Five reasons to say no to 9,000 homes plan

Lancaster’s MP Cat Smith, in her recent detailed article about the south Lancaster plan for 9,000 houses and a new road, lists many very reasonable conditions she would like to be fulfilled before she could support the project. She might recall that she wrote a letter of support for the HIF bid submission back in 2019.

Unfortunately, like the planners and highways officers who devised the scheme, she fails to mention the huge carbon impact of building a new road linking to the M6, never mind the resulting number of additional car journeys made on it in a time of climate crisis. But apart from that huge elephant in the room, below are some thoughts on other issues the Housing Infrastructure Funding and the associated plan creates.

1. We can’t extend the deadline for further consultation

Firstly, Cat Smith is rightly concerned that “there will be further, genuine consultation with residents in South Lancaster, particularly regarding the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) and its implications”.

But this call should have started long ago. The deadline for the decision is 31 August and government will not extend it despite our recent request. The Council has already had one deadline extension, as she must know. We have been repeatedly told we have run out of time to adjust this particular scheme.

2. This scheme will not prevent ‘uncontrolled development’

Secondly, she takes up the contention by Lancaster City Council planning officers that without this scheme we will have ‘uncontrolled development’ in the area because we have no five-year land supply, i.e. ‘the scheme meets the five-year housing land supply, so that local involvement isn’t eroded.’

The truth is that the HIF funding will not help us meet the five-year housing land supply for a number of years. Here is the view of a senior council officer this summer in response to my questions on this: “your general concerns regarding housing supply are well-founded. The pandemic certainly hit build out…and you are right that the supply of strategic sites is dwindling until more come forward for planning permission (part of the North Lancaster site is likely to be next, later this summer). That means that we are unlikely to be able to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply.”

In short, we will continue to have reduced powers over ‘uncontrolled development’ here and elsewhere because there is no five-year land supply and that is what determines our ability to control planning permissions. The HIF is not the magic bullet despite what some commentators think.

In fact, the numbers of expected housing from south Lancaster are indeed very low for the next 13 years — as expressed in the Local Plan, with just 1,205 realistically delivered: as the land must be ‘deliverable’ not just earmarked. See below.

Mechanisms for Delivery of Growth in South Lancaster (including Bailrigg Garden Village)

12.18  Policy SP6 of this DPD sets out the overall housing target and identifies a wide range of development sites which will be required to meet that Local Housing Need. The broad location for growth has identified opportunities to deliver in the region of 3,500 new homes, 1,205 of which the Council believes can be realistically delivered during the course of this plan period up to 2034, due to the strategic infrastructure required to facilitate growth

3. We have no guarantees we’ll get the affordable housing we urgently need

Thirdly, our MP picks up the matter of affordable housing, an absolute priority for the city council’s homes strategy and for Green Councillors. Designed for people earning low incomes, affordable housing is created when developers sell homes at a discount to housing associations so they are available for rent or shared ownership. Greens would like the same  assurances that our MP seeks;  that, “a substantial number of homes built are genuinely affordable, and there is a plan in place to ensure this is actually delivered”.

But there are no guarantees about this whatsoever.

Greenfield sites should contribute 30% affordable housing because developers can make their highest profits on such sites. Because of that required profitability, discounted homes are sold for Housing Associations to run and maintain as affordable. Developers often negotiate down the amount of affordable housing because they say that they will not make enough profit:  in their terms, affordable housing makes the developments ‘unviable’.

For the last 3 years these are dismal affordable housing figures that have been achieved in the district. And gives an idea of just how many new dwellings have been built in reality:

Net new total dwellings (excluding student units)

Affordable housing units as % of total (excluding student units)  Total dwellings on greenfield sites (including student units built on greenfield)
2018/19 262 21% 110
2019/20 282 15% 141
2020/21 206 8% 125

And there is every reason why this struggle will continue in south Lancaster: taking a “roof tax” or developer contribution to pay for the highways works doubles the usual s106 payments (which generally contribute to local play spaces, community facilities, schools and GP surgeries) and this will be a genuine reason for developments being “unviable.”

