Campaign underway to stop theme park plans in Lake District National Park

A campaign is underway to stop developers building a big adventure park in Lake District National Park, once again shining a spotlight on the need to protect National Parks from potentially damaging developments. Friends of the Lake District Planning Officer Lorayne Wall explains...

Friends of the Lake District has led numerous successful campaigns against inappropriate developments over the years. Despite our first campaigns being right back in the 1930s, our campaigning work is far from a thing of the past - inappropriate developments keep being proposed in the Lake District National Park.

Over the last five years alone, we have challenged zip wires across spectacular reservoirs and mountain passes, holiday houseboats on tranquil lakes, glamping sites in remote valleys, lines of huge new pylons, cable cars on prominent hillsides and new car parks in open countryside. Now, as our work against the commercialisation of the Lake District continues, we continue to make the case that this is a National Park, not a theme park.

Elterwater Quarry

Proposals are afoot for the redevelopment of a quarry at Elterwater in the Langdale Valley – at the heart of the Lake District National Park. The plans are described as an adventure tourism experience and are to involve a high ropes course, zip wire, a luge-type track and extensive car-parking facility. A low level of extraction and processing continues at Elterwater Quarry but the owners wish to scale back operations and are working with Zip World who run similar attractions in north Wales.

Many of our members and supporters have been in touch with us directly about this and without exception, all have significant reservations about the proposal for a range of reasons - from the increased traffic pressures and impact on nature to rights of way concernts and generally how inappropriate and ill-fitting such development is in a protected landscape, imposing on the small village of Langdale in the heart of Lake District National Park. Almost 30,000 people have signed an online petition against the plans.

The national picture

We are aware of arguments that Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons have similar attractions, but these carry very limited weight as the former quarry sites in Wales with similar attractions developed in them are actually outside of the National Park boundaries. Zip World does have sites within Snowdonia National Park but as far as we are aware, these are only in-forest rope courses, of which there are three already in the Lake District.

The purposes of National Park designation are not just about conservation but enhancement. Who and what are our National Parks for? While people have been walking on this stretch through the quarry for many years, slate is nevertheless a natural feature of the landscape and the quarrying of it a centuries-old industry that has shaped the landscape and its communities. Walking through a modern visitor attraction with rides, assault courses, car parks and throngs of people would be a totally different experience and not necessarily one that people are looking for when they visit Langdale or any part of any National Park. 

Restoration, not over-development

The scaling-back of quarrying operations in the Lake District is in line with the conditions made by ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) and UNESCO when the National Park was designated a World Heritage Site in 2017. Planning consents given for Elterwater quarry as recently as 2021 were subject to a restoration condition, meaning that the expectation was that a restoration scheme would enhance the local landscape and wildlife habitats once quarrying at the site had ceased.

The site is adjacent a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a County Wildlife Site and close to ancient woodland, so we are also concerned about impacts on biodiversity and the loss of opportunities to enhance it. Given that restoration was a condition of consent for the quarry, the restored site should be the baseline against which the proposal and its impacts are assessed.

The Sandford Principle

We must act again to ensure the Lake District National Park is treated in line with the statutory purposes and the Sandford Principle, which requires that when there is conflict between conservation and public enjoyment in National Parks, then conservation should take priority. We must conserve and enhance its natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage. We must enable people to enjoy and understand it.

The importance of our landscapes and natural world to our physical and mental health was recognised by our National Parks’ founders, and has come into stark focus again in recent times. National Parks should provide opportunities for free access and enjoyment, and a vital connection with nature, our heritage and our surroundings for everyone, regardless of race, ability or income.

This is not a call to preserve in aspic the Lake District, or any other National Park. But it is a call to ensure that it is protected from developments that would damage its fabric, its character and its integrity. That it is loved, but not exploited. That we and those who follow us can continue to enjoy it and can better understand it.

This must surely be possible without also sacrificing it to commercialism? After all, it’s the landscape, in all its glory that’s the real attraction, isn’t it?

Find out more about the Friends of the Lake District campaign and sign the petition today.