Tuesday 14th April 2015
Pedestrianisation, a thriving market and better indoor facilities for Penrith were among the top priorities that emerged at the Community Get Together event in the town on Monday evening.
Community groups, residents and others with a stake in the town’s development came together to consider the issues facing the town and what the community can do to tackle them.
“Some very clear priorities emerged and that’s exactly the outcome we’d hoped for,” said Peter Ward, chair of Penrith Partnership, which organised the event.
Group discussions centred on the six themes that are most important to people in Penrith, according to previous consultation: buildings and heritage; economy and jobs; provision for young people; leisure, events and amenities; the town environment; and transport.
“We asked people to choose the two topics closest to their heart and take part in group discussions about those during the evening,” Peter said. “As a starting point for the conversations, we used the views shared in an online survey that we ran in February and March, which was open to all residents and community groups.”
The group discussions and survey results brought out a wide list of issues that could potentially be tackled. To pin down the priorities, the attendees were asked to vote for the ones they felt were the most important.
The top issue around buildings and heritage in Penrith was providing new housing driven by need, rather than by what developers want to build. Better promotion of Penrith’s heritage, via signage and websites, was also considered essential, along with changing empty pubs in the town into spaces that could be used by the public.
On the town’s economy, bringing back a thriving market to Penrith was far and away the most important issue. Encouraging independent businesses, dealing with empty shops and reducing business rates were also strong priorities.
For young people, space to hang out and meet came out top of the list, along with the need for a coordinated strategy for people aged 20 to 30 years old, including housing and jobs. It was recognised that more consultation needed to be done among young people and their parents to understand their needs.
Under leisure, the highest priorities were providing more indoor facilities, such as a skate park, and a community arts venue or attraction to draw people into the town. Improving Castle Park, supporting cycling, and having more events and festivals were also in the top five. The attendees suggested there should be an audit of existing facilities to help identify gaps.
On the town environment, the overwhelming priority was pedestrianisation to make the town centre a more attractive and pleasant place to be. Litter and dog fouling also came out high on the list, as did the need for an audit of historic and empty buildings.
On transport, the highest priority was promoting the community transport schemes that already exist, and a transport card was proposed, similar to London’s Oyster scheme.
Making the changes happen will depend on working in partnership with the groups and councils that operate in Penrith, a point stressed by guests from Sandbach in Cheshire, who came to share their experience of setting up a community plan for their area. Dot Flint and David McGifford from Sandbach Partnership talked about the impact the plan has had in their area, and took part in the group discussions.
Attendees at the event felt it could lead to change for the better. Jennifer Heaton, who came as a local resident and a representative of Churches Together, said: “There are certainly ideas discussed here that could be put into practice quite easily and would have an immediate impact, such as teams to tackle litter.”
John Bodger, who lives in Penrith and runs a business in the town, felt a community plan was important as it reflects what the community wants rather than being driven by any political interests.
“I came because I wanted to hear about the changes that might be coming and see how I could perhaps contribute.”
“We will now go back to the wider community with the results to ask whether these issues are in fact the most important to residents and groups, and to seek more views to ensure this is as comprehensive as possible,” Peter said. “We’ll do this in a number of ways, including a questionnaire distributed to households in the wider Penrith area, and we’ll also be consulting with the new town council once it comes into being this summer.”
Once the community’s views and priorities have been collected, they’ll be captured in the new Penrith Community Plan, including an action plan setting out how the changes will be achieved.
“The draft plan will be available for the public to comment on before it’s finalised, and then begins the work of involving the community at large in making the initiatives a reality, whether that’s a
Clean Team to tackle litter or helping with research into markets or provision for young people, for example,” Peter said.