The best way to find out whether developers are going to be able to reduce or remove the affordable housing is to have our own council viability study.  This has not been produced, despite our calls.

What we need to do is focus all our officers’ time on delivering the Canal Quarter and  the realistic plans for affordable housing within it.

So on behalf of the Greens, I have to say to our MP that there is no plan in place to ensure affordable housing is delivered. And the requirement to pay the “roof tax” significantly reduces the chance of affordable housing being available.

4. We are in the middle of a climate crisis, and this will not be a low-carbon development

Cat’s fourth call comes close to recognising the climate crisis and reveals some real problems with the HIF project: “the homes built are as sustainable as possible, ideally net-zero carbon, adhering to the boldest environmental and climate regulations,

There is much focus on making homes themselves as low-carbon and sustainable as possible.  This is in line with the new Local Plan review which requires developers to build to the highest energy efficiency standards. Unfortunately, the council’s consultants’ initial report in the spring raised questions over the viability of genuinely low-carbon emission housing on strategic greenfield sites.’

Once new build dwellings are raised to the high standards we require, build costs rise and the houses become less viable. This in turn reduces further the chances of affordable housing but also means developers will be contributing less to community facilities through s106 contributions.

One other call: that “air quality in Galgate is improved by diverting traffic away from the village, as has long been demanded,” 

Yes, we would agree that if we build the road, there will be less traffic through Galgate for a few years.  However, research into road-building shows that if you reduce congestion and make journeys easier, more vehicle journeys are made. The traffic comes back as induced traffic and with a local new population of 30,000 people this is likely to be serious, despite some funding for cycling and bus infrastructure — the details of which remain very vague indeed. So in effect we will have spent over £100 million on the reconfiguration of Junction 33 and a new slip road for a few years’ respite from traffic whilst hugely increasing the risk to Galgate from flooding due to the run off from the new road. This is not a scheme fit for the 21st century, especially given the climate emergency.

5. The financial risks are enormous

There are huge financial risks too, many of these are only evident in the confidential and supposedly commercially sensitive information that only councillors, and not the public, are allowed to see. But I think the above clearly indicates that this particular HIF plan does not fulfil our Labour MP’s own criteria for support, and it is to be hoped that Labour councillors do not vote for it on this Wednesday.


Frequent Flyer Levy: Gina on BBC RADIO 4 | Interview

You can listen below to Gina’s interview on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, from 14 October 2019, talking about the frequent flyer levy, alongside former director of the Danish government’s Environmental Assessment Institute in Copenhagen, Bjørn Lomborg, who is a Danish author and President of his think tank, Copenhagen Consensus Center.

Gina Dowding MEP interview on BBC Radio 4, 14 October 2019


UK Green MEPs Welcome Extinction Rebellion Protests

Yesterday, Extinction Rebellion kicked off two weeks of global demonstrations, demanding world leaders act now to tackle climate breakdown. The UK’s Green MEPs have welcomed the protests in a joint statement: [1]

“Our planet is on the brink of a climate catastrophe. At this critical moment in history, it’s truly inspiring to see so many people take to the streets and demand our government acts now.

“Our Prime Minister wants to treat protestors like criminals, yet he’s happy to wine and dine with the bosses of the corporations destroying our environment.

“It’s clear which is the right side of history. We urge the UK Government to open its eyes, face facts, and act now to safeguard all of our futures.”

Gina Dowding, Green MEP for the North West said:

“The sheer number of people involved in the Extinction Rebellion protests is heartening and I wholly support their efforts. I hope to stand with Rebels next week during a conference trip to London, and show solidarity with their mission to make the climate emergency one that the UK government acts upon with urgency.

“In the North West, we have been battling the climate-wrecking fracking industry, as they have tried and failed to frack in Lancashire. The industry has been so very deceptive when it comes to promoting natural gas as a climate solution. It is not a ‘bridge fuel’ nor a time to use fracking as a transition – fracking is another fossil fuel extraction technique, responsible for increased global methane emissions.

