Newsletter 133

Welcome to 2017, our 50th Anniversary Year. A year to celebrate and recognise what we have achieved. A year perhaps to also look to the future and what we would like to achieve for Cockermouth over the next few years. Ideally this would be supported by a progressive Neighbourhood Plan, but so far our Town Council feel unable to support this objective.

In terms of celebrations, we will be issuing a special 50th anniversary newsletter around Easter time. This will be followed by our 50th anniversary lunch on Wednesday May 3rd at the Trout Hotel. Hunter Davies will be our guest speaker. Tickets will cost £25 and this will include a welcome drink and a toast to the Civic Trust, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. It would be very special if we can get a good attendance and we would be grateful if you could make a prompt application for tickets so that we can get an early indication of the number of members that we can expect. In October, our first lecture meeting of the 2017/18 season will be a special birthday occasion.

So what else is happening in 2017? Well there are the continuing sagas of the Neighbourhood Plan and Local Heritage Listing. We have a special project on Conservation Areas as part of the national celebration of the 50th anniversary of the very first Conservation Area in the UK. We have submitted an application for the riverside footpath between Waterloo Street and Low Sand Lane to be given public footpath status, and are considering a similar application for the Green Way.

Lecture Programme 2016/17

The two remaining lectures of this season are shown below. Both will be at the Friends Meeting House, 7.30pm.

Mar 1st  – Diane Hewitt – National Garden Scheme
Apr 5th – Darren Ward – Restoring Underscar Manor

The ‘Big Conservation Conversation’

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the first introduction of Conservation Areas in the UK through the Civic Amenities Act 1967. When the legislation was introduced there was widespread public concern over the pace of redevelopment of historic towns and cities. Today there are around 9,300 Conservation Areas in England alone, reflecting the popularity of this legislation in protecting our most valued historic places. The designation controls the demolition of unlisted buildings, controls work on trees, restricts permitted development rights on houses and tightens regulations on advertising. It also requires the local planning authority to pay special attention to preserving or enhancing the character & appearance of conservation areas.

In 2017, the national civic movement are seeking to raise awareness of conservation areas throughout the country as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, under the heading of ‘The Big Conservation Conversation’. For example, it is felt that there is a general lack of knowledge amongst the public and even residents within conservation areas about where conservation areas are, what the requirements are and what the benefits are to the character of the local area. Also, the designation of a conservation area should not be seen as an end in itself; we live in a changing world & for the historic environment to survive and continue to be cherished, it needs to be positively managed.

We in the Civic Trust would like to take the opportunity to play our part in this national campaign and seek to raise the profile and implementation of our own conservation areas during 2017.  The Town Council and Allerdale BC have agreed to join us in a Working Group to take this forward.

The current Cockermouth Conservation Area was established in 1975. It resulted from the amalgamation of 5 separate Conservation Areas administered by the previous Cockermouth Urban District Council. A Character Appraisal of the Cockermouth Conservation Area was produced and subjected to public consultation in 2006. However, it was not formally adopted and remains in draft form today. It is referred to for planning purposes but carries less weight than a formally adopted appraisal would be. The Character Appraisal contained a number of recommendations. It is believed that none of these have been formally implemented as such, although some have ‘happened’ or are no longer relevant for a variety of reasons.

A key recommendation was that the boundary of the Conservation Area should be reviewed. It specifically recommended that there should be 3 separate areas reflecting ‘character zones’. It recommended some ‘omissions’ and ‘additions’ to the area covered. A significant example is that Walkers factory and Derwent Side Gardens Housing Estate are currently within the CA. This is now clearly not appropriate. There are currently 1,486 properties within the Cockermouth Conservation Area. It is considered unlikely that these current property owners and residents are fully aware of the reasons for there being a Conservation Area or of the associated constraints.

As a member of Civic Voice, Cockermouth Civic Trust has had the opportunity to apply for grant funding for a project of up to £200 from the Institute of Historic Building Conservation, (IHBC), Conservation Areas Anniversary Fund. Since this fund is on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, we have already applied for and received a grant of £200. This has to be used for the project applied for and within the next year.

The project that we applied for was to produce a booklet in association with the Town Council and Allerdale BC on our Conservation Areas and to distribute it to all properties within the Conservation Areas, ( 1600 in total including Papcastle). As a minimum this would cover the origin & purpose of Conservation Areas nationally, a map & description of each of the Conservation Areas local to Cockermouth & Papcastle, constraints on development within the Conservation Areas, with key examples and contacts for further information. We have obtained a quote for the printing of 1,800 copies of a 12 page colour booklet, (A5), of £207. Preparation of the booklet content will be ‘in house’ and Eric Apperley has kindly agreed to lead on this.

