Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Broadband in the Cockermouth Area

While I was out canvassing in the villages of Cockermouth South in May I spoke at length with many villagers about the problems they are having with internet access.
I consider internet access to be of vital importance for both our economy (as so many of us in Cumbria work from home) and for our quality of life.  As a fellow of the RSA I write about and explore the importance of mass online discussion in enlightening society and improving the quality of democracy.

I’ve been startled by the level of complexity and chaos that I’ve found.  In this blog I’m going to try to describe what’s going on.  I may not have got it right and I’d be very grateful if others could add comments to help improve what I’ve written.
Two Routes for Broadband

The two routes for acquiring broadband are Connecting Cumbria (funded by BDUK and ERDF) and the RCBF (The Rural Communities Broadband Fund).  It is estimated that Connecting Cumbria will ensure 'superfast' (which is defined as being 24Mb/s or greater) broadband reaches 93% of properties in Cumbria by 2015.  Communities not receiving 24Mb/s can devise their own schemes and apply for RCBF funding.  
Connecting Cumbria

This scheme has been highly controversial as virtually all funding has gone straight to BT to help them upgrade their exchange equipment – something which they would have had to have done anyway (but would have had to do more slowly).  Another major problem with the scheme has been that BT have, in many cases, failed to release information regarding which houses will be in the 93% and which will not. There has also been criticism of the quality of the broadband some homes which are covered by the scheme will receive as alternative proposals planned to provide speeds in excess of 500Mb/s.
On a more positive note, 93% coverage is a very substantial undertaking in a very rural county.  Let’s look at the numbers.

According to Wikipedia 496,200 people live in Cumbria.  Of these 318,271 (64%) live in the 20 biggest towns and villages in Cumbria.  Distington is the smallest of these top 20 with just under 4000 people (Cleator Moor has 7000).  So let’s assume people who live in these places are covered.  That leaves 178,000 people in the smaller villages, hamlets and isolated dwelling of Cumbria.  Of these remaining people about 143,000 (80%) should be covered by Connecting Cumbria.  Clearly this figure must include most of our villages.   
On the other hand that still leaves about 35,000 people without broadband and far more with reason to doubt whether the quality of the broadband they look set to receive will meet current, yet alone emerging needs. 

In theory funding is available to help communities to set up their own schemes.   In practice this has been highly problematic due to not only to the uncertainty regarding what Connecting Cumbria will provide but also due to the complex red tape and the legal exposure those seeking to develop schemes have had to face.  Some progress has now been made as Cumbria County council have agreed to act as the accountable body for projects including Eden Valley Digital, Great Asby and Northern Fells.    The Northern Fells group are probably our best source of advice being located nearby (four of the seven parishes involved are in northern and eastern Allerdale).  I hear the BARN (B4NW) project is also making good progress in South Cumbria.

So what’s happening and what should be happening here in West Cumbria?  Your views are invited here, through public or private message on my Facebook page or by contacting my directly (even snailmail to 12 Kirkgate is welcome).
Rebecca Hanson.

Further information is available on the web via the following press releases:

Throughout this article my calculations assume we have the same average number of people per household in isolated dwelling as we have in urban areas.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Draft submission regarding traffic issues associated with the proposed development of around 350 houses at Strawberry How, Cockermouth

I am publishing the submission I intend to make regarding the traffic problems associated with SCO/2013/0008 which is the substantial development of approximately 350 houses on the land at Strawberry How.  All comments and suggestions are invited.  I intend to make my final submission on Wednesday 17th July 2013.

Although traffic flow is the only issue this submission attempts to address, it does not assume traffic flow is the only issue which needs to be addressed before this development can proceed.


Cockermouth suffers from traffic flow pinch points which are associated with its rivers.

This proposed development lies in the part of town which is to the east of the river Cocker.  There is no connection to the A66 on the east of the river Cocker (both Cockermouth junctions are to the west of the river Cocker).  This means that all west bound traffic from the East side of town has to travel through the centre of town.

