Following the success of the BMC’s Stand Up For Stanage campaign, almost a hundred climbers and hill walkers attended the latest Peak Area meeting to hear the Peak District National Park Authority’s latest thinking about the future of the North Lees Estate. Ed Douglas went along.
A new Stanage Trust, a new café and an increase in voluntary contributions were just some of the ideas outlined by Mary Bagley, recently appointed Head of Enterprise and Field Services.
She reiterated the PDNPA’s view that the North Lees Estate must break even, although given its accounts are confidential and the public have no idea what services and costs are included in the estate, it’s unclear at the moment what that means.
The most significant proposal is a Stanage Trust, a putative charitable body to oversee the estate and raise money for maintenance and investment. The idea had been suggested at a recent meeting of the Stanage Forum Steering Group.
Bagley said that if the Stanage Trust went ahead, she hoped the BMC would nominate a trustee. She also said that the PDNPA would not hold a majority among trustees, although local interests would have to be represented.
The idea of a Stanage Trust has received a lukewarm welcome from Access Rep Henry Folkard ‘if there are certain safeguards’. Chief among these are the drafting of any terms of reference, the purpose of the body meeting the interests of the public and its impact on other voluntary bodies in the Peak District, particularly Friends of the Peak District.
‘I really don’t want to see competition for scarce fiscal and volunteer resources between the Eastern Moors Partnership and the PDNPA,’ he said. ‘Landscape would be the loser. The approach to generating a management plan for the Eastern Moors and High Peak Moors is working very well. We have the impression that the approach at North Lees has been different.’
There was a general feeling at the meeting that the PDNPA had some ground to make up in its relationship with climbers and hill walkers following its protracted and sometimes secretive considerations on the future of Stanage. ‘Absolute transparency is really important for the future,’ Folkard added.
Whether or not a Stanage Trust could work would depend on a number of key issues. The BMC continues to stand by the criteria it drew up in its recent campaign and will continue to remind the PDNPA that North Lees was acquired by the park with public money for public benefit.
It seems unlikely that climbers and hill walkers will want to give money to an organisation that is raising money to support other areas of work in the Peak District NP. Making sure that doesn’t happen will require a far greater level of financial transparency in how North Lees is run.
Since the BMC’s involvement in the Stanage Forum began in 2000, there has been little real investment in North Lees in terms of landscape, access path maintenance and other facilities. That would have to change if climbers and hill walkers were being asked to contribute.
Bagley argued that climbers were already getting a great deal for free, an argument that did not meet with widespread approval. More than one speaker pointed out that climbers and hill walkers pay taxes and offer a great deal of volunteer time and effort in looking after Stanage.
Among other ideas to raise income on the estate, Bagley said that offering a concession to open a café in the room between the toilets below the Plantation was being considered, along with contributions from organised events.
A great deal remains uncertain. How will the future of North Lees fit in with the Sheffield Moors Master-plan? Will the PDNPA continue to support a warden, considered essential given its proximity to the fringes of Sheffield? Most importantly, is the PDNPA genuinely committed to listening to all those who want to keep this landscape wild and free?
There was appreciation from the meeting for Mary Bagley's willingness to meet with climbers and hill walkers and a welcome for the PDNPA's engagement through the Stanage Forum
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