Unused parts of a former Lancaster school site could be bought by the city council and redeveloped for new homes and community purposes as part of wider home improvements and regeneration work at the 1960s Mainway housing estate.
Derelict parts of the Skerton High School site could boost the numbers and types of homes at Mainway, bring extra community amenities and extra open space, councillors on Lancaster City Council’s cabinet are being advised.
Although the high school closed seven years ago, it is subject to a 10-year period required by law before it can be sold.
Councillors on the city council’s cabinet are to look at future possibilities for the site at their meeting on Tuesday, December 7. Buying unused buildings and land on the old site would be conditional on legal permission being granted.
A separate school pupil referral unit, the Chadwick Centre, is operated on part of the site by Lancashire County Council and is expected to remain there. Discussions are under-way about potential developments on other parts.
Councillors at this week’s cabinet meeting are being asked to approve, in principle, the purchase of the redundant areas, on condition of Government approval; legal and physical checks on buildings and land, and gaining clarity on how the Chadwick Centre on retained county council land would operate.
A report for the cabinet meeting states: “The proposals will have positive impacts, particularly on climate change, equality, well-being and social value. The potential acquisition of the school site will enhance the overall delivery capacity and vision for Mainway, increasing housing numbers, types of housing, local community amenity facilities and open space.
“Specialist development and regeneration advice is currently being provided by Anderton Gables. Additional support is being provided by law firm Trowers and Hamlin and Savills Housing Finance Consultancy to ensure the process for a potential transfer is aligned with wider financial considerations and how an enlarged regeneration of Mainway is delivered, fully considered and reported on.”
The report states there are no direct financial implications associated with approving the purchase of land and buildings in principle at this point. A further report will follow with greater detail in February.
However, the council’s approved budget does not yet allow for any significant purchase or development costs relating to the regeneration of the Mainway estate. The full implications cannot be established yet. Further decisions on the whole scheme and options need to take place, including potentially creating an independent, arms-length local authority trading company (known as a LATCo) or some other structure.
In March this year, the city council cabinet approved the use of up to £300,000 from a business support reserve linked to its housing revenue account, which manages its local housing-related income and expenditure, to allow the next phase of the Mainway project to go ahead.
Costs linked to ‘due diligence’ checks and extended design ideas incorporating the Skerton School site can be managed from the £300,000 at this stage, council officers are suggesting.
The overall balance on the city council’s business support reserve in March was £7.9 million, subject to audit. Allowing for approved use, including property conversions over the next three financial years, £6.7 million can be called-upon before to any decision on the regeneration of Mainway and subject to the 2022/23 budget-setting process, officers state in the report.
Councillors on the cabinet are also being advised of the risk that Lancashire County Council may put the unused land and buildings on the open property market, if the city council does not act.
Bringing the old site into the wider Mainway regeneration plans would change the whole perception, aspiration and social-economic mix of the Skerton east area, officers believe.
If the city council worked with development partners, this would increase the overall amount of money to deliver the combined sites, lessen any risks, bring-in commercial expertise, deliver more homes and create a greater mix of homes for young and old, single residents and families, officers suggest. That would then provide a larger scale of development which could warrant community and neighbourhood amenities.
A follow-up cabinet report due in February 2022 will explore the issues further along with more consultations with residents and stakeholder groups.
Depending on budget and policy considerations, final decisions will be taken either by the city council cabinet or by all councillors at a full council meeting.
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