings in south Lancaster (including Bailrigg Garden Village)
- 900 dwellings at Cuckoo Farm
- 700 dwellings in North Lancaster
- 300 dwellings in the Canal Quarter
- 1000 dwellings across rural villages
as well as many other smaller sites (appendix E here).
The numbers in the Local Plan are minimums, rather than maximums. The availability of further funds for infrastructure work, such as HIF, should facilitate new sites coming on line and/or expand the number of houses a site can support. Throughout the Local Plan reference is made to further consultation and development work, which will be done through a Lancaster South Area Action Plan.
Every proposed development, including in the Bailrigg Garden Village, will need to go through the planning system. In the 2020 Queen’s speech the Conservative Government outlined plans to reform the planning system, which would see a move to zoned areas – ‘growth’, ‘renewal’ and ‘protected’ – with resident engagement front-loaded into the revised Local Plan period, rather than when individual developments go for planning permission, which is when most residents engage. This means that residents’ already-limited right to object to developments would be reduced further. These changes are opposed by the Labour Party nationally and locally, in concert with the Conservative led-Local Government Association which also opposes these changes. By moving forward with the Lancaster South Area Action Plan and Bailrigg Garden Village masterplan, we will open up opportunities for resident engagement, and strengthen our defences against the government’s proposed changes and developers who don’t share our vision for high quality, sustainable and affordable housing.
If the council opts not to develop south Lancaster in a controlled way, with supporting infrastructure and government funding, the way would be paved for a developers’ free-for-all on other sites right across the city, without the additional benefits of new schools and other facilities.
The idea of substantial new housing in south Lancaster has been extensively consulted on throughout the development of the Local Plan, and this consultation will continue throughout development of the Lancaster South Area Action Plan, of which the Bailrigg Garden Village Masterplan is part, – these will be formal planning documents and as such will be considered by an independent planning inspector as part of a public process.
Crucially, the development of plans for south Lancaster, including the Bailrigg Village Masterplan and the Lancaster South Area Action Plan, will strengthen Lancaster City Council’s ability to hold developers to conditions including:
- 30% of the housing built designated affordable in perpetuity (annex 2)
- supporting infrastructure planned for at the same time, including primary schools, a secondary school, GP capacity, bus and cycle routes into the city centre,
- a village centre, with facilities for local residents,
- higher standards in construction: more energy efficient, green homes,
- improved flood protection, in an area which has suffered hugely in recent years through repeated flooding.
Additionally, building close to one of the area’s largest employers, Lancaster University, will enable a greater number of staff and students to live closer to campus, with an easy walk or cycle ride to work, reducing carbon emissions across the city.
What’s the Alternative?
The alternative to planned development is a continuation of the kind of unregulated developers’ free-for-all that has arisen when the district has not been able to demonstrate that we have enough housing sites available.
Current planning regulations require councils to have what is called ‘a five year housing supply’ or ‘five year land supply’. Walking away from the Housing Infrastructure Fund would mean that land the Local Plan earmarked as becoming available for development no longer would be, and this would jeopardise our five year land supply. The current planning rules mean that not having this supply makes it very difficult for councils to refuse planning permission for unsuitable housing and development of unsuitable land.
We have historically seen this piecemeal development in Lancaster and across the country. This, combined with national underinvestment, has driven a shortage of school places, oversubscribed GP surgeries and lack of public transport provision: building led by maximising developers’ profits rather than meeting local community needs. The only way to stop this is to use the Local Plan and Housing Infrastructure Fund to maximise benefits for residents.
Under national rules, there is no alternative to building more housing. What Lancaster City Council does have is a choice:
- follow the Local Plan and accept £140m for infrastructure, which benefits the whole city, or
- refuse the infrastructure money, which likely makes the local plan unviable, risk losing planning decisions on appeal, and potentially have local planning taken over by central government.
We think it’s clear that the best choice is option 1. That said, we are still asking questions and examining all options. There is already a viability study, commissioned by the County Council, that says that between government funding, council funding and developers’ contributions, we can require high quality, sustainable and affordable homes, shops, schools and GPs surgeries. The City Council has commissioned its own independent viability study and we are awaiting its findings.
