Lancaster City Council leader urges caution over £260m plans for city expansion
Lancaster city council members will meet on August 25 to vote on whether to accept a legally binding agreement which would unlock £140 million government funding for south Lancaster highways work.
This money is part-funding of the roads element of a project estimated to cost £261m and designed to help deliver a new town south of Lancaster and two other housing projects.
This includes a reconfiguration of Junction 33, a bypass of Galgate, and a spine road under the West Coast mainline to link up with existing roads near Scotforth cemetery.
The £261 million is assuming some grant toward three schools for the new town and £4.6m contributed by each council.
Most of the extra funding must come from developer contributions from 9185 new houses over a 25-year period.
These developer contributions or 'roof taxes' must be collected by the city council to repay the county council, which is funding the up-front shortfall.
Leader of the council, Caroline Jackson, said: "I am very concerned that there are financial risks and uncertainties in this whole project that have not been fully worked through.
"This project goes against the core principles of this council. Despite over two years work by officers, details only began to emerge clearly for cabinet members in March 2021 and the first briefing for all councillors was not until mid-June.
"Although I requested public consultation this has not happened. Saying yes to a new town is making a fundamental decision which could change the whole character of this city.
"Our residents have not been properly consulted, nor involved at an early enough stage to shape these proposals.
"The costs are based on 2019 estimates and we do not know what extra borrowing might be required if they go up when contractors submit tender prices, nor are we sure how that money must be repaid.
"On current calculations 9185 houses must be built making developers enough profits to allow them to contribute to the infrastructure over 25 years.
"We do not have a city council viability study that assures us that developers can afford the “roof tax”.
"We do not know what will happen if a substantial number of houses remain unbuilt and what impact that unpaid liability plus interest would have on the finances of a future council.
"Under these uncertain circumstances entering in to a legally binding agreement feels to me both incautious and unwise.
"Reconfiguring Junction 33 and building a road will create a huge carbon impact simply through its construction.
"No carbon impact assessment of the road project has been provided for councillors.
"In the face of the climate crisis that is manifesting all across the world, I cannot believe that a city council committed to taking action on the climate emergency, as we are, is in this situation.
"The IPCC report this month said, "every tonne of CO2 emission adds to global warming".
"Lancaster City Council are already committed to building new homes in south Lancaster as required by the Local Plan.
"Here and elsewhere we need to develop innovative, low-carbon answers to our traffic problems and that will only come about if we find the courage to say no to the easy answer.
"Government and county council are committed to net zero carbon action as we are; we need to find better answers together."