AFTER 27 years of hard work and negotiations, the Lake District National Park is a step nearer to becoming a World Heritage Site. STEPHANIE MANLEY looks at what this will mean for those already lucky enough to live and work in this beautiful part of the globe.
TERMING it as a ‘heritage jewel’, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey announced that the Lake District had been chosen as the UK’s sole nomination for the UNESCO World Heritage badge in 2016.
It does not mean that the prestigious badge is guaranteed, and the national park still has to prepare a case to undergo a demanding 18-month process of scrutiny and evaluation by UNESCO and the International Council on Monuments and Sites.
But it is the closest organisers – the Lake District National Park partnership - have ever been to the prize.
Steve Ratcliffe, chair of the Lake District’s World Heritage project management group, said: “The news gives feelings of both delight and the satisfaction that at least the government now recognises the special qualities that the Lake District has got –— this is a significant step.”
So, if the Lake District is successful when the decision is made in summer 2017, what will this mean for the area?
Firstly, there is no funding that would follow the recognition, and the title would not result in automatic changes.
To date it has cost £400,000 to make the bid but it is hoped that being ranked alongside the likes of Egypt’s Pyramids and the Great Wall of China would bring positive economic benefits.
World Heritage status, as one study put it, is a case of what you make it.
“It could just be seen as a badge, but we want it as a vehicle to move forward,” said Mr Ratcliffe.
“It depends on how our communities want to use that status, and we will work with them to help them make the best of it. National parks are nationally known and potentially known in Europe, but World Heritage is a global brand. It has the potential to attract high spending tourists.”
Richard Greenwood, head of operations at Cumbria Tourism, added: “We think it would give the area a distinctive and important market lead over some of the competitors in the UK and overseas.
“It is a fairly exclusive club, that would also create jobs by making it more desirable for businesses to relocate here.”
But what would the extra footfall mean to our natural environment? Could the area cope?
Mr Ratcliffe explained: “There are already over 15 million visitors a year, so numbers are really mature already and the increase would be manageable. It would be important from our perspective to continue to ensure that it is a World Heritage site. We would look at how to move people around in a more sustainable fashion, for example.”
Jack Ellerby, policy officer for conservation charity Friends of the Lake District, added the conservation charity was delighted.
He said: “The Lake District National Park is already a well-known attraction; World Heritage Site status would recognise its international value. This reinforces the fact that the high quality of the environment attracts visitors and businesses to the area, leading, we hope, to visitor spending directly supporting caring for the fabric of the landscape.”
Organisers of the bid also claimed that farmers would benefit, with increased recognition of the traditions and cultural role of farming.
But farmers are worried about the potential impacts. Carl Hudspith, of the National Farmers Union, said: “There will be concern that it could bring new rules and regulations – red tape which prevents farmers going about their everyday business.”
Mr Ratcliffe stressed that the title would not add another layer of democracy.
A report has also specified that World Heritage inscription would not introduce any additional planning controls.
Stan Collins, county councillor for Upper Kent, also had concerns and described the idea as ‘muddled thinking’.
He said: “It will put further pressure on housing, with people wanting a second home in an area with World Heritage status. We already have enough problems with trying to house young people.”
The Lake District beat off nominations from Chatham Dockyard and its Defences, the Flow County, Jodrell Bank Observatory, the Zenith of Iron Age Shetland, and the Twin Monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow to be chosen as the UK’s potential site.