A Lake District-based company, Treetop Trek, has floated the idea of installing a mile-long zipwire attraction above the village of Glenridding. Controversial zipwire proposals are becoming almost routine in the Lakes, where last year the National Park Authority rejected the well-publicised Honister bid for a second time (see UKH news here). A public meeting about the latest plan (Glenridding Village Hall, Wednesday 3 Dec, 7pm), will be attended by the company's director Mike Turner and Lake District National Park chief executive Richard Leafe. They seem likely to get a hostile reception. Local resident Rob Shephard, who runs the website Helvellyn.com, is among many in Glenridding to feel that the area is unsuited to this sort of development. He also fears that the scheme could prove a conflict of interest for the National Park Authority. Here's why:
The Story so far
The Lake District National Park (LDNP) has issued a planning advice statement to a company who are considering developing a new ‘attraction’ in Glenridding – at least four parallel, mile-long zip lines, with operating speeds of up to 100 mph, running from somewhere on Greenside mine, down the valley to the fields above Glenridding.
On Monday 29th September I attended, along with 100 or so other residents from the Dale, a meeting at Glenridding Village Hall at which the company involved shared a platform alongside representatives of the National Park to answer questions from people about the proposals. In a nutshell they both said that no formal application for planning had been made but that Glenridding was being considered by the company “along with other options in the Lake District”. The company involved already runs a much smaller scale zip wire attraction in Windermere, coincidentally at the Lake District National Park visitor centre at Brockhole, and its business partner runs similar attractions in Wales. At the end of the meeting we were left no clearer as to when and if an application would be put in, and on what basis a decision would be made by the company.
"There are other sites far more appropriate, not least of which is Honister"
Four reasons why the Lake District National Park can never say yes to a zipwire in Glenridding:
- Agreeing to it would be contrary to everything that the Lake District National Park Authority should stand for in terms of its founding objectives.
- Zip lines in the Ullswater and Helvellyn area would be utterly out of keeping with the natural beauty, peace and tranquillity of the dale.
- They would have a negative impact on the local economy by driving away people who already come and spend here precisely because of its current “unspoilt” nature.
- The National Park Authority has a clear conflict of interest given the considerable financial gain it would receive from the attraction.
Let me give a little more detail to each of these reasons:
This type of installation is contrary to the LDNP’s own objectives
The objective of the Park Authority according to its own website is “to conserve and enhance its natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage and to help people understand and enjoy its special qualities. National Parks are protected under legislation and the planning system to ensure conservation and enhancement of their special qualities not just for the present, but also for future generations of residents and visitors”. I'm not sure how four parallel mile long zipwires on metal pylons installed on a scheduled ancient monument in an area of outstanding natural beauty quite fits in with that. There is even the “Sandford Principle” – Section 62 of the Environment Act 1995, which makes clear that if National Park purposes are in conflict then conservation must have priority.
Ullswater and Helvellyn is an inappropriate place for such an attraction
People come to the Ullswater and Helvellyn area to enjoy the many varied activities already on offer, and to enjoy the unspoilt natural beauty and tranquillity of the place. Whether it’s walking, mountain biking, fell running, climbing, canyoning, sailing, kayaking, canoeing, swimming or just relaxing and enjoying the views there are already an abundance of visitors, young and old who come here to have fun and enjoy themselves, without the need for additional gimmicks. There are already places where people can go for this sort of activity in the National Park, such as Whinlatter, Grizedale, and of course Brockhole. As for the mine itself, it is a scheduled ancient monument, and an SSSI and as such highly inappropriate for any sort of development. The mine also houses several hostels which are used by hundreds of children a year, many from areas of social deprivation, and for whom the whole benefit of coming to the area is to get an appreciation of nature – not likely if all they can see is the opportunity to zip down a mile long funfair ride. Sadly of course these sort of children wouldn’t be able to afford the zip line anyway.
The new attraction is likely to have a negative impact on the local economy
Among the key perceived benefits of the new attraction are new jobs and increased visitors. However, as with all claims of prosperity for all, it is worth looking more closely at the economic impact. As stated above many of the people who currently stay and spend money in the area do so for its unspoilt peacefulness. It is highly likely that many of these people will not want to return if their tranquillity is marred by noise levels generated by the zipwires, and their views ruined by large metal pylons. In addition most of the revenue generated will go straight to the company running the attraction and the National Park themselves: more on that in a minute.
If current visitors end up going elsewhere, this will threaten existing local jobs.
As for the new jobs? By the company’s own admission most of the jobs it has generated in Brockhole are seasonal and low paid. No one disagrees that we need more employment for young people in the dale, but we need more skilled fulltime jobs which will allow them to thrive and support their own families. So unless you’re the operator, the LDNP, or after a part time, seasonal, low paid job, then this will have no benefit to local people. Indeed it is more likely to reduce their revenues and job prospects.
The LDNP has a clear conflict of interest in the whole thing
As the landowner of the site where this development is proposed, and the owner of many of the facilities to be used by visitors, there is a clear conflict of interest between LDNP’s primary role as the “protector” of the National Park through its planning committee and the commercial benefit it would directly receive as a result of a positive planning decision.
So how would the LDNP Authority benefit financially? Here are five ways for a start:
The proposal is that visitors to the attraction park in the LDNP carpark in Glenridding – at up to £8 a go currently.
“Riders”, as they’re apparently called, would then use the LDNP Tourist Information Centre in Glenridding to purchase their tickets, for which service again the LDNP would presumably be paid.
“Riders” would then be bussed up to Greenside Mine, potentially on a “land train” along a bridlepath, most of which is owned by, you’ve guessed it, the LDNP.
When arriving at the start, customers would be kitted out in a new visitor centre, which may well be the existing LDNP hostel at the site.
After no doubt having a coffee and cake in the new cafe which is likely to be built in the LDNP owned building, the “Riders” will then get into 4x4s to drive up the fell to the start of their ride, built on LDNP land and for which the company operating the attraction will be paying rent.
So the Lake District National Park Authority would get money from the entire life-cycle of the attraction – parking, ticket purchase, transport to the start, and of course the zip lines themselves.
There are a host of other issues associated with the proposal too, from parking and sewage to the fact that access to the mine is via a single track bridleway used by walkers and bikers, people who might struggle when the “landtrain” is zipping past every 10 minutes or so. But really the scheme should not get far enough that we have to get into the practical nitty gritty.
It is a mad plan, and the very idea should be dropped forever.
There are other sites far more appropriate, not least of which is Honister.
So what next?
We, the residents of the dale, are now waiting for the company to decide whether to submit a formal planning application or not, and for the National Park to then “do its thing”.