School students have had their say on the Penrith Strategic Masterplan – with many saying that they expected to move away from Cumbria to find better opportunities.
Students at Ullswater Community College attended public engagement events this week and got the chance to quiz Eden District Council officers about their proposals.
The pupils were also asked how many of them thought they would live and work in Eden and in one session nobody raised a hand and in another just one student indicated he wanted to stay in the area.
The students heard a presentation from Eden District Council’s Deputy Director of Technical Services, Jane Langston and Planning Policy Manager, Kevin Hutchinson who set out the challenges faced by Penrith and Eden, particularly a declining working age population and a need for more affordable housing.
Even without a Masterplan, Penrith is likely to grow, with Eden obliged to provide for 120 new houses every year, Kevin Hutchinson said: “This is really a question about what we do next with housing and employment land because our industrial estates are full.
“It is really important your generation has a say because this is a plan to take us to 2050 and I’ll be dead by then, and so will many of your teachers. So it’s vital you have your say.”
One student raised concerns about how an increase in Penrith’s population would impact on health services, saying: “I am concerned that the NHS is already stretched so I wonder what is going to happen if the population grows? Already, for any big emergency, you have to go to Carlisle.
“I don’t think students can see opportunities here. I want to go into teaching and be a PE teacher, but there’s a lack of secondary schools who can offer jobs in this area. We don’t just want jobs but different types of jobs in industry and tech.”
Another student said he expected he would live away from Cumbria after going to university in order to follow a career in scientific research.
“I can see that it’s a good idea to plan for growth, but there a lot of questions that need answers such as protecting green spaces and areas of natural beauty.
“I think people my age see that a lack of opportunities and transport makes commuting not viable. We need more skilled jobs.”
One student is planning to study engineering, but didn’t hold out much hope of finding a suitable job in the Eden area, saying: “I don’t think we feel there are the jobs here that are related to the degrees we plan to study. I might have to go the Energy Coast to find an engineering job or further afield.”
A number of students questioned Council officers on issues raised including the funding of schools, strain on public services and the future of the Penrith Beacon.
There was applause for one student who raised the issue of why the new schools would be funded, when she and her classmates had seen their free bus passes stopped due to cuts by Cumbria County Council.
An Eden District Council spokesperson, praised the students for the way that they had got to grips with the issues around the Masterplan. “They certainly didn’t give us an easy time, but it was reassuring to see how much they had thought about these issues.
“We didn’t have answers to all their questions and there is still a lot of work to do on the Masterplan, but to hear that most of our young people only see a future for themselves away from Eden convinced me more than ever that we need a long-term plan for Eden’s future.”
The feedback received from the UCC students mirrors the forecast for the working age population shrinking across Eden and wider Cumbria by 2041. In Eden District, this would be by 5,000 people or 17%. Within this overall decline the number of people aged 15-34 is set to fall by around 1,000 or 10%.
This decline in the working age population is already having a considerable impact on the local economy, with businesses already struggling to fill job vacancies due to high house prices locally. Local businesses are suffering from a cycle of quality workers moving to areas such as Carlisle to purchase their homes and then not returning because of the employment opportunities there too.
For more information about the Penrith Strategic Masterplan visit www.beaconvillages.co.uk