NEARLY 100 protesters marched through the streets of Ambleside amid fears it is ‘under siege’ from proposed changes and developments that could ‘kill the town’.
Residents are up-in-arms about the new Sainsbury’s store that has been given the go ahead next to Hayes Garden World, a proposed Premier Inn planned for Hill Top and Cumbria County Council’s desire to introduce on-street parking. They claim the combination could ruin the livelihoods of local business owners.
Protesters waved placards, slowed traffic and got cars to toot their horns in support as they walked around the town centre last Friday.
The protesters say that in the peak summer season hotels and bed and breakfasts in Ambleside are only 60 per cent full. The believe the proposed 64-bedroom Premier Inn at Hill Top, offering cut price deals in the winter, could put established guest houses out of business.
Store owners fear Cumbria County Council’s original plans for on-street parking on ten roads could signal the death of the high street with customers going elsewhere to shop, like the Sainsbury’s development in town which was recently approved by the Lake District National Park Authority .
Fiona Howarth, a member of Future Ambleside, an action group opposing the changes, said: “People talk about a sustainable, vibrant community but we already have that here.
“A 25 per cent increase in the number of hotel rooms is going to have a huge effect. We want to keep our character, integrity and heritage. We are not here to fill the coffers of the county council’s inadequacies in their budgets. The whole idea is taking us for a ride.”
Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron gave a rousing speech on the steps outside the Ambleside Parish Centre in which he told protesters: ‘You can make a real difference’.
Speaking afterwards, the MP said: “I respect Premier Inn as a business but I would never in a million years give them planning permission in somewhere like Hawkshead or Dent. Unfair competition is not good, they would be pricing out the small provider.
“I don’t understand the national park authority. They need to protect the local landscape and that includes the economy.”
More than 3,500 people have signed two petitions started by Heidi Halliday, a Lib Dem county councillor, opposing the on-street parking charges and the possible arrival of a Premier Inn.
“If all the plans go ahead it will have a negative effect,” she said. “A lot of smaller independent businesses won’t be able to compete. I am so against on street parking charges because Sainsbury’s and Premier Inn will have free parking which could kill the village.”