A wide-ranging discussion at the Cumbria Development Update covered growth sectors such as nuclear and advanced manufacturing, as well as the challenges posed by Cumbria’s topography, and large-scale masterplans being brought forward by local councils.
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The event saw more than 100 people turn out in snowy Windermere, and was the latest in the Place North West Development Series, sponsored by Transport for the North, Curtins, Lovell and Furness Economic Development Forum.
Speakers at the half-day conference were Jonathan Spruce, interim director of strategy at Transport for the North; Stuart Klosinski, project manager at Furness Economic Development Forum; Tony Goddard, director and former chief executive of Kingmoor Park in Carlisle; Andy Roberts, director of Curtins in Kendal; David Sykes, director of people and places at South Lakeland Council; Jane Meek, director of economic development at Carlisle City Council; Robin Hooper, chief executive of Eden Council; Haydn Spedding, associate director of the Colliers International hotels agency; Steve Ratcliffe, director of sustainable development at the Lake District National Park and Dominic Smith, associate director at planning consultancy Lichfields.
Joining the dots
First up was Jonathan Spruce, who said the Government needs to move from its “default position” of monitoring traffic flows and journey times to improving strategic routes to create economic growth across the North.
- TfN becomes a strategic body on 1 April and needs to make recommendations to the Secretary of State by the end of the year
- He said there are a number of critical factors holding the North back – it is not well connected but, if it could become so, there could be a “£100bn prize” for the local economy
- Cumbria excels in the advanced manufacturing, digital, energy and health innovation industries but they are located at separate dots, and “by joining the dots you start to plot where transformational growth may happen”
- TfN needs to make strategic development corridors outside cities into economic eco-systems, enabling firms to become part of bigger supply chains. “Why shouldn’t someone from Whitehaven or Kendal aspire to work for Boeing or Porsche?” Spruce asked
- On rail, TfN is calling for two trains per hour between the key centres and a seven-days-a-week service. On roads, it is identifying a tier of routes that should have access to funding
- The financial ask to transform transport across the North? “£50 per person, per year”
Klosinski spoke on the economic perspective from Furness.
- Barrow has become the fastest growing coastal community and the third fastest growing local authority in Britain
- One of the biggest challenges is bridging the gap between some streets where 45% of households have no adults working, while salaries in the shipyards are the highest outside the South East
- There’s a strong focus on infrastructure, particularly the A590 which is “affecting productivity on a national level”, particularly where “key suppliers are based all over the North”
- He also talked about investing in business parks and regenerating Barrow town centre, with new ideas such as a floating solar farm and water sports facility, and the need for more housing and accommodation
- While Manchester Airport is Furness’s main gateway, a £7m investment in Walney Airport was welcome. “Major developments now are going to lead to more investment,” he said
Spruce and Klosinski were joined by Goddard, Roberts and Sykes in a panel discussion on improving jobs growth and key sectors across Cumbria.
- Spruce said there was “probably enough money in the system” to fund transport improvements but the decision-makers in the North have no say in where it is allocated – it needs an “element of control and longevity”. In relation to HS2, he added that missing a stop at Carlisle was “senseless” and “London-centric. We must unleash this opportunity”
- Goddard said he didn’t think there was a competition between North and South Cumbria over jobs. The North was more about logistics than manufacturing, helped by Carlisle’s three motorway junctions – but he had sympathy for the “west with its poor road network and deteriorating rail network”
- Sykes said it was unacceptable to “have train cancellations as we do – it’s not a good image. This is hindering growth.” But, he added: “We are on it, keeping pressure on the franchises”
- Roberts emphasised two age-old Cumbrian issues: “Recruitment can be difficult. This is a great place to live and work but letting people know that is something that we are not brilliant at. We are trying to get into schools early, stay in touch through university, and are definitely seeing an improvement”
- Klosinski discussed possible over-reliance on large employers like Sellafield and BAE Systems. “The only way to diversify is to grow the economy, upskill the workforce and create more opportunities for people to come into the labour market. It’s not all about big companies – entrepreneurs need to be an essential part of what we are doing”
Jane Meek from Carlisle City Council focused on the variety of projects in and out of the city to deliver more homes and commercial space.
- Transport message is not getting through, she said, as civil servants she’s spoken to in London are amazed Cumbria is just three hours away by train
- Carlisle’s challenges include an elderly population: “If we don’t grow we won’t have enough people to support business.” In addition, train links in the area are poor, there is 94% digital coverage but varying quality, and concerns about skill levels
- Positive steps include the success of Carlisle Ambassadors which “shows what a confident city we are” and the fact it is business-friendly: “We are quick to respond to need”
- St Cuthbert’s Garden Village which will bring 10,000 homes, employment sites and a southern link road is a “game-changer” she said, adding: “It is not about an urban extension, we want to create communities with identity”
- The airport in Carlisle is “really exciting… Our neighbours North of the border see this as a key project in terms of growth”
- In the city centre, it is “important it keeps pace with our growth ambitions.” She referred to changes around the station and Citadel: “Collectively, this is huge for the regeneration of the area”
Dr Robin Hooper told of plans for 10,000 homes and 500 acres of employment land in Eden – with an aim to get planning permission granted in just 13 weeks.
- He described proposals to provide roads, housing, flood alleviation and water catchment lakes in a scheme which would “do something here for the whole nation”
- The highways design would include a strategic route to the east of Beacon Hill at Penrith
- Speaking of his 13-week planning ambition, he said: “It will test the will of the Government”
- With regard to wider road connections, he said “to promote the M6 corridor as a route to market starts to create economic opportunities” and “the A66 is a fundamentally important route for business, not just for Cumbria.”
- “We need to spend and invest today so we can recover it tomorrow. If we do it in a positive way Cumbria can punch above its weight for the future,” he enthused
- But he said cheap was not an option: “Don’t think you can come and build a shed. We want to see some quality.”
Hooper and Meek were joined by Collier’s Spedding, Lake District’s Ratcliffe and Lichfields’ Smith.
- Meek and Hooper weren’t concerned about whether there would be enough people to occupy the 20,000 homes they were proposing. She said: “It’s part of a big economic growth package. If we are going to attract businesses we have to have the right housing stock.” Hooper added: “Eden has nil unemployment – we will need to attract people to come to the growing opportunities and we can keep our children here if they think there is a job at the end of it”
- Ratcliffe said World Heritage Status has “catapulted the Lake District onto the international stage” but that it would be “five or 10 years before we see the real benefits.” He added that non-tourism is vital for the national park but lack of housing was “a huge problem” that was “getting worse”
- Spedding added that visitors came for “non-corporate stays” in private hotels but staff accommodation was an issue, suggesting smaller guesthouses could become homes for those employed in the larger hotels, and that more holiday accommodation could become self-catering
- Smith said there was “no obligation for a council to make sure economic development aligns with housing” and that there needed to be recognition that “housing is a necessity to ensure that all ambitions are met”
- Ratcliffe ended with a rallying cry: “The public and private sector has got to work together to say Cumbria is the place to invest. Our greatest risk is our lack of inner belief”
To view presentations from the day on our SlideShare page, click the below links:
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