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New Road - your questions answered

7 September 2017

Residents were invited to public meetings on Wednesday to learn more about plans to close an area of common land in Kendal to vehicles on safety grounds. 

Members of our Cabinet took the decision last week after considering an officer’s report that said the layout of the site and its relationship to the adjacent road has the potential to lead to accidents and personal injury for members of the public, both within the area and on the road, with particular concerns raised about the access to and from the site from the road.

Meetings were held on Wednesday, 6 September, where residents heard more about the reasons for Cabinet's decision, the proposals to mitigate the impacts of the closure and the proposals to develop the common land at New Road as a riverside park.  

The decision to close the land to vehicles and the vision for landscaping have been ‘called in’, which means they will be referred for further consideration by our Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Anyone who was unable to make the meetings can access a New Road information pack (PDF/3MB/68 pages), which were given to those who attended on Wednesday. This includes the Cabinet and safety report. 

To ask any questions regarding the decision - or to arrange a separate meeting - contact our Leader, Councillor Giles Archibald, by email: g.archibald@southlakeland.gov.uk

Our Cabinet has already agreed a package of measures to address concerns over the effect the closing of New Road to vehicles could have on parking demand in the town, including cheaper all-day parking in the Westmorland Shopping Centre car park.

Cabinet has also asked officers to investigate further packages of parking measures and offers to take account of the potential impact on part-time and shift workers, town centre residents, church-goers and market traders after considering feedback from the public.

Wednesday's meetings gave an update on the progress of these investigations, with options being considered including extending the opening hours of Westmorland Shopping Centre car park  earlier and later and to include Sunday hours, consideration of an all-day Sunday parking fee within the shopping centre car park and possibly on a nominated surface car park, extending the ‘early bird’ offer to a nominated surface car park, provision for parking of vans associated with the market and how the parking permit system may be modified to address the needs of town centre residents.

Councillor Archibald commented: “I would urge anyone who has concerns or questions about the decisions and proposals related to the land at New Road to contact me.

“A great deal has been said and written about this issue and unfortunately not all of it is accurate. The meetings were an opportunity to hear our reasons for taking this action and to learn more about the work that is being done to address the impacts.

“To assist, the council has also produced a comprehensive response to many of the most frequently asked questions, which is below this article.’’ 

Background

The area on the south side of New Road is owned by us and is designated ‘common land’, which means that the public have legally protected rights of access for ‘air and recreation’.

It is also unlawful to use a mechanically propelled vehicle on common land.

Following the results of the health and safety assessment - and after further legal consultation and discussions with insurers – the report to Cabinet said that allowing the unregulated parking to continue was not considered an option and that a way forward for New Road now needed to be decided.

Cabinet approved the closure of the land on the south side of New Road to vehicles following the funfair on 17/18 September and that Full Council be recommended to allocate £430,000 to be invested to create an area of accessible green space for community use.

The Cabinet report explained the possibility of ‘de-registering’ the area to remove its common land designation had been investigated, which could then allow it to be lawfully developed as car parking.

A feasibility study has confirmed that, should the land be de-registered, 68 parking spaces could be safely accommodated, only around a third of the estimated 200 vehicles that currently use the area during daytime hours.

But Cabinet accepted the report’s view that looking to provide parking on New Road was not being recommended because of the uncertainty and lengthy timescale around the de-registration process.

In order to de-register common land, suitable land for a replacement common must be offered in the immediate area of the same size and that identifying and securing an acceptable alternative would prove difficult. The de-registration process alone would take between 12 and 18 months to complete, with no guarantee of success, before any work could potentially begin on building a car park.

In the meantime, because of the safety advice received, the land would still need to be closed to vehicles.

Cabinet also approved that options be considered to increase long-term parking capacity in Kendal and work is progressed on a feasibility study to see whether land at Beezon Fields could be developed as a car park, to include coach and RV (Recreational Vehicle) parking.

Cabinet also approved that land at Gooseholme be approved for temporary use for an initial three-year period by Taylor’s fair, which currently uses the New Road site for its twice yearly fair, and heard that positive discussions had already been held with Taylor’s about that prospect.

New Road - your questions answered 

Q: Why are you closing the common area to cars?

A:  The principal reason is one of safety. The Cabinet report explains the concerns, and outlines the reasons for the decisions and proposals.

Q: Why can you not make the area safe?

A:  It is unlawful to cause a nuisance on common land.  The extent and intensity of parking on the land constitutes a nuisance.  We cannot do anything to the land which facilitates unlawful activity. We cannot therefore make it safe without going through a process to ‘de-register’ the land as common – that was not recommended as an appropriate option. Again, this is laid out in detail in the Cabinet report.

Q: When did you know it was unsafe? Hasn’t it has been used for parking for decades?

A: Several reports and analyses, including an independent assessment by external safety experts, resulted in a clear recommendation that it was unsafe at the end of June. Associated with the safety concerns it became clear that there were implications for our insurance liability and legal position, and all this was incorporated into the Cabinet report and the recommendation that the area should be closed to vehicles.

Q: Why did you delay action?

A: Councillors wanted to consider all options and impacts and explore the measures available to mitigate the increased demand on parking, as well as provide a public forum (via an open Cabinet meeting) for this decision to be made. We have worked quickly and thoroughly to address this issue.

Q: What are the measures to mitigate the increased demand in parking within Kendal?

