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Saturday, 30 August 2014

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Forty years since the creation of Copeland

IT is 40 years this month since Copeland came into being when local government reorganisation changed the face of the whole county.

By Margaret Crosby

Cumberland and Westmorland were joined together to form Cumbria on April 1, 1974, taking in also a part of Lancashire, north of Morecambe Bay, and Sedbergh RDC area in Yorkshire.

The change created the new Cumbria County Council and six district authorities: Copeland, Allerdale, Carlisle, Eden, Barrow and South Lakeland.

In this area it was the end for Whitehaven Borough Council, Ennerdale Rural District Council and Millom Rural District Council who were unifying to form one – Copeland.

In effect Copeland Council had actually been created six months earlier. Elections were held in the summer of 1973 and the two council systems, old and new, operated in tandem in the run up to April 1.

The new Copeland took in 30 parishes, 28 parish councils plus Whitehaven Borough and, initially, had 48 members. Three seats were added later.

All the areas of Copeland were ‘parished’ apart from Whitehaven. It was felt there was no need as Whitehaven was more than well catered for by its ward representatives.

Former clerk of Ennerdale RDC, Neville Denson, a Lancastrian who still lives at St Bees, became its chief executive for the next 17 years, retiring in 1990.

At the time Copeland was created he had high hopes for it: “There will be scope for bolder and more imaginative schemes for the area, under the jurisdiction of Copeland District Council,” he said.

And May Reed, the first mayor, said: “The challenge facing us is an exciting one, and with the right attitude and approach Copeland can meet it.

“Our horizons have become much wider and so has the scope for improvement for the quality of life for all who live here and for making it a more attractive area to visit.”

Mrs Reed, the late grandmother of Copeland MP Jamie Reed, was gratified at the time that the community appeared to have embraced the Copeland name and were identifying with it.

Soon the council was promising to build 1,000 homes for the area within five years and looking at ways to increase economic prosperity. Working with BNFL was a huge responsibility too.

And it was a proud moment for Cleator Moor when one of its own, John Joseph Colligan, took over from Mrs Reed as the council’s second mayor – and the first Copeland Civic Sunday was held in the town.

There was no Cabinet system then and the council’s key committee was the powerful Policy and Resources, which had the following membership: May Reed (chairman), Harold Rowntree (Moresby), William Dixon (Whitehaven), Jimmy Johnston (Whitehaven), Watson Boustead (Millom), William Pritchard (Whitehaven), Ossie Coyles (Parton, and now an Alderman in honour of his 54 years service), Joe Smith (St Bees) and John Colligan (Cleator Moor).

Neville Denson, now 79, recalls the early days of Copeland Council as a time of much change with “lots of settling in to be done”, with new councillors, new officers and meetings being held across the district.

Full council meetings would be held not only in Whitehaven, at the old Town Hall on Duke Street, but also at Egremont, Cleator Moor, Millom and even Calderbridge. The council wanted to be seen out and about across the whole area. “It was like a travelling circus at times!” says Neville.

Responsibilities for various functions changed too. Whitehaven Borough had previously looked after the roads, now that passed to County Highways with Copeland maintaining highways on a contractual basis.

He felt it was good to bring authorities together under reorganisation but didn’t think it was the best idea to include Millom. There had always been a bit of competition between Whitehaven and Ennerdale RDC in a civic way and combining them was a positive step forward but the geographical situation of Millom was quite a challenge, though the people of Millom, at first resistant, did come to accept it and, says Neville, always demonstrated a good level of co-operation. It was even a Millom councillor, Tom Foster, who came up with the name of Copeland for the new authority.

A logo was designed with the letters C B C in a triangular shape to represent the mountains and the Copeland Forest and one of the first things the council did was sponsor some new shirts for Whitehaven Rugby League team, carrying the new logo on the back.

It was many years later that Neville raised the money for a new Coat of Arms for Copeland Council which replaced the logo and is still used today.

He feels the old committee system of local government was more open than the current system, “albeit there were perhaps too many people involved at the higher level of decision-making, but there was no feeling that things were being done behind closed doors”.

The role of chief executive could be quite a stressful one at times, says Neville, who, in effect, had 51 ‘masters’ . Your door always had to be open and much of your life was spent in the public eye. A grammar school boy who studied hard and worked his way up the ladder, Neville had been just 38 and a father of two daughters when he took the post on after five years with Ennerdale RDC. There was a high workload and he often took work home.

It was 40 years ago and a momentous time for local government and those who worked in it. Nowadays in retirement things move at a much slower pace for Neville and he enjoys writing and gardening and is a volunteer with Age UK and Howgill.

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