Monday, 30 November 2015

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Affordable housing should be Cumbria's top priority

Tackling problems surrounding affordable housing should be Cumbria’s top priority this year.

Chris Bonington photo
Sir Chris Bonington

That’s the view of mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington after readers of The Cumberland News put him forward as an ambassador to champion the county.

Others who featured highly in your suggestions were broadcasters Helen Skelton and Melvyn Bragg.

We asked you to tell us your hopes and predictions for 2013.

Of the more than 500 respondents, 45 per cent accepted that the county needs more homes to attract new blood and create new jobs – a statistic that struck a chord with Sir Chris, who lives near Caldbeck.

He said: “One of the huge problems a national park has is providing affordable accommodation for young people or those on low-paid jobs because it is – quite rightly – careful with its planning and what is built.

“I think affordable homes should absolutely be the first priority, but ideally they should be for rent – like the old council housing.

“The moment you start to allow people to buy their affordable housing, then it is pulled out of the system and does not benefit anyone else.”

He said that if affordable housing was sold, it also stimulated the need to build more houses – and in some areas that simply is not possible.

Another key area for improvement is Cumbria’s roads network.

Sir Chris accepted that finances are tough at the moment – and careful decisions need to be taken – but said that the roads need to be looked after.

“At the moment the roads are being allowed to get in an appalling state. Something needs to be done,” he said.

Those residents who responded to the survey were also asked to name the person they would most like to see represent the county as ambassador.

Top of the list was Sir Chris, one of Britain’s most successful and celebrated adventurers,

The 78-year-old said he was “very honoured” to have been chosen by so many people.

“I’m not a Cumbrian born,” he admitted, “but I’ve now lived in Cumbria for 45 years – and 40 of those have been in north Cumbria.

“I’ve climbed and walked the hills all these years and I love it passionately. Hopefully I’ve done my bit for Cumbria and always expressed my love for it.”

Asked who he would give the honour to, he named fellow mountaineer Leo Houlding, who lives near Appleby.

“He is the new generation of exciting young Cumbrians. He has always been an ambassador for Cumbria in some way or other, and he’s got a strong social conscience,” Sir Chris said.

It is this youth that could ultimately determine the future of Cumbria and the Lake District: when respondents were broken into age brackets, there was a divide in opinion.

Only 37 per cent of people aged 45 and older thought the Cumbrian economy needs more attractions – like the Honister zip wire – to survive, compared with 44 per cent of those aged 44 and under.

Sir Chris was not surprised.

“There is an element of that and you certainly saw that in the [Honister zip wire] planning meeting,” he said. “The members of the board were, I would say, all 50-plus.

“Every single development does need to be looked at carefully and we need to ask ourselves, does this damage and spoil the natural beauty which is so incredibly important?”

Sir Chris said that Cumbria meant so much to so many people, and overall it was still a great place to live.

“On the whole things are pretty good in the county,” he added.


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