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Friday, 24 October 2014

Last slate mine in Cumbria could close after zip wire plan rejected

The last working slate mine in England could shut after moves for it to run the longest zip wire in the northern hemisphere in Cumbria were thrown out.

Jan Wilkinson photo
Jan Wilkinson

A spokesman for Honister Slate Mine at Borrowdale confirmed closure could “not be ruled out” after its plans for an attraction described as having “international appeal” were left in tatters yesterday.

The idea to run a 1,200m recreational zip wire from a mountain was rejected by Lake District planners following a highly-charged three-hour meeting in front of a packed public gallery.

There had been 476 letters and an 11,500-strong petition in support of the scheme – which would have been in memory of the late owner Mark Weir, who died in a helicopter crash in March

There were also 255 letters of objection.

Opposition came from organisations including Natural England, the Campaign for National Parks, Friends of the Lake District and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England.

The plan was intended to boost business, generate six extra full-time jobs and lure to Cumbria younger tourists seeking a high-adrenaline adventure experience.

But experts had pointed to the loss of “a relatively small area” of dry heath.

It was also claimed “the noise, speed, altitude and appearance of participants” would harm “the qualities of remoteness, tranquility and wildness” for some.

The 14 members of the Lake District National Park Authority’s development control committee voted nine to five against the plan at the meeting at their headquarters in Kendal.

Afterwards, owner Jan Wilkinson, who was Mr Weir’s partner, said: “We employ 30 at the moment and this puts 30 jobs in jeopardy.

“We are here, we want to stay but this is another nail in our coffin.

“I don’t know where we go from now. We’ve just got to go back and regroup.”

Ellis Butcher, spokesman for Honister Slate Mine, later confirmed closure of the firm could not be ruled out.

He added: “Honister could build the shortest, quietest, lowest zip wire in the world, but the problem is no one would ever want to go on it.

“This county can’t call itself the capital of adventure, it is going to have to call itself the capital of tranquility.”

The zip wire was intended to run from a part of Fleetwith Pike known as Black Star to the existing mine complex, which also offers guided tours.

The authority’s officers admitted few applications had “captured so much public interest”.

Mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington spoke at the meeting in favour of the plan.

He pointed out the mine had been an industrial site for hundreds of years, adding the attraction would help the Lake District economy by raising its profile.

Among those speaking against was Joe Crowther, representing Buttermere and Borrowdale parish councils.

He said more traffic would make the roads even more dangerous for cyclists and runners, adding: “People seeking peaceful enjoyment on the fells would go elsewhere.”

Panel member Ann Hall said noise could spoil the tranquility of the area.

But fellow member, Bill Jefferson, who is chairman of the authority, spoke out passionately in favour of the plan.

He said: “The damage to the landscape is very, very limited. The area in question is the size of my back bedroom.

“Do you want to kill the Lake District dead? Do you want to preside over a mausoleum where humans can no longer shout?”

Have your say

When you go to those heights IT is for the silence. I could/have been to the Black Mountains in Wales and many high places in Scotland. Must admit my ancestor dwelled in these areas and where slate reivers so it's somewhere special. I know i'm selfish. J Jackson

Posted by john jackson on 9 October 2011 at 17:07

"Awful decision! Surely one fell out of hundreds can be diversified." - R2

I don't think there would be as strong an objection to this project on each one of those fells, although of course there would be some. Part of the issue is that this is a peaceful valley with some of the most dramatic scenery in the Lakes.

Despite the suggestions from supporters that the slate business at Honister is noisy so extra noise wouldn't be significant, it is actually pretty quiet since is is a slate MINE, and not a quarry. The (more productive) quarry in the Langdale valley is much noisier and consequently I imagine a zip wire ride on the site of the quarry would receive less objections. It may not be a suitable site though.

One of the major issues with Honister that concerned the committee is that road access is particularly poor. Borrowdale is already packed with traffic for months on end with long queues into Keswick in the late afternoon. The long suffering residents have seen their beautiful (but very wet) valley become a difficult place to live. I know several have left after decades as life there has become unbearable for them. Do we want the community to go and every house to become a holiday let?

I have been up the via ferrata with Mark and can imagine the zip down would be quite fun. It's just an unsuitable place. One of the struggling tourist locations with better road access would make so much more sense.

Posted by Steven on 14 September 2011 at 09:26

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