The land to the east of the river Cocker is split into three land blocks by two small rivers:
A. The Riverdale Estate & Strawberry How to the south of Tom Rudd Beck.
B. The Slate Fell Estate which lies between Tom Rudd Beck and Bitterbeck.
C. The hospital/school/Rose lane Estate which lies to the north of Bitterbeck. 

There are currently no road links between the three blocks of land except in the centre of town (Kirkgate area).

This development straddles Tom Rudd Beck and so must include a bridge which will link the first and second blocks of land.

The Three Key Issues:

This development poses three issues which must be addressed before it can be authorised. These issues are:

1.      That the road links between land blocks A and B need to be completed.

2.      That there needs to be a link to the A66.

3.      That this development needs to be compatible with the building of a road to land block C.

Issue 1: That the road links between the first and second land blocks need to be completed

The land proposed for this development lies beyond a very substantial housing estate in land block B (Slate Fell).  This estate currently has only one road exit onto Kirkgate which is a very narrow road.  A substantial extension to the Slate Fell estate (the Gable Avenue part) was only allowed on the proviso that a second road exit would be created which linked it to the first block of land, providing the enlarged estate with the road infrastructure it needs.  Thus when this estate extension was build two roads were left open ended;  one from the Gable Avenue estate extension (at Ullswater Drive) and one from the main estate (now from Bellbrigg Lonning).

 It was originally intended that the connections would be rapidly made to support the estate extension when the intended factory which justified the building of the Gable Avenue estate was built on the land on which this planning development is proposed.  However the plans for the factory fell through leaving this estate with incomplete and inadequate road infrastructure until an alternative development plan could be found for this piece of land.  One of the key reasons why the land on which has this development has been consistently identified as being suitable for development it’s development can enable the completion of this road infrastructure.

Astonishingly the development proposed blocks off both these roads and chooses instead to develop this estate as a cul-de-sac from the first block of land.  By doing so it prevents the substantial Slatefell/Gable Avenue estate from ever having the essential road infrastructure planned for it.  Clear direction needs to be given to the developer by all relevant authorities on this issue.

Issue 2: That there needs to be a link to the A66

Following the completion of the Riverdale estate, the development of Strawberry How and then the opening of Sainsburys , the issue of traffic exiting from land blocks A and B got substantially worse.  All traffic from these routes has to pass either though the substandard junction at the end of Lorton road or down Kirkgate.  In 2004 all options were explored to improve the flow of traffic through both routes including the development of one way streets and systems were considered.  All changes which could be made to improve things were made.   

It was concluded that a junction with the A66 was needed on the East side of town at this time.  Our councillors agreed to campaign for this and to act to prevent further development until it was provided.  Anybody not party to these consultations is welcome to contact me to view the details of them which I have in hard copy form.

In the meantime we have evolved a system whereby the confident drivers who know local driving well and who are not afraid of having to back their cars substantial distances use Kirkgate (employing complex established systems of giving way which get traffic through the difficult junction at the bottom at the rate of about 600 cars/hour) which the less confident driver generally use the substandard light controlled junction at Lorton Street.  This system is obviously not ideal due to the volume of traffic pouring through the mainly pedestrian Market Place area as evidence by the very heave wear on the road surface, however the main barrier to it being effective is the fact that Kirkgate is a main artery for services located underneath the road.  As a single width road without pavements in places it is therefore closed when works are needed which, as records will demonstrate, is often and for long periods of time.  During these periods Cockermouth gridlocks and the roads fail to function, with people being stuck for typically 45 mins or more. 

This issue can and must be addressed before further housing development takes place which will inevitably substantially exacerbate this problem.

Issue 3: Problems of access to the Rose Lane/school/hospital estate

Traffic from land block C is also beyond its road capacity, relying as it does on the use of Castlegate with its long single width restriction.  Further housing development in town will exacerbate this problem.  The development which is being considered is proposed for land where the required road infrastructure could be located.  Care needs to be taken to ensure that there is a coherent plan in place for this road infrastructure which is not blocked by inappropriate planning of this development.