Andrew Thomas quizzes Cllr Robin Ashcroft, South Lakeland District Council’s Portfolio Holder for Economy, Culture and Leisure, about the future of the local economy

Looking ahead to 2021, what is your vision for supporting the South Lakeland economy?

Coronavirus undoubtedly presents one of the biggest challenges to our district. SLDC is working with multiple agencies as part of the immediate response to the pandemic but is also focussed on doing everything in our power to create the conditions necessary for our businesses and communities to recover.

SLDC has a clear plan of activity for the district which will help with recovery, build confidence, attract investment and ultimately make South Lakeland a better place to live, work and explore.

We were pursuing many of these projects anyway, but it is all the more vital that we deliver on them now.

2. The high street nationally has had a torrid time in 2020. What is South Lakeland District Council doing to help local high streets?

You’re absolutely right, all high streets are having a torrid time. It is important to highlight the interconnectedness of all parts of the South Lakeland economy and the wide-ranging work we are pursuing to support the economy as a whole.

Short-term actions already in place to address immediate short-term pressures brought about by coronavirus include:

• Making a significant financial contribution to delivering free mentoring and advice to start-ups and existing businesses, in partnership with Cumbria Chamber of Commerce;

• Partnering with Cumbria Action for Sustainability to fund initiatives and support which enables businesses to make the most of opportunities presented by the green economy.

Medium projects aimed at delivering a significant long-term economic benefit include:

• Commissioning a masterplan to guide future development of the GSK site in Ulverston after the company’s decision to reduce its operations on the site;

• Following the joint-launch of the Kendal Town Centre Strategy and Kendal Vision earlier in 2020, we have put in place a model to enable identified projects to be developed to create a more sustainable and vibrant Kendal.

• A High Streets Task Force expert visited Kendal on December 16 to hear about exciting plans, challenges and opportunities in the town, and then to deliver an assessment how to respond.

• Transforming part of South Lakeland House in Kendal into Mintworks 2 - a modern, flexible space, which will provide additional space for business start-ups and growth;

• The council is engaging with commercial partners to explore a new management structure for the indoor and outdoor markets, which would see them transformed and rebranded, bringing improvements to the visitor and trader experience;

• Restoration of the Grange Lido site to see it reopened for public access after being closed for 26 years;

• A masterplan has been commissioned to look at commercial opportunities to improve the offer on the Glebe tourist hotspot in Bowness.

Long-term plans include:

• Continued working with Barrow Borough Council and Lancaster City Council to promote the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the areas

• The next South Lakeland Local Plan will look ahead to 2040 with a long-term view of the development of the area;

• A specialist is being engaged to work with the three councils of South Lakeland, Lancaster and Barrow to support the development of a Bay Cultural Compact plan, developing the area’s role as a cultural and creative capital;

• SLDC has supported an outline economic case, which has been approved, for the Borderlands Place Programme to secure funding for economic initiatives in Ulverston;

• A redeveloped leisure and community facility in Ulverston.

Other long-term projects include supporting calls for A590 improvements, work on the Lakes Line and Windermere Station Gateway and the Furness line, strategic off-road cycling corridors and walking routes along the A590 and A591, improving digital connectivity and increasing access to skills and education to increase youth retention across the Morecambe Bay area.

SLDC has also played a crucial role in attracting millions of pounds worth of inward investment into the district, including the Kendal Flood Risk Management Scheme. 

3. How can South Lakeland capitalise on its undoubtedly strong cultural and heritage assets?

South Lakeland's world-class culture and heritage assets make it an attractive and exciting place to live and work and are also a major part of the visitor economy.

SLDC has a long track record of providing financial support to key assets which unlocks further investment, for example innovative and ambitious attractions and events such as the Windermere Jetty Museum, Abbot Hall, the Wordsworth Trust and many festivals throughout the year.

For instance, Kendal Mountain Festival brings in around £3 million into the district over what would probably be a wet autumnal weekend. We are committed to continuing this excellent work.

But it is important we look beyond the visitor economy to the inspiration of heritage and culture. We have a tradition in inspiring the creative industries, which are the largest growth sector in UK economy, focussed on start-ups, freelance and SMEs.

We feel very strongly that heritage and culture play a key role in retaining, attracting and, perhaps most importantly, attracting back young people needed for a sustainable economy.

That commitment is at the heart of our Council Plan, which underpins all we do, in delivering economic growth by promoting unique selling points such as cultural and creative industries and using our culture and built heritage to help deliver a balanced community.