Students’ doubts over jobs,services and affordable homes
A LACK of commitment by other agencies to provide the infrastructure required to implement Penrith’s masterplan was highlighted by students at the town’s Ullswater Community College this week.
Sixth formers were giving their views to Eden Council about its plans to build 5,560 new homes to the north of the Beacon and create more than 70 hectares of employment land near Junction 41 and Stoneybeck over the next 32 years.
However, the council’s lack of control over services which all those extra people would require, such as schools, health, police, fire and public transport — the last of which they branded “non-existent” already — was at the forefront of students’ minds, with one saying they should just “leave it as it is”.
The Year 13 students wanted to know how the council planned to attract people and employers to Penrith other than by simply making homes and business units available to them, as well as how it planned to keep the new homes “affordable”. After the council quoted figures that the average house price in Eden is more than seven times the average household income, one pupil from the Carleton area of Penrith pointed out that he had been unable to see a house in some new homes built there costing less than £300,000.
Adam Parker added: “The last time we had a big project in the town was Sainsbury’s and New Squares. You got rid of Penrith football pitch and yet half of the shops there are empty. How do you know this is going to be different and the houses aren’t going to be left empty?”
Katrina Murphy said: “At the moment, when people go away to university, they discover new places and don’t come back. Should we be building another university? Are hospitals and GP practices going to expand? At the moment, emergencies have to go to Carlisle or Kendal. Unless there is a plan for getting more in, it’s just going to place more stress on the current ones and make everything 10 times worse.”
Caitlin Hodgson added that this would be exactly the same for police and fire services.
Charlotte Wilson’s comments about the absence of funding for the three new primary and one secondary school mentioned in the plan met with cheers when she pointed out that the county council was already complaining about a lack of funding.
“Many of us have had to pay for bus passes just to get to school this year because the council says it doesn’t have the funding to get us here,” she said. “Why don’t you support the existing schools instead?”
There was also concern about the potential to build on the forestry land at the Beacon, in addition to the new villages to the north of the forestry, and what form that might development take. The council’s planning policy manager, Kevin Hutchinson, said this could be anything from an education centre to a hotel, holiday lets or “a few nice houses”.
Billy Waistell wanted to know what kind of jobs were going to be “created” by the building of the new business units and whether the council was trying to make Penrith bigger or create entirely new communities.
Deputy director of technical services Jane Langston said the council would be looking to attract service industries associated with the nuclear sector, as well as helping existing local businesses to expand and attracting new ones. She added that the Beacon villages would be entirely new communities, not an urban expansion of Penrith.
Mr Hutchinson encouraged all the students to fill in a public response card which asked whether they supported the level of proposed growth for Penrith and if they supported the proposals for housing, employment and the Beacon, while also inviting additional comments.
He told the students: “We are required by government to create 242 houses across Eden every year. We have to expand. The issue is where.
“This is an idea. This is our best stab at how it could work. But you maybe want things to go somewhere else — perhaps the other side of the motorway or maybe at Stoneybeck or Catterlen.”
A representative of the Keep Penrith Special campaign spoke to students at an assembly on Wednesday to give them information about opposition to the plans.
An Eden District Council spokesman said: “We would like to thank Ullswater Community College for the opportunities to speak to their students about the proposals currently being debated around the future of Penrith, as it will be they who would be the main beneficiaries of the plan at the end of the day.
“The students were very engaged in how the town develops and how current issues such as improving transport from rural communities into Penrith and how public services such as the NHS, local schools and Cumbria police will be supported as the local area grows are addressed.
“It is very important to engage young people in this debate, as when the students were asked how many of them were looking to stay in Penrith in the future very few raised their hands in favour of Penrith, which mirrors the shrinking working age population conundrum which Eden and wider Cumbria is currently facing.
“The students recognised the need to create a long-term plan for the area’s future and the complex issues around it such as the need for a diverse range of new homes, including affordable ones, and a higher wage economy. The comments the students have provided will be taken into account as part of the public engagement process for the Penrith strategic masterplan.”