Thursday, February 07, 2002

Copeland Council's erstwhile leader, Robin Simpson, last week called on the new government landlords of Sellafield to help give the area an economic lifeline.

Under arrangements still being finalised, a Liabilities Management Authority will take over ownership of Sellafield's nuclear operations, including ownership of Thorp and the controversial Mox plant.

"We need to seriously look at this," Robin Simpson told the full council, before his resignation.

"If the government is going to take over the liabilities for the nuclear industry then they should pick up some of the bills as well. In the past we have had to finance everything ourselves and that is wrong."

He singled out the Westlakes Science and Technology Park, which BNFL helped set up to help lessen the area's dependence on Sellafield, as a good example.

"Westlakes is a national institution but it has had to spend 1.4 million of its own money paying for a road junction which was necessary for its expansion. That money could have been better spent."

Whitehaven Tory councillor, Alistair Norwood, warned that the area was in danger of becoming "a wasteland" unless it got help.

"Look at all the promises we have had for this scheme or that scheme, then, at the last minute, they have turned out to be nothing but mist," he declared.

"If we don't make things happen we will face severe economic problems. Our grants from central government are being cut down and, as the population declines, the money we have to spend will continue to shrink."

Coun John Henney said high-tech, high-value, developments ,such as Westlakes, were the solution for Copeland.

Another member of the council's Executive, Brian Dixon, also praised Westlakes for being "successful world wide," but condemned Cumbria County Council for neglecting the area.

"It is detrimental to Copeland and West Cumbria in general. The County will have to listen because local people are being denied the opportunity to provide for their families. Why should we be treated as second-class citizens? The fight is on but if we all work in partnership we can be successful."

Council leader Robin Simpson claimed that efforts were being hampered by too many agencies.

"Do away with the lot and just have one - they all have their own agendas, fighting each other, while we are struggling."

Copeland Council's regeneration strategy identifies poor transport as a key factor in the lack of investment and is helping to press for A66/A595 upgrading to improve vital links into West Cumbria.

The council is also sticking to its guns for a Duddon estuary crossing, to further improve communications.

But another identified key to future success is Broad Band - a high capacity telecommunications network, in West Cumbria.

Coun Henney said that at present "the cable went across the top of Whitehaven but not in the town centre."

Brian Dixon described it as "the next phase of the industrial revolution" and Alistair Norwood added: "It is information these days, not goods moving about. It is only moving about vast amounts of information that will create wealth for us. Without it we are in serious trouble."

"Copeland are looking for an urgent meeting with the county council to try and get to grips with the area's problems."