The debate over the planning application to erect eight zip lines over the open water of Thirlmere is coming to head as the deadline for comments is on 12 January.

Friends of the Lake District has already clearly outlined the planning and landscape reasons why this development should not go ahead – that it would conflict with National Park purposes and planning policy, is inappropriate and so would destroy landscape character, visual amenity and tranquillity.

This is what it says in our official response, and what these technical phrases actually mean is that this proposal would deprive visitors to our National Park of the special benefits they currently experience for free.

Image: Thirlmere by Tony Stephenson

This is why I have been surprised and disappointed by the reactions of Cumbria’s Local Enterprise Partnership and of Cumbria Tourism. The LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan 2014-2024 lists “Vibrant rural and visitor economy” as a priority. Between 2015 and 2016 visitor numbers to Cumbria and the Lake District rose to over 45 million, bringing £2.72 billion into the County and supporting 36,240 full time equivalent jobs. Actual job opportunities created, bearing in mind that many people want to work part time, is over 62,000, 20% of Cumbria’s employment. Anecdotally, we welcomed even more visitors in 2017.

So when the LEP and Cumbria Tourism say that our businesses need greater visitor numbers, it is hard to argue, and yet visitor numbers are increasing already. Do we know why?

Perhaps a weaker sterling and nervousness over travelling has kept more people at home in the UK, but they then still have to choose to come to our County. And we do know why they do that. Cumbria Tourism’s own figures show that almost 70% of visitors come here because of our scenery and landscape, and that over half are drawn by the atmospheric characteristics of the area, using words such as “peaceful”, “relaxing” and “beautiful”.

And this is why the attitude of Cumbria LEP and especially Cumbria Tourism baffles me. I have been listening to rural businessmen across Cumbria for nearly 20 years, and to a man and woman, everyone has acknowledged the importance of our spectacular landscape in attracting customers. They recognise the value, the uniqueness of this place.

Image: Thirlmere by Tony Stephenson

So why would Cumbria LEP and Cumbria Tourism support plans that will obviously benefit one single organisation and yet threatens the livelihoods of many others by damaging the very features that attracts so many of their customers, and that gives them a unique advantage over competitors outside Cumbria?

Some may try to dismiss this as a spurious argument, but zip wires can be erected anywhere. We have one Thirlmere. Nowhere else looks exactly like it. We have one Lake District. It has a world famous reputation and is now recognised as a World Heritage Site. Why spoil all this, a prime example of how a landscape can benefit the local economy, to satisfy the business ambitions of one organisation?

If the Lake District Park Authority can ignore its own planning policy and undermine its status as a World Heritage Site, then nowhere in this country will ever be safe from inappropriate development again.