COMMENT: Public ownership could be the solution for iconic Lakes mountain

MANY people will be surprised to learn that a private individual can own a Lake District mountain.

But that is the case with Blencathra, an iconic national park peak which has been in Lord Lonsdale’s family for nearly 400 years.

Now the peer is closing a page in his family history by putting the mountain up for sale. It is, to be fair, a reluctant sale, forced upon the earl so he use the cash as a further instalment towards a £9m death duties bill imposed following the passing of his father seven years ago.

Blencathra is offered at a guide price of £1.75m, which includes the Lordship of the Manor of Threlkeld.

But why would anyone want to buy a mountain that is effectively unexploitable?

It is highly unlikely, without drastic changes to planning laws, that a home could be built on Blencathra or that it could be exploited for minerals as it was in the past.

Also, existing sheep grazing and access rights must be preserved - so a new owner would have no right to use it exclusively.

So what sort of return could be expected?

Lord Lonsdale suggests the ‘prestige’ of owning a famous mountain and being a manorial lord is an attraction in itself.

But, as one objector to the sale has already pointed out, the mountain’s sale could set a worrying precedent for those who own other iconic landscape features in the Lake District.

One solution would be for the Treasury to take the mountain into public ownership in lieu of the outstanding death duties, which it has done in the past with many stately homes or valuable art works.

However, given the still hard-pressed state of public finances, this idea might prove to be a non-starter.

Alternatively, the newly-formed Buy Blencathra group could be given a chance to raise the money through public subscription.

However, raising £1.75m could take a long time - and time might not be on Lord Lonsdale’s side.

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