A: We will be reducing the early bird parking tariff for the shopping centre car park to £1 per day. Councillors will also be considering other measures, currently being investigated by officers, to be presented at the September Cabinet meeting, to facilitate parking in the town.

Following public feedback, it is clear that there are concerns regarding parking pressures in residential areas arising out of a lack of access to New Road for worshippers at the Catholic Church as well as evening/shift workers, local residents and market traders.

Options being investigated include extending the opening hours of Westmorland Shopping Centre car park  earlier and later and to include Sunday hours, consideration of an all-day Sunday parking fee within the shopping centre car park and possibly on a nominated surface car park, extending the ‘early bird’ offer to a nominated surface car park, provision for parking of vans associated with the market and how the parking permit system may be modified to address the needs of town centre residents.

Q: Why are you spending £430,000 on the landscaping?

A: This is the cost of the proposed scheme. It has yet to be decided and will be debated in Full Council. The scheme that is currently proposed is reflective of public opinion as expressed by prior consultations. We have a legal obligation to make the land available to the public for recreation.

Part of the remediation work once the area is closed to vehicles will likely involve clearing contamination which results from years of vehicles standing on the area. That in itself is expensive, then there would be the work required to make it accessible. Therefore, even the most basic scheme, involving securing the boundary to prevent vehicle access, remediation work and then either grassing over or laying a new surface would cost at least £200,000.

This is an important riverside town centre site for community use and the proposed scheme is considered an appropriate one for such a location, although nothing has yet been finally decided and the budget will be discussed by Full Council in October.

Q: Is Beezon Fields a viable long-term option for another car park?

A: We are currently investigating the design and engineering that would be required to create a car park at Beezon Fields, as this is a suitable sized site  for providing additional town centre parking and it is land that we own. If it becomes clear that this is not a viable site then we will look at other areas for new long-term affordable car parking.

Q: Is this the council just wanting to get on with the masterplan?

A: No, this is a safety and legal issue that needs to be addressed.

Q: Isn’t it true that parking is allowed on common land within 15 yards of the highway?

A: There are circumstances when parking on common land is permitted within 15 yards of the highway.  The issue in this case, however, is that the extent and intensity of the car parking that takes place at New Road is a nuisance and, therefore, this is not lawful activity.

Q: Won’t this affect trade in the town?

A: We want to do all we can to ensure there is no economic impact. We are working with the BID and other businesses to see how we can ensure no detrimental effect on the local economy.

Q: Why not deregister the land and develop it as a car park?

A: That might be possible, but:

  1. It will take at least 18 months for the de-registration process alone, during which it would still need to be closed to vehicles due to the safety issues, followed by a planning process. 
  2. It is by no means certain that a de-registration application would be successful
  3. Based on the footprint of the site at New Road, we have had designs drawn up that confirm that  we could safely accommodate fewer than 70 cars if the whole site was developed for parking – that’s only around a third of the number of vehicles that currently use the site.

Q: Won’t this badly affect lower paid workers in town?

A: We are very aware of the plight of those who are struggling financially. We have made it one of its priorities to help. But the decision to close New Road to vehicles is one of safety. We have put in place a £1 a day parking offer at Westmorland Shopping Centre, which would be the cheapest all-day parking on any council-operated car park in Cumbria, and are actively considering other options to help mitigate the impact.

Q: It is understood there is an insurance issue, but could you not have found another insurer?

A: It was recently made clear to us by the insurer that if we were subject to a claim we would not be covered for incidents caused by the unlawful use of the land.  This is because we have not taken, and for the reasons set out above, cannot take measures to ensure safety despite being made aware of the safety issues. It is doubtful any insurer would take on a risk in this area for an unregulated car parking situation with identified safety risks.

Q: If it is developed as green space, won’t that still be unsafe if it is next to a busy road?

A: The current proposed design is indicative only.  When a detailed design is prepared, it is intended to incorporate landscaping and design features to ensure the safety of users of the area.

Q: Where will the fair go?

A: We have proposed that the fair moves to Gooseholme for a temporary period of three years. We have held positive discussions already with the fair operators and they are confident it can be accommodated there, without damaging the area.

Q: Why couldn't a permanent new car park be put in place before closing New Road?

A: New Road is considered unsafe and uninsured and therefore the safety of the public at that site is of paramount importance. A 2014 court case concerning the death in Kendal Station House car park, clearly showed that the courts have little tolerance for owners of property who ignore safety warnings.

Q: What are residents in town centre properties supposed to do?

A: We are looking at options to alleviate parking pressures by making our car parks more flexible to accommodate the needs of residents, as well as church-goers, shift workers and market traders. A report is due to go to the next Cabinet meeting in September.

Q: Can the public see the safety reports?

A: The report is being made available at the public meetings on 6 September.

Q: How long will the discounted parking at Westmorland Shopping Centre last?

A: The leader has stated that it is his intention for it to last until the Beezon Fields or other replacement car park is available.

Q: Hasn’t this decision now been called-in – and what does that mean?

A: The decisions to close the land to vehicles and the vision for landscaping have been ‘called in’, which means they will be referred for further consideration by the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Q: Will the footbridge be repaired?

A: Cumbria County Council, which has responsibility for the footbridge, has confirmed to us that works to re-open the footbridge will be started very shortly.

New Road car park