“The time to move to renewable energy is now and the UK government must drop support for dirty fossil fuels and back renewable energy and a Green New Deal.”



[1]. Signed by: Scott Ainslie (London), Ellie Chowns (West Midlands), Molly Scott Cato (South West England and Gibraltar), Gina Dowding (North West England), Magid Magid (Yorkshire and the Humber), Alexandra Phillips (South East England) and Catherine Rowett (East of England).



Ireland, Inundation & 12-Steps

This week afforded some free days and it was a joy to get over to Ireland to have much-valued family time; sadly I had to miss the Climate Action Bolton event but clashes of timetables couldn’t be corrected. I’ve also been getting on with planning; I decided early on that it would be important to have some tangible outcomes as a result of my first four months (whether or not that’s the only four months) in the European Parliament. With funds and resources available to MEPs that can contribute to our work here in the North West, I’ll be producing a report in October about the Green New Deal and what that means for our region.

It’s so encouraging to see councils up-and-down the country but also here in the North West declaring a ‘Climate Emergency’ and it’s vital to ensure that those calls result in fundamental changes in what local authorities do as providers of local services, in their procurement and practices, but also as community leaders. As a long-serving councillor, despite our media being dominated almost exclusively to the point being obsessed with national Government, I know it is in reality, local councils who have the ability to provide good leadership and to whom people relate in the first instance as their democratically elected representatives.

To this effect, our report will aim to be about “Responding to the Climate Emergency…turning a call for action into a plan. How a Green New Deal will address the social, economic and environmental crises in the North West”.

Climate Action Bolton

Early this week in my absence (but not without my input!) was the Climate Action Bolton meeting; lobbying Bolton Council to join seven other Greater Manchester Councils and declare a Climate Emergency. It’s 16-year-old Paris Hayes who is the driving force behind this. I wish I could have attended the “packed room with an impressive range of speakers” including Ali Abbas from Friends of the Earth, Lisa Nandy MP (Wigan), Dee Codd of Youth Strike 4 Climate Manchester and Extinction Rebellion and Astrid Johnson my Greater Manchester Liaison Officer.

Astrid said:

“It was a great meeting with an engaged audience and good questions that brought inspiring discussion. There was a spirit of co-operation along with collaboration; Lisa Nandy was very positive about the Green Party and Caroline Lucas in her speech. It was good to have Gina’s virtual presence and a pleasure to read her statement.”

My statement included:

“Today, I support in particular, the efforts of the Climate Action Bolton group and all interested parties that here today pressure Bolton Council to do the same. It is not only in Bolton that we are seeing our brave youth rise up to the challenge and demand that our political leaders take the climate crisis seriously – it is their future that is at risk. The youth climate strikes for example, have grown on a global scale and are simply inspiring: our young people are to be commended for taking a stand and we should hear them.”


It was great to spend a few days accompanied by my son in Ireland this week visiting family. There’s a story -and a personally epic one in itself; although adopted, loved and brought up by Londoners, I have a wonderfully welcoming birth family (on both paternal-Protestant and maternal-Catholic sides) in the Republic of Ireland – discovered 21 years ago.

My birth father and half-sister are incredibly proud to have an MEP in the family, but bewildered and concerned about how Brexit is playing out on the island of Ireland. Sadly I don’t have any inside information or particularly greater insights than most who are following this. But I’m horrified to see the way that new Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seemingly trying to stir up trouble with the Irish Government and blame them for what is in effect, an impossible conundrum to solve. If Johnson gets what he wants- a hard Brexit – then that has to involve a border in Ireland between the EU in the south and the UK in the north. And no one of any political persuasion in Ireland wants that.

Meanwhile this week


I watched with deep concern as the news of the dam risk unfolded this week in Derbyshire and there’s more on the issues to consider around this below; the ‘good’ of it though is the efforts of the people who stepped up to help and offer kindness. The people of Whaley Bridge and surrounding areas acted from the best part of themselves in offering accommodation, toothbrushes, transportation, food and clothes to those who had left so quickly in the evacuation.

