The leader of South Lakeland District Council (SLDC) has hit back at ‘doom-mongers’ he says are using the closure of common land at New Road in Kendal as an excuse to ‘run down’ the town.
Councillor Giles Archibald says he understands the decision to close the land to vehicles, after safety, legal and insurance risks were identified, has proved unpopular with some.
But he believes discussions around that issue are being used as a platform to unfairly knock the council’s record on the economy and its support for business and local communities.
Councillor Archibald said: “Unfortunately there are some people who have hijacked the New Road debate as a means to attack the council on everything from job creation to new playgrounds and seem intent on running down Kendal and the council’s achievements.
“Talk of putting up posters that claim Kendal is closed for business, claims the town has no future or that the council has taken this decision in order to sell the land off to make money are simply ridiculous.
“This council always works in the best interests of its residents. Over the last four years SLDC has achieved an incredible amount and I am proud of our record.
“South Lakeland regularly comes out in surveys as offering some of the best quality of life opportunities anywhere in the country – we were recently ranked by the Halifax Building Society as the second best place in the whole of the north west to raise a family and the last independent Quality of Life Survey showed 89% of people questioned in the district are satisfied with their local area as a place to live.
“We also have an enviable reputation for business support, with South Lakeland beating the county, regional and national averages for the number of start-up businesses that survive for more than five years. This demonstrates how well we have worked as a council to support new businesses through initiatives like our business advice programme, the pop-up shop scheme and the Mintworks enterprise centre in Kendal, a facility that the council invested in, operates and which is fully occupied and hugely popular.
“We have a Council Plan that has at its core commitments to support the creation of new jobs and affordable homes for our residents and future generations – at the last count we’d enabled more than 300 new affordable homes for rent since 2014.
“We’ve introduced plastic and cardboard kerbside recycling collection services right across the district and we’ve spent almost £1m on around 70 locally sponsored community projects, that’s everything from broadband connectivity to providing disabled toilets, improving footpaths and funding village hall improvements.
“I am particularly proud of the work done in collaboration with local communities to build and enhance playgounds at Hallgarth, Sandylands, Oxenholme, Rinkfield and Rothay Park in Ambleside. These all provide a lasting legacy for future generations.
“In addition there’s the investment to refurbish the promenade at Waterhead and the waterfront at the Glebe in Bowness, the transfer of the Coronation Hall in Ulverston to a community group, our response to the devastating floods of 2015 and administration of £3.3 million of flood resilience grants to better protect hundreds of homes and businesses.
“We’ve supported community energy projects including the Killington hydro scheme, have reduced our carbon footprint by making our own offices more energy efficient to keep down bills with the installation of solar panels, we’re developing action plans to tackle poverty issues in the district and we support world class festivals like the upcoming Comic Arts and Kendal Mountain festivals that are great for our economy and our cultural reputation.
“It should also be remembered that we have achieved all this in the face of significant financial pressures.
“When many other councils are talking about cuts we have continued to invest in and improve our services, something we’ve achieved through effective budget management which has also meant that we’ve been able to freeze our part of the Council Tax bill for five out of the last six years.
“The closure of the common at New Road to vehicles has been a difficult decision, but it is one that we felt that we had no option other than to take in the interests of public safety.
“We are working closely with the business community as we look to develop long-term options for the future use of the site and have listened to the concerns of residents, businesses, commuters and church-goers in developing an extensive new package of parking options that means Kendal now has some of the best value parking anywhere in the county.
“I am confident that the site at New Road can be enhanced and developed in way that will benefit the whole community, and we are keen to involve the community in those discussions.
“I can accept that people will have strong views on this subject, but what I can’t accept is that some doom-mongers are using the New Road issue as a means to unfairly criticise the council’s hard work in so many other areas and are running down this fantastic town and its people.’’