Friends of the Lake District is disappointed that the Lake District National Park Authority has decided to resurface the Keswick to Threlkeld railway path with standard tarmac and would like the Park Authority to reconsider. 

We welcome the works to repair and improve the multi-user trail along the stretch of the former railway line that lies between Threlkeld and Keswick. The popular route was a casualty of havoc wrought by Storm Desmond in December 2015. 

A funding package of £7.9 million is being invested to repair the trail, stabilise river banks and repair and replace infrastructure along the length of the route. The scheduled re-opening in 2020 will be a moment to celebrate but we ask why the national park is  compromising on its choice of path surface. 

Using standard tarmac will have an urbanising and formalising effect on the environment, compromising the historic, vernacular and rural character of the area along the route. 

Tarmac will be more susceptible to being slippery in icy weather compared to a more natural surface used previously, and that a smoother surface will encourage cyclists to speed and risk other users such as walkers and horse riders. 

In addition to the choice of surfacing we have concerns about tree felling along the route impacting on a county wildlife site and red squirrel habitat. Red squirrels are a protected but threatened species, and some of the felling has already taken place before the arboricultural statement has been approved. In a County Wildlife Site, Priority Habitat and red squirrel habitat, avoidance of harm should be a top priority. 

We are delighted that the route is being reinstated and is well on its way to being restored. But our concerns echo those of individuals and groups including Underskiddaw Parish Council, the Open Spaces Society, the Ramblers Association, Cumbria Bridleway Society and the Horse Access Campaign UK. 

Friends of the Lake District is supporting those in opposition by making our concerns known to the Lake District National Park Authority, Environment Agency and Natural England, and by helping concerned parties to connect with each other and advising on possible courses of action. 

We are all unified in asking for a more natural or natural-looking surfacing, similar in nature to the type of surfacing already used along much of the route and visually more in-keeping with the surroundings. Previously the surface was earth with hardcore material compacted into it, see image above, with some wooden bridges. It would also be more sustainable in terms of drainage whilst enabling a variety of users to access and travel along it. 

Alternative surfaces have been researched and shared by groups opposed to the use of standard tarmac. We find it hard to understand the decision to use such a material when there are numerous and more sympathetic alternatives available. 

We are also aware of a case study detailing the Ultitrec surface which makes specific reference to the surface “Being primarily used for recreation purposes and situated in beautiful countryside locations it was essential that the completed towpath fit with its surroundings”. We question why this level of care is not being applied to the Keswick-Threlkeld route. See  for more details. 

Although planning permission has already been granted, it is still possible for the Lake District National Park to change its mind about the surface materials used, and we understand that the planning condition detailing what the track will be surfaced with has yet to be discharged. 

We and our partners would urge the Lake District National Park Authority to reconsider their decision and actually enhance the work already undertaken to re-open this popular route.