There were social media posts from mountain rescue teams thanking local businesses for providing food and rest for workers, a Muslim faith-based charity brought food to the school where many were evacuated to and countless other stories of human kindness that must have at least helped to ease immediate concerns. People at their finest.


The awful situation for those 1,500 residents of Whaley Bridge who are still not able to return to their homes after they were evacuated due to life-threatening damage to a dam above the town. The Toddbrook Reservoir, like so much infrastructure, is just not designed for ever more extreme rainfall as the climate changes. I’ll be writing to the Environment Agency to ask what measures have been taken to increase the frequency of inspections and range of safety checks, taking into account changes in the way infrastructure like this behaves in a changing climate. A New Scientist article reports:

“Dams are typically designed to cope with a so-called 1-in-100-year flood event. But as the world warms the odds of extreme rainfall are changing, meaning the risk of failure is far greater.

“The 1-in-100-year event is perhaps happening every five years,” says Roderick Smith at Imperial College London. “I’m absolutely convinced that it is due to climate change.”

More here:

Where hope lies:

With the government and more than half of our councils having declared a ‘Climate Emergency’, the task now is how to react. Helpfully, the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) has been working with a number of authorities to support them with strategies, action plans and projects. Focusing on strategic and practical considerations, APSE Energy’s 12 points will help Councils to plan and act (full details in the link at the end):

  1. Leadership: the local authority has a duty of leadership

2. Strategy: a strategy to address a climate emergency

3. Capacity: enough political will to perpetuate an approach; human & financial resources

4. Action Plan & Projects: monitoring, reporting & reviewing

5. Targets & Data: setting a target date for carbon neutrality and monitoring targets

6. Finance & Risk: the skill is in prioritisation

7. Partners: the local authority has a responsibility to support businesses, employers, academic institutions, public services    & citizens to work towards reducing their emissions.

8. Suppliers: a local authority cannot have a climate-related target whilst ignoring the activities of its suppliers that have a duty to supply sustainably

9. Education & Culture Change: making a definite effort to put in place materials & resources that will educate in order to change behaviour

10. Innovation: invest in technology, deliver services and collaborate in new ways

11. Review & Inform: reviewing strategies and action plans to ensure outcomes

12. Behaviour Change: supporting people to change their eating, travelling & buying habits. Ensuring this agenda remains at the forefront of people’s minds.

Full information here.

Onwards ?

*Image: Whaley Bridge, Sikh Sewa Organisation Manchester


New President of European Commission

She won with 383. She needed 374.

Both the LibDem grouping (Renew Europe) and some of the Socialist and Democrat grouping voted for her. We’ve also been told that UK Labour MEPs voted for her – with such a small margin, they clinched it.

Ursula von der Leyen is now President of the European Commission. UK Green MEPs of Greens/EFA in the European Parliament made our statement about why we voted against her:

“The prospect of the first woman president of the EU Commission is a reason to welcome the nomination of Ursula von der Leyen. We are also encouraged by her comments on Brexit, particularly her willingness to grant the UK a further extension and so prevent a disastrous crash out of the EU.

“However, we find ourselves unable to vote for her. The appointments process used to select her was a backroom deal cobbled together to appease the far right in countries of Central Europe where the rule of law is under threat and democratic standards at risk.

“Also, on a wide range of issues, from tax and trade to climate and protecting life in our countryside, there is clearly a gulf between the views of von der Leyen and the Green agenda for change.

“If she becomes president, it will be thanks to the votes of the far right, rather than those of the strong pro-European majority. Had she chosen the radical change that millions of Green voters demand we could see the EU transformed over the next 5 years. We would tackle inequality and poverty, defend people from corporate power, fix our broken tax system and properly address the climate emergency.

“Improving the lives of citizens and restoring confidence in the EU is also the best way to crush the voices of nationalism, extremism & fascism that are gaining ground across the continent.”