A proposal to build what would have been the longest zipwire in the northern hemisphere was today turned down by planners at the Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA).
Members of the development control committee decided by nine votes to five to reject the plan for a 1200-metre single cable from the summit of Fleetwith Pike to Honister Slate Mine's car park. The tourist attraction, the site of the UK's only pay-to-play via ferrata, has already been in the news this year following the tragic death of its owner Mark Weir.
A report from the LDNPA Head of Development Management David McGowan said the zipwire was 'one of the most unusual planning applications in the National Park in recent years.'
The 110-page report said that while other applications may have been more significant in terms of their scale, few had captured as much public interest, with 476 letters of support, a 11,500 strong petition in favour, and 255 letters opposed to the scheme. The letters of support suggested the zipwire would: provide new employment opportunities; support the tourism economy; encourage younger visitors to the Lake District; and be a natural extension to the industrial history of the Honister area.
On the other hand objectors to the scheme claimed the scheme would: impact on the visual appearance of the national park; create extra traffic on narrow roads; be a hazard to walkers; cause noise, be a distraction for motorists and harm nature conservation.
The LDNPA committee came to their decision after a three-hour debate. The proposal has attracted strong feeling on both sides. Sir Chris Bonington spoke in favour of the application, while in the no camp were national and local environmental and amenity groups including the British Mountaineering Council, Campaign for National Parks, Friends of the Lake District, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, the Fell and Rock Climbing Club, the Open Spaces Society and the Ramblers Association. Natural England, the Government's statutory advisor on wildlife and landscape, also objected to the proposal.
David McGowan told a packed meeting that this was an extraordinary application and members had to make their decision based on both individual values and those of the organisation, to take into account the balanced issue of the zipwire in this landscape.
The proposed site is on one of the most environmentally sensitive areas of the National Park, designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation – a European level of landscape protection. Honister Slate Mine was last month fined £15,000 for a breach of environmental rules, and ordered to pay £13,190 costs in addition, having been using a stretch of via ferrata that was installed without prmission from Natural England. This led to damage to part of the SSSI on Fleetwith Pike, and Natural England expressed concern that more development at the site would only lead to more damage. With a record that questionable perhaps Honister's zipwire proposal was undone by their own hand?
Landscape conservation charity Friends of the Lake District, who had spoken against the zipwire, naturally sounded upbeat about the outcome.
Planning officer Richard Pearse said:
'We're very pleased with the decision, it's a victory for the environment, it's victory for national parks and what the they stand for – free access to an outstanding natural landscape. The economic argument for this development was not overwhelming, and it should not outweigh the fundamental damage it would have caused to one of the most outstanding areas of the country.'
'Adventurous outdoor pursuits are available all over the Lake District – in the form of rock climbing and mountain biking for example, and are enjoyed by large numbers of young (and not so young) people, in harmony with the environment. The scale of this proposal in this location was inappropriate however.'
'The decision reflects the strength of feeling and quality of arguments put forward by a wide group of organisations and individuals, who, like us, all believe that the open fell tops, free from man made developments, should be protected for everyone's benefit.'