Where’s the road and transport infrastructure investment?

Date: Monday 1st October 2018

Sir, It must by now be absolutely clear that the vast majority of Penrith residents have no appetite for the indigestible proposals of the Penrith masterplan.

That the ridiculously expensive proposals failed to identify the significant flaws that are glaringly obvious to local people is quite extraordinary. While most residents would like to see Penrith develop and grow with modern employment opportunities, a thriving local economy and an environment where families are able to thrive, the masterplan will achieve none of this. This plan is like an aeroplane without wings; it will never fly.

Until recently, the plan has been shrouded in secrecy with little public engagement, transparency or inclusivity except perhaps for the dubious discourse with commercial operators, landowners and other potential beneficiaries.

It also hasn’t gone unnoticed that, though the plan took years to develop and will take decades to complete, the consultation period is suspiciously short. Surely, if it took so long for consultants, experts and councillors to analyse and understand, the people of Penrith should be afforded sufficient time for a full and proper period of consultation.

It would be indulgent to attempt to list all of the deficiencies of the plan, however some issues require priority attention. Love them or loathe them, the conventional wisdom that gave birth to HS1, HS2, the plans for a trans-Pennine upgrade and a third Heathrow runway were all part of an economic development strategy based on the clear, researched and evidenced understanding that investment and growth can happen only when a travel and transport infrastructure is in place.

Conversely, the authors of this plan appear to believe that if they cross their fingers, hold their breath and build houses and employment space, the investment needed to make the road and transport infrastructure fit for purpose will magically appear. This was their approach to New Squares and look how that turned out.

The A66, which has almost monthly closures, is totally inadequate, as are the M6 junctions which can’t even cope with the current level of traffic. The A66 must be one of the most busy and dangerous routes in the country with its numerous single carriageway accident blackspots. If the roads are not fixed first, the problems will be increased and more businesses will leave than arrive.

Also missing from the plan is the strategy to develop Penrith’s strategic geographical position in the centre of the UK. We occupy a region that should be exploited as a transport and storage hub, the centre of a supply chain, a major distribution point and an ideal location for small businesses and the head offices of big business.

Whereas a proper plan plots the strategic journey of action, this is an uninspired wish-list bereft of logic or detail. It pays scant attention to tried and tested models for economic and community development and regeneration, environmental impact, community wealth-building, physical and social infrastructure and social cohesion.

For example, as if on a mission to sabotage their own plan, the proposals for the Beacon represent a pointless act of environmental vandalism in a bid to build a “low’ density” development (code for expensive homes for the wealthy) under the deceptive “sleight of hand” idea that they are attempting to make the Beacon more accessible to all of us.

If accessibility had been a council objective, it could, and should, have been done years ago with a simple, maintained pathway to the monument and a cleared view over Penrith towards Lakeland. The development of the Beacon is a totally unnecessary part of the plan.

Though the digital age has seen more rapid and significant change than perhaps ever before, Kevin Beaty and his cronies would have us believe that they have the marvellous ability to see decades into the future.

If the Tory leadership and councillors of Eden District Council fail to take proper account of the widespread distaste for their plan, the voters of Penrith will be sure to express their opposition in next May’s district council elections.

And if Rory Stewart can break free from the self-imposed confinement of his prisons role, it would be helpful to hear the unambiguous views of our current parliamentary representative. Yours etc,

DAVE KNAGGS

(Eden and Penrith Labour Party)

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