Park chiefs steer power boat row to court

Sail is best, say the authorities at Lake Windermere. Steve Goodwin reports
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The Lake District National Park is expected to decide today to mount a legal challenge to John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment, in the latest round of its fight to rid Lake Windermere of power boats.

Mr Gummer angered park officers, board members and conservationists last month when he refused to confirm a bylaw for a 10mph speed limit on England's largest lake. The decision contradicted a recommendation by the independent inspector, Alun Alesbury, who conducted a 13-week public inquiry and concluded there was "a fundamental problem of incompatibility" with fast power boats, which affected public safety.

John Toothill, the park's senior officer, said he was "appalled" and accused Mr Gummer of "giving in" to a small minority who deterred other people from using the lake by the "hostile conditions" they created.

But the strong feeling is reciprocated. David Maclean, the Minister of State at the Home Office and MP for Penrith, has attacked the park authority as "pig-headed", and said speed boats are no more environmentally intrusive than the "disgusting coloured sailcloths" seen on thelake. About 7,000 power boats each year register to use the lake - the only one in the park where they are permitted. The restriction would stymie water skiers, who need a minimum 18mph to stay afloat, and jet skis.

Windermere is 10.5 miles long but quite narrow. On a busy day there can be up to 1,500 craft out, from 70mph power boats to canoes, and children paddling on the shore. Nasty accidents can happen, with, for instance, the collision of canoeists with water skiers.

Today the park board is expected to accept lawyers' advice and authorise an application to the High Court for judicial review of Mr Gummer's decision. The Secretary of State's refusal to confirm the bylaw, say counsel advising the board, was "manifestly defective in law". The park spent pounds 500,000 on its case for the public inquiry. Its declining grant from the Government this year is pounds 3.7m. Taking Mr Gummer to court could cost another pounds 20,000.

For Ian Brodie, secretary of the Friends of the Lake District, the disclosure that Mr Gummer over-ruled the inspector adds insult to injury. "This is not democracy, but politics," Mr Brodie said. "Mr Maclean is saying that commercial interests and a few MPs rule the roost."