24 July 2012

KCG comment on David Bradley interview

Cable car boss blasts National Trust for 'jumping the gun' on Cheddar Gorge views

1. Further to the Cheddar Valley Gazette interview with David Bradley, Longleat CEO, 19 July 2012.

2. The purpose of a public consultation is to find out what people think about a proposed development. Consultees have to respond in good time because if they don't, Longleat could ignore their views. “It is important that consultees respond in good time to promoters, as they may possess information without which the promoter will not be able to proceed. Where responses are not received by the deadline set by the promoter, the promoter is not obliged to take those responses into account.” (Planning Act 2008, Guidance on pre-application consultation, para 79). http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/planningandbuilding/pdf/guidancepreapplication.pdf

3. Legoland is a distraction. When Legoland Windsor opened in 1996, useage of it's site as a tourist attraction or theme park had already been long established, starting in 1969 when Billy Smarts Circus started, followed by Windsor Safari Park. (Wikipedia) That was then and there. Here and now, Cheddar Gorge is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a "precious landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so outstanding that it is in the nation's interest to safeguard them."  http://www.aonb.org.uk/wba/naaonb/naaonbpreview.nsf/Web%20Default%20Frameset?OpenFrameSet&Frame=Main&Src=%2Fwba%2Fnaaonb%2Fnaaonbpreview.nsf%2FPublishedContent%2F2.0!OpenDocument%26 AutoFramed   As a Special Area of Conservation, it has national and international statutory protections for it's landscape, species and habitats. These are sound statutory foundations for consultees' opinions. To anyone who disagrees, consultees' position statements may be disappointing, but they are not “dismissive” or “improper”.

4. Talk of denying access to the young, old and disabled is another distraction. Young or old, all fit and healthy people can get to the top of the gorge. At a slower pace, others may get there too. While the disabled cannot climb up the gorge, Cheddar Caves & Gorge say that it is also impossible for them to get into the caves or go on the Caves & Gorge open top bus. People with disabilities can easily enjoy the best views of Cheddar Gorge, which are those looking upwards at the cliffs from the bottom. The frail, sick or disabled can easily see numerous other remarkable views in Sedgemoor from existing roads, and without having to pay. A cable car would require payment for access to views, and would leave tourists with less money to spend in other ways.

5. It is implied that Longleat is not renewing leases on it's properties in the gorge because of “falling visitor numbers”. It could be the other way round. Being refused a lease renewal would cause difficulties for any business. Apart from the possibly desperate situation of Longleat's “no-lease” tenants, what is the evidence for saying that,“the whole area is becoming more and more economically deprived”? Despite the unkempt state of Longleat's property, some lower gorge businesses are profitable. Recent or imminent lettings of empty retail premises suggest Cheddar may be bucking the national trend. All things considered, Cheddar could be doing comparatively well.

6. The phrase “falling visitor numbers” is very misleading. What about the direction of recent trends in visitor numbers? Although actual caves' visit numbers are lower now than the 309,000 of twenty years ago, in 2011 the trend was up, not down. Insider Media 16 May 2012 reports that for the year to 31 December 2011, Longleat said that “..... there had been a 5 per cent increase on visitors to the Cheddar Caves attraction at Cheddar Gorge, which had led to a 7 per cent increase in revenue and a 32 per cent rise in trading profits.” Not bad for these times.

7. With 165,000 visitors in 2010, and 5% more in 2011 (i.e. about 173,250) Show Caves visitors alone may be generating more than £2 million a year. Two million sounds enough for anyone, but costs do have a way of compounding: wages, taxes, running costs, works on Longleat house, hotel purchases, £333,000 for Environmental Impact Assessments etc. However, Longleat chooses it's own priorities. So, if all this expenditure makes it difficult to find the £500,000 needed each year for “maintaining the flora and fauna”, that is Longleat's business, not ours. Similarly, multi-million project or not, none of it adds up to an “economic argument” for spoiling an internationally important national asset. If maintaining the landscape is too burdensome, perhaps it could be gifted to the nation in lieu of tax, or some other arrangement could be made.

8. Ignoring seasonal fluctuations, present annual Cheddar Caves' visitor numbers could be about 60 people an hour. Expected cable car demand is 500 people per hour. Surprisingly, most urban cable transit systems usually shift far greater numbers of people. According to the Gondola Project, one of the lowest capacities is 550 people per hour in Funivia Del Renon, which has urban top and bottom stations connecting two Italian Alpine tourist towns. The limiting factor there is small stations in which cable cars must come to halt. In Cheddar, how likely is a demand of 500 people per hour for a very short ride to a place without any facilities? On the other hand, if those numbers were to be achieved, imagine the extra erosion and environmental damage such crowds would cause. Of course there would have to be buildings and other structures at the top of the gorge. By definition, cable cars have a top station. With expected demand of 500 people per hour, there would have to be toilets, seats, viewing platforms, footpaths and fences. If visitor numbers were ever to fall for any reason, there would be relentless pressure to construct further facilities, cafe, playground etc.

9. The Snowdon railway was opened in 1896 - way before Snowdonia was declared a National Park in the 1950s.
http://www.snowdonrailway.co.uk/history.php   There is no conceivable way in which a Snowdon railway would have been allowed today. Mentioning the train to Snowdon does nothing to help the cable car case. Quite the opposite, given the damage being caused as a consequence of the train there. Even someone who thinks the Snowdon building and railway are just fine was, “absolutely horrified yesterday by the amount of paving and steps that have been put on and around the summit area. These pavements (and trust me that’s just what they are, no pretence at disguising these as rocky mountain tracks) have completely wrecked the whole summit area. Now instead of a rocky mountain summit, we have something that resembles the paving and stairways of a city shopping centre. …... it seems that good old health and safety have completely destroyed the wild mountain feel of Snowdon summit.” http://www.forum.walkingbritain.co.uk/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1202653999

Auriol Penniceard, Supporters Action, Keep Cheddar Gorgeous