Battle lines drawn in the fight to decide future of tourism in the Lakes: Malcolm Pithers reports on the moulding of Cumbria

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The Independent Online
SOME of nature's jewels lie hidden among the hills, often shrouded in rolling mists, giving only captivating glimpses of the angry beauty of the place. These magical places are the very essence of the Lake District. But nowadays more and more people are seeking such hideaways, and therein lies the problem.

A new structure plan is being jointly prepared by Cumbria County Council and the Lake District Special Planning Board which will decide the future development of the area up to 2006, with a strong emphasis on conserving its natural beauty. But many organisations and individuals in the Lake District believe the plan will be far too restrictive.

Yesterday, the first of a series of detailed public hearings began in Penrith. Gordon Cherry, emeritus professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Birmingham, will chair the sessions with David Cullingford, a planning inspector. Their recommendations will set the framework for Cumbria's future. The hearings will examine development within Cumbria as a whole, the environment, the rural communities, tourism and transport.

The main aims of the draft plan are measured development: housing for local people, economic diversification in the rural areas and improved roads.

To protect the National Parks, areas of outstanding beauty and the coastline, the plan says the growth of tourism should be restrained and future development related primarily to 'quiet enjoyment'.

Proposals for major additional holiday accommodation and tourist attractions thought to be inappropriate will not be permitted. No longer will Windermere be the haunt of speeding power boats.

There has been much criticism of the proposals from local people who depend upon tourism for their livelihood. The Cumbria Tourist Board will also argue against the new approach.

The objectors feel that not enough will be done to cure Cumbria's problems of isolation and an economy underpinned by tourism.

There is rising unemployment, some town centres have poor environments and the traditional landscapes are threatened by agricultural change. There are also never- ending development pressures from tourists and people who wish to live or retire in the region.

Guy Richardson, who presented Cumbria County Council's opening case yesterday, said that Cumbria wanted development and the conservation of the environment. He said: 'The countryside will not remain beautiful by leaving it alone, it needs caring for through a healthy rural economy.'

Tourism, which employs some 35,000 people in Cumbria, provides a huge income with about 3 million visitors spending pounds 300m a year. The traditional rural economy, agriculture, is in decline. There are now 20,482 people out of work in Cumbria. More farming jobs will be lost throughout the Nineties, and to the south of the region, workers at the VSEL shipyard in Barrow no longer think of long-term careers there. Cumbria is highly dependent on defence contracts, and 6.4 per cent of local people rely on the shipyard.

In Copeland, where the main employer is British Nuclear Fuels at Sellafield, and some 11,000 jobs are directly linked to the nuclear industry, the borough council wants far more diversification.

Those opposed to the development plans, including the Cumbria Tourist Board, will give their evidence to the hearing later this week. The tourist board believes that the plans do not adequately take account of the regional tourism strategy for Cumbria, concentrating too much on 'restraint and control'.

(Photograph omitted)