Controversial mine zip wire plan gets green light

Date: Friday 9th November 2018
Georgina Blue Wilkinson, daughter of the late Mark Weir, celebrates with her mother, Honister Slate Mine co-owner, Jan Wilkinson.
Georgina Blue Wilkinson, daughter of the late Mark Weir, celebrates with her mother, Honister Slate Mine co-owner, Jan Wilkinson.

HONISTER Slate Mine has been granted permission for a 1,035-metre long zip wire in the Lake District national park — subject to conditions being agreed.

The park authority’s development control committee sitting in Kendal on Wednesday voted 7-3 in favour of granting permission for the development.

Planning officers had recommended refusal on the grounds that while the zip wire would not impact on the landscape, the people using it would.

However, some committee members argued that Honister was heavily industrialised and not a place where visitors sought peace and tranquility.

The mine, on a remote mountain pass between Borrowdale and Buttermere, had previously been refused permission for a zip wire in 2011 and 2012.

The latest project will involve a wire from high up on Honister Crag running to an “intermediate” landing point further down the mountainside.

From there, a shorter run would take users down to the mine car park and would be used by organisations working with disabled people.

Crucially, in quiet periods, the zip wire would also be utilised to transport quarried walling slate from an inaccessible area down to the mine workshops.

The method harks back to the operation’s original infrastructure of the 1920s.

Jan Wilkinson, widow of the late Mark Weir who came up with the original zip wire idea, fought back tears of joy.

She said: “I am elated, absolutely elated. I am so pleased for the Lake District and Cumbria. I commend the members of the national park planning committee — it’s been a long road, 10 years in the making.”

Mr Weir’s brother Joseph, who runs slate operations at the mine, said: “It’s very emotional and this is for Mark. The application is what it is, it fetches stone out, helps tourism and keeps Honister going.”

But the scheme was not without its critics.

The Friends of the Lake District, the Cumbria branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, the Wainwright Society, and the Open Spaces Society all strongly objected on the grounds of impact on landscape character and loss of tranquility.

Committee member Geoff Davies, of Braithwaite, said an area of law called the “Sandford Principle” meant that the landscape must always come first.

Mr Davies told the meeting: “I am sorry, I don’t buy the idea that young people don’t want to climb the hills anymore. It’s clear to me that that the zip wire infrastructure is significant, and it’s the activity I am concerned about.”

Member Louise Waterhouse, of Troutbeck, said drivers on the steep mountain pass could be distracted by the sight of people “hanging from the zip wire”.

No objections were received, however, from Cumbria County Council highways authority, Cumbria police, air traffic control or the Ministry of Defence.

Committee member Bill Jefferson, of Silloth, said: “At any vantage points, walkers will be aware of what is, however you define it, a mine.

“So they wouldn’t necessarily be looking for tranquility in a mine.”

National park chairman, Mike McKinley said: “One of the problems in the Lake District national park is a shortage of natural stone slate.

“Part of our world heritage site inscription covers the use of natural materials in the built environment.

“How are we going to continue that if we don’t mine those materials? We cannot get them from outside, so we need to continue to mine.”

David McGowan, head of planning at the Lake District National Park Authority, said: “In simple terms the committee, on a majority vote, decided they wanted to approve the planning application but they need the fine details working out so we will work on that before issuing a decision notice on their behalf.”

Friends of the Lake District responded that there was “little justification” for the members to “ignore” the advice of its planning officers.

The landscape charity said: “We consider this to be a highly sensitive location and that this development will have a detrimental impact on the landscape character, tranquility and biodiversity of the area.”