Peers expressed their concern during a debate in the Lords

Peers expressed their concern during a debate in the Lords

Britain’s oldest national conservation organisation has joined the chorus of condemnation of national park bosses’ plans to sell off chunks of the Lake District.

The Open Spaces Society said it was deeply concerned by the sale of Stickle Tarn and six other properties owned by the Lake District National Park Authority.

The society said it sympathised with the authority having to work with a slashed budget, but selling off its assets was not the answer.

And a Government minister told Peers that the sale of the tarn and other properties had nothing to do with cuts.

The OSS said the park’s budget has been cut by £1.56 million, 23 per cent, in the last five years and further cuts are threatened.

It said the land being sold is all subject to access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, but that does not protect the land in perpetuity.

General Secretary Kate Ashbrook said: “A new owner may not have national park purposes at heart but may be driven by the potential commercial benefits to be wrung from the site.

“Although such development would require planning permission, and the national park authority would, we hope, reject it, the development might be granted on appeal. We believe that if the national park authority sells this land it could be at risk.

“We have great sympathy with the park authorities who are suffering slashed budgets and we back the Campaign for National Parks’ battle against the cuts. But it is no solution to flog off land which should be held for the nation.

Kate Ashbrook: 'land could be at risk'

Kate Ashbrook: 'land could be at risk'

“We hope that the Lake District authority will change its mind even at this late hour.”

The deadline for bids for Stickle Tarn and the other land is this Thursday.

Ian Brodie, former director of the Friends of the Lake District and OSS representative in the Lake District, said: “I fear for the future of much of this land. Unless it is purchased by a suitable charity, it will potentially end up as someone’s private park, to the detriment of public access and the landscape of the national park.”

Debating the sale in the House of Lords last week, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Greaves said: “The national park authority made the decision to sell these pieces of land in secret.

“People discovered it only when an advertisement appeared in the Westmorland Gazette, giving them precisely one month to make bids.

“Surely there should be public debate about which of the 168 pieces of land owned by the national park authority should be sold if it has to sell any. Once it decides to put some forward, there should be consultation of a sufficient length of time to allow community groups, such as the Langdale Valley Association, which wants to register Stickle Tarn as a community asset, to be consulted.

Stickle Tarn, one of seven properties put on the market by the Lakes authority

Stickle Tarn, one of seven properties put on the market by the Lakes authority

“This takes time. Will the minister have words with the national park authority to ask it to withdraw these proposals for the moment, to give time for public consultation and for the Langdale Valley Association to prepare its bid?”

Conservative environment minister Lord de Mauley said: “I assure him that I have obtained confirmation from the Lake District National Park Authority that it recognises the legitimate interests of stakeholders.

“It has consulted and continues to consult widely in a number of ways ahead of any final decisions. That includes liaison with parish councils, public notices advertising its intention to invite offers for some of the properties, direct consultation with a number of neighbouring landowners and so on.”

Labour peer Lord Dubs said: “I live there. Is it not shocking that parts of the national park – one of the most beautiful national parks – have to be sold off as a result of government cuts?

“Is there not a problem that, in a further sale of the land, the Lake District planning people might well give a more relaxed permission in order to get half the money? Is it not rather unhappy that we are doing this at all? Surely we should adamantly say that the Lake District is not for sale to the highest bidder.”

But the minister replied: “The national park has assured me that this is not about cuts. It routinely reviews its assets and makes disposals where appropriate so that the proceeds can be reinvested into the acquisition, improvement or maintenance of other properties.”

He pointed out that, under the previous Labour Government, £1.9m-worth of property was sold. He revealed that, in the five years since then, the authority had sold assets worth £1.8m.

The value of the current seven parcels of land being sold is estimated by the authority to be about £½m.

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