A water company is to go ahead with the sale of quarries used for climbing, despite the reservations of the British Mountaineering Council.
Wilton quarries were considered for sale last year, but were taken off the market after meetings with the BMC, the body which represents climbers and hillwalkers. Now United Utilities is to auction the land next month.
The proposed sale has raised concerns that climbing will be ended by new owners. Although the quarries are on Countryside and Rights of Way Act open access land, any development at the site might lead to them being designated ‘excepted land’ and access rights removed.
The quarries, north of Bolton, contain some of the best loved climbing routes in Lancashire.
Climbers have called for the BMC to step in and buy the site to safeguard climbing there. But this would be fraught with difficulties. Guy Keating, the council’s access officer, said: “The sale of crags has the potential to place not only the BMC, but also British climbing generally, in a very difficult position.
“If a market for crags starts to develop, the possibility of other landowners following United Utilities lead could develop into a big issue. The BMC would advise caution before climbers start pledging their own money towards acquiring Wilton.”
Any development of the quarries would require a change of planning permission which would inevitably face massive opposition from climbers, as well as a shooting club which meets at Wilton.
United Utilities, created in 1995 by the merger of North West Water and Norweb, made £475m profit last year from its activities, mainly the supply of water and power. It owns vast tracts of land in the North-West and courted controversy in April last year when it announced it would start charging for access to its land.
The charge applies to ‘commercial use’ which, the BMC argued, could include any activity where a payment was made to organisers, such as mountain-leader training. United Utilities owns land from the Lake District to the Forest of Bowland.