Past Historic or Future Conditional
IN HIS preface to the 1932 edition of The Lake Counties, W. G. Collingwood referred to the considerable changes that had taken place in the region in the thirty years since the book was first published, and likened the Cumbrian scene to a kaleidoscope: “In such a toy the changes are never for the worse: always into something rich and strange.”
Cumbria today is the end-product of many successive changes, most of them of such a nature that today they would not receive planning permission. The stone-axe factory under Pike o’ Stickle would have been refused because it would have introduced a new and uncharacteristic industry into an area of outstanding natural beauty; the megaliths at Castle Rigg, Swinside, and elsewhere would have been turned down out of hand as not in keeping with the traditional building styles. Hadrian’s Wall, and the other Roman forts, would probably have been built (military installations manage to over-ride everything else in the National Parks) but the proposals to build the 10th Iter between Ambleside, Hardknott and Ravenglass and the road from Papcastle to Old Penrith would have been resisted by the Friends of the Lake District tooth and nail. Cumbria, like any other living region, is in a state of perpetual change; deny the possibility of change and the region will come to a stop.
In an account of his perambulations through the North Country, published in 1967, Graham Turner diagnosed the main problem of the Planning Board as one of galloping inertia. Sir Robert Scott, reporting on the A66 trunk road inquiry in 1972, arraigned the Countryside Commission (whose local agents are the Planning Board) for a situation in which after nearly a quarter of a century the National Park priorities had still not been settled. On the whole National Park authorities have been totally unable to prevent the larger commercial interests, or quasi-governmental agencies, from using the choicer park areas for oil storage depots, obsolete radar stations, or atomic power stations. In Cumbria the public transport services (particularly British Rail) have been almost totally eliminated from the National Park area (the rail and bus services for the rural areas outside the Park would seem to be going the same way), thus contributing both to the road congestion problems and that of population withdrawal. The Planning Board would seem to have been fighting the wrong battles with the wrong people, leaving the major issues that effect the social and economic life of the region to be lost by default. The Planning ‘Board’s brief is too narrow, the region’s problems can only be met by a regional strategy.
Cumbria belongs first and foremost to the people who live there and contribute to the regional economy, and in order for the regional economy to develop for their benefit it is apparent that tourism, farming, and industry must co-exist as genuinely equal partners. Provided that an activity is not deleterious to the commercial, or social fabric of the region there is no valid reason for inhibiting it. A Cumbria that is economically healthy is worth more to its inhabitants, and to the nation, than a shabby museum with a begging-bowl on its door-step.
The charming dales roads, designed in the days when the Pack-horse was the only method of transport, may be a delight to the tourist, but they are a pain in the neck to the local people. No-one wants a six-lane motorway down Borrowdale, or a dual-carriage speedway between Lorton and Buttermere; but anyone who travels these roads regularly on business, rather than pottering along for the views, recognises that many of them need to be made passable to a width of two vehicles. One hundred years ago the preservationists of the day were fighting tooth and nail to prevent railways being built anywhere within the central region; nowadays preservationists weep copiously over the past glories of the rail network, crying out that the clean electric railway is suddenly most suitable for the rural environment. But the action of the Cumberland County Council in submitting details of their A66 constructions to the Fine Arts Commission does indicate the susceptibility of local authorities to environmental considerations provided that these are forcibly argued); and at least the local authorities are ultimately answerable (however tenuously) to the local people.