Lancaster City Council leader apologises for statement which appeared to criticise Morecambe MP over Eden Project

The Green leader of Lancaster City Council has rejected an accusation that she took ‘cheap shots’ at the Morecambe MP over Eden Project North talks but has apologised for how she phrased a written statement.

Coun Caroline Jackson.

City council leader Coun Caroline Jackson also insisted the council is still seen a trusted partner for major projects, despite this summer’s heated debate over a different issue – the controversial new agreement with Lancashire County Council and the Government for up to 9,000 new homes in south Lancaster and associated housing infrastructure funding (HIF).

Coun Jackson and other councillors had opposed the HIF agreement and argued for alternative local plans. But other councillors voted for the Government HIF deal and won a vote. Work is now underway on the HIF for south Lancaster.

Coun Jackson said other major projects, such as completion of the new River Lune flood defence wall and embankments in Lancaster, showed the council was a trusted partner.

Lancaster City Council has a number of Green and Eco-Socialist Independent councillors in leading positions. Overall, there are 10 Green Party councillors and five Eco-Socialists on the council. Other parties have significant umbers too, including other independent groups, but the city council is politically more diverse than the conventional two-party arrangements that were once typical of councils in the past.

Speaking at the city council’s latest full meeting, Coun Jackson rejected a suggestion of taking ‘cheap shots’ over the Eden North Project by Conservative councillor Andrew Gardiner, during a leader’s statement and question session.

Coun Gardiner took exception to a written report by Coun Jackson about the Eden North, published in the Leader’s Comments notes for the full council meeting agenda.

The written report stated: “The Eden project team has worked hard to ensure the planning permission submission has been delivered according to schedule. This resulted in some very positive press coverage. As a set of council leaders, we are putting out joint publicity to show both our support and excitement. The project is now even more ‘shovel-ready’. MP David Morris was unwilling to meet with us unfortunately, but we do hope to draw his attention to the Eden curriculum which is being followed within our schools and has great potential to improve pupil’s engagement and achievement.”

Regarding this, Coun Gardiner said: “Why are you taking cheap shots at the MP when it’s the MP who is leading on this? I think it’s a really cheap shot to say he was unwilling to attend. He is an MP and has just gone back to Parliament.

He added: “If it wasn’t for the MP we would not be getting this project. Why is he ‘unwilling’ when he is delivering it? You’ve said this in your statement which is in the public realm. That statement is incorrect.”

Coun Jackson replied: “I do not take cheap shots. I’m sorry if this came across that way. It was not my intention and I would not insult someone for no good reason.

“I met with the MP informally afterwards. He met me in a social occasion. It was not a meeting about Eden. I am not trying to imply that he would not meet me. I have written that the wrong way which is bad. I’m sorry.

“If there is a way of changing that [statement], we can do it. I don’t intend in any way to be unpleasant about our MP. The chat I had with him was very pleasant.”

Regarding controversial plans for up to 9,000 new homes in south Lancaster linked to the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund deal, Coun Jackson’s statement to the full council meeting read: “Council agreed to go forward with the collaboration agreement with Lancashire County Council in August council. This is now in the very final review stages before being signed and returned to the county council.

“Whilst we accept this decision was disputed, moving forward we need to implement in the most efficient and consultative possible way.”

Labour councillor Oliver Robinson said: “I’m sure the Leader will agree that being seen as a trusted partner for major projects such as Eden is important. It is important that Lancaster City Council is seen as a trusted partner. What plans does the Leader have to be seen as a trusted partner to deal with major projects that our district needs?”

Coun Jackson said: “That’s quite a big ask without any notice. We are dealing with the wall so I think we are seen as a trusted partner for that. I think we are involved in a number of projects where we are seen as trusted partners, rather than the lead partner. With the wall, we have been a leader along with those who carried out the actual work. But I think the reply to your question would be better as a written answer.”