Speed limit plan angers lakeland boaters

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The tranquil Lake District world of Wordsworth, Wainwright and Beatrix Potter will be rudely interrupted today by a group of protesters who want to transform part of the national park into into a high-decibel adventure playground.

The tranquil Lake District world of Wordsworth, Wainwright and Beatrix Potter will be rudely interrupted today by a group of protesters who want to transform part of the national park into into a high-decibel adventure playground.

With the backing of the Cumbria Tourist Board 250 boats, large and small, are expected to congregate on the waters off Bowness to protest against plans to introduce a 10mph speed limit on Windermere.

The Keep Windermere Alive group, representing local commercial interests as well as enthusiasts, say a speed limit would be unfair, undemocratic and deeply damaging to the local economy.

They are unimpressed by environmental arguments put forward by the the Lake District National Park Authority; they lend no credence to the public inquiry which backed the authority's stand; they scent only betrayal in the decision of the junior environment minister, Chris Mullin, to confirm the inquiry's findings.

Jet skiers, power-boaters, water-skiers and wakeboarders, together with hundreds of those who supply and sustain their sports, reject not only the change but also the due process by which it came about.

"We've been quangoed!" says Norman Park, owner of Shepherds, a long-established chandlers, based in Bowness.

"What we have at Windermere is a healthy and thriving economy, where everyone respects everyone else's interests. The National Park authority is more concerned with preserving the past than with bringing the Lake District into the 21st century. They seem to think that the region's cultural heritage begins and ends with Beatrix Potter."

Not so, says Donald Connolly, head of administration at the Lake District National Park Authority. According to Mr Connolly, due process was followed at every stage. First, the authority came up with a proposal, backed by the Countryside Commission and all the relevant local authorities; then a public inquiry was held, chaired by eminent barrister Alun Alesbury, a legal adviser to the Government; finally, the recommendation of the inquiry, in favour of a speed limit, was confirmed by the Department of the Environment.

Similar arguments are raging across the UK. At Loch Lomond, the largest stretch of fresh water in Britain, which until recently was a watersports free-for-all, jet bikes and speedboats are required to stick to 7mph within 150 metres of the shore.

Disgruntled residents in the vicinity of Pickmere Lake, Cheshire, have successfully lobbied their local district council to impose a noise limit on boat engines, frustrating the growing legion of speed enthusiasts.

Poole Harbour in Dorset and the Blackwater Estuary in Essex are other areas where controversy has flared, leading to confrontation between lovers of high-speed water sports and supporters of more traditional pursuits. In both cases, speed and zone restrictions have been the answer.

At Windermere, feelings are running high. Those hit by the ruling feel that they are victims of a bureaucratic process over which they have no control. Norman Park points to the fact that it is not just power boat operators who are against the limit. The Royal Windermere Yacht Club and the Bowness and Windermere Chamber of Trade are set to join today's protest. What is needed, he insists, is a negotiated management plan for the lake, with compromises by both sides.

Public opinion is divided. Those who visit the Lake District to enjoy the majesty of the landscape feel vindicated by the official stand. Those, generally much younger, who thrill to the sound of an outboard at full revs and consider Windermere as an aquatic Silverstone, are correspondingly dismayed. They may have lost all the battles to date, but they are determined to continue the war.

Comments