NOT every bridge in the Lake District National Park is going to be fixed this year after the December floods.
That’s the real, secret, unspoken message that was buried deep in the 11th hour flying visit by the Prime Minister to Grasmere on Thursday.
He was in and out within an hour and half, they reckon. Smiling at school kids and then wowing the grown-ups with his karate-like handchops and active verbs.
“Fixing, spending, building, fully committed to working in partnerblah”
You know the drill. It all sounded fairly good but there was something vaguely dutiful about it all.
Almost like Cumbria was the ailing, elderly relative being briefly visited by the successful son who lives away.
But he didn’t really stay long because he had to get back to the office, but he wanted to be able to say that he’d been. And he left behind a bouquet of flowers.
Bought hurriedly from a petrol station on the way up.
DC will not be in Cumbria to see storm Gertrude. And it’s a pity, that.
If he’d hung around he could have seen for himself the rain hosing the window and the wind blowing water uphill.
It might have helped with his perspective.
Did he leave because the helicopter pilot’s weather window was closing fast?
Would he not be able to get back to London because of the weather that came in?
Was there a genuine fear the entourage may have ended up stranded in rural Cumbria?
Or did he just need to get to Lancashire.
Because he visited both counties in a kind of “kill two birds with one Northern stone”.
Or as North West Tonight’s reporter darkly intoned:
“David Cameron left just as the storm clouds again closed in.”
(Fades to black with a long shot on the PM’s disappearing helicopter..)
What we do know is that the Government’s figures don’t add up so clearly the Lake District isn’t going to get all its bridges fixed this year.
It’s the only conclusion we can draw. There are 1400 footbridges in the park.
Eden MP and floods minister Rory Stewart was quoted as saying 240 need repairing.
So let’s do the maths: £2 million divided into 240 = £8,333 per bridge.
It is not possible to fix ancient, sometimes listed bridges for £8,333 each.
Not even with Bob the Builder and the Polish work experience lads.
So what we’re actually going to see is strategic bridges fixed/temporarily fixed.
This, on the face of it, is a sensible approach, but they should be open about it and say so, and they don’t here.
The difficulty is – the palatability of that message.
We’re not going to fix them all.
No-one connected with his visit wants to come out and say that because they know it takes away some of the stardust of his visit.
Realistically, it is impossible to fix every bridge before the holidays anyway.
Because in spring, instead of wandering lonely as a cloud with the daffodils, the Lakeland fells would be full of white vans, cement mixers and plasterers with loud portable radios.
No-one comes to the Lake District to see that.
Specially not Ron and Marj from Middlesex on a happy hiking holiday.
Predictably and politically, in response to the funding announcement, Westmorland MP Tim Farron has gone with the attack message that this is “not enough cash”.
And who can blame him.
Tim has also introduced the comparison with Dawlish, Devon.
“When the Dawlish railway line in the South West was badly damaged due to extreme weather in 2014, £35 million was set aside to get the transport link reopened within 50 days. If they can do it that quickly in the South, why can’t they do it up here with the A591?”
Cameron said Farron shouldn’t be so “churlish”.
Labour’s Stewart Young for the county council has also said it’s not enough money and he’s right.
The county council’s estimate is the park needs £20 million to be fixed.
Mr Young told Radio Cumbria that the PM might as well not have bothered coming.
Privately, some politicians locally are spitting feathers that there was no invite for them.
They didn’t even get in the room. Many didn’t even know where the room was.
Another big question out of the announcement: The £1 million campaign to promote the North.
It was trailed and headlined as “a tourism boost” in a national park press release.
That’s not £1 million to promote Cumbria, you understand.
A sum that would probably buy you 9 seconds airtime for a Pearl & Dean style advert in a string of poky cinemas in outer London.
It’s £1 million for a pre-Easter tourism push for the whole of the North.
Is that Liverpool, Manchester, Yorkshire, North East & Cumbria?
Because if so, it’s equivalent, to say £200,000 per sub-region.
But this would also be backed by an unexplained campaign of £15-£16M of public-private money (about which I know nothing.) Is this Local Enterprise Partnership spend?
Who would turn up their nose at £200,000 and start making waves with the most powerful politician in the country? (Apart from opposition politicians and the media?)
Or should our thinking be that anything is better than nothing? Is that what we’re reduced too. Peanuts are good enough?
Will £200k deliver the scorched earth PR campaign Cumbria needs to get its message out.
Because to my mind, for the Government to give £1 million to promote the North after all the floods is about as helpful as turning up at them with a mop and bucket.
But should the taxpayer be footing the bill to advertise and promote private businesses in the Lake District anyway?
Where around 54,000 people are said to be employed in the sector.
The logic goes like this.
Is it better the Government stumps up public cash so that these people are in work, paying taxes, than out of work, wanting JSA as firms go bust?
February half term is in a fortnight.
While it isn’t the big tourism curtain raiser in the same way Easter is, it does represent 2016’s first ‘real holiday’ and the start of the tourism tap being turned on again.
And people should come back here because Cumbria is open.
It’s just parts of it are a little broken.
But you can still mostly get around and do most of the usual stuff. No-one’s closed the pubs, the shops, the guest-houses or the hills.
Just do your research and you’ll be fine.
But if tourism here tanks this Easter and then we have a poor May, there will be a clamour for heads on spikes.
The question will come back to this: Was £1 million enough for the North?
Because you cannot hope to sustain a tourism business in Cumbria by losing Christmas/New Year/ February Half Term, Easter or May from your income.
Business cannot survive on “Jam tomorrow” and fresh air.
If they start going bang, tourism workers are going to be laid off.
In some places, they already are.
Which is frustrating because so many places are open and untouched – they just need visitors.
What would help is if every Cumbrian took a holiday this year somewhere in Cumbria.
By way of support.
“A have a week at home week”
And every Lake District fan who loves the fells needs to make a special vow to book a break.
As soon as possible.