Coun Giles Archibald, Leader of South Lakeland District Council, explains why the council's Cabinet decided to close New Road car park at Kendal.

I have written this Podium in collaboration with Councillor Jonathan Brook, Deputy Leader, and Councillor Graham Vincent, portfolio holder for Economy.

Last week, South Lakeland District Council's Cabinet took the difficult decision to close New Road common to vehicles from September 18.

Cabinet does understand how important this area has become for residents, town centre workers and visitors. However, we believe it was a necessary decision.

It was made clear to us in the early summer that the overwhelming weight of evidence indicated that this use of SLDC owned land was unsafe. Also, that the council must, according to its legal obligations, make this area available to all residents for their air and recreation. It is not considered lawful for the council to allow car parking on the site, nor to do anything that would facilitate car parking there.

The officers' report, based on historical evidence, officers' own assessments, and independent reports, clearly confirms the unsafe nature of the current arrangement. These report were summarised in the Cabinet papers that are available to the public and copies of the safety reports and FAQs have been made available at our public meetings this week, and are available online.

Before taking our decision we were keen to explore all our options, which included what we could offer to mitigate the impact of displaced cars if the land was closed to vehicles, options for additional car parking capacity, how the land could be used in the future and what would happen to the fair.

As part of that process, it emerged that were it possible for the council to allow parking on this site, then under the current safety regulations, it would only be possible to create 68 spaces. This is considerably less than the 200 currently parking there on an unregulated basis.

In the light of our decision, we are very keen to make sure cars displaced from New Road do not go on to clog up residential streets. We are therefore reducing the cost of the early bird special in the Westmorland Shopping Centre for vehicles arriving before 9am, from £2.20 to £1.

We are also looking at other ways we can help the evening economy and town centre residents. Proposals to address these issues will be brought to our September Cabinet.

We are also pleased to see the private sector is stepping up to offer discounted parking offers. For example, we understand the ski club is offering a parking offer for the equivalent of 88p a day.

The council recognises the importance of expanding affordable car parking capacity to meet demand and is urgently looking at additional sites. We are also interested in hearing from everyone who has suggestions about how we can make car parking work better for the community and our local economy.

We have already held positive discussions with the operators of the fair that currently uses the New Road site twice a year about a move to Gooseholme for an initial three-year period, and we are committed to ensuring the fair can continue in Kendal.

Looking to the future of the New Road site, our hope is that this can become a space that is an asset to the town, rather than an unsafe eyesore. There is real potential for this area overlooking the beautiful river Kent to become a focus for recreation and enjoyment and to offer space for seasonal activities such as a winter ice rink and climbing wall during the Mountain Festival for example. Our councillors are available to listen to any ideas you may have for the future layout and landscaping of this site.

Closure has been a tough decision to have to make, but based on advice received, one that could not be avoided. Hopefully, we can now all work together to create some real positive outcomes from this difficult situation.