[A]t a South Lakeland District Council Cabinet meeting today (Wednesday 30 August) Lib Dem Councillors ignored the will of the public and voted through plans to shut the popular New Road car park used by many residents and workers in Kendal.
Conservative Councillors have reacted with exasperation that calls to consult properly with the public about the future of the site and to delay the decision whilst further legal opinion was sought were rejected.
James Airey, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate at this year’s General Election and an opposition SLDC Councillor said: “Councillors failed to act back in January in response to one tragic death. Months after they should have started a proper and timely process of consultation with the public, they are now trying to rush through changes.”
Councillors heard from Legal Counsel, Tim leader QC, at the meeting. He confirmed that, in his opinion, whilst parking on the New Road site was unlawful, it was not illegal.
Councillor Airey continued: “It’s clear that the Council’s concerns regarding legal action are only a partial picture. Indeed, SLDC’s own legal expert today confirmed that it would be ‘tricky to prosecute’ people parking on the land.”
“It is a statutory requirement that Councillors make themselves fully aware of the legalities of action they wish to take. Whilst we accept that legal opinion offered may be offered as the truth and nothing but the truth – although we believe some aspects are debatable – we are not convinced that it is the whole truth.”
“Aside from an ill-judged presentation of the legalities, we have already been approached by residents, workers, businesses and community groups all concerned about the negative impact that these proposals will have. Residents have complained about insufficient notice and lack of provisions being put in place to alleviate the problems that will be faced. Many fear that they will be driven to closure or to move out of Kendal. We heard more voices of discontent from members of the public at the meeting today.”
Father Hugh Pollock, parish priest at Holy Trinity and St George’s Church on New Road, complained about the lack of information and lack of time to explore alternative arrangements. Sue Macdonald questioned what evidence the Council had that people wanted to sit in a park alongside the noise of fumes of cars on New Road. Nigel Tomlinson reflected on his discussions with local traders who were concerned that Kendal could disappear as a Market Town.
“Today we asked the Liberal Democrats not to take the decision, but that they should come forward with concrete proposals that will work for the public, including low income people who come and work in the town. Whilst agreeing to consider other legal concerns we have, they chose not to delay a decision until answers had been provided.”
“The public will judge for themselves why Liberal Democrat Councillors and South Lakeland District Council officers are choosing to rush through such actions at a time when many local people are still on holiday and unable to object.”
Leader of SLDC, Councillor Giles Archibald, said that faced with such clear safety advice the council had no option other than to close the land to vehicles to prevent the risk of accidents or injury.
He told the meeting: “This area is unsafe. The safety advice is not a smokescreen. I could not live with myself if someone was hurt, maimed or even killed on that land if it was left as it is and I knew about the risks.’’
The Cabinet meeting today (Wednesday, 30 August) heard from several members of the public and representatives from organisations including the Church of Holy Trinity and St George on New Road, the Open Spaces Society and South Lakes Action on Climate Change.
Members of the Shadow Cabinet raised several questions on the safety report, the legal status of the common and the requirement to take action immediately, during a lengthy debate at Kendal Town Hall.
Councillor Archibald also informed the Cabinet meeting that a number of further meetings have been arranged next week to allow all councillors, partner organisations and members of the public to learn more about the decision and to comment on matters including parking provision in the town.
The meetings will be held at Kendal Town Hall during the afternoon and evening of Wednesday, 6 September, from 2pm to 9pm.
Displays and information will be available throughout, with presentations by senior Cabinet members starting at 2pm and 7pm followed by a question and answer session.
As well as deciding to close the common land to vehicles, Cabinet today recommended to Full Council that money be made available to turn the land into a high-quality community open space, with riverside pathways, seating, landscaping and tree planting.
It is hoped the new riverside park would be open in time for summer 2018.
To mitigate the effect of closing New Road to vehicles, which it is recognised could result in increased pressure and demand on parking within the town, Cabinet has agreed that new cheaper all-day parking be offered in an existing town centre car park.
The current Westmorland Shopping Centre all-day ‘early bird’ parking ticket will be reduced in price from £2.20 to just £1, meaning car park users arriving between 7am and 9am Monday to Saturday would be able to park all-day for £1 from mid-September.
In approving an additional recommendation, Cabinet has also asked officers at the council to investigate further packages of parking measures and offers to take account of the potential displacement of part-time and shift workers and town centre residents, after considering feedback from the public.
The area on the south side of New Road is owned by SLDC and is designated ‘common land’, which means that the public have legally protected rights of access for ‘air and recreation’.
It is also unlawful to use a mechanically propelled vehicle on common land.
Following the results of the health and safety assessment – and after further legal consultation and discussions with insurers – Cabinet was told that allowing the unregulated parking to continue was not considered an option and that a way forward for New Road now needed to be decided.
Cabinet approved the closure of the land on the south side of New Road to vehicles following the funfair on 17/18 September and that Full Council be recommended to allocate £430,000 to be invested to create an area of accessible green space for community use.
The Cabinet report explained the possibility of ‘de-registering’ the area to remove its common land designation had been investigated, which could then allow it to be lawfully developed as car parking.
A feasibility study has confirmed that, should the land be de-registered, 68 parking spaces could be safely accommodated, only around a third of the estimated 200 vehicles that currently use the area during daytime hours.
But Cabinet accepted the report’s view that looking to provide parking on New Road was not being recommended because of the uncertainty and lengthy timescale around the de-registration process.
In order to de-register common land, suitable land for a replacement common must be offered in the immediate area of the same size and that identifying and securing an acceptable alternative would prove difficult. The de-registration process alone would take between 12 and 18 months to complete, with no guarantee of success, before any work could potentially begin on building a car park.
In the meantime, because of the safety advice received, the land would still need to be closed to vehicles.
Cabinet also approved that options be considered to increase long-term parking capacity in Kendal and work is progressed on a feasibility study to see whether land at Beezon Fields could be developed as a car park, to include coach and RV (Recreational Vehicle) parking.
Cabinet also approved that land at Gooseholme be approved for temporary use for an initial three-year period by Taylor’s fair, which currently uses the New Road site for its twice yearly fair, and heard that positive discussions had already been held with Taylor’s about that prospect.
The recommendations were proposed for approval by Portfolio Holder for the Economy Councillor Graham Vincent, who said: “The current use of that land presents a safety risk and as a council we can’t ignore that advice.
“We are now looking at a vision for the future of that site that will contribute to a number of economic development plans. There are not many places that have such a beautiful river running through its heart and we need to make the best use of this important asset.’’
Seconding the motion to approve, SLDC Deputy Council Leader Councillor Jonathan Brook added: “We realise that this will have some negative consequences and we are working hard to address issues around parking and have been listening to people’s views.
“That is why we are asking officers to look at additional parking provision arrangements on top of the £1 a day offer at Westmorland Shopping Centre to bring forward more parking options and more flexibility.’’
Members of the pubic and local businesses are invited to make their opinions known by emailing [email protected].