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Last Updated: Friday, 13 October 2006, 08:23 GMT 09:23 UK
North West: Whose Lake District is it anyway?
Michelle Mayman
The Politics Show North West

Road closed sign
It may not get to this, but some local people feel cut off from tourists

This week The Politics Show in the Northwest looks at the Lake District National Park Authority and asks in whose interest is it acting?

The LDNPA has a vision...

"Working together for a prosperous economy, vibrant communities and world class visitor experiences - and all sustaining the spectacular landscape".

But many people living and working around The Lakes argue that the LDNPA, the planning authority for The Lakes, is stifling economic growth, ignoring the communities and could even be putting off the visitors!

The LDNPA is an independent local authority and its core funding comes from the government - 6.4m from Defra.

The authority says its overall spend is 7.4m but Defra says it has an annual budget of 11m.

The difference comes from its trading... things like parking, planning fees and sales at its few remaining information centres.

The Park Authority predicts it will spend 176 for every person who lives in the park - or 62p per visitor.

Last year it had to take some severe measures to balance the books after it predicted a 1m budget shortfall.

Shutting doors on visitors

Boats on a lake shore
Is funding being washed up on the shore?

The LDNPA decided, in a meeting behind closed doors, to shut down six of its nine tourist information offices.

This infuriated local hoteliers and guest-house owners.

The LDNPA is governed by the Park's Authority Board and its 26 members, none of whom, are directly elected - but some are indirectly elected.

Fourteen of those appointed, are county or district councillors and the other 12 are appointed by the Secretary of State.

They bring with them different skills. Some are Parish Councillors and others are appointed for their expertise in a particular area.

That expertise comes from years of experience - some have been on the board for 12 or 15 years - one has even been there for nearer 30 years.

But changes are mooted. Tim Farron MP (Lib Dem Westmorland) believes the board members should be directly elected.

He also believes the Park Authority is not flexible enough and that it needs to consider individual circumstances instead of a blanket application of the law.

It is this planning role of the LDNPA that is stirring up the most passion among local folk.

Planning barriers

Mark Weir owns the Honister Slate Mine in Borrowdale, employing 40 people in a valley where there is little alternative to the tourism industry.

He has had "run-ins" with the LDNPA going back 10 years.

Like many locals he was outraged when his nearest Tourist Information Office was closed - so much so, that he offered to buy it.

He has recently succeeded in renting the former tourist office building and is in the process of re-opening it himself.

Another tourist information office is being run by a co-op of locals.

Mother and daughter look over the lake
Could tourists become the rare breeds of the hills?

Mark Weir also fell foul of the planning rules.

He wanted to turn the shell of a derelict farmhouse on his property into a living working farmhouse.

His application was turned down.

Many more people had issues with the authority decisions but were unwilling to talk on the record for fear of getting on the wrong side of the authority.

Many people in The Lakes argue that the LDNPA is not trying to preserve this beautiful area but is actually trying to turn back time and turn it into a museum of days gone by - ignoring the fact that life has to continue.

There is no doubt the LDNPA has a difficult job - preserving a national treasure and at the same time allowing the local people to live work and play like people anywhere else in the country.

Ian Soane, from the International Centre for the Uplands says: "I think the National Park Authority has got a great future if it specialises in what is unique about the National Park and the Lake District and that 's not just the special qualities of the Lake District and landscape and biodiversity.

"It's also how it engages with the people in the management of that resource."

Our live guests on Sunday are Tim Farron MP, Westmorland and Bob Cartwright Director of LDNPA.

Also in the programme...

Toilets - we all need them but trying to find a public one can be a difficult task.

Across the country local councils have been closing their public conveniences left, right and centre because of financial constraints.

In Preston City centre only two remain and the council are currently looking at what they can do to improve toilet provision.

BBC Radio Lancashire's Alison Butterworth has been to Preston in search of those elusive loos.

Also...

Policewoman
It takes great commitment to be a volunteer Special

This weekend is "National Specials Weekend" - three days celebrating the work of the volunteers who work alongside regular police officers dealing with local problems of crime and disorder.

This year also marks the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Specials back in 1831.

The Special Constables Act of 1831 granted them the same "powers, authorities, advantages and immunities" as full-time constables.

This is still true today as Special Constables have the same powers as regular police officers.

The main difference in 1831 was that no-one could refuse to serve as a Special.

In fact, the Act allowed for a 5 fine if they did! Today's Specials give their time on a voluntary basis.

Set up to keep the peace in their local areas the Specials went on to perform a whole range of jobs over the years.

This included taking on a prominent role in historic events such as the general strike of 1936 and the Second World War.

Perhaps their strangest function was preventing German infiltrators from interfering with the nation's water supply in World War One.

Today, their main duties are uniform patrols, crime prevention work and policing local events.

The Politics Show North West has spent the day on the beat with two special constables from the Cheshire Police Force, who both have full time jobs.

Join Tony Wilson on the Politics Show on Sunday 15 October 2006 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.

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