Cumbria Chamber of Commerce has written to the Lake District National Park Authority expressing support for the planning application for eight zipwires across Thirlmere’s open waters.

Image: David Mart

Rob Johnston, the Chamber’s Chief Executive, claims, “The economic benefits are likely to be substantial. It would create 28 full-time equivalent jobs, attract 127,000 visitors annually and boost GVA by £1.3m, so helping to “foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within the national park” – one of the National Park’s stated objectives”.

Friends of the Lake District is not anti-enterprise – we recognise that we need people living and earning their livings across the County, but this should be for the benefit, not at the expense of the landscape.

I can see how the Chamber of Commerce might see this development as a “big hit” of benefits, but this is surely a case where a single development will benefit one business, attracting a relatively small amount of visitors – but significantly and worryingly to one spot, paying a relatively large amount of money for a relatively short experience.

The effect on the landscape however threatens many other small, locally-run businesses who recognise that these dramatic, unspoilt views are a major contribution to what attracts their customers here instead of elsewhere. For Mr Johnston to say that “the impact of a zipwire would be trivial” i.e. “not worth bothering about”, is frankly disappointing. Those who love Thirlmere for what it is, and those whose businesses depend on visitors there, will no doubt disagree strongly.

This is not a debate that zipwires are wrong, but that they shouldn’t be erected in the wrong place. Cumbria Chamber of Commerce represents businesses across the whole of the County. Should they not be encouraging a development like this, not in a National Park and World Heritage Site, but in an area outwith the Park where there is a clear need for more jobs such as on the West Coast? This would also help to disperse visitor numbers over a wider area, spreading the economic benefits and diluting our traffic problems in the tourism hotspots.

Mr Johnston also says that this development would help meet “one of the National Park’s stated objectives”. What everyone must remember is that National Parks can only allow major development when it cannot be anywhere else, it is a national need and in the public interest. This cannot be the case here. Specifically the LDNPA Core Strategy includes “We want to protect visual amenity, including the skyline ..” and “‘We will support initiatives that reduce non-essential travel, especially car based visitors, over Dunmail Raise between North and Central/South East areas.

A zipwire in Cumbria may well bring economic benefits, but not if it is in the wrong place and damages the unique landscapes that sustain Cumbria and its visitors, both spiritually and economically.