By developing the Lancaster South Area Action Plan and the Bailrigg Masterplan in consultation with residents, the City Council will have more control over the development and will be in a stronger position to ensure that it is on an appropriate scale, with facilities, infrastructure and flood protection built in. We believe this gives a chance of ensuring that these homes deliver what local people need.
Lancaster Labour Party calls on other parties in Lancaster to back this ambitious plan for our city’s future. This is a unique opportunity to build the infrastructure that future generations will depend upon, and prevent the only alternative under national law: houses built at the whim of developers, without the high quality, environmental and affordability standards we demand, or the facilities to support local people.
Answers to your questions
Q. How have residents been involved in developing plans for south Lancaster?
Consultation on new developments in south Lancaster began in 2017 after the idea had emerged in earlier local plan work. You can read a summary of those consultations here. An issues and options paper (pt1 & pt2) was published in 2018 building on the comments from 2017, and more recently further consultation was held at the beginning of this year. You can access documents and resources from that round of consultation here.
However, some residents are just hearing about it for the first time. It’s pretty usual for people to get involved as planning decisions become more relevant to them. It’s one of the problems of the Conservative government’s proposed changes to the planning system. If the government’s changes go through the only place for local residents to have input into the planning process would be in the development of the local plan, rather than at the individual planning application level, which is where most people engage with the planning system.
We want local people to be able to access the facts and have their say. We are currently pushing local Green Party politicians to honour commitments to meaningful consultation made by the last Labour-led administration.
Q. Is it true that 9000 homes are being built south of Lancaster?
These figures come from the housing infrastructure fund (HIF) documents, which state that ‘up to 9185’ homes could be facilitated by this amount of infrastructure investment. However, before any new homes are built, they will need to go through the full planning process, which currently approves around 500 new houses in Lancaster per year. Developers want to make a profit, they build what they think will sell, which is contingent on many factors, including the availability of local employment.
The national rules around planning do not give full protection to local communities, and the Conservative Government plans to reduce the voice of local residents and the role of local government in planning even further. This makes it even more important that we put as many safeguards in place around future development as we can. The South Lancaster Area Action Plan and the Bailrigg Garden Village master plan are our best line of defence.
Q. Can Lancaster refuse to build new homes instead?
No. Neither Lancaster City Council nor its planning committee could just decide not to approve any new planning applications for new dwellings. All towns and cities in the UK have the same legal responsibility to meet the needs of the growing population in their areas. Further, if the land in south Lancaster is not available because the current infrastructure funding is refused, then due to national planning laws it will become very difficult for the Planning Committee to refuse any applications, even in places where the Local Plan doesn’t believe houses should be built, because Lancaster City Council will not be able to identify the land required to meet the housing target set by the government.
Q. What about the 1000 empty homes in Lancaster?
Various estimates of the number of empty homes in Lancaster have been published over recent months.
These use the Government definition of an empty home, which is any property that has been left empty in excess of 6 months. However, the majority of properties that are empty, are empty for a legitimate reason, such as they are being renovated or are up for sale, and as would be expected, these processes have been delayed by the pandemic.
There are only 255 homes across the whole of the Lancaster district which have been empty for more than two years, which Lancaster City Council is best placed to act upon. The City Council employs an ‘Empty Homes Officer’ who works with owners to return empty homes to use; 44 homes were returned to use through the work of the Empty Homes Officer in the last year. This number is lower than previous years because the officer had been redeployed to other COVID-related work.
Even if all of the ‘empty homes’ were to be returned to full use tomorrow, they wouldn’t be enough to address the housing need of current residents (which was 6,185 homes in 2017), let alone meet projected population growth.
Q. What is 5-year housing supply & why does it matter?
5-year housing supply compares how many dwellings the local plan says should be delivered over 5 years (plus previous under-delivery & a buffer) to how many dwellings can reasonably be expected to be completed in the next 5 years.
This matters because if a district can’t demonstrate a 5-year housing supply, local planning policies are overridden by a national “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.
