After DEFRA Minister George Eustice visited the city and cautioned the City Council to be careful before going ahead with approving plans to build homes in the Western Growth Corridor of the city, the City Council Leader Ric Metcalfe has written to the minister. Below is his letter in full.
I am writing to you in respect of your recent visit to Lincoln and to object in the strongest possible terms to the ill-informed and frankly irresponsible comments that you made regarding the above proposed development. I consider it discourteous in the extreme that you failed to contact the City Council who, as well as being the strategic planning and housing authority for the city, are a significant landowner of the development site, or even inform us of your visit.
Had you been sufficiently responsible to speak to us we could have made sure that your public comments, and those of the MP who has similarly not spoken to us about these matters, were informed by the facts rather than peddling outdated and erroneous information.
The Western Growth Corridor is a critical development opportunity that is vital to addressing the urgent housing needs of the city and its residents. The site has been long identified as a sustainable urban development having successfully been assessed through rigorous evaluation, including testing against PPS25 in terms of flood risk. It is supported by all the authorities that constitute the Central Lincolnshire Joint Planning Committee and is recognised to be not only the most sustainable but likely the earliest deliverable of the proposed urban extensions to the city.
It is insulting to suggest, as I think both your comments and those of the MP did, that we have not properly considered the issue of flood risk. The council has worked extensively with the Environment Agency over recent years and in particular in the last 12 months to identify approaches that would allow not only an agreed extent of safe development, but also flood mitigation measures that will enhance protection to some existing 6000 homes in the city – protection that won’t be forthcoming through central government funding.
That joint work, using the EA flood model and their approved consultants, has meant that the EA have withdrawn their objection in principle. It’s worth pointing out that the much repeated description of this land as ‘flood plain’ is a local misconception, the land is not formally declared as such and has not, despite flooding in other areas locally, flooded in recent years.
The City Council, as a major landowner of this site, is committed to ensuring that the development addresses the needs of the city, both in terms of new housing and critically affordable housing. We have adopted as policy seven core principles that we, as a landowner, will seek to achieve through the development – these include ensuring there is proper additional infrastructure including public transport and road connections, local services, strong, cohesive communities and access to new employment land so that we can help support the job growth alongside the new housing; key within those objectives is also the commitment to securing the site against flood risk. The proximity to the city centre and the expanding university is one of the key reasons why this development is sustainable.
I find particularly egregious the suggestion that the City Council is only interested ‘in the money’. Were that the case we would have simply sought to dispose of our landholding, without which no development could take place, to the highest bidder. The fact is that we have not chosen that path.
Instead, we have adopted key principles as council policy, have committed resources to working with the EA and the developer to bring the WGC forward and in fact relegated the capital receipt as a priority in exchange for ensuring that we secure the social value of our landholding. That is the responsible approach to the management of public resources, seeking to ensure that they are used to maximise benefit for as many people as possible and not simply selling out.
When your Government came to power they announced that they intended to ‘remove the shackles’ that you believed were holding back development across the country. Despite the fact that I always regarded the shifting of blame for the lack of development onto local planning authorities as having dubious currency, I am curious to know how you regard your comments as being in adherence to that stated policy objective.
We as a City Council are committed to and working for sustainable growth, we have an excellent track record of supporting local businesses in strengthening and growing their businesses and are equally committed to ensuring that we address the housing crisis we face locally. Ill-informed comments such as yours from a Government Minister, especially in cases where there is a live planning application; appear to be contrary to Government policy and certainly to our ambitions for Lincoln.
I look forward to receiving your apology in due course.