It makes a real change to see a major planning application in Belper that does not fill me with dread. After a series of applications at Bullsmoor, Bessalone Hill and Mount Pleasant, all of which threaten our World Heritage Site, we finally have something to celebrate.
The plans are for a brand new integrated care centre with 40 private rooms, communal areas, public library, café and associated external landscaping and car parking. The former Thorntons site on Derwent Street will see the historic factory frontage sensitively retained, and a community space will be created outside the front of the town’s new library. Residents of council owned Ada Belfield home were all consulted, and agreed unanimously to move to the new larger facility. Ada Belfield will remain open until the new site is opened.
With the well-publicised crisis in the NHS and social care, in which the county could be set to lose over 500 hospital beds should the local NHS STP plan be enacted, we can be thankful that our Labour county council have retained council run care homes. The 2012 Conservative plan was to have all of the counties 17 homes closed and replaced with sheltered housing – that plan thankfully collapsed. Whilst many councils around the country are closing libraries and care homes, Derbyshire are building them.
I know that Belper’s County Councillor John Owen has been instrumental in seeing that the Derwent street plans are realised, and it was with John Owen that I was discussing the parking crisis that is hitting Belper. The Town council have been relying on a temporary measure of renting the land at the bottom of Derwent Street for some years now – but as the land owners have planning permission for housing on the site it is no longer an option.
This should not come as a surprise to the Town council. In the summer of 2014 they proposed charging for using the Coppice car park, supposedly to put off commuters from parking there all day and freeing up parking space for shoppers. Thank goodness their crazy unfunded plan to build a Leisure Centre off Field Lane, on the infamous £1.6 million plot of land, never took off. With swimmers and gym users competing with shoppers, we would have been right in a pickle!
When I recently asked the Council to sell that ‘Leisure centre’ land, partly to fund the River Garden Tearooms, the borough Councillor for Alport ward suggested that it be used as a car park extension. As well as putting off the inevitable panic again until that land is sold, it would also surely be one of the most expensive car parks per space in history!
We need a sensible and long term solution, not more mañana from Councillors who can’t think of solutions.
For starters, how about having some parking restrictions at the Coppice, keeping parking free, but limiting time to perhaps 2 or 3 hours with a restriction, and thus reserving it for shoppers and visitors? Should we ask the County Council to consider putting similar time restrictions on the likes of Church lane, and the bottom of Chesterfield Road? Commuters – and I am one who regularly parks in town to take the train – may have to consider that it is not in the collective interest to leave our cars in the town all day.
Is it even time for Belper to consider a multi-story car park on the Field Lane site?
Whatever is decided, Belper’s ruling Councillors at both Borough and Town level need to get to grips with this issue. As it stands our shops will suffer, tourists won’t be able to visit and Belper and its people will be poorer for it. The Town Council will be considering the Derwent Street car park closure as item 21 on the Agenda on the 7th February at 7.00pm, St Johns Chapel.
As a final thought, it is not often that a Labour politician will be caught praising a Conservative, but my praise and admiration does go to our Mayor Gary Spendlove. Gary has recently given his time and energy, along with World Transplant Games athlete Simon Elmore, to take part in a 100 mile ‘Epic Walk for Life’ around Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. The walk is to promote the importance of the organ donor register.
In life there is nothing harder than losing a loved one. It is then, when we are our most raw and vulnerable, when we are faced with the question that cannot wait. It is a question that cuts through any denial of reality. It brings us back with a jolt to facing the fact that our father, mother, son or daughter is gone for ever. The question is that of organ donorship.
By registering, and making our wishes known to our nearest and dearest, we can spare those left behind from this most terrible question. And we can help bring joy and new life to people desperate for a new organ, transforming lives.