Plans for a £800,000 Lake District cycleway go up in smoke

Plans for a £800,000 protected cycleway in the Lake District National Park have been withdrawn by the private developer. The cycleway was one of the sweeteners in bid to create the Thirlmere Activity Hub, a zipwire attraction over the Thirlmere reservoir.

The developer has withdrawn the plans after objections to the zipwire scheme were lodged by the Ministry of Defence.

High-profile "zip-off" protestors – such as the broadcaster Melvyn Bragg – saw no contradiction in saying they objected to the zipwire scheme because it would lead to a loss of "tranquility" but then praising the MoD’s decision, saying military flights over the reservoir are preferable to a "fairground attraction". 

The MoD had said: "The proposed cable in this location poses a risk to low flying operations due to military aircraft not being able to readily identify wires or safely navigate away from them.

Previously the MoD had raised no objections to the plans. A statement from the zipwire scheme’s proposer – Treetop Trek – said:

"We have been in consultation with the MoD since June 2017 and … are therefore very surprised by this apparent change in stance and are currently seeking their further clarification."

Conservationists said plans for zipwires over Thirlmere would harm the “unspoilt nature” of the lake, a lake which is bordered by the busy A591 road.

Treetop Trek of Windermere wanted the Thirlmere Activity Hub to have a short stretch of 3-metre-wide family-friendly protected cycleway beside the A591. This was part of a £800,000 plan by the developer to improve an 18-mile cycle route around Thirlmere.

Men Behaving Badly star Caroline Quentin was one of many people to have objected to the zipwire scheme. In her role as president of the Campaign for National Parks she had said: “My fear is that [the zipwire scheme] will spoil the peace and tranquillity of this beautiful, important place. I am all for development that enhances our National Parks but my instinct is that we should say no to zip wires in Thirlmere.”

Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, said: “These plans would make Thirlmere into Zipper-mere. The development would dominate this splendid landscape and destroy its peace.”

The British Mountaineering Council has also objected to the zipwire plans as has the National Trust, which claims that “this would risk setting a precedent for further damaging developments, which cumulatively, could result in significant harm to the special qualities of the National Park.”

According to an earlier statement from Treetop Trek the zipwire attraction would not have been out of place in its setting:

“The reservoir is a commercial development, surrounded by a commercial woodland, with eight car parks, three toilet blocks, a main road with an average of 6000 vehicles a day on it; it has commercial farming, hotels, B&Bs, pubs, café, camp sites, a cycle track, and a myriad of walking paths up each side of the valley including routes to Helvellyn."

The statement concluded that the scheme "does not increase the infrastructure, just improve what is already there.”

Also in favour of the scheme were Cumbria Tourism and the Lake District Park Partnership Business Task Force, both of which welcomed the 50 or so jobs promised by the scheme, and also the year-round usefulness of the improved cycling infrastructure.

“The cycle way that is there is currently in need of significant investment,” said Treetop Trek, adding that the “scheme that has planning permission has not been completed due to lack of funds, including the southern underpass of the A591 for cyclists and the resurfacing of rough tracks.”

Much of the £800,000 investment would be spent on a cantilevered cycle underpass under the A591, providing easier gradient climbs and descents for family cyclists.

“The cycleway is not financially feasible without the zipline or grant funding,” said Treetop Trek.

Treetop Treks MD Mike Turner said the Ministry of Defence’s latest position on the development led him to abandon his planning application to the Lake District authority. And with the loss of the zipwire plans the cycleway plans were also scuppered.

Earlier today Turner said: “We have this week withdrawn our planning application for the Thirlmere activity hub with immediate effect.

“We made it clear from the beginning of this process that we would not propose a scheme that was not supported by the MoD. To date we have received two contradictory communications with the MoD; one supporting the scheme and the other opposing the scheme.

“The MoD’s internal investigation into Thirlmere and into what they would be happy with at Thirlmere is ongoing and unlikely to be resolved in the next eight weeks, so on that basis we are withdrawing the application.

“We would like to sincerely thank all those who have supported us during this process. Their positivity has been hugely appreciated.”

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