Hot from the News & Star (Wednesday 19 May), comes news that Lidl will very likely get the go ahead next week, to replace an existing retail outlet and a burnt out filling station with a new store and car park. Sainsbury’s, understandably, are not too happy about the plan – and, once again, there have been concerns expressed about traffic – but what really caught my eye was the reported claim by planning officers that the store would ‘improve the range and choice of retail offer within the town and assist in alleviating the current deficiency of Lidl stores within this area of the country.’
I’m sorry… Run that by me again… ‘deficiency of Lidl stores in this area of the country’?
Well, pardon me and my middle class upbringing but I wasn’t aware there WAS a deficiency – a deficiency, in this instance, surely being something which might detrimentally impact the health and wellbeing of the people of Cockermouth?
There’s a distinct deficiency of Waitrose stores in this particular corner of the country, but do you see me complaining? I mean, if we MUST have another supermarket in Cockermouth, can we at least have one which gives points on my John Lewis card?
And, if we’re talking deficiencies: how about the lack of doctors and dentists in the area, and all those other resources – already under enormous strain – onto which the planners pile ever more pressure? Those are deficiencies. Real deficiencies. Can someone tell me how I reach this planet of theirs? It must be quite a place.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on the fourth exit they plan to add to the mini-roundabout.
The best laid plans…
Interesting, at the annual parish meeting of the town on Tuesday evening, to hear councillors defending their decision to not pursue a neighbourhood plan. Too expensive, too much work, not enough evidence that this is what the community might want and ‘not obliged to consult’ in any case. There was a great deal of quoting of Standing Order 11A (which apparently states that a decision made shall not be reversed in six months and even then can only be reconsidered if seven members of the council sign a special motion), and a good deal of resistance to even considering reconsidering (despite strong feeling from the ‘audience’).
But the biscuit goes to Councillor Tyson (against, for the record), who said he was ‘astonished and surprised’ at this strength of feeling, expressed so late in the day. Why had we all left it till now to make our feelings known. (Does this man read the papers?) The time to speak up, we heard, was four years ago! Now, I didn’t live here four years ago but I reckon that most of the community then were still innocents abroad, believing they lived in a beautiful gem town with elected councillors (I’ll include Allerdale in this) who generally worked FOR them, to ensure that town developed in a sustainable fashion, rather than publicly defending their right to neither consult nor listen to their electorate.
Besides, it’s only possible, we learned, to put a neighbourhood plan in place once the local plan is adopted, something which only happened in July 2014. And not having a neighbourhood plan in place is the very thing which has opened the floodgates to developers (pardon the pun), taking Cockermouth way beyond its quota for new homes for the foreseeable future.
As Darren Ward (an architectural designer based in Cockermouth) so eloquently explained, the government introduced neighbourhood plans because people didn’t have a say in planning. The aim of a plan is not to stop development but to manage it, so that growth – and the change that growth brings – is sustainable and beneficial for the town as a whole. Why, we all wondered, would our town council not want that?