Windermere is focus of fight for tranquillity

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The Independent Online
WINDERMERE, one of the most popular stretches of water in Britain, will tomorrow become the focal point for a fierce debate about how people spend their leisure time.

For the next two to three months hundreds of people will press home their views on whether the lake should forever be the tranquil place it once was or whether power- boats have a permanent place on the water. The outcome of the debate will have enormous consequences for tourists and residents alike and may well change the way National Parks are allowed to operate.

The Cumbrian issue is as straightforward as it is controversial: whether Windermere should be used for 'quiet enjoyment' and whether or not a by-law should be introduced to enforce a 10mph speed limit on the lake. The move, proposed by the Lake District Planning Board, has triggered strong opposition, not just from boat owners but from water-ski enthusiasts and hundreds of people who run commercial operations around the lake. A 10mph speed limit would stop all high-speed water sports on the lake. More than 2,000 people have written to oppose the plan.

The planning board is being backed by the Friends of the Lake District, an umbrella title for those in favour of the ban. For the first time, individuals and organisations, including the Council for National Parks, the Ramblers' Association, heads of outdoor education centres and the Youth Hostels Association, are working jointly to support the imposition of the speed limit.

The board says that the phrase 'quiet enjoyment' has been adopted as an 'object of policy' in National Parks. So much so that where conflict between public enjoyment and the preservation of natural beauty is 'irreconcilable', then 'precedence should be given to preservation and enhancement'.

For years there has been a strong lobby within National Park authorities claiming that high-speed boating and water ski-ing are not reconcilable with the peace, beauty and tranquillity expected. The problem has always been how to attract visitors and bring in much-needed income without damaging or significantly altering the environment.

The boating fraternity argues that a minority of people with power craft, who have not paid proper attention to noise or safety, have hindered the vast majority who are concerned about the environment of the lake.

Others say the powerboats are changing the face of Windermere and should go. Whatever the truth, the planning board is determined to put its case forcefully. It recognises that power-boating has taken place on Windermere for many years but says the so-called tradition dates from a time when numbers were low.

In 1977, surveys showed that the average number of boats on the lake on a summer Sunday was 417, of which 27 per cent, or 140 boats, were capable of speeds over 10mph. In 1991 the average number had risen to 872 and more than half were capable of speeds over 10mph.

John Nash, the Lake District National Park planning officer, says he accepts that there would be loss of trade in certain areas, but any downturn would be overcome. There would be a five-year gap before the limit was introduced and, set against the growth in trade that hotels and other businesses have experienced, the impact of the speed limit would not be noticed.