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Thursday, 21 August 2014

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We’re working hard to meet the challenges ahead

I RECENTLY joined Copeland as chief executive at what is proving to be an interesting and exciting time.

Like the rest of the country, Copeland is feeling the effects and challenges of the recession. We know this from what you’ve told us, what the statistics tell us, and the well-documented job losses we’ve seen. Things here are no different.

Later this month we’ll hear the results of the Government’s spending review, which will have serious financial implications for the council in the future. But by combining strengths and expertise from the community, public and private sectors, we can work even harder to face the challenges ahead.

This is why we are one of the partners of Britain’s Energy Coast West Cumbria. They are the regeneration organisation for the area, who we work with to deliver regeneration projects. They’ve suffered setbacks and funding cuts, but working with them we can deliver the projects that matter so much to the whole of Copeland.

These include big projects like Albion Square, Pow Beck and a new hotel in Whitehaven, which all remain absolute priorities. They won’t happen overnight – especially in times of economic downturn – but that doesn’t make them any less of a priority. We just need to work harder to secure the funding and developers.

At Albion Square the tenant has now requested approval from the Government for the lease. Subject to approval, land acquisition and site clearance can start.

The Pow Beck scheme remains in Britain’s Energy Coast West Cumbria’s business plan as a priority for investment, but similarly, will take time to move forward in this challenging climate.

As an authority, we want to encourage investment and development that is in the best interests of the borough to both improve job opportunities and the growth of new skills.

The potential development at the former Sekers site is complicated. Our Local Plan allocates the site for industrial use. This plan outlines what can and can’t be developed, and was the result of extensive consultation with the community. It exists to help enable appropriate (and prevent inappropriate) developments. In certain circumstances we can depart from the Plan, but it needs to be supported by extensive justification. We are advising the developer in this regard. No decision has yet been taken on this application and it will be considered fully at a future planning panel meeting.

Asda chose not to develop here because it did not make economic sense for the company. This was a wholly commercial decision, and not one that we could change. This was a disappointment, but we’re still moving forward, working with Tesco on their plans for a larger store on the harbour.

Despite the current challenges, there is a lot to be positive about in Copeland – including tourism. We’ve lots to offer visitors, and more visitors are returning to Copeland than in the past, but we need to do even more to give the visitors a reason to come and stay.

We support events like the Maritime Festival and Lakes Alive because they bring in people and showcase Copeland. It’s the same reason we want to see new events like the ‘Beer and Bangers’ Festival succeed.

And it is the same reason we want to support the development of a fabulous hotel in Whitehaven, so that more of our visitors have got somewhere to stay.

Since I joined Copeland, I’ve been impressed with how proactive the council is in driving a whole host of projects and initiatives to regenerate and promote the area, but these do take time and commercial partners to deliver. Times are challenging – but if we work together to celebrate Copeland’s strengths and fight for the developments that we deserve, then the future for everyone in Copeland will be a more positive one.

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