Cumbria Development Update, c PNW
Event Summary

Cumbria Development Update | Summary and photos

Has Cumbria got a confidence issue? How do we grow its population? And can we increase the county’s £13.3bn contribution to UK Plc? Just a few of the questions answered at the Cumbria Update, held at Kendal’s Castle Green Hotel.

The event was sponsored by Genesis HomesWhitbreadSavills, and Hydrock, now Stantec.

Cumbria Horizontal Image for Event Listing x tight

Too shy?

“Confidence and self-belief” are the two things stopping Cumbria achieving its economic potential, according to Professor Julie Mennell, vice chancellor of the University of Cumbria. “I’m often blown away by what we are doing,” she said, “but we need to get Cumbrians to see Cumbria from an outside perspective.”

She was responding to a question from Julia Hatmaker, editor of Place North West, about the biggest issues facing the county in 2024.

Adam Key, director and joint head of planning north for Savills, added: “When people talk about Cumbria they think it means the Lake District. There is more to Cumbria than that.”

Cumbria Development Update C PNW

Savills’ Adam Key was on the first panel of the day, which looked at the economy in Cumbria: Credit: PNW

People power

“People. We don’t have enough in the workforce, or the population,” said Mennell. “There are 10,000 people that aren’t in the workforce who should be, predominantly because of health or caring responsibilities.”

It was a view echoed by Darren Crossley, director of place, sustainable growth and transport at Cumberland Council, who said there aren’t enough locals with the right skills to see the county through the next 30 years. In terms of attracting a new population, he said: “We need the right quality homes in the right places – house building is critically important.

“We won’t solve our working-age population by purely tempting people to stay. We have to bring a lot more people to the area. We already have the natural environment – we have to have the right infrastructure, we have to have the right offer in terms of housing, providing the right facilities to attract and retain people as well.”

Lauren Newby, director at EKOSGEN, said the static population was “without a doubt” a problem: “Tight labour market conditions and skills gaps and shortages are putting a brake on business competitiveness and productivity across all sectors.” She cited “lagging productivity” in Cumbria’s economic output, which has grown by 7% since 2019, but the UK average is 13%.

Angela Jones, director of thriving places, Westmorland & Furness Council, said: “We are a really sparsely populated area – 61 people per square metre in Cumbria and nationally that’s 400. That’s one of the fundamental things we are trying to resolve by building more houses.”

Keith Ashcroft, chair of the Lake District Foundation, wants more tourists to relocate: “[We get] 41 million visits – if you had point nought one of those people who said ‘wouldn’t this be a great place to bring a family up, or to work remotely from, that’s 4,000 people or families potentially anchoring [themselves here].”

Cumbria Development Update C PNW

University of Cumbria’s Professor Julie Mennell, Cumberland Council’s Darren Crossley, Savills’ Adam Key, EKOSGEN’s Lauren Newby, and Hydrock now Stantec’s Mark Griffiths spoke about Cumbria’s economic future. Credit: PNW

Supply chains

Savills’ Key raised an ongoing issue – the county’s often inadequate supply chains. “Shorten that and keep more in Cumbria,” he said. “You go to lots of places in the North of England and they are crying out for advanced manufacturing and there is so much of that in Cumbria.

“We’ve talked about housing to encourage people to come to the area but equally we need business stock and there isn’t enough of that at the moment.”

Infrastructure issues

Mark Griffiths, associate hydrogeologist at Hydrock now Stantec, said the county was experiencing infrastructure issues – though did add this wasn’t just confined to Cumbria. From roads and power to water, “all those things that make towns and cities work. He added: “Ageing infrastructure can’t keep up with the demands of the network.”

Cumbria Development Update C PNW

The Cumbria Development Update was held at Castle Green Hotel in Kendal. Credit: PNW

Clean energy

Newby said Cumbria could be at the forefront due to its natural assets and industrial heritage, while Crossley said the area was getting a lot of interest from investors, such as battery storage developers. Talking about the challenges of decarbonising heat, which gives 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, Griffiths explained successful deep geothermal schemes in Cornwall and added: “Cumbria is well placed – there is lots of granite beneath it.”

He also described an added bonus: “Granite is high in lithium. In Cornwall, they are taking lithium out of the water and it’s an important component of batteries which is important for energy and electrical storage. There’s a nice story in using the granites in Cumbria to produce heat, electricity and a mineral revenue stream as well.”

Cumbria Development Update C PNW

Gleeson Homes’ David Wright, South Lakes Housing’s Martha Shields, Story Homes’ Adam McNally, Westmorland and Furness Council’s Angela Jones, and Genesis Homes’ Nicky Gordon spoke about the state of the housing market in Cumbria. Credit: PNW

Housing hold-ups?

Nutrient neutrality is the number one hold-up to many housing projects in Cumbria, according to David Wright, land director at Gleeson Homes: “Hardly any homes are being delivered in the entire catchment of the River Eden. There’s barely been any new planning permissions. The tap has effectively been turned off. Contractors are going elsewhere, people are being made redundant, it’s an issue for the supply chains.”

