A Letter to the Times in Response to Windermere Planning Rule Flouting Article



In a recent article published by The Times 19th December 2023, Chris Packham underscored the relatively uncommon issue of individuals disregarding planning regulations around Windermere. I unequivocally disapprove of habitat destruction and regulation flaunting related to projects that negatively affect our environment, whether driven by aesthetic or functional concerns. However, the crux of the matter lies in the planning board’s actions, which, single-handedly, have resulted in the degradation of the Windermere shores and health of our bodies of water.


The South Lakeland district planning board has consistently favoured large businesses and developments and allowed their expansion in environmentally sensitive areas, which has increased tourism and revenue but has caused road congestion, waste issues, including litter, and worsened the already existing sewage problem in the Lake District, particularly in Windermere. I would suggest that anyone wishing to delve deeper into the issue of declining water bodies in the Lake District and the emerging concerns over their health during the 1980s should read the seminal study titled. “A general assessment of environmental and biological features of Windermere and their susceptibility to change”.

What is disconcerting is that the issues were flagged up over four decades ago. Yet, the agencies entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding our water systems and overseeing planning protocols have not only permitted the deterioration of these vital resources but have also reaped substantial bonuses in the process which should have been used instead to expand the capacity of existing plants and upgrading infrastructure. Had the problem been confronted four decades ago, Windermere would undoubtedly be the national treasure it masquerades as today. Ironically, the country laud the beauty of the mere, oblivious to the fact, unless local to the area, that those in control of it’s health have filled it with sewage, and allowed it to happen, consequently endangering the aquatic life and vegetation that call it home. The absence of any accountability for their actions only adds to the gravity of the situation.

Submitting a new planning application for works to the board necessitates navigating numerous obstacles and bureaucratic processes, such as traffic management, light pollution surveys, ecological surveys, and tree surveys. These requirements come with significant costs, often amounting to tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds. While such processes are essential to establish the necessity of new building plots or expansions, it is unfortunate it could be viewed that they are susceptible to manipulation and serve the interests of big businesses and wealthy property owners. The east side of Windermere’s shores could especially be an example of this and has undergone drastic changes in the past decade, with building plots expanding into the lake itself. Concrete block walls and steel piling have replaced the once thriving ecosystem of reeds, gravel beaches, and plant life that were essential for maintaining the natural health of the water. Gravel beaches in particular play a crucial role as a natural filtration system. Gravel’s filtration properties come from its size and composition. The spaces between gravel pieces allow water to flow through, while the gravel itself traps larger particles, including some types of pollutants and debris. This is why gravel is often used as a pre-filter in many filtration systems. Although algae is a natural occurrence in any water body, the increased amount of sewage being deposited into Windermere has created an ideal environment for algae, including the highly toxic blue green algae, to thrive.


The threat of contamination looms large over nearby water bodies when septic systems are poorly managed or fail, posing a risk to both environmental health and human well-being. Property owners face when buying new property, or repairing existing private septic tanks, the economic challenge of replacing their old, yet typically efficient, slate-built tanks and soakaway systems with costly modern tanks and treatment plants to comply with new regulations. When these upgrades prove too expensive for the owners, the properties are transitioned to the main sewage system. However, this solution has led to an unintended problem: When United Utilities is unable manage the volume of sewage, it has ended up being discharged into Windermere, exacerbating the environmental impact far beyond the scope of the original issue. It’s important to understand that these mistakes to the environment have had and continue to have long-term implications and calls for an immediate solution for the long term health of our water bodies and ecosystems and we should be heard loud and clear, the problems need resolving promptly.

In the scenic Lake District, a concerning trend is emerging in the realm of urban planning. Established businesses, including hotels, events companies, and holiday parks, are exploiting their standing to flaunt the planning rules. Their size and influence have led to an undue privilege – the right to expand their operations without due consideration of the implications. This unchecked growth is increasingly contributing to traffic congestion, overcrowding, habitat health and waste management issues.

Meanwhile, smaller projects with potentially low impact are side-lined

by the planning authority. These projects, often proposed by local people and local businesses, are denied the opportunity to contribute to the local economy. The reasons behind these decisions remain unclear and warrant urgent examination.


Several notable planning applications come to mind that have been unfairly dismissed. These projects, had they been approved, would have significantly benefitted local families and boosted our economy in a much better way than filling a large hotel or complex where the visitors often don’t leave for an entire weekend. Instead, the planning board appears to favour large businesses, granting them carte blanche with little regard for the potential harm to our local area and the impact on our local communities.


It’s time for a reassessment of the planning rules within the Lake District. The planning board must provide a level playing field for all businesses and homeowners, big or small, and prioritize the well-being of the local community and the health of the ecosystem should be paramount in these decisions.


James Townley

Reform UK Westmorland & Lonsdale PPC



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