Dear Rachel Elnaugh,
I have been visiting the Peak District National Park for many years and regard Cressbrook Dale as one of its gems of natural beauty and biodiversity. The woodland and wildflowers through the seasons are a particular joy, and as National Park access land, the area is rightly preserved for everyone to enjoy.
I learned on a recent visit that an organisation you represent has acquired a significant parcel of the dale, ostensibly for the development of an eco-tourism project involving camping and the growing of food. You will already be well aware that there is a significant local campaign, ‘Save Cressbrook Dale’, which strongly opposes your alteration of the landscape and argues that the purposes you have in mind for the dale are not appropriate for the land and could be damaging to this precious Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
I have visited your website and watched some of your videos, and you do not at all seem the kind of person who would wilfully damage a beautiful natural landscape. Indeed, your appreciation for the beauty of the area and its benefits to well-being seem clear. You argue that local residents’ resistance is out of misplaced fear and your intentions are good.
At the same time, it seems perfectly understandable that locals and visitors alike are worried that you have started making changes to the land without it being entirely clear what you plan to do with it. The Save Cressbrook Dale campaign claims you are considering holding festivals on the site, as well as selling off 8m[sup]2[/sup] plots for £8000 each to investors who will get “exclusive rights to the plot and will be able to stay on it whenever they want to”. It also claims your organisation intends to grow food in unsuitable locations, intends to undertake development without planning permission and has no plan to tackle and contain the ash dieback disease that is prevalent in the area. Taken together, these claims are rather alarming, as such moves would seemingly affect the ecology and beauty of the land as well as potentially restricting access for the wider public.
The National Park Authority this year issued a Temporary Preservation Order (TPO) on Cressbrook Dale’s woodland over concerns about the implications of the new ownership. In explaining its reasoning, it said the following: “There is an important expediency argument for placing a TPO on this woodland, as the woodland has recently changed ownership to multiple owners, with the potential of many more ‘micro-freeholders’ having a stake in the land. This has raised concerns from local residents about potential damage and destruction of the woodland and future management of the site, stating potential loss of canopy cover, associated loss of wildlife, concerns about increased footfall and vehicular access to the site if there are multiple owners/ stakeholders on the land and the associated detrimental effects on the ancient semi-natural woodland.” The authority has asked you to submit any objections or comments by tomorrow, 22[sup]nd[/sup] November 2022.
Further, the National Park Authority issued both a Temporary Stop Notice (TSN) and a Planning Contravention Notice (PCN) over concerns you have begun developing the land without planning consents. The Save Cressbrook Dale group claims members of your organisation repeatedly took down these notices when they were pinned to the perimeters of your land. I’m sure you appreciate that this does not offer reassurance to those who are concerned.
I am writing this letter not to condemn you but simply to ask if you would be willing to offer greater public transparency over your specific intended uses of the land you have acquired, given its ecological sensitivity and its value to so many people. If you feel the anger and fear generated in response are misplaced, perhaps it would be useful to alleviate those concerns by outlining precisely what you intend for the land and offering assurances that you will only act with the correct planning permission and that you will not seek to restrict public rights to access land.
If you have well-thought-through, ecologically sensitive plans that will not harm protected flora and fauna, along with a strategy for ash dieback, it would be great for everyone to see what they look like. If you wish to count the local community as friends and neighbours rather than adversaries, perhaps you also have ideas for how you could involve them in discussion and address their fears directly. My hope is that a public reply to this letter could be a step in the right direction.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.