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Rob Johnston CEO Cumbria Chamber

Make Lake District a magnet for tech and high-value firms looking to escape London, argues business chief

Published on: Thursday 20th December 2018
Categorised under: Live, Work , Digital, Technology

Rob Johnston, chief executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, argued that the national park should become the ‘destination of choice’ for tech and service businesses looking to relocate from the capital.

He made the call in response to a Government review of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), designed to make them more business-friendly.

Mr Johnston said: “Currently, much of the employment within National Parks and AONBs is relatively low-paid work in hospitality, retail, and agriculture and forestry.

“That can change. Because these areas are such attractive places to live and work, they could become a destination of choice for high-value tech and service businesses looking to leave London and other large cities to reduce their costs.

“Technology allows these businesses to operate from any location that has good digital and transport connectivity.

“They would create higher-paid employment to reinvigorate rural communities that have become dominated by second homes and wealthy incoming retirees.

“That way National Parks and AONBs can be living, sustainable, entities rather than rural theme parks.”

Cumbria Chamber of Commerce consulted more than 60 business operating in Cumbria’s two national parks and three AONBs through a survey and workshop, to help shape a total of 12 recommendations.

These include giving National Parks an economic development role, including a duty to improve broadband and mobile phone coverage, and streamlining the planning process to reduce the costs for businesses and make it easier to change the use of redundant buildings.

It has also called for more innovative ways to fund transport improvements, such as park and ride, and disincentivising second home ownership, suggesting a phase-in of higher council tax rates to help fund social housing.

And it also wants to see a representative from the business community on each national park authority and the creation of a National Park Ombudsman.

Mr Johnston said the recommendations aimed to help businesses overcome the challenges they faced, while at the same time protect the natural environment.

The Government has commissioned writer Julian Glover to lead the review of National Parks and AONBs to ensure they are fit for purpose in the 21st century. Its call for evidence closed on Tuesday.

In addition to containing the whole of the Lake District National Park, Cumbria is also home to a substantial part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park as well as the Arnside and Silverdale, North Pennines and Solway Coast AONBs.

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