It is a familiar sight to any regular commuter on the M6 through Cumbria.

At a certain time of day, the traffic at Junction 40 with the A66 begins to back up – leaving a blinking red line of brake lights down the sliproad and onto the motorway.

As irritating – and potentially dangerous – as this may be, the congestion also presents an opportunity, one which Eden District Council is looking to exploit as part of its Strategic Masterplan for Penrith.

Published last year, the masterplan sets out a vision for Penrith for the next 30 years, which includes the development of 5,560 homes and 73 hectares of employment land.

Council leader Kevin Beaty said the masterplan was inextricably linked with the town’s status as a major road transport hub for the North of England and aimed to turn the heavy traffic into a big opportunity for the district.

He said this was especially true following promises by the Government to dual the A66 along its length to Scotch Corner.

“Penrith is at the crossroads of the county, but it’s also at a crossroads in terms of its development,” he said. “We’re in a good position because we don’t have a potential problem of one key business that could move out, we’ve got lots of very small businesses that are growing.

“They need to move as they grow to a bigger place and we don’t have enough employment land, we don’t have enough houses for their employees.”

The employment land identified in the masterplan is to the north of the town, within easy access of Junction 41.

Under the masterplan, this would become a far more busy junction for industrial traffic – taking pressure off Junction 40 to the south.

“Part of our big plans for Penrith and a driver for the whole Eden economy is that Junction 41, which is one of the least used junctions on the M6, could become an area for much more important land and some of the logistic businesses that have overgrown our current business parks can move there rather than moving out of the district entirely,” he said.

Coun Beaty said there was already outline permission for employment land at the junction

“We want control of that development so that we can create and maintain that nice feel of a market town rather than have it sprawl,” he adds.

As well as being an important transport hub for nuclear developments in West Cumbria, Coun Beaty said the A66 also provided a link to Teesport in the Tees Valley – which has received a £90m funding package for development and expansion.

He said the district was also set to play an important part in the Borderlands project, as well as benefiting from Northern Powerhouse developments in Greater Manchester and Liverpool.

Although the current masterplan has no statutory weight, Coun Beaty says the findings from the consultation would be used to amend it and then be fed into the council’s future Local Plan.

“We’ve had good support from businesses. The public have some reservations about what we’re proposing and the scale of it. It was put out there to be a discussion and so anything that isn’t particularly liked can be changed,” he said.

Data from the consultation will be analysed by the universities of Cumbria and Lancaster this year.

  • This article appears in the January issue of in-Cumbria magazine, available now. To subscribe for free, click here