White Moss Common. Photo: Mick Garratt CC-BY-SA-2.0

White Moss Common. Photo: Mick Garratt CC-BY-SA-2.0

A row is brewing over plans by the brother of the Earl of Lonsdale to create a ‘welcome hub’ on common land in the Lake District.

Opponents say the proposals represent a ‘grandiose money making scheme’ at the site straddling the main Lakes road between Rydal and Grasmere.

Jim Lowther, brother of the eighth earl, who recently put the Blencathra mountain up for sale, has applied on behalf of the Lowther Estate to build an amenity centre with refreshments, an information centre, craft workshops, cycle hire and exhibition space next to an existing toilet block at White Moss.

A Lake District National Park Authority planning officer’s report recommends approval of the scheme, which would triple the size of the existing building at the site, next to the A591.

The Open Spaces Society, Ramblers, Lakes Parish Council, Friends of the Lake District and individuals have objected to the plans. There could be fireworks at the authority’s development control committee on 5 November, when the application will be discussed.

One group opposing the Lowther estate’s plans said it could put at risk the Lake District’s world heritage status hopes.

Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, said: “This grandiose money-making scheme for improved car parks, strategically planned and defined tracks and trails centred on a new ‘welcome hub’ offering food drink and various retail outlets, will tame the unspoiled area known as White Moss Common.

“Such a development must jeopardise the proposal to designate the Lake District national park as a world heritage site.”

The society, England’s oldest national conservation society, said the proposal is currently being promoted by a consortium consisting of the Lake District national park and amenity, tourist and business interests.

Ms Ashbrook said: “But the designation relies heavily on the extensive common land within the area.

“The technical evaluation for the designation emphasises that commons ‘have been protected against encroachment and development since the nineteenth century’ and ‘there is a powerful body of UK legislation to protect the integrity of commons’.

“Yet the LDNPA seems willing to allow the degradation of White Moss Common for commercial gain.

“If the Lake District’s commons are eroded, the unique qualities of the Lake District itself are devalued and the opportunity of gaining world heritage status will slip from our hands.

“We note that the officers, in recommending approval, conclude that ‘the matter is finely balanced’, noting its conflict with park policies and questioning if it is necessary.

“We call on members of the development control committee to reject this damaging development which will suburbanise and commercialise a very lovely part of the national park.”

A spokesperson for the Lake District National Park Authority said: “It is not clear what ‘designation’ means. This is an application for planning permission by Mr Lowther and not us. The report sets out our assessment.”

The Lowther estate says that the proposed development would allow them to keep open the public toilets at the site all year round. The national park authority report said it did not believe the new hub would increase visitor numbers substantially.

The Lowther Estate’s development would be less than a kilometre – half a mile– from Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage.

Ms Ashbrook said: “We objected because this would be an ugly intrusion in this landscape which inspired the Romantic tradition.

“It also conflicts with national park purposes which are to conserve natural beauty and promote enjoyment of the park’s special qualities.

“We are particularly concerned that the Lowther Estate failed to mention that the site is registered common land with rights to walk and ride. The Lake District planning officers dismiss this too, merely saying that the decision for works on common land rests with the Secretary of State for Environment.”

The sale of Blencathra, put on the market by the Earl of Lonsdale to help pay inheritance taxes, is still incomplete, with community group the Friends of Blencathra hopeful their bid will be successful.

Some articles the site thinks might be related:

  1. Ramblers relaunch Sussex Border Path after 18-month survey
  2. Campaigners welcome withdrawal of plans for South Downs campsite
  3. Government holds off action on ‘lost’ paths
  4. Campaigners launch three-pronged attack to try to save England’s green spaces
  5. Summer shuttle buses run again in two Lake District valleys