Thousands of protesters are expected to descend on the Lake District next month to demonstrate over what they say is the increasing push to develop the national park for commercial gain.
Protesters are planning a day of activism following a series of public outcries over the threat of commercialisation of the national park. The move has echoes of the Kinder Scout mass trespass of 1932. Then, hundreds of radical ramblers walked across hills and moorland which had previously been the preserve of landed gentry, eventually resulting in the creation of Britain’s national parks.
Earlier this month, more than 200 people gathered in the village of Grasmere to protest against plans to moor holiday boats on the shores of the local lake. Lowther Estate, which owns the lake, wants to moor 10 motor yachts measuring 40ft by 12ft on the lake.
Proposals include allowing holidaymakers to stay on the boats overnight, accommodating up to six people for a week, allowing them to freely navigate the waterway.
But locals say this commercialisation will eventually destroy the beauty and tranquility of the national park for future generations. The lake is overlooked by Dove Cottage – the home of William Wordsworth – who described the village of Grasmere as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”.
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Andy Astle, 62, a retired Royal Mail manager who has lived in Grasmere for almost five decades and Joe Nichols, also a local resident, said they had been forced to take action to protect the national park as a public space and save its heritage for future generations.
“My main motivation has never been nimbyism. Its not my backyard, it’s our backyard. Any visitor or resident, regardless of gender, creed or colour, must have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of Grasmere free from the desecration that these boats would cause,” said Astle.
Nichols, who lives close to the lake with his wife and eight-month-old son, said he expected thousands of people to join the protest. A group named Houseboats Off Grasmere has attracted more than 2,700 signatures on its petition in just a few days.
“This will be the biggest protest at the protection of our public spaces the Lake District has ever seen. Over the last two years, Lowther Estates have desperately tried to exploit the land for which they are hereditary custodians for commercial gain at the expense of the environment,” said Nichols.
He added: “We can no longer tolerate the constant attempted abuse of areas which should be protected by those who own them.”
There were also concerns earlier this month when the head of the Lake District national park authority (LDNPA) was accused of putting the area’s Unesco world heritage status at risk.
The accusations were made following a long-running dispute to ban 4x4s and motorbikes from some fell trails in the area. The LDNPA is facing a judicial review in the high court supported by a £30,000 crowdfunding effort over its refusal to ban four-wheel-drive vehicles from the trails, which campaigners say is ruining the peacefulness of the area.
Keswick town council has previously condemned an £8m project to create an accessible multi-user trail with a tarmac surface between Keswick and Threlkeld and passed a vote of no confidence in the LDNPA. In November, the Lake District received a highly critical letter from advisers to Unesco, which granted it world heritage status in 2017 after a 20-year campaign.
On the day of action, protesters will converge on Moss Parrock – a green in the centre of Grasmere – where activists and campaigners will make speeches alongside Tim Farron MP before marching across to Penny Rock beach on the shores of the lake.
The Lowther Estate has asked the LDNPA to determine whether it needs planning permission to go ahead with the scheme.
The future of the scheme depends on whether it is considered to be a change of land use. If it is not, the estate will be free to allow guests on to the moored yachts. However, if the LDNPA decides it does constitute a change, the estate will have to apply for planning permission.
David Bliss, the chief executive of the estate, has argued that the yachts are not “houseboats” and therefore do not constitute a new development.
“The first thing is that they are definitely not houseboats and they already exist on Windermere, Ullswater and Derwentwater and the second is that they are not detrimental to the area. They will compliment other boats already used in Grasmere by locals and tourists,” he said.
But legal advice given to campaigners from the planning and environmental barrister Robert McCracken QC has concluded that the application should be refused on the grounds that it is unlawful unless proper planning permission is granted. This legal advice has been presented to the LDNPA, along with 200 letters of representation.
Chris Newton, a solicitor, said: “It is critically important that we beat this application in order to hold back unnecessary commercialisation of Grasmere, which would destroy the beauty and tranquillity of what we’ve got not only for now but for future generations.”
In a statement, the LDNPA said: “In this lawful development certificate application the applicant and their advisers put forward a case that an application for planning permission is not required for what they propose. As the local planning authority we must decide whether this is the case or not as a matter of law.”
A decision is expected next month.