Will new developments threaten the future of Ambleside?
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 September 2014 | UPDATED: 19:48 23 March 2016
This bustling town has been a premier destination for decades but there are fears a new hotel could spell ruin
For generations of holiday-makers and day-trippers Ambleside has been a firm favourite. Its unspoiled narrow streets and glorious open landscapes continue to attract many thousands of visitors upon whom the local economy relies. But Ambleside is under threat.
Concerned residents and businesspeople fear the pretty little community could become a ghost town if a rash of proposed developments are given the go-ahead. They say the plans, which include a new hotel and a supermarket, would change Ambleside for ever and damage the town irrevocably.
They have formed the group Future Ambleside to campaign against the proposals and to oppose the demolition of Hill Top, a 19th century building which faces being bulldozed to make way for a 64-bed Premier Inn. The building has been sold – for a sum though to be in the region of £1m – subject to Whitbread, the owners of the Premier Inn chain, receiving planning permission.
The group is also worried about the impact a new Sainsbury’s store could have on the independent traders who are such a part of daily life here. Artist Russell Mills, one of the committee spearheading the campaign, said: ‘There are several conjoined issues that have come together which could all individually have detrimental effects on Ambleside but when combined could be devastating.
‘There are many uses Hill Top could be put to but the University of Cumbria have gone straight for the hotel option and straight to the demolition option rather than conversion.
‘They say it will bring jobs, vibrancy and money to the town but we have full employment here so the jobs won’t be for local people, they will be for people being bussed in from other areas so the money they earn will not be spent in the town and the money the hotel makes will go to shareholders who don’t give a damn about Ambleside.
‘We don’t have an argument with Premier Inn as a business but it’s just not right for here and traffic will be another issue – both during the construction of the hotel and after it is open. The road to the site is not called the Struggle for no reason and it would be impossible for delivery vehicles and the emergency services to access the hotel, especially in bad weather. The whole idea is all wrong.’
Janet Whitworth, the University of Cumbria’s chief operating officer, said: ‘We initially had a firm enquiry from a housing developer but they backed away because they didn’t think it would work for them and we then accepted a bid from Stoford Limited who we knew were intending to lease the site to Whitbread for a Premier Inn.
‘We have sold it to them because they were the ones who came forward with the money. I’ve heard it said that we should have sold it for social housing but no-one wanted to buy it for that purpose. We have not sold it to the highest bidder but to the only bidder.
‘I understand some of the things people are saying and a new hotel may well have a knock-on effect for other businesses in the town. But I do think that some people have made up their minds that it will be horrible before they have seen the plans and they may not be as bad as people think.’
Russell, who has created album covers for musicians including Peter Gabriel and American rock band Nine Inch Nails, was one of a group of about eight people who met initially to oppose the hotel scheme but with a few weeks two further issues came to light.
They have since collected almost 3,000 names on a petition against the hotel plan and have enlisted the support of local MPs, councillors and the former head of the CBI, Lord Digby Jones who said that if a chain like Premier Inn moved in it would ‘dilute Ambleside’s brand’.
And Yorkshire-born Russell, who has lived in Ambleside for 23 years, added: ‘Sainsbury’s want to develop a new store just outside the town with a large free car park and Cumbria County Council want to introduce parking charges on ten of the main streets.
‘Some of those streets have now been removed from the list but it will still be more appealing for visitors to park for free and shop at the supermarket than have a hard time finding a free place to park in the town and spend money with local shops.
‘If the proposals all go ahead the centre of Ambleside will be a ghost town. Small b&bs will be forced out of business by the budget hotel, small shops will close because of the supermarket and anyone who still wants to park in the town will have to pay to do so.’
There have also been claims that the proposed developments in Ambleside could open the floodgates for a rash of other schemes across the area before the Lake District National Park applies for World Heritage Site status in 2016 and, if they’re successful, tighter new planning rules come into force.
But James Anderson, who works for planning company Turley and organised the public consultations on the hotel scheme, said: ‘I’ve not heard those claims before and I genuinely don’t think anyone has thought along those lines.
‘We want to reassure people that having a Premier Inn in Ambleside won’t result in the catastrophic demise of their village. What it would do is to democratise the visitor base and mean that people who are loyal to the Premier Inn brand or who would rather stay in a hotel rather than an independent b&b can come and stay in Ambleside and not just be a day tripper.
‘A hotel of this size is not going to have a huge impact, it will just provide one extra option that doesn’t exist at the moment. Yes, there are challenges because of the geography of the site but people are working hard to overcome them.’
Where it is: Ambleside stands at the head of Windermere on the A591. Typing LA22 9DJ into your satnav should take you to the town centre.
Where to park: There are pay and display car parks on the edge of the town centre and free on-street parking is available (for now, at least).
Where to eat: You’ll be spoiled for choice with cafes, pubs, restaurants and tearooms all over town. We particularly like Zeferelli’s.
Where to drink: Again, there’s plenty of choice but for good beer in a traditional Lakeland Inn, try the Golden Rule on Smithy Brow.
What to do: Ambleside is a popular base for climbing, hiking and biking but if you’re feeling like les strenuous exercise explore the shops, many of them in narrow passages or yards, offering everything from jewellery made from locally quarried stone to home-made chocolates.
More information: Ambleside Tourist Information Centre is in the market place and online at thehubofambleside.co.uk. Another useful website is amblesideonline.co.uk.