My Lords, national park authorities are independent bodies and, as part of their responsibilities to review their services and assets, it is right that they consider the sale of land, enabling the proceeds to be reinvested to enhance the national park. The Lake District National Park Authority owns less than 4% of land within the national park. As with all our national parks, who owns the land is not the determining factor in its beauty or value to the public.
My Lords, Stickle Tarn, Coniston Water, the River Derwent. Are we really selling off treasured public spaces—some of the most beautiful land in Britain—to fund the building of visitors’ centres? Will not the Government intervene to stop this?
As the noble Earl knows, the Government have no powers to direct national park authorities to dispose or not to dispose of a particular piece of land. Furthermore, it would not be right to intervene, because they must be allowed—and, indeed, encouraged—to take responsibility for their own affairs. To put it in context, the eight sites offered for sale total 59 hectares, equivalent to 0.6% of the Lake District National Park Authority’s land holdings.
My Lords, it is the turn of this side; I live there. Is it not shocking that parts of the national park—one of the most beautiful national parks—have to be sold off as a result of government cuts? Is there not a problem that, in a further sale of the land, the Lake District planning people might well give a more relaxed permission in order to get half the money? Is it not rather unhappy that we are doing this at all? Surely we should adamantly say that the Lake District is not for sale to the highest bidder.
I agree with much of the sentiment behind the noble Lord’s point, but the national park has assured me that this is not about cuts. It routinely reviews its assets and makes disposals where appropriate so that the proceeds can be reinvested into the acquisition, improvement or maintenance of other properties. It is worth saying that between 2007 and 2010—three years during which the noble Lord’s party was in government—it made sales totalling £1.9 million. In the five years from then, sales have totalled £1.8 million.
My Lords, I am sure that we all wish the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, many more happy years in one of the most glorious parts of England. However, is not what really matters here the integrity of the landscape and that there are no further incursions into its tranquillity? Can my noble friend assure us that whatever transactions take place, both the integrity of the landscape and its tranquillity will be preserved?
My Lords, there has not been a very satisfactory process here. The national park authority made the decision to sell these pieces of land in secret. People discovered it only when an advertisement appeared in the Westmoreland Gazette, giving them precisely one month to make bids. Surely there should be public debate about which of the 168 pieces of land owned by the national park authority should be sold if it has to sell any. Once it decides to put some forward, there should be consultation of a sufficient length of time to allow community groups—such as the Langdale Valley Association, which wants to register Stickle Tarn as a community asset—to be consulted. This takes time. Will the Minister have words with the national park authority to ask it to withdraw these proposals for the moment, to give time for public consultation and for the Langdale Valley Association to prepare its bid?
My Lords, I know that my noble friend is intimately involved in these matters. I assure him that I have obtained confirmation from the Lake District National Park Authority that it recognises the legitimate interests of stakeholders. It has consulted and continues to consult widely in a number of ways ahead of any final decisions. That includes liaison with parish councils, public notices advertising its intention to invite offers for some of the properties, direct consultation with a number of neighbouring landowners and so on.
My Lords, I have spent most of my life living in the Lake District National Park, which formed the greater part of my former constituency. Can we have an assurance that there will be no interference at all with existing rights of way? What is the position on the maintenance of those rights of way and bridleways which the national park carried out previously? Can we be assured that the new private owners will maintain them to the previous standards?
My Lords, I find this whole process and practice deeply shocking. I was not aware until quite recently that this could be done. As has been said, the Lake District is a glorious part of our country. These public spaces are for all the people of our country. I understand that the Lake District National Park has cash-flow problems but I baulk at the idea that this land can be sold, notwithstanding what has happened in the past. What would happen in the case of this land being sold, then resold at a profit? Would the Lake District National Park get any of the benefit? Secondly, I again ask the noble Lord for an assurance to this House that this plan will not—indeed, cannot—lead to any change in the planning restrictions on the land. Such a special area must be protected.
I can assure the noble Baroness on her latter point that there will be no change to the planning restrictions on that land. On her former point, I hope that noble Lords heard what I said earlier. The Government have no powers to intervene over disposal or otherwise of land. It is not for central government to know about retained rights over the land going forward.