The public inquiry into the Centros development was dramatically adjourned on Wednesday following a request from the city council.
The council asked for the inquiry to be stopped so it could
consider the "latest professional views" raised during the hearing at
Lancaster Town Hall.
It followed the city council's senior conservation officer Stephen Gardner
giving evidence about the plan which covers 10 acres of prime land in Lancaster city centre.
It's Our City, which opposes the £150million development, claimed the
conservation officer had made some criticisms about the size of certain
buildings in the plan and the bridge to Stonewell, which led to the
Leader of the council, Stuart Langhorn responded: "It would be
inappropriate for us to respond to questions about individual statements
representatives may or may not have made. Overall, the position of the council will be outlined in our position statement which will be presented to the inspector, tomorrow (Thursday)." Earlier in the week, the man chairing the public inquiry said the developer's failure to defend its plans could leave 'gaps' in the evidence.
Planning inspector John Gray, 63, from County Durham, said that in 22 years in his role he had never known a developer fail to attend an inquiry.
Centros has argued that appearing would cost up to £1million and
could affect delivery of parts of the shopping, cultural, office and housing
Mr Gray, an architect, who worked for 12 years in design and conservation at
Durham County Council, said: "It makes no difference to the process but it
might be that there are gaps in the evidence because they are not here. Whether such gaps will be significant I do not know yet."
Mr Gray has dealt with nearly 1,000 appeals, including around a dozen inquiries of a similar magnitude.
"Some inquiries are clear-cut and you have a good idea what you are going
to do when you finish," he said. "Other times you do not know until
you are writing the report what the recommendation will be.
"This one is very interesting because there are lots of strands of
argument that will take time to pull together. It is not one where I have a
recommendation in mind already."
Mr Gray is no stranger to Lancaster. His daughter was in the city for
four-and-a-half years until December, completing first a BSc and then an MSc at Lancaster University.
He also recalls dealing with appeals over a barn conversion near Caton and a
back garden extension in Castle Park. Mr Gray said the most important issues this time were the need for the extra retail space and the impact on the city's
heritage, followed by considerations like traffic, parking and air quality.
"I've got to be satisfied the buildings would fit happily into Lancaster,
even if they are modern architecturally," he said.
"The Stonewell bridge is a case in point – it's how it fits with the
historic buildings around it such as The Friary."
Mr Gray will spend about two months writing his inquiry report which will
culminate in a recommendation to the secretary of state. The final decision
could be in spring.