And he made the point that the impact of house building is “4% of the problem”, with things like substandard infrastructure and intensive farming having a greater impact. “When you go home tonight and flush the toilet, put the dishwasher on, you’re part of the problem.”

Westmorland and Furness Council’s Jones said both unitary authorities and the National Park had put a £20m bid in to the government’s nutrient neutrality fund and added: “Primarily, this is about wastewater treatment. This is stifling delivery.”

Martha Shields, head of development at South Lakes Housing, delivers affordable housing, shared ownership and rentals. She said: “The challenge that we face is actually working with councils. We are keen to develop and move forward but we do find real issues around planning, legal, assets. As a housing association, as a local landlord, it’s an easy win to work together and push delivery.”

Adam McNally, senior land & planning manager, Story Homes, added: “We’ve got hundreds of homes stuck in the planning system and a big reason for that is the lack of expertise. Officers have to understand a lot of scientific issues and rely upon expert guidance from Natural England, and that guidance takes far too long.”

Cumbria Development Update C PNW

Genesis Homes’ Nicky Gordon: ‘We need to go back to basics and establish what we are doing in a place.’ Credit: PNW

Nicky Gordon, managing director of Genesis Homes, said there are major issues with sign-offs of Section 106 agreements and thinks many legal issues could be “template-based” to streamline processes. He said meaningful collaborations and “strategic developer-focused groups” are already happening and added: “We need to go back to basics and establish what we are doing in a place.”

Gordon also said “financial viability” was key. He added: “The only way nationally that we’re going to develop 300,000 homes a year is with a strong SME base. There’s eight major developers in this country delivering 80% of homes and unless we see serious reform out of Homes England about what they do with grant money, debt, equity, and that they are outward facing, we just won’t get anywhere.”

Shields added: “We are reliant on that grant and Homes England funding. There is no certainty and that is really stifling our pipeline. We need to know we have a long term funding programme.”

Jones said of the decades of decline in homes being built: “How do we turn that tide? I think it’s about place shaping, about collaboration and how we work together.”

Cumbria Development Update C PNW

Whitehaven Harbour Commissioners’ Deanne Shallcross, Whitbread’s Jill Anderson, Cumbria Tourism’s Gill Haigh, and the Lake District Foundation’s Keith Ashcroft gave a primer on the tourism and hospitality sector in Cumbria. Credit: PNW

The visitor economy

Stats from Cumbria Tourism showed visitor numbers down from 47.9m to 41.4m between 2019 and 2022, while spend has decreased from £3.1m to £2.9m over the same period.

Gill Haigh, managing director of Cumbria Tourism, said there are still recruitment, productivity, and investment issues among its members, with 66% of businesses saying they are struggling to house staff.

But she added that they are seeing positive shifts, like the number of 16-40 year old visitors increasing by 16% since Covid, and they are discovering Cumbria as a place to live and work as well as visit. She emphasised how tourism made the county a great place to live in terms of “secondary spend, food and drink, culture, heritage, transport infrastructure – so many things we would not have without the visitor economy” and could “showcase the place to investors”.

Jill Anderson, property acquisitions manager at Whitbread, also said her company’s research showed increased spend. She added: “Our customers want to be somewhere that’s accessible, well connected, that they can also explore and discover. Not just transport – make sure they’re accessible from a cost perspective as well. And make sure they’re available year-round, not just from May to October.”

The Lake District Foundation’s Ashcroft said the county’s latest destination management plan was bringing “a more diverse array of people in”.

Cumbria Development Update C PNW

Whitehaven Harbour Commissioners’ Deanne Shallcross spoke about The Edge – a ‘marmite’ building that a quick poll in the room showed that many loved the look of. Credit: PNW

Whitehaven focus

Deanne Shallcross, chief executive officer for the non-profit Whitehaven Harbour Commissioners, said the town was focusing on “attract and disperse” to encourage people out west. She is also working on “the sustaining of the footfall” and added: “People come down to the harbour – it’s a focal point. It’s trying to work with others to offer something for those visitors to stay.”

She highlighted the multi-million-pound developments taking place on the coast, citing a new harbourside tenant who has relocated from Greater Manchester because of the investment happening there.

She also referenced The Edge, a hotel and coastal activity centre being built, and described as “a Marmite scheme”. Shallcross said: “People are challenging perspectives and visions. A strength of Cumbria is the history and heritage but it can stunt growth and development. It’s wonderful that we are embracing ambition and being bold.”

What’s next?

Join Place North at one of our upcoming events:

North East Emerging Development Hotspots | 27 June

Sustainability in Practice: Retrofit | 4 July

Manchester Summer Social | 12 July

Click any image to launch gallery

Your Comments

Read our comments policy

Why build a coal mine, when we can tout for visitors to attend Whitehaven harbour instead? Yes prime minister comes to mind..

By Anonymous

Related Articles

Sign up to receive the Place Daily Briefing

Join more than 13,000 property professionals and receive your free daily round-up of built environment news direct to your inbox


Join more than 13,000 property professionals and sign up to receive your free daily round-up of built environment news direct to your inbox.

By subscribing, you are agreeing to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

"*" indicates required fields

Your Job Field*
Other regional Publications - select below