AN INTERNATIONAL heritage body has called on the government to step in and halt the planning process for a new tourist attraction in the Lake District.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has urged the ‘state party’ to suspend the approval process for proposals to construct an attraction at Elterwater Quarry until the body approves an Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) based interpretation strategy from the Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA).

Burlington Stone and operators Zip World submitted revised plans to the Lake District National Park Authority in December 2023 for the Elterwater Quarry Experience after previous proposals were turned down.

According to a response to the plans from ICOMOS-UK, the adviser to UNESCO on cultural world heritage sites, the UNESCO committee decision was made after a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

It states: “Requests the State Party to suspend the approval process of the tourist attraction at Elterwater Quarry in Great Langdale, and any other such project proposals, and to reconsider it in light of its potential negative impacts on the attributes of Langdale underpinning the OUV of the property, until an OUV-based interpretation strategy is approved.”

UNESCO say outstanding universal value means a place has cultural and/or natural significance which is ‘so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity’.

The proposed Elterwater Quarry Experience aims to allow visitors to explore parts of the cavern that had been previously inaccessible for a ‘heritage-based adventure experience’. Plans include platforms that will be installed in the caves at points of interest, and visitors will travel from one platform to another via zipline.

Plans were previously rejected by the LDNPA development control committee in September 2023 after members went against planning officers’ recommendations due to concerns over traffic.

The amended plans include a travel plan which encourages people to walk, cycle and use public transport to reach the site.

Proposals include providing an improved no. 516 bus service or operating a private Zip World shuttle bus from Brockhole. Zip World would also financially reward customers that have used non-car travel to make all or part of their journey to the experience through ticket pricing.

However, the state of conservation report published by UNESCO in 2023 calls the proposals ‘alien to the character of the valley’ and urges plans for tourist attractions to be suspended until an OUV-based interpretation strategy is agreed.

The report says: “Great Langdale has preserved a distinctive and almost intact agro-pastoral character and the valley’s secluded appearance has inspired artists and writers, as well as benefactors who have purchased land to preserve this landscape.

“Therefore, the proposed tourism development appears alien to the character of the valley and not compatible with the attributes of OUV.

“The property is already facing negative consequences of mass tourism and since projects of this type are not a first and will continue to occur, it is advisable that the Committee requests that such proposals for tourist attractions be suspended until an OUV-based interpretation strategy for the property is finalised and becomes a reference also for tourism development initiatives.”

The UNESCO committee also ‘welcomes’ that an interpretation strategy is under way and requests that this strategy be submitted to the World Heritage Centre for review by the advisory bodies, and used as a reference to determine, which tourism uses are compatible with sustaining the OUV.

A spokesperson for the Lake District National Park Authority said: “As part of the normal planning application process we notified Historic England of the proposals. Acting on behalf of the DCMS and the UK Government who are the state party for world heritage site matters, Historic England notified ICOMOS of the application.

“ICOMOS is an advisory body for UNESCO. ICOMOS decided to undertake a technical review of the application on behalf of UNESCO, and we have now received their views. We will consider ICOMOS’ response as part of our assessment of the planning application, and the broader issues raised, in due course.”