THE sudden and surprise plan to sell Stickle Tarn in Great Langdale (and other pieces of prime Lake District real estate) by the national park authority, has wrong-footed many across this parish who never saw it coming.
Few people knew until a double page spread of adverts appeared in the property section of last Thursday’s Westmorland Gazette.
Everything must go!, it seemed to say. With the added postscript: Oh, and the deadline is four weeks away too.
It’s not entirely clear when the national park was going to explicitly tell the public it was selling off some heirlooms.
It insists it has consulted but with whom and when? The usual interest groups? Were they ever going to tell us?
It’s decisions like this that fuels the perception, rightly or wrongly, that the national park has a tendency to be an intensely inward organisation making decisions behind closed doors that it doesn’t like exposed to the cold light of public scrutiny.
Irrespective of how far the park has come (because it has made massive strides) instead of beating the drum for its principles and donning the flak jacket, it continues to take a nervous and reactive, “bunker mentality” to communicating sensitive public issues.
The national park has suffered in the cuts. But so has everybody. It’s to its credit that it has tried to quietly go about its business without moaning or stirring up politics.
But allowing the news to creep out in this way is another massive underestimation of public feelings and attitudes towards the assets it holds on our behalf.
As a result, the sale of Stickle Tarn has all the classic makings of a brouhaha. A communication failing of the type the LDNPA likes to inflict upon itself every couple of years. Usually around the time when everyone’s starting to think they’re past all that…
Geese cull anyone?
Putting aside the clumsy execution, it’s the principle of the sale that the public doesn’t like.
The idea that “someone” “somewhere” in an office has declared a place as special as this – where generations have walked, climbed, swum and sat – as a commodity “surplus to requirements”.
To be flogged off for a mere £30,000 to god knows who, to do with, god knows what? It goes against all our instincts of what we think the national park is for…
Sadly, this is the reality of the financial times. But the newsflash is that there’s no real need to worry about the sale of Stickle Tarn.
Starbucks won’t be able to open a cafe on its shores and a Russian oligarch will not be able to concrete over it for Parkour (or kick you off for staring at the view.)
This land is so wrapped up in covenants and protections, that the small print is the size of two phone books.
The park says it will carefully scrutinise the tender so that it goes to the best possible home, and I’d be willing to trust them on that because if there’s anything the park does really well, it’s detail and small print.
The park has suffered under the austerity measures seeing its annual revenue grant drop by £2 million to £5M and with a wage bill of around £6M.
It’ll balance its budget this year, but not next, it has warned.
It needs to generate more money and this is one (unpopular but realistic) way of achieving it quickly.
William Heaton Cooper drew Stickle Tarn, and Wordsworth referenced it in his Guide to the Lakes but only briefly because he was actually more inspired by nearby 60ft Dungeon Ghyll waterfall which fuelled his poem, The Idle Shepherd Boys.
Harry Griffin in his 1976 book, A Year In The Fells, described Stickle Tarn as a “perfect mirror – exactly reflecting a cloudless sky and every detail of the great brown precipice of Pavey Ark.”
Wainwright in Book Three: Central Fells, described Pavey Ark as Langdale’s biggest cliff, and said: “Stickle Tarn is a place of popular resort and on most summer days it is only necessary to follow the crowds.”
So our real worry should be how the park authority came to its decision to sell such a significant piece of the Lake District without the public ever really knowing, and how bad are things that it has to sell off some of the family silver for such a low price?