Comment: Two examples of people power

First published in Opinion The Westmorland Gazette: Photograph of the Author by

THERE are two shining examples this week of where groups of local people have attempted to take control of matters affecting their communities and put into place action plans to improve them.

A year ago South Lakeland District Council, concerned about what it saw as health and safety risks caused by a proliferation of A-boards on Kendal’s pavements, sent out around 120 letters to shops warning they could face prosecution and fines if they were not removed.

Some traders saw that as a heavy-handed approach and soon retailers - struggling to attract customers in the midst of a recession - were meeting to try to find a different way forward.

The result is a voluntary code of conduct, developed by the Chamber of Commerce and shopkeepers, which involves retailers signing up to 15 general conditions to properly manage A-boards and where they are placed.

It also means that, should someone break the rules, another trader would be expected to walk across the street and tell them that they could face action from the council. Not everyone is happy about the code and it is to be hoped traders respond positively if fellow shopkeepers enter their premises to point out any indiscretions!

Meanwhile, the future of local public toilets is looking much rosier than a couple of years ago when South Lakeland District Council planned to close 29 of the 39 loos in the area to save money. Local parish councils and other community groups came to the rescue and took on all but one of the 39. Many have now been refurbished and, indeed, four new ones have opened.

There are still some challenges, including concerns over business rates that parish councils have to pay on their loos.

Both the A-board code and the public toilets changes could be seen as successful examples of what Prime Minister David Cameron called ‘The Big Society’.

Some felt this concept was a way for public bodies to make cuts and simply pass on responsibilities to local people to run traditional council services instead. Whichever way you look at it, however, local communities have clearly responded to challenges in South Lakeland and are to be commended for doing so.

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