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Thursday, 21 August 2014

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Hopes high for boom

People in the Caldewgate area of Carlisle are hoping that the site of one of the city’s oldest businesses will not lie idle for too long.

Alexandra Sawmills, which has been in business for 183 years, closed for the final time on Wednesday with the loss of 11 jobs.

The firm has declined to comment on the shutdown or the reasons for it. Its closure potentially leaves vacant a sizeable industrial site in Caldewgate.

Those who live and work in the area are hopeful that given recent developments there, it could prove an attractive location were it to end up on the market.

Elsie Martlew, one of the councillors who represents Caldewgate on Carlisle City Council, said: “I am disappointed to see it close. It must have been one of the oldest businesses trading in Carlisle.

“The construction industry is in the doldrums, but this is a business that has weathered recessions in the past. I hope staff have been told the reasons about the closure. It’s one thing not telling the public, but I hope they’ve told staff.”

Mrs Martlew is, however, hopeful that prospects for a future use may have been found after the opening of a £40m Sainsbury’s supermarket last month, which has transformed the face of Caldewgate with the demolition of old shops and a roads revamp.

“I’m sure a use will be found for the site,” she added.

“Before Sainsbury’s the access was through Byron Street, which was narrow. Now they have a new road through Willowholme. It’s opened the site up.”

It is understood that many of the employees at Alexandra Sawmills had worked for the company for more than 20 years.

Another Castle ward councillor, Willie Whalen, described the closure as “a blow” to the city.

He said: “I used to use the sawmill when I worked as a joiner and it was good quality timber and excellent customer service.

“This is a big loss to Carlisle and it’s sad because the Caldewgate area appears to be on the up.

“Success was being created there but this has put a bit of a damper on it.”

Alexandra Sawmills was founded in 1830 by the late Robert Creighton – a former mayor and freeman of the city – in the name of R and JR Creighton Ltd (Alexandra Steam Sawmills) as timber importers, merchants and slate merchants.

In 1929, the sawmill and most of the surrounding buildings were destroyed by fire and as a result of this, the third generation of the Creighton family decided to sell the business.

In 1930, after 100 years of trading, the company was sold and began trading as The Alexandra Sawmills Ltd. In 2005, the timber yard, sawmill and offices were devastated when the city flooded, along with many other properties and businesses.

The premises was forced to close for three months for a massive clean-up operation. The sawmill was refitted with new machinery and the offices refurbished.

Meanwhile, in another potential blow to Caldewgate, fears have emerged that a 200-room halls of residence could close because of an over-supply of student accommodation.

The Old Brewery in Carlisle, run by Impact Housing Association, has filled just 117 of its rooms this year and fears it is losing out to new developments in nearby Denton Holme.

Impact chief executive Mike Muir said: “We have grave doubts as to whether our scheme will survive in the medium term.

“Border Homes has just built phase one of their Denton Holme scheme and brought another 250 places into the system, at a time when overall Carlisle student numbers are not increasing.”

It is a situation in sharp contrast to last year when there was a desperate scramble to find accommodation for a bumper intake at the University of Cumbria before the introduction of tuition fees.

Mrs Martlew, who lives next to the Old Brewery Halls, hopes they don’t close.

But she said: “If Impact could not maintain the halls of residence, I’d hope they could come to some sort of deal with the Youth Hostels Association.

“During the summer and holidays, the halls turn into a hostel. Years ago we used to have a hostel at Etterby and the YHA have always been looking for something central.

“It’s ideally situated next to the castle and across the road from Tullie House and the cathedral.”

Mrs Martlew believes a call she is pursuing to have a pedestrian crossing installed on Castle Way would link in well.

“It would be an ideal opportunity to have some tourist input in Caldewgate,” she added.

CStory@cngroup.co.uk

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