Lib-Lab pact formed to fight Penrith masterplan

Date: Monday 5th November 2018

LIBERAL Democrat and Labour councillors in Eden have announced a pact in opposition to the Penrith masterplan, which is endorsed by the district council’s Conservative-controlled executive.

A group of district councillors, with support from county colleagues, have put forward a joint position with nine key concerns, including that the masterplan is contrary to national planning policy, “deeply flawed” and not viable.

Virginia Taylor (Lib Dem, Penrith West) and others believe Eden District Council needs to go back to the drawing board and that any plan should be focused on more highly skilled research and development jobs.

She said: “In Penrith we have almost complete employment and if this plan was to do something good for Penrith it shouldn’t attract any sort of employers but highly skilled employers.

“Every year we get 80 or 100 ‘brain drains’, my own son included. They get educated up to sixth form and then never come back.

“They should be setting up a specialised veterinary or farming academy, that’s the sort of investment I would like to see. The housing figure in the last local plan in 2011 is what they should be looking back to.”

The cross-party group says the “back of the Beacon” land earmarked for three new villages is not sustainable due to environmental damage, gradients and traffic. It feels other sites were “barely considered”.

The councillors say the preferred site should not be promoted due to the “vision” being dependent on a link road from the A66 to Junction 41 of the M6, which the Highways Agency has made clear will not be constructed in advance of 2050.

They are “calling-in” a move towards the inclusion of the masterplan in a review of the Eden local plan, which is a way the masterplan might become a planning reality. They say this major decision was taken by Eden Council’s development portfolio holder, John Owen, alone. “We do not think this is democratic — or indeed wise,” they say.

The councillors remain concerned that despite the proposed low density development of the Beacon forest being withdrawn it has rendered the forest vulnerable in the long term. They also confirm their support for the Friends of the Penrith Beacon group which is campaigning to safeguard the forest in perpetuity for people and wildlife, and as a “green lung” for Penrith and Eden.

Lissie Sharp (Lab, Alston Moor) has fears about the impact of the masterplan on local services, including schools.

“What will be the impact on Penrith town centre, will families in these three villages really come in and use the shops and do schools and the health service have the budget for this? It needs to be ironed out,” she said.

“There needs to be a further consultation and more information about the plans and transparency given, as we’ve been left with a lot of questions. What will be the impact in Alston, Appleby and Kirkby Stephen? We want to keep young people in the area and provide them with work, but I’m not sure this is how to do it.”

District councillors who are part of the pact include Andy Connell, Deb Holden, John Tompkins, Judith Derbyshire, Mark Rudhall and Mike Eyles.

County councillor Patricia Bell (Lib Dem, Penrith East) said: “I would like to see a return to a blank piece of paper. I would like the district council to carry out a thorough study to determine in which direction it would be best for Penrith to grow which takes into account the aspirations of Penrith residents and those who use the town regularly.

“If we need new employment land urgently, press ahead with a revision to make that happen.”

Eden councillors are to consider a report on the masterplan at a meeting of the full council in December.

A spokesman for the authority said: “The public engagement process for the Penrith Strategic Masterplan — A Vision to 2050 has stimulated a great deal of public debate about the proposals contained in the document for the town and wider Eden’s future.

“A report will go before council members in December which will include an overview of the public engagement process and outline the next steps which could be taken.”