In recent weeks, there has been a lot of attention and scrutiny of the proposals being made for housing developments in South Lancaster, with residents emailing me for further information and to ask for my views on this matter. Though as a Member of Parliament, I am not a councillor and therefore get no vote over such a decision, I felt it was important to make my views clear to my constituents and Lancaster City Council.
Let’s be clear, there is a need for additional housing in our city and across the country. Locally, it was estimated in 2017 that around 10% of households in Lancaster were in housing need for reasons including overcrowding, special needs, or difficulty affording and/or maintaining current housing. I see this first-hand with constituents every week writing to me because they cannot find an affordable or suitable property for them and their family in our community.
Not only is there a genuine need for affordable and sustainable housing – under planning laws set by the Conservative Government in London, if Lancaster City Council cannot demonstrate a ‘five-year housing land supply’ as set out in its Local Plan, then local involvement will be eroded as the previous local plan becomes invalidated with the prospect of uncontrolled development in what will be a developer’s free-for-all. This will see more of the unsustainable development we have seen in recent years, with unaffordable houses built on land unsuitable for housing and without the necessary infrastructure to support it.
In this context and faced with the housing need in Lancaster, I support the City Council in considering the potential for this housing to be provided in a planned, cohesive community, with its own centre and its own services, so we can avoid yet more unplanned sprawl. Such plans, however, must be formulated with our communities involved, rather than imposed upon us. I share the concerns which residents have raised with me regarding the consultation process, the environmental impact and the impact on local services, as do Lancaster’s Labour Councillors.
As I said, this is a decision for Lancaster’s Green-led City Council and one which I have no formal role in. However, in order for me to personally support such proposals, I would like reassurance that, as a minimum:
- there will be further, genuine consultation with residents in South Lancaster, particularly regarding the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) and its implications,
- the scheme meets the five-year housing land supply, so that local involvement isn’t eroded,
- brownfield sites (such as the Canal Quarter) and existing empty homes will be prioritised for the provision of housing before South Lancaster,
- a substantial number of homes built are genuinely affordable, and there is a plan in place to ensure this is actually delivered,
- the homes built are as sustainable as possible, ideally net-zero carbon, adhering to the boldest environmental and climate regulations,
- the necessary infrastructure is provided to support housing, including new schools and GP surgeries, which may ideally help to relieve our existing stretched services,
- new housing is required to meet very high water management standards, and contributes to a reduction in flood risk to Galgate,
- new public and active transport infrastructure will be developed to reduce dependence on cars, including a well-planned cycle superhighway to connect with the city centre,
- the natural environment and biodiversity will be protected and enhanced to the fullest extent,
- air quality in Galgate is improved by diverting traffic away from the village, as has long been demanded, and
- excessive financial risk for the development is not born by the City Council.
I hope that city councillors from all parties, with leadership from the Green Party politicians who hold the Leader, Strategic Planning and Economic Prosperity portfolios, are able to agree on proposals that fulfil these essential requirements – requirements which are based on consultation with residents and my strong support for addressing the environmental and housing crises.