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Safety concerns prompt riverside park proposals

24 August 2017

Safety concerns over the use of an area of common land in Kendal has prompted us to look at fresh proposals to turn it into a riverside park.

The land at New Road, alongside the River Kent, has for years been used for unregulated vehicle parking.

But a new independent assessment, carried out as part of a review of options for the land, has informed us that safety at the New Road site is a serious issue.

The clear advice is that 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.

A report to our Cabinet says we now have no option other than to close the land to vehicles to prevent the risk of accidents or injury.

The report recommends that the common land instead be turned into a high-quality community open space, with riverside pathways, seating, landscaping and tree planting.

The proposals will go before our Cabinet for decision on 30 August.

If approved, it is hoped the new park would be open in time for summer 2018.

To mitigate the effect of closing New Road to vehicles, which it is recognised could result in increased pressure and demand on parking within the town, the report recommends new cheaper all-day parking be offered in an existing town centre car park.

The current Westmorland Shopping Centre all-day ‘early bird’ parking ticket would be reduced in price from £2.20 to just £1 for a temporary period. The report says the Westmorland Shopping Centre car park currently has capacity to take more vehicles.

If the proposals are approved on 30 August, car park users arriving at Westmorland Shopping Centre between 7am and 9am Monday to Saturday would be able to park all-day for £1 from mid-September.

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 the our insurers - a report to Cabinet advises that allowing the unregulated parking to continue is not considered an option and that a way forward for New Road now needs to be decided.

After careful consideration of the various options, the report recommends that councillors approve the closure of the land on the south side of New Road to vehicles following the funfair on 17/18 September and that £430,000 be invested to create an area of accessible green space for community use.

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

A feasibility study has confirmed that 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 according to the Cabinet report the provision of parking on New Road is not recommended because of the uncertainty and lengthy timescale around the de-registration process.

The report explains that 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, and the fact that the parking is unlawful, the land would still need to be closed to vehicles.

The recommended course of action is therefore to look to work with the existing common land designation, with the report saying a scheme should be implemented to “create open green space on the land so that it can be enjoyed as common land (its recognised designation).

“If approved, the proposed scheme would also link into the emerging ideas of the draft Kendal Town Centre Master Plan, which has identified the main site at New Road as a negative aspect in this part of the town centre.

“That plan strongly recommends that the current use of the land by motorists ceases and the council creates an important riverside area of green space to be used by, and benefit, local residents and visitors, thus better presenting this important part of the town centre to shape a future vibrant economy for Kendal.’’

Options are also being considered to increase long-term parking capacity in Kendal and we are commissioning 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.

Discussions have already started with Taylor’s fair, which currently uses the New Road site for its twice yearly fair, about the possibility that if the New Road proposal is approved on 30 August the fair could possibly use Gooseholme for its events in future.

Our Leader, Councillor Giles Archibald, commented: “It is no secret that the common land at New Road has been the subject of much debate over many years.

“We now have a situation where it is clear from the advice contained in this report that we have to act to protect the safety of our residents and visitors. That is is our primary concern, and doing nothing is no longer an option.’’

Councillor Graham Vincent, our economy portfolio holder, added: “There is a recommendation in the report to retain the common land and develop it as a riverside park for the benefit of the whole community.

“We have Council Plan commitments to enhance and protect our environment, to improve the public realm, make best use of our open spaces and encourage physical activity, so clearly these are interesting proposals.’’

The report will be considered in full at the Cabinet meeting on 30 August when a decision will be made.

For full details of the proposal see the Cabinet report.

Any member of the public who wishes to ask a question, make representations or present a deputation or petition at this meeting should apply to do so before the commencement of the meeting.

For more information contact our Committee Services Team on 01539 733333.

Below is an artist's impression of what the common land on New Road could look like. 

Artist impression of common land on New Rd