Where’s the local accountability over masterplan for Penrith?
Sir, You reported (Herald, 19th May) the fear that the Penrith masterplan might become unstoppable, a justifiable fear because public consultation is often a box-ticking exercise of political expediency, bringing about little real change to plans already in progress.
A lack of trust does exist and is not helped by looking at the website of the London-based land use consultants, LUC, who council leader Mr Beaty mentioned in your article.
In February LUC posted that it had been appointed by Eden District Council “to prepare an evidence-based strategic masterplan that will provide a resolute case for how Eden district, and in particular Penrith, can deliver …. The project includes the creation of between 5,000 and 8,000 new homes, a new link road and other transport infrastructure as well as significant employment areas.”
Eden Council has, in effect, appointed someone to make a case for its plans. The council ought perhaps to go back to first principles and that includes thinking about what we mean by democracy and local accountability. I don’t recall any Penrith candidates being voted in on the promise of nearly doubling the population of the town by 2050.
In terms of town and country planning, the system in the UK has its roots in concerns about industrialisation and urbanisation, concerns which continue to resonate here in Cumbria, particularly with our historic links to both the National Trust and the national parks movements.
We are but custodians of our land, and I suppose it could be argued that by allocating 50 or 60 per cent of housing development to Penrith and only nine per cent to Appleby, seven per cent to Kirkby Stephen and four per cent to Alston, the other main towns and villages in the district are being preserved.
“Preserved in aspic” is always a risk and Eden councillors should be considering how best to encourage employment and the retention of young people, schools and other services in all areas of Eden, not just Penrith.
We already have the situation where bus services have been severely reduced and where children post-16 must pay for school transport — this in an area where 50 per cent of the population live outwith the main towns.
I see nothing in the Penrith Vision masterplan to improve employment and services in the rest of Eden. Indeed, as employment, healthcare and education become more centralised, I see it making matters worse.
In Cumbria the district council is responsible for drawing up a local plan for housing and employment while the responsibility for education, social care and highways continues to rest at county level. Developers might agree to build a new school as part of a proposed development, but who sets it up and what is to stop a developer reneging on the build as seems to have happened in Carlisle recently?
Healthcare in Penrith is another problem with general practice provision severely stretched. Practices would need to function from a virtual facility as the cost of building a health centre capable of coping with the projected population increase would be prohibitive to developers.
Funding from elsewhere is unlikely if the experience of previous plans to replace our health centre are anything to go by, though smaller less costly projects elsewhere in Eden have gone ahead.
Planning involves more than just producing plans to deliver houses to meet national housing targets together with the provision of employment space to create employment and then simply hoping for the best. Yours etc,