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Thursday, 2 August, 2001, 13:20 GMT 14:20 UK
Minister urges tourists back to Cumbria
Tourists are staying away from Cumbria
Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael has visited the Lake District in an attempt to encourage tourists back to the countryside.

He set out to highlight that 90% of footpaths across the country are open again in the wake of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Among his tasks was to change the view that Cumbria - one of the areas worst-affected by the outbreak - is still out-of-bounds to holidaymakers.

Some estimates suggest that businesses in the region have lost 288m through the crisis.

Alun Michael
Alun Michael: "Cumbria wants people back"
Mr Michael told BBC News 24: "We are trying to get the message across that there is a welcome in the Lake District.

"Cumbria wants to see people coming back."

He said that there was now "clarity" over where walkers could visit and areas where restrictions may still apply.

Mr Michael also said efforts were being made to support businesses that had seen their trade wrecked by the outbreak.

He said: "We are trying to help by publicising the fact that the countryside is open for business to encourage people to come and use this opportunity.

"We are also trying to put things in place for the medium and long term to grow businesses back."

A laptop computer does not pay the electricity bill

Deborah Bowen, Cumbria Crisis Alliance
But some companies in Cumbria have criticised the way grants aimed at boosting trade affected by the disease are being handed out in the region.

Some hotels and retailers claim their income is 90% down on last year because tourists are staying away from the countryside.

Although about 3m aid has been earmarked for Cumbria businesses, the cash can only be paid under certain conditions.

Money is given to applications from firms seeking to improve marketing, boost computer systems or pay interest on loans.

Hardship grants

However some traders say that they want cash to help cover their losses during the crisis.

They point to businesses in neighbouring North Yorkshire that can apply for hardship grants of up to 2,000.

Deborah Bowen, from small-business pressure group Cumbria Crisis Alliance, told BBC Radio 5 Live she was still filling in the paperwork to get a grant.

She said: "The tourists have been turned off like a tap.

"When we do get the money it is not going to be much use because, unlike in Yorkshire, there are all sorts of provisos for what we can spend the money on.

'Level playing field'

"There is no point marketing the business for next year if we are not going to be in business, likewise having a laptop computer does not pay the electricity bill.

"We need a level playing field with Yorkshire."

Suzanne Caldwell, from Cumbria Business Link, said the criteria for paying the cash was set by the North West Development Agency.

"A lot of companies are very pleased about the help we can offer in marketing the business for next year," she added.

"We can also help with covering the costs of special offers, such as two-for-one deals, which will also help businesses."

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See also:

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