Photo shows: Exec Board, Steve, Richard and Kerry, serving drinks at the 2018 staff Christmas party at the Lake District Visitor Centre, Brockhole.
With a much deserved Christmas break just around the corner, I’d like to invite you to take a moment to reflect on what we’ve achieved over the past year.
Of the 11 years in my role, this year has been the most remarkable for the progress we’ve made. Without question every area of the business has performed out of its skin. We’ve come a long way in a short time and I couldn’t be more proud to lead our work.
Before I highlight our big achievements, I first want to say a massive thank you for the routine work that goes on day in day out and which contributes so hugely to looking after our national park and our reputation. Our park simply wouldn’t be the same without this important work.
In March we hosted HRH the Prince of Wales for a small but remarkable plaque unveiling event for the World Heritage Site. A tonne of work went into making this event the success it was, even down to the perfect weather on the day. Subsequently our World Heritage Site marketing campaign has provided for the first time a unifying brand for the park that everyone supports.
We have made huge strides this year to almost complete the work to repair and add resilience to damaged rights of ways following Storm Desmond in 2015. This year alone we’ve fixed 43 footpaths, that’s 17,239 metres of added resilience, repaired 61 bridges and 29 restored or repaired items of access furniture. As ever, some world class repairs to the high fells path network via the Fix the Fells partnership and especially its band of highly skilled and dedicated volunteers. Some of this work has attracted criticism, but we’ve steadfastly stuck to our message and shown our confidence in what we know to be true.
The same can very much be said about our work on the route at Tilberthwaite and the campaign to ban 4x4s from here. In the face of protest we have relied on our years of practical experience and understanding of the law to chart a pragmatic way forward. Belief in our own abilities is vital.
To bring us right up to date, we recently announced that we’ve raised all the funds to enable the full restoration of the Keswick to Threlkeld multi-user trail, on property we own. This £7.9 million project will be the biggest single engineering project we’ve ever led and it’s a huge achievement to get to this stage exactly three years since Storm Desmond.
Our work to look after the park simply wouldn’t be possible without the support of our volunteers. This year we’ve developed an insightful and exciting new strategy which sets a course for us in competing with Netflix for people’s time and attention.
We launched a consultation around an inspiring and ambitious Local Plan refresh that addresses some of the challenges our 19 million visitors pose. Whilst headlines around tourism and the proposed Gondola at Whinlatter drew attention, the plan also outlines some real steps forward such as affordable housing provision and net gain for biodiversity to mention just two. Our Visitor Movement Vision for 2040 aims high, and what a delight to demonstrate to the public what future transport might look like with driverless electric pods at Brockhole.
Development Management continues to be the touch-point for our local reputation and the work we do here is recognised by the government department responsible. I hosted a visit from the Chief Planner who clearly sees us as a highly performing planning authority.
We’ve up-graded many of our back-office systems and processes, coping admirably along the way with the new GDPR requirements. From our IT strategy to HR processes, this work is vital to our effectiveness and efficiency, and we’ve made some great progress recently.
How impressive it is to see staff in our new Columbia uniform. The thank you message from National Parks Partnership to Columbia is worth a quick watch. That we’ve been able to support an African National Park, Mount Kilimanjaro, with our old gear is very satisfying too.
Our enterprising approach to future fundraising is becoming established. We’ve invested in and assisted with the launch of the Lake District Pound, please use it. The Lake District Foundation in its first full year has grown income from Visitor Giving and other sources and is researching, with us, future new approaches such as contactless giving.
Our commercial services performance across the board has been simply outstanding this year. We are on course to deliver an amazing 16% increase on the previous year, and our Information Centres have had a record year, against a backdrop of a challenging year for the visitor economy. The Gaddum Restaurant is outstanding for quality and value, alongside a rejuvenated visitor and education offer at Brockhole. We are upgrading our Coniston Boating Centre, exploring further investment in the site and looking at expansion to other sites. Our support for the John Muir Award this year, introduced thousands of young people to the delights of the great outdoors, many for the first time.
Finally, turning to the bigger picture, whilst there is much uncertainly with the future of Brexit we have been influential with Defra’s thinking on the future of agricultural funding, which is so vital to our farming traditions.
National Parks remain high in the national psyche and I welcome the review currently under way in Defra led by Julian Glover, I know that our approach to managing the park, not least through our unique Partnership approach has been noticed. The new energy that Stephen Henwood has brought to the partnership table will stand us in good stead for the coming year.
For such a small organisation that’s one heck of a lot of achievements in a short time. I know you’ve all worked extremely hard to make these and many more successes happen. I encourage you to take a well earned rest over the Christmas period and to return refreshed for more in 2019.
On behalf of Chairman, Mike McKinley and myself, we would like to say thank you for a great year's work and have a safe, prosperous and restful Christmas!