THIS town desperately needs a Neighbourhood Plan – was the call from members of the public at Cockermouth's parish meeting.

County, borough and town councillors gathered at the town hall for the annual event.

Former town councillor Jim Hully asked them if they regretted their decision not to proceed with a Neighbourhood Plan - a community-driven development masterplan - and said it was critical that changes were made.

"The problem I see is the decimation of the town," he said.

"When I left this council we had banks in the town, it was vibrant and we only had one empty shop.

"Now there's going to be tumbleweed blowing down the street if you do not do something.

"With the number of planning applications being submitted and in the light that developers are looking at Cockermouth as being a honey pot do the town councillors now regret not providing a Neighbourhood Plan?"

Mayor David Malloy said: "Personally, no."

He was supported by Councillors Alan Tyson and Rebecca Hanson.

Councillor Eric Nicholson said: "The idea of a local plan came at the wrong time and too late, it takes two years to do.

"The time to do a Neighbourhood Plan is when Allerdale finally get their 2029 plans done, then we stand a chance of shaping things."

He said it would cost about £50,000 and the plans have a "massive failure rate".

Councillors Alan Smith and Len Davies spoke in favour of a plan, as did John Dent, of Cockermouth Civic Trust.

Councillor Smith said: "I have always been an advocate of the Neighbourhood Plan in Cockermouth, I still strongly believe it would help this town.

"Over the past 12 months we have seen a plethora of private building and small estates. The plan would give us more of a say on things.

"At the moment we only have the Local Plan, it's not working. Since it was written the government have altered planning laws hand over fist in the past six years. It's easier for developers to put in appeals and win and put houses up.

"The Neighbourhood Plan would give a voice to the people out there regarding what they want to see."

Councillor Davies said: "I regret that one wasn't bought in, it's a shame.

"My understanding is that a Neighbourhood Plan cannot stop development but it can have a huge impact on it.

"If the Neighbourhood Plan had come in when the Strawberry How application had come in I don't think for a minute it would be built where it is or how many all at once.

"You're likening it to a honey pot, I'm likening it to a gold rush with scant regard for the infrastructure - schools and local health services, environment and way of life for the local people.

"The prime example for that is the threat to the Public Right of Way that leads to Slatefell.

"The developer doesn't care about the fact that pathway has been used for generation by generation. My hope is that this issue will be addressed again and we will adopt one.

"Regarding the Neighbourhood Plan, it's not necessary to reinvent the wheel, all we have to do is look in to which ones are used in other parts of the country and pick out which ever one is best practice.

"Enough is enough, we are going to end with this beautiful town being turned into a concrete jungle.

"Let's address the issue again and have some commonsense prevailing to protect our town."

Councillor Hanson said: "Neighbourhood Plans have worked in places where people have had a specific vision of what they wanted to achieve.

"Time and time again I came back to the people of Cockermouth and said what can we achieve here. I was looking for something deliverable, pragmatism and realism about what can be achieved, but I never found it.

"When people say the only way people can be heard is through a Neighbourhood Plan that's not true."

Councillor Tyson said: "Neighbourhood Plan only relates to the use and development of land and this is particularly in addressing a shortage of homes. We know there's no shortage of homes in Cockermouth, we have a surplus until 2029.

"The answer is not a Neighbourhood Plan, which has a success rate of about six per cent. We need to support Cockermouth Vision and work with Allerdale."

Councillor Tyson's definition of a plan was contested by David Cornwall, who said: "The Neighbourhood Plan provides a powerful set of tools for local people to ensure they get the right types of development for their community.

"Cockermouth needs a Neighbourhood Plan, enough is enough."