Derwentside  Footpath, by John Dent

The land over which the footpath traverses is on the south bank of the River Derwent. In the past a mill stream went along this bank serving mills including Graves Mill, an old woollen mill now converted to a block of flats. The mill stream disappeared when the mills were made redundant. The river bank was probably narrower after this and ownership would have been with the owners of properties adjacent. Even so it seems there was a public access along this bank at least as far back as 1940. Walter Hall of Castlegate Drive remembers using the footpath when he was a ten year old in 1940.

Around 1974/75 dredging the river resulted in the gravel being deposited on the bank, widening it substantially and this is when the current route of the path was probably established. Alan Kennon was born in Waterloo Street and remembers cycling along the path in the early 1970’s when he was a teenager. In 1995, the  Civic Trust decided to create a Town Trail around Cockermouth for the benefit of locals and visitors. The path was used as part of this Town Trail and is shown clearly on the 4th Edition leaflet published September 2000 and the latest edition published 2016. A map of the Town Trail is shown on two display boards in the town and is also available on line.

The path was severely damaged by the 2009 floods. The Environment Agency repaired the path as part of the riverbank repairs.

The path was again damaged by the 2015 floods. Investigations into the actual ownership of the land resulted in both Allerdale Borough Council and Cockermouth Town Council denying ownership. Examination of the deeds of a house adjacent to the path established the extent of their land stopped at their boundary wall which was close to the river at the date of the deeds. However, a reasonable interpretation is that their land ownership extends to the river bank and expands and contracts according to the course of the river at that time. This same interpretation can be applied to all the properties aligning the land over which the path goes (even if the owners are not aware of it).

The Civic Trust was concerned about the damaged condition of this path as it was part of the Town Trail and used regularly by locals and visitors and decided to take on the responsibility of repairing it. This was completed in the autumn of 2016 in association with Allerdale Borough Council and with the aid of a grant from the Cumbria Community Foundation Flood Recovery Fund. The current ordnance survey maps show the path as a “footpath” but not as a “Public Right of Way”. In order to safeguard the path for future users, Cockermouth Civic Trust has applied to the Cumbria County Council to have the footpath upgraded to a Public Right of Way and is awaiting a response.

50th Anniversary Lunch, Wednesday 3rd May

Hunter Davies has kindly agreed to give us a pre-dinner talk at our anniversary lunch on 3rd May. Hunter is a prolific author, journalist and broadcaster and the author of the only authorised biography of the Beatles. He was born in Johnston, Renfrewshire in 1936 and moved to Carlisle aged 11. He went on to study at Durham University where he wrote for their university newspaper Palatinate and gained a teaching diploma after his undergraduate degree. He went on to write for publications such as Punch, New Statesman, The Guardian and The Sunday Times and he has written the Flossie Teacake, Ossie and Snotty Bumstead book series for children. His more recent books have included The Beatles Encyclopedia, The Co-ops Got Bananas and Lakeland: a Personal Journey. Hunter’s wife, Margaret Forster, died in February 2016. They had been married for 55 years and had lived in their Lakeland home for 30 years. After Margaret died, Hunter decided that he couldn’t face continuing to live there alone and sold the house later in the year.

  • The programme for the day will be along the following lines:
  • 12 noon – meet for pre-dinner drinks*
  • 12.30 – take your seats in the main restaurant to listen to Hunter Davies
  • 1pm (approx) – lunch is served
  • After lunch – toasts to 50 years of Cockermouth Civic Trust*

* There will be a choice of prosecco or elderflower presse.

The lunch menu and ticket application are attached. We are hoping for a good turnout for our 50th!

Neighbourhood Plan for Cockermouth

In May 2016, the Town Council decided not to pursue the development of such a plan. The Civic Trust was concerned and disappointed at this Council decision. We believe that such a document could be of significant benefit in the future shaping of our town for generations to come, taking into account the views of the community as a whole. We think it would be short sighted to think that ‘all decisions affecting the town’s development have already been taken and that a neighbourhood plan is not therefore necessary’.

We believe that a well written Neighbourhood Plan will enable the Town Council and the community as a whole to develop a shared vision for the future of Cockermouth and to shape the development and growth of our historic town. We will be able to influence where we want new homes, retail developments and industry to be built and have a say on what these new buildings should look like. Neighbourhood planning will provide Cockermouth with a powerful set of tools for the local people to ensure that the town gets the right types of development for the community, given that it aligns with the strategic needs and priorities of the wider, Allerdale, area.

