10 October 2019
I am aware of active local conversation around the suitability of tarmac as a surface for the reconstructed Keswick to Threlkeld Railway trail.
Since suffering severe damage in Storm Desmond in 2015, we have invested great time and energy in consulting, considering, designing and gaining consents necessary to start the reconstruction of this economically and socially important asset, under the ownership of the Park Authority.
We have held many community consultation events, written more than 50 regular media and email updates and undergone thorough planning and grant awarding processes. We have listened to users from the start of this project and will continue to do so. All of this has led to the successful start of work to rebuild the track, repair and replace damaged bridges and reopen a tunnel.
All this is possible thanks to the funding support of Highways England, the Cumbria LEP, EU funding (ESIF) and local communities and businesses via the Lake District Foundation.
It is very disappointing then that we don’t enjoy whole hearted community support.
Why might this be? Well I think in part we need to recognise that we are not simply repairing what was there before. This is a new project to provide a connection with much greater purpose and resilience for the future.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a route that is truly accessible for all, be they people with limited mobility, young children, cyclists both traditional and electric, runners or walkers. The National Park is for everyone in society and we must provide for that.
The trail has a new and very specific purpose that is to remove ’vulnerable users’ from the main A66, part of the Strategic Road Network. Cyclists will again be able to journey between Keswick and Penrith on a safe, dedicated route, all of which beyond Threlkeld, is currently on a sealed tarmac surface.
The section of path we are currently working to replace runs through the beautiful valley of the river Greta. It is the power of this river that destroyed the old path in December 2015 during Storm Desmond. We must rebuild in a way that is capable of being much more resilient to storm and flood damage. It is highly likely that the new route will be subject to regular intense floods, potentially even more powerful than Desmond, as a result of our rapidly changing climate. The tarmac surface solution is part of addressing this substantially increased risk. This durable surface will also substantially reduce the life time costs of sustaining, providing and maintaining such a trail.
From a visual perspective, the valley route means the trail is not visible from many locations. We certainly wouldn’t view tarmac as an appropriate surface in the majority of trails in the park. But with our changing public needs and climate, on balance we think it is here.
All these issues and more have been debated and carefully considered during the lengthy three year gestation of the project.
Now is not the time to reopen this debate, but to get on, build it and realise the many public benefits it will bring. I hope everyone will join us in celebrating that.