CONGRATULATIONS to Kirkby Lonsdale for being the Sunday Times' 2019 choice of best place to live in the whole of the North West, and to Cartmel for a very honourable rating in the same league (Gazette, April 18, 'Market town wins top spot on wish list').

The comprehensive criteria used by the Sunday Times all highlight Kirkby Lonsdale as a real civic gem and their council, schools, businesses etc. are all to be credited in this success.

But woe is Kendal, singled out by the Sunday Times for a special 'kicking' for '… a sad display of closed-down pubs and ugly, traffic-filled ring roads'.

Now many of us who are longer in the tooth will remember the heady days of the 1980s when Kendal was not only No.1 in the North West but rated 'Best Place to live in Great Britain' in this same Sunday Times survey.

What has gone wrong? In contrast to South Lakeland District Council's recent trumpeting of '… increased footfall..' and '… vibrant nightlife...' and the dismissal by Sarah Williams of Kendal Business Improvement District (BID) of the Sunday Times as 'utter nonsense', those of us who live here and use the town centre for our commercial and social needs are mostly less sanguine about what we see and experience.

Kendal is much changed since its 'No.1 in the UK' days of the early 1980s; big employers such as K Shoes, Goodacre, AXA Provincial, IBIS, Furmanite etc. pumped good wage packets into the town economy every week, especially on the famed Thursday Night (pay night) sessions.

The A&E at the new hospital was always there if things got out-of-hand!

The economy and infrastructure, (remember Helme Chase?) also kept young people in the town, many from the two excellent, recently-formed new secondary schools.

Shopping had not yet fully migrated to the out-of-town superstores and shopping centres and The Westmorland Shopping Centre, Elephant Yard etc. were all reinvigorating the town itself. Most importantly, the town was a bit more in harmony with transport and traffic needs; parking was easier and cheaper or free. The town was seemingly 'going places'.

Nowadays there are few big payroll employers. I guess Lakeland and Mardix are probably the biggest and the big workforces of the 1980s are now all pensioners, many of their children having moved on and away from Kendal.

The town has stagnated; the big chance to reinvigorate the centre by developing Canal Head was missed. Westmorland Shopping Centre more than halved in value when it was last sold.

SLDC seem obsessed with 'green agendas', milking the car-borne visitor and prettifying the town at the expense of functional, commercial initiatives.

The civic society and Friends of The Lake District would rather see the town and its inhabitants three feet under flood water than have their vision of 'Kendal-in aspic' disturbed.

Geriatric and health services are overwhelmed and increasingly the only young people in town are low-paid service workers and/or those who need assisted or supervised housing.

So what's to be done? How to get back onto the Sunday Times list in a good way?

Let's start by acknowledging the reality of transport needs and the need for new business sites and getting some political clout behind the Northern Development Route.

Open one or two out-of-town park and rides, ideally free at point of use and paid for with taxes.

Plan for the now inevitable use of electric vehicles by attracting them into town with free parking and charging.

Then, Kendal BID, get your act together to service the 'grey pound' as well as younger money with their subsidised outdoors, cartoon etc. festivals. And, most important of all, develop and incentivise a plan for the infrastructure, notably Canal Head, to revitalise the town centre.

Will any of this happen? Not while SLDC are fixated on their £5 million office scheme in the town hall, on milking the motorist, supporting children on strike and on banning plastic straws, all very worthy but surely secondary to the prosperity of their main town?

Kendal is in danger of drifting into a wish-list future of complacent 'niceness' whilethe rest of the world grabs the economic prizes of civic dynamism.

Ian Kell