PEAK: National Park Authority to keep Stanage and North Lees estate

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The Peak District National Park Authority is to retain the ownership and management of the popular climbing, walking and wildlife area of Stanage Edge and the surrounding North Lees estate.

The Authority’s audit, resources and performance committee today (Sept 20) voted unanimously to keep the 545-hectare estate above Hathersage, and to drive forward a business plan to make it break even financially by September 2014.

The Authority has been reviewing all its properties in the light of Government cuts of more than 30 per cent in its budget between 2011-2015, and has previously leased its Eastern Moors estate to a partnership of the National Trust and RSPB and the Roaches to the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.

Such a partnership option was considered but discounted in this case.

Committee chair Christopher Pennell said: “We wanted to give certainty on the future of the estate for the sake of the local community, users, tenants, the Authority’s managers and staff and everyone who knows and loves it. After careful consideration we concluded that the Authority is in the best position to run the North Lees estate.

“It was bought with public money and we are fully committed to ensuring public access, conservation, education and innovation.

“We believe in it, our officers have given us a business plan showing how it could be brought to a position where we recover full costs, and we want them to get on with it without the distraction of continuing to investigate the possibility of external partnerships or disposal.

“This will mean people may have to be prepared to pay more than they have before, for instance for car parking, camping, refreshment concessions or for utilising buildings. But they can rest assured that there would never be any restriction or charge for access, and that any income generated on the estate will be re-invested in the estate.

“We also want to assure community and user groups, who are as passionate about Stanage and the North Lees estate as we are, that they will be fully involved in formulating a new vision for the estate for the 21st century.”

He welcomed the fact that some of them spoke at the meeting – they were Rob Dyer from the British Mountaineering Council, Jean Hodgkinson from the Stanage Forum, John Thompson from the Peak District Local Access Forum and Keith Jennings, a former head of property for the national park authority.

After the decision John Thompson said: “This is something that we could certainly welcome. We do think it’s important to refresh the vision for the estate and it’s something we’re prepared to put a lot of energy into.”

In addition to Stanage Edge, which attracts climbers from all over the world, the North Lees estate includes

• a 480 hectare farm (1186 acres), recently let to a 23 year old farmer who will raise traditional-breed sheep and cattle

• the North Lees campsite, with 60 pitches

• eight woodlands (45 hectares) – where applications have been made for conservation grants

• traditional farm buildings including a Grade 2 listed cruck barn that could be used for community events in conjunction with the farm tenant

• four car parks

• the Elizabethan North Lees Hall (leased until 2038 to the historic buildings charity the Vivat Trust for holiday accommodation). The hall’s east wing is to be refurbished as accommodation for the farm tenant.