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Changes will 'rip soul out of town', Ambleside public meeting hears
THERE was a chorus of fury from disgruntled Ambleside residents as they voiced their frustrations at what has been described as a siege of the town.
Widespread anger was directed at a host of issues including planned hotels, the introduction of on-street parking charges and the shortage of affordable housing for local people.
The strength of feeling against a range of proposals was shown as more than 200 people packed into the town's parish centre for a public meeting on Tuesday night.
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Organised by the new Future Ambleside campaign, many spoke of their disapproval at budget hotel Premier Inn's plans to convert Hilltop into a £5million, 64-bedroomed hotel.
The historic building has been sold by the University of Cumbria, subject to planning permission, to raise cash for development on the Ambleside site.
"The soul will be ripped out of the place by these changes," warned Fiona Howarth, a member of the campaign group, about Premier Inn's proposal.
"There will be no community other than the one struggling to keep its head above the water."
She also questioned access issues to the proposed hotel on Kirkstone Road.
Another member, Nick Davenport, said: "It will cause damage to the integrity of the local community.
"We are all very pleased to see the university back but not pleased to see the local people being trodden on."
He asked whether the university had explored other options for the future of Hilltop, including affordable housing or student accommodation.
In reply, Janet Whitworth, the university's chief operating officer, said it would have proved ‘too expensive’ to convert the building into modern student accommo-dation and the business case to offer it to a housing association did not ‘stack up’.
She also revealed there was an exclusivity agreement with Premier Inn until August, meaning if planning permission was not granted Hilltop would be put back on the market.
Jennifer Braithwaite, another member of the campaign group, said jobs had been promised by the hotel chain but queried whether there was affordable housing suitable for workers.
Member Russell Mills said: "The ramifications of this will be felt for years to come unless we make a real stance now.
"This is a gross, boring piece of architecture which is out of proportion.
"Stop selling off Ambleside's family silver."
A statement read out on behalf of South Lakes MP Tim Farron said: “The university needs the town as much as the town needs them. This application in my view will hurt Ambleside and they have not taken this into account.”
Elsewhere the introduction of on-street parking charges by Cumbria County Council also drew heavy criticism.
"We are seen as easy pickings at the expense of residents, businesses and tourists," said Ms Howarth. "The community is seen as a cash cow."
County councillor Heidi Halli-day said she had organised a public march on July 4 to show the strength of feeling against the charges.
She said she had managed to remove four streets – Vicarage Drive, Cheapside, Compston Street and the area in front of library – from the order during local committee feedback and had asked for allowances of up to 30 minutes in some areas but was refused.
Ideas including free after three and free parking in the run up to Christmas were also refused.
Representatives from Cumbria County Council, including its chief executive Diane Wood and leader Stewart Young, were invited but did not turn up.
Nobody from the Lake District National Park Authority or Premier Inn was in attendance either.
Speaking after Tuesday's meeting Ms Howarth said: "This was a very positive first step but we have got to build on it and try to go further.
"We might not win but at least we can make our views felt. If we don't do anything we have only got ourselves to blame."
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to be involved with the campaign.
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