The Civic Trust was impressed by the level of public concern about the Council’s decision and established a working group, Cockermouth Neighbourhood Group, to make a case to the Council of the benefit of such a Plan. The team have been able to address some concerns, namely:

Councillors were concerned about the workload involved in developing the Neighbourhood Plan. Clearly this will be significant, but whilst the project will be led by the Town Council, much of the work can, and should, be undertaken by members of the community. Members of the Cockermouth Neighbourhood Group believe that there is significant volunteer effort available within the group and in the community as a whole.

The Council also cited ‘lack of community support’ as a contributory reason for not proceeding. The Group were able to demonstrate significant support both through the membership of the Group and the returns on public petition.

The Group also demonstrated that the Council were influenced by an exaggerated view of the costs involved in producing the Neighbourhood Plan. Average costs of plans produced elsewhere have only been around £11,000, not significantly more than Government grants currently available.

The Neighbourhood Group took this information back to the Council at the January 2017 meeting. However, the Council still felt that there was insufficient information put forward to enable them to commit to a Plan at this stage. What the Neighbourhood Group had not yet managed to achieve was a demonstration of potential outcomes for Cockermouth or a project plan on how the Plan will be achieved. Hopefully, the Group will have the resolve to develop a project plan and take the initiative back to the Council.

Cockermouth Library, by Shirley Campbell

The Civic Trust does not have any issue in principle with the change in service provision from the County County to the Town Council and the combination of the library with the TIC as a service hub. However, we are concerned that the changes should be robustly implemented so as to both ensure the continued use of the historic library building and the continued provision of a quality library service for our expanding town, meeting the needs of the 21st century. In this respect, we commented on the adequacy of the case made in respect of such areas as staffing adequacy, routine maintenance provision, lack of a building hand over survey, opening hours, disability access.

War Memorial  Condition Surveys, by Duncan Keeler

We are pleased to report that we have completed our programme of war memorial condition surveys that we undertook as part of the national programme organised by Civic Voice. In total, we surveyed 30 memorials, stretching our interest area to include Maryport and a couple of Lake District Fell Tops. The only memorial found to be requiring significant attention is our own Cenotaph at the top of Station Street. We know that the Town Council are aware of this and have repairs under consideration. Articles were included in both the Times & Star & News and Star.

Cockermouth Castle

The ‘repairs’ to the bank supporting the castle walls have now been completed and hopefully the future structural integrity of the castle has been secured as far as is practicable. We have received permission to undertake a 2017 programme of tours without the access restrictions that we imposed last year.

Confluence Area Improvement  Scheme

The improvement work to the Confluence area is gradually progressing. We are also supporting a grant application for artwork and heritage interpretation activities.

Local Heritage Listing Progress

We have to report that we are still at an impasse with Allerdale BC in that they are still refusing nominations for the Local Heritage List from within Conservation Areas. This does not make sense to us in that it goes against national policy, makes the Heritage List much less effective and 95% of our nominations for Cockermouth are in the Conservation Area. We are continuing to seek avenues to reverse this condition.

Town Centre Projects

We have been assured by Cumbria County Council that they will be repairing the Market Place infrastructure with its ‘as is’ materials. This does not include items such as the artwork and lighting which will remain the responsibility of Allerdale BC. The County Council work was scheduled to be undertaken after the work on High Sand Lane, but this is significantly behind schedule. Obtaining information from  Cumbria CC is still like ‘extracting teeth’!

Property Flood Protection

We have concerns that some property owners are receiving inadequate advice on the installation of flood protection. For example, a flood gate may be certified as flood proof, but it is only as good as the surrounding structure.  Darren Ward, on our behalf, has raised these concerns with Allerdale BC as the authorising agency.

With this in mind, we specifically spoke to the Trout Hotel about their flood protection scheme and had a very positive meeting with the Trout Manager and the Architect for the project.

Clearly, we want to encourage properties to improve their flood protection, but we would like to ensure that it is fit for purpose and does protect our town centre buildings.

Annual Trip

Our annual trip is proving to be harder to organise this year so it is likely to be later in the year, perhaps September. What we would like to do is organise a trip to Newcastle with a visit to the Sage in the morning & a walking tour of the historic city areas in the afternoon.

Membership Renewal

There are still a few members who have yet to renew their membership. If you are one of these please send your Membership Renewal Form  to Ian Dodsworth or contact him on 01900 823599.  If you don’t act, this will be the last Newsletter you will receive and you will miss all our 50th Anniversary celebration events.

Phil Campbell, Chairman