Carlisle offers a high standard of living, but could benefit from better connectivity, writes Paul Chatterjee of DB Symmetry. Can the reopening of the city’s airport be the lifeline it needs?
A historic city and the county town of Cumbria, Carlisle offers a peaceful way of life thanks to its surrounding villages and proximity to the Lake District. It was this better quality of living that brought me back to the place where I grew up with my family, having moved to London for work some years previously.
Despite its beautiful scenery, Carlisle is lacking in other areas, having failed to progress as rapidly as its counterparts in the North West. Good basic infrastructure is lacking, with a rail trip into the capital still lasting three hours and 20 minutes, a barrier that can deter some people from considering commuting to London. Some move away, while others tend to become heavily reliant on the main employers in the town.
There has been some movement on this, however, with the reopening of Carlisle Lake District Airport for scheduled passenger flights in July this year. Operator Loganair is operating flights to Dublin, Belfast and Southend, which are expected to draw in tourists, and that is already having a knock-on effect on the redevelopment of hotels. We need to get more money into the area and these flights, particularly the Dublin route, could serve to attract visitors from the US who could use Carlisle as their gateway to the Lakes.
There’s a trend for city centres as destination places, and Carlisle will have to up its game to cater for the increased traffic, particularly as its current leisure offering is more widely spread out than in neighbouring cities like Manchester. That requires transport to move around, and comes back to the issue of connectivity, one of the area’s weak spots.
Similarly, the high street has lacked investment in recent years, with some of its larger buildings remaining empty for long periods. With Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and House of Fraser the centre’s three anchor stores, Carlisle lives with the threat of finding itself with a large gap to fill should financial hardship see any of the brands look to close under-performing branches. The last big name to close was BHS, whose building was taken over by Primark, which had the effect of pushing shoppers to Newcastle or online for a wider choice of retailers.
The tides are turning, however, and the reopening of the airport could serve as a lifeline to Carlisle as it brings a new wave of people to the area, boosting the economy and improving the city centre. Once that happens, the city with a high standard of living will truly have it all.