Masterplan battle “hasn’t been won”

Date: Friday 18th January 2019
Kevin Beat
Kevin Beat

A COUNCILLOR who called for the controversial Penrith masterplan to be subject to a formal public consultation, with the option to reject it, will quiz senior members of Eden Council next month.

Michael Eyles (Lib Dem, Penrith East) proposed an amendment that the masterplan should be subject to further consultation. Following last week’s knife edge vote in favour of the move on the casting vote of council chairman Mary Robinson (Ind, Kirkoswald), the proposal will next be discussed by the council’s ruling executive at its meeting on Tuesday, 5th February.

The council had been asked to simply note progress made with the community engagement process for the Penrith strategic masterplan and the next steps towards a review of the Eden local plan.

However, some councillors felt uncomfortable about the move as it would appear they fully endorsed any steps which were taken in the future and that it was the first opportunity they had to openly debate the masterplan.

Speaing to the Herald this week Mr Eyles said he was both “surprised and pleased” that his proposal had been given the backing of the council. “That was our last and only chance of having it formally debated by the council,” he said.

During last week’s meeting, councillors were told that the amended recommendation would have to go before the executive because the full council did not have the power to authorise it.

Last year the council held an eight-week “public engagement” over the masterplan, which contains proposals to build three new villages to the north of the Beacon woodland and create 73 hectares of employment land by 2050.

Mr Eyles said it was a huge development which covered “swathes of green spaces” without any legally binding consultation. “It was only sent back to executive, so the battle hasn’t been won,” he added.

Data from the public engagement exercise is being examined by a team of experts and Mr Eyles said it could be months before that information was available.

He said papers for next month’s meeting of the executive had not been issued yet but added: “Yes, I will certainly be asking questions. At least we’ve got another chance to try and get it out to the public to have a say.”

Speaking after last week’s meeting, council leader Kevin Beaty (Con, Skelton) said the masterplan was the subject of a two-month public engagement exercise which sought to address many long-standing issues the public had raised with him over the past three years. They included a shortage of affordable housing, a low-wage economy, improving the vitality of Penrith town centre, improving traffic routes and reducing pollution, and a lack of immediately available employment land provision.

Mr Beaty said: “By developing a long-term plan for the local area, the council can demonstrate through the masterplan, in either its current or amended form, what could be achieved for the future of Penrith together with the wider benefits for Eden and Cumbria.

“The public engagement exercise has stimulated tremendous interest and a keen debate in the media. The public responses are now being evaluated independently by the University of Cumbria and Lancaster University respectively.

“This includes all the responses received during the pop-up shop events and local meetings, together with over 100 letters and consultation responses and two petitions. The evaluation of all the public engagement process responses is quite a sizeable piece of work for the universities and the results are not expected to be completed for a couple of months.

“The purpose of the evaluation of the engagement exercise, together with a refreshed traffic model for Penrith and the Eden strategic flood risk appraisal, is to help to inform how plans for the future development of the area will be determined.”

Mr Beaty said he wanted to gather people’s views on the masterplan and, when it got to the stage where changes to the Eden local plan were being considered, then such a move would be subject to legally binding public consultation.

He added: “My big message has always been to say if people didn’t want this to happen it wouldn’t happen. It’s changing as we speak. It certainly isn’t a process that is being rushed.”