Q. Do we or don’t we have 5-year housing land supply
We don’t, which makes our local planning system more vulnerable because national policy then requires a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” making it easier for developers to build what we don’t need, where we don’t want it.
We should be working to re-establish 5-year housing land supply as our local planning system is stronger when we can do that. We had 6.9 years when the local plan was approved last July.
Q. How will the new development reduce flooding?
Given the weaknesses of water management under the National Planning Policy Framework, and the Environment Agency’s admission that it cannot secure the funding needed for significant flood defences for Galgate, managed development with high water management standards and monitoring becomes our best option for reducing flood risk.
Under the National Planning Policy Framework, new developments currently only have to demonstrate that they will let no more water run off the site, no faster than it did before development or redevelopment. Most people involved in flood campaigning are highly suspicious of these calculations and concerned that the County Council, as the lead local flood authority, doesn’t invest enough in either challenging these calculations through planning nor monitoring them afterwards.
If we want to set higher standards, and the City Council does, we need to do that through local planning documents – the Local Plan (and the Climate Emergency Review, which is about to be consulted on), the Lancaster South Area Action Plan and the Bailrigg Garden Village Masterplan will do that. Unfortunately, holding developers to these standards requires demonstrating viability (essentially, that setting these higher standards won’t stop developers from making a sizeable profit). There is already one viability study that says we can do this and a second study to confirm this is underway.
Q what standard will homes be built to? Will it be paper-thin boxes, or can the council insist that they at least reach a decent level of carbon neutrality, perhaps even Passivhaus standard?
Housing standards are set in the Local Plan – these are currently at, and often exceed, national minimums. Following the City Council’s declaration of a climate emergency in 2019, a Climate Emergency Review of the Local Plan was launched and as part of this, the City Council will soon consult local residents on requiring even higher standards for housing.
The draft policy starts on page 10 of this document, and the section quoted below is from page 332:
‘Development proposals for all new residential development will be required to achieve the following:
- On adoption of this Local Plan:
- A minimum 31% reduction in carbon emissions against Part L of the Building Regulations 2013.
- By 01/01/2025:
- A minimum 75% reduction in carbon emissions against Part L of the Building Regulations 2013 to be achieved through a reduction in energy consumption via a fabric first approach.
- By 01/01/2028:
- Net zero carbon emissions to be achieved using the approach in the energy hierarchy. The carbon emission reduction requirements will apply at the date of commencement of each new dwelling.
Why is this all so contested?
This project is a big one, in terms of finances, in terms of complexity and in terms of uncertainty. This is true for the county council and for the city council. Few of us are professional town planners (although we have access to professional town planners for advice), so we’re all learning new things and asking lots of questions. It is important that we get this right, that’s why an additional viability study is being done.
However, not all questions are answerable at this point. Quite a few of them because none of us can bind a future planning committee to make a decision one way or another. Planning committees are required not to be given a ‘party-line’ to vote for and must act within the nationally determined planning rules. Others, because the decisions needed to make an assessment have not yet been taken.
We’d like this to be a live document, as we get new questions and are able to give new answers, we’ll do that. If our understanding of any of the above changes we’ll acknowledge this and update.
It is vital that all members of the council are willing to do this. To continue learning and to weigh the information as it comes to hand.
Q. Will a decision be taken by city councillors at full council on July 28?
No. There is no vote on south Lancaster on the agenda for the full council meeting on July 28. You can see the agenda here.
There is still some uncertainty about whether the final decision will be taken by cabinet or council. This will be determined by the final form of the agreement. If the decision falls with the budget and policy framework previously agreed by council, it will be a cabinet decision. This is because the city council’s constitution makes it the responsibility of cabinet to work within and implement the budget and policy framework.
It was clear from the discussion at the cabinet meeting on July 14 and the drafts of documents already seen by cabinet members that unless something changed to put the agreement outside the budget and policy framework that it would be a cabinet decision.
We appreciate you may have been told by a cabinet member that a decision was going to the July 28 council, but they should have understood that a decision wasn’t coming to July 28 council since before July cabinet.
Last updated 1 August 2021