SOUTH Lakeland District Council has tonight agreed a five-year plan which its leader hailed as ‘possibly the most ambitious this council has ever had’.
Coun Peter Thornton said its plan for 1,000 new homes and jobs would be delivered and that he was proud a Liberal Democrat council was delivering it.
But Conservative opposition members described it as ‘hopeless wishlist’ and advised the public 'take it with a pinch of salt.’
The five-year plan - said in the chamber to have undergone 39 changes - sets out the council’s priorities between now and 2019.
Its last five year plan was unveiled last year but has been updated and revised following the council’s adoption of a new Local Plan; which sets out where 5200 potential new homes could go in future, and 20 employment sites.
Coun Thornton pointed to initiatives in the plan including rolling out plastic and cardboard recycling for residents, investing in arts and culture, and a commitment to freeze the council tax for a fourth year with plans for a freeze next year - unusual to occur over the full term of a parliament.
Addressing the chamber, Coun Thornton said: “This is a young, vigorous council with hard-working dedicated officers. It’s a plan to make South Lakeland greener, fairer and a plan to make South Lakeland more local.
“How many small district councils set out plans for 1,000 jobs? It’s clear to me 1,000 jobs will be delivered. And 1,000 affordable homes for rent - more houses for young people to live and stay in the area rather than moving away. I’m delighted to be presenting what is possibly the most ambitious plan this council has ever had.”
“There’s a commitment here to freeze Council Tax for a fifth year and we are asking officers to plan for that - the first time in history unless someone tells me differently.”
But Conservative opposition leader, Coun David Williams called it a ‘wishlist’ and urged the public to take it with a ‘pinch of salt’.
“Without being difficult and disparaging to those concerned - it’s hopeless,” said Coun Williams. “From the way councillors on the opposite side are talking, it’s all already been achieved.
“A lot of it will be, a lot of it won’t. It will probably be overtaken by what (Harold) MacMillan called 'events dear boy, events'. Do not regard the 1,000 homes and 1,000 jobs as done - haven't we’ve heard that before in the old Soviet Union?”
Independent councillor Rob Boden appealed for greater involvement from the wider council and all political parties, rather than being exclusively set by the ruling Cabinet as a 'fait accompli'.
“It’s the council’s plan, not the Cabinet’s plan - we agree it," said Coun Boden. "We need to address youth unemployment which is running at 15 per cent in this area and there is nothing in the plan about that. We should also be addressing low wages in existing employment.”
Labour’s Mark Wilson said he agreed with the idea of 1,000 houses, while Coun Giles Archibald for the Liberals said councillors had been given the opportunity to help develop the plan.
Coun Thornton told Coun Boden - who left the Lib Dems last year to go Independent - "Can I apologise that we didn't bring it round to your house. You're a group leader - come along to Cabinet and get involved instead of moaning at us. Do you look at the stars and shoot for them or look down in the gutter, because we're looking at the stars on this side."
And the Lib Dems' Coun Ian Stewart pointed out the number of young people aged 16-24 claiming job seekers’ allowance in Kendal in January was 1.8 per cent - amounting to 155 young people - not 15 per cent.
Conservative councillor James Airey said that without the Tories in national government no freeze would have been possible as it was one of Chancellor George Osbourne's initiatives.
“I know you like your Local Plan but try telling the residents of Swarthmoor it’s excellent,” said Coun Airey; alluding to opposition against a homes development.
“They are staggered and depressed that not one of their local councillors has stood up for them.”