It is sad that the Friends of Blencathra have failed in their bid to buy this magnificent mountain, also known as ‘Saddleback’ in the Lake District National Park, Cumbria. This majestic place should belong to the community.
However, all may not be quite lost as the contract with the secret buyer has not yet been signed. So we learnt from John Robson, managing director of H&H Land and Property, agent for the Lonsdale Estates, on BBC radio 4’s Today programme this morning. The guide price was £1.75 million and the mountain is being sold by Lord Lonsdale to pay the inheritance tax following the death of his father.
It was a pity that the Friends’ honorary president, Chris Bonington, wasn’t clearer on Today about the constraints that the new buyer will be under (listen here, 1 hr 20 mins in to programme). When Jim Naughtie asked him about this, Chris said ‘being part of the national park, there can’t be any kind of development on it without planning permission … Secondly, because it’s all open moorland it’s already got the statutory right to roam so we will always have the right to wander Blencathra free of charge’.
He missed the point. Planning permission applies to all land, and the right to roam can be removed if the land ceases to be open country.
Chris should have made three points.
1 The land is in the national park, therefore any development must also meet the authority’s objectives to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage, and promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities by the public. A tough test on Blencathra.
2 The land is registered common, CL66, so that any works there would, additionally, require the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He could also have said that there are ten active graziers with rights to graze thousands of animals, none of which can be interfered with.
3 The land is heavily designated. It is a site of special scientific interest and a Special Area of Conservation. Moreover, it is in a Higher Level Stewardship Agreement with two other commons, running to November 2020, which prescribes the management.
While Chris would not have had time to spell all this out, he might have given more of a flavour of it. For the upshot is that there are so many rights and interests, and so many constraints, that the only reason to own this precious jewel is to maintain its landscape, wildlife, commoning heritage and public access.
If the new owner tries to do anything here which conflicts with these many public interests, there will be trouble.