Perspective: National Park Authority

Richard Leafe: Chief Executive of the Lake District National Park

“What makes the Lake District a World Class Attraction?”

The Lake District is World Class

The Lake District has been a National Park since 1951, was expanded by three per cent in 2016 and it has a stunning nationally and now internationally important landscape. This is recognised by its National Park designation and now its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

A vision of the future

Our vision for the National Park that we pursue in partnership with 25 other partners, including friends of the Lake District, is for it to be an inspirational example of sustainable development in action. A place with a prosperous economy, vibrant communities, world class visitor experiences - all of which comes together to sustain this spectacular landscape, wildlife and cultural heritage.

The world class visitor experience is recognised as a major part of our strategy and sits alongside, and is very much related to, all other components particularly in the care of the landscape.

Visitors to the Lake District

We know that for the past two years just over 19 million visitors have come to the Lake District, which makes us the most visited National Park in the UK. My view is that every one of these visitors is to be celebrated and it’s marvellous that so many people want to come and visit here and take in and enjoy the benefits of our National Park and the spectacular landscape.

This is very welcome for the benefits that it brings to each individual and it also helps sustain the economies of the National Park. Be that through the tourism industry, supporting farming through their diversified offers of tourist accommodation, campsites, shops and the farm produce that’s consumed locally.

But of course, a pressure that it brings is the ability to help move those 19 million people around the national park effectively and the impact that they each have on the landscape.

Sustainable transport is the way forward

A key area we’re working on as part of the Lake District National Park Partnership is to try to ensure that the visitor experience remains world-class.

We have a movement vision for 2040 that sets out how we’d like to see people move around the National Park in the future. In a nutshell, we recognise that visitor numbers may go on to increase in the future and if they do we’d like to see the bulk of these visitors arriving at the park by rail or by coach – without a car. We understand that some people will come by car but we’d like them to leave their vehicle in one place and travel about the park by more sustainable means – by boats, buses, trains and by walking and cycling.

We are putting in place the infrastructure that we need to encourage this and have made great progress, particularly with off-road cycle routes to enable that to happen. We believe that cycling is one of the very best ways to see and explore the Lake District.

We’re also planning for a future when movement is very different, we are equipping the park to cope with more electric cars and we’re experimenting with exciting new technologies such as driverless electric pods – which could possibly be part of our transport solutions in the future.

Our Fells

From the visitor survey statistics, we know that the vast majority of our visitors choose to walk in the park when they’re here. The amount of people who are active when they come to the park is very high and is to be welcomed, applauded and encouraged.

But this means that we need to go to work on making sure that people are aware of the problems of erosion on footpaths and to fix this damage.

Working with our partners through Fix the Fells is really important to achieve that, as is the work we’re doing in the low level routes.

Around £12 million has been spent repairing the damage to the footpath network following Storm Desmond and our ongoing maintenance and capital costs for Fix the Fells of around half a million pounds  per year need funding. I think it’s important that we encourage our visitors to make a financial contribution to that through the Lake District Foundation so that we can keep our vital footpaths in really good condition.

A Park for all

Although we have 19 million visitors, the vast majority are aged over 60 years old, according to the statistics. We therefore need to listen carefully to what young people and in particular, families, want from their visit to the National Park so we can provide for them, as well as people from different ethnic backgrounds. And in that respect I’m very proud of the work we’ve done at our visitor centre, Brockhole to provide a wide range of free and low cost activities for families and a range of heritage and thrill seeking activities so there really is something for everyone.

Climate Change

The most important topic for us as a National Park in the future is addressing the climate emergency. We have pioneered an approach over the last 10 years of accounting for our carbon through our ground-breaking carbon budget. The good news is – as a collective of 25 organisations through the Partnership we’ve succeeded in lowering our carbon use, but the bad news is that we’ve missed our target by about 50 per cent but we have managed to lower it significantly and we are determined to increase this effort.

And we are currently talking with partners in the Lake District and Cumbria as a whole about setting a net carbon zero date for the National Park.

We want to create a visitor destination where people can see and experience what the future quality of life could be in a net zero carbon world. That applies to the tourism industry in particular, and the way people move about the park and the accommodation, the food and drink that they consume, all of which should be as local and low carbon as possible, so people can get a glimpse of what the future looks like in the National Park.

Hopefully they then can take this home to their own lives and the experience will ripple through to the rest of the UK and beyond.