Via ferrata climbers on the top of Fleetwith Pike
By Carey Davies
The owners of England's first via ferrata have been given permission to extend it, less than a year after they were fined for causing environmental damage with a previous extension.
Planners at the Lake District National Park Authority approved an application by the owners of Honister Slate Mine to build a more extreme extension to its via ferrata on crags below the summit of Fleetwith Pike near Buttermere.
The mine's owners were fined £28,000 by West Cumbria Magistrates in August last year for causing damage to a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) by a previous, unauthorised extension.
The Honister via ferrata is a series of rungs and cables which allows non-climbers to access technical crags they wouldn't otherwise be able to. It is modelled on via ferrata in the alps and was the creation of the mine's late owner Mark Weir, who died in a helicopter crash last year.
Honister Slate Mine has dubbed the extension 'Via Ferrata Xtreme' and say the route has more exposure, vertical climbs, rope bridges and cliff-edge ladders.
They announced the approval on social networking sites yesterday. Owner Jan Wilkinson, partner of Mr Weir, said on Facebook and Twitter: “Wahey, Wahoo! The LDNP planning have agreed our NEW Via Ferrata & The Low wood Hotel – A fantastic day for the Lake District!”
Initiatives by the Honister Slate Mine have been controversial in recent years. A halted proposal to build a 1.2km zip wire from the summit of Fleetwith Pike down to the slate mine was opposed by Friends of the Lake District and the British Mountaineering Council.
Speaking about the decision to approve the via ferrata extension, Friends of the Lake District expressed concern over the precedent it could set for future development.
Jack Ellerby, Policy Officer for the Friends, said: “We don’t blame the business at Honister seeking to maximise its profits. Our priority is always to protect the ‘freedom of the fells’; freedom from man-made development and noise, a sense of space and openness, getting away from the stresses of modern life, immersed in peace and tranquillity and free open-air recreational access.
"If what's happened at Honister is replicated across the Lakeland Fells then you’ve lost the essence of this special place and the wider visitor economy will be ruined. Growing numbers of young people cannot afford expensive attractions so please don’t privatise our fells!”
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