New Road consultation - Your questions answered
11 February 2019
Q: Why are you intending to consult on this? I thought the landscaping meant it had been finished?
A: The council has always said that the long-term use of the land would be determined following public consultation.
The commitment to public consultation was agreed by the council’s Cabinet in September 2017 and this commitment to hold a consultation has been repeated many times in the past year.
The council has also always said that one of the consultation options would be to investigate turning the site into a safe and lawful car park, explaining exactly what would be required to potentially remove the common land designation to allow that to happen and explaining how that would mean the land would no longer have common land protections.
Other options will include keeping it as common land, and either leaving it as it is now or creating some sort of enhanced green scheme on the site.
Q: Why is the consultation now taking place later in the year?
A: The council planned to hold the public consultation early this year and announced that just before Christmas.
However, after that announcement we became aware of an application by a member of the public asking for consent for works to lay a tarmacadam surface on the common land.
The application has been sent to the Planning Inspectorate to be determined and we have decided to await the outcome of that decision before proceeding with our consultation on the future of the site.
The planning inspector’s decision, and any comments made in the response, could have a significant bearing on the consultation options we are able to provide.
Taking that decision into account means that our residents will be in full possession of all the facts, including an understanding of the planning inspector’s views on the issue, when they respond to the consultation.
Q: What about the parish poll result? Didn’t that show a vote against car parking?
A: The parish poll was called for by a small group of Kendal parishioners. A sizeable majority of people voted against the question asked in that poll – which asked whether people wanted the bye-laws affecting New Road to be amended to allow car parking.
However, as the council explained at the time, simply amending or removing the bye-laws would not have resulted in allowing lawful parking on the land. It would still require a de-registration application to remove the common land designation if parking was to be lawfully allowed on the site.
It was therefore considered that the only fair way to properly gauge opinion on the issue was to continue with the already announced plans to hold a consultation, which will detail all the options, associated costs and implications.
That is why the council is intending to hold its own consultation.
Q: Why didn’t you hold this consultation before closing the land to vehicles?
A: The decision to close the site to vehicles was taken after the council received safety reports, including from an external organisation with expertise in road safety audits, that identified safety risks associated with the use of the common land for unlawful parking.
The council has a duty of care to do all it can to protect public safety on land that it owns. Following safety, insurance and legal advice a decision was taken to close the land to vehicles to protect public safety. As this had implications for public safety this was a decision that couldn’t be delayed while consultation was carried out.
The council then had to determine what to do with the land. It was known that the Environment Agency (EA) was developing plans for a flood relief scheme in Kendal, and that those plans could have an impact on the common land at New Road. It was decided that it was appropriate to wait until more details about the flood relief scheme became available before developing any long-term options for the land to go out to consultation.
The council did, however, commit that it would investigate what would be required to potentially develop the site for car parking as one of those long-term options for consultation, recognising that some people may still be keen to explore ways the area could be used for parking.
Now that the EA has submitted its plans for the flood relief scheme we have a better idea of how the defences would impact the land at New Road, so are able to draw up those options for consultation, which will also take in to account the results of the parking-need survey which is due to be published early in 2019.
The result of this consultation, together with the parking need survey, will then enable a holistic parking strategy for Kendal.
Q: What about all the money spent already on the landscaping?
A: After the decision was taken on safety grounds to close the site to vehicles the common land was temporarily fenced off – with the fencing later replaced by boulders - to prevent continued parking use, but with gaps to still allow pedestrian access to the common.
The council could have left those barriers in place until the EA finalised its flood relief plans, the parking-need survey was completed and the consultation had concluded. That would, however, not have tackled the issue of the contaminated land.
It was also recognised that the EA’s flood scheme plans and parking survey would take at least 12 months to complete.
If some form of car parking emerges from the consultation as the preferred long-term use then this could take up to a further two years to progress, which is the length of time a de-registration process could take. There is also no guarantee that a de-registration application would be successful.
So the council had to decide the most appropriate action to take in the meantime and whether it wished to leave the boulders in place, possibly for up to three years.
The site is in a prominent town centre location and didn’t reflect a positive image for Kendal in that condition. It was also still costing money to maintain, particularly as costs were incurred following repeated attempts to damage or remove the fencing and boulders.
The council therefore decided to implement an interim landscaping scheme to improve the site and make it more accessible in line with its common land designation for use for ‘air and recreation’.
Much of the £286,000 spent on this interim ‘reinstatement and decontamination’ scheme were related to the essential groundworks and decontamination works, which would have needed to be carried out as the foundation for whatever emerged from the consultation as the preferred long-term use of the site - whether that was for public open space or for some form of car parking if the land was de-registered.
In other words, even if the site eventually becomes a lawful car park, this decontamination and groundworks will already have been completed, reducing the overall costs associated with this option.
It was therefore considered appropriate to invest the money at that stage to enable the common land to be better used for its designated purpose and to improve the appearance of the site, with the eventual long-term use subject to the outcome of the consultation.
Q: Why would you need to de-register the land to make it into a car park, how long would a de-registration take and who would pay for this?
A: Common land has certain protections which define how it can be used. If the land were to be developed as a car park we would first need to apply to de-register it as a common to remove those protections.
This would require an application to government. As part of that process we would need to identify land of a similar size and in a nearby location to offer as a ‘swap’ common to compensate for the common land being lost at New Road.
To have a chance of being successful the evidence for any application would need to satisfy a number of legal and technical factors, such as demand for the alternative use, whether or not there was strong public support for the proposed alternative use and the ability to offer a suitable ‘swap’ common.
The de-registration application process could take up to two years to complete and could require an inquiry by a government-appointed planning inspector. Any costs associated with this process would be met by South Lakeland taxpayers.
Q: Isn’t the council just trying to de-register the land to remove the common land protections so they can sell it off for housing or some other form of development?
A: The land is currently protected from any sort of development in the future that is not consistent with its common land designation, which would rule out any form of housing.
The land is also in a flood zone so is unlikely to be suitable for residential development.
The council has no wish to see the land sold off for housing and has absolutely no plans to seek de-registration to enable such a possibility.
However, in recognition of the views of some residents that wanted a car parking option to be explored, the council did commit to consult with residents on the long-term use of the land and, if feasible, to include a car parking option, subject to successful de-registration, in that consultation.