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We believe that plans by United Utilities for 10 kilometres of fencing above Thirlmere in the heart of the Lake District National Park conflict with a special law for the area.
Because the land is common, UU has applied for consent to the Planning Inspectorate for works on common land. The society believes that the fencing, if erected, could be unlawful, even if the Planning Inspectorate gives approval.
The society won clauses in the 1879 Manchester Corporation Waterworks Act which give the public the right of access over these fells, and state that the access ‘shall not be in any manner restricted or interfered with by the Corporation [now UU].’
Says Kate Ashbrook, our society’s general secretary: ‘Back in 1878 the Open Spaces Society, then the Commons Preservation Society, opposed Manchester Corporation’s Bill but withdrew its objection in return for a clause giving the public unfettered access to the fells. The Act states clearly that the access cannot be interfered with.
‘A 10-kilometre fence across the commons does of course interfere with that access, and it is not good enough for UU merely to provide gates and stiles. People are entitled to roam free here. UU has applied to the Planning Inspectorate for consent for works on common land, but even if its application is approved, we believe that UU cannot erect the fence without being in breach of the 1879 Act.
‘Notwithstanding this, we have objected most strongly to the application, pointing out that a development of this scale will have a devastating effect on this grand landscape which is of unparalleled splendour and wildness and will put at risk the Lake District’s impending World Heritage Status.
‘The fence will also have a severely detrimental effect on public access and people’s enjoyment of the common where they have traditionally roamed free.
‘UU wants to reduce stock grazing so as to prevent erosion of vegetation which is then washed into watercourses. However, we do not believe it has produced sufficient evidence and data to justify the application.
‘We call on UU to withdraw this application and to work with the objectors to resolve the legal issues and find a better solution.’
Adds Ian Brodie, former director of the Friends of the Lake District and representative of the Open Spaces Society: ‘Having worked on the World Heritage Status bid for a number of years I am greatly concerned that such schemes would detrimentally affect the forthcoming bid for inscription.’
Other objectors include the Friends of the Lake District, the Ramblers, the Federation of Cumbrian Commoners and the Wainwright Society. The Lake District Local Access Forum, which advises the national park authority on access issues, has expressed its deep concern.
Objections can be sent to the Planning Inspectorate at Room 3/25B Hawk Wing, Temple Quay House, 2 The Square, Bristol BS1 6PN or email before 16 February.
Update 3 March: we heard today that the Planning Inspectorate will hold a public inquiry into this application which is excellent news.