The future of one of Britain's premier crags is decided at the end of next week, as the Peak District National Park Authority (PDNPA) chooses which organisation will take over the management of The Roaches in Staffordshire. The authority, which has managed the publicly owned Roaches estate for more than 30 years, says it has to cut costs following the Government's spending review.
'One way we're adapting to financial cutbacks is to share more work with partners,' Jim Dixon, chief executive of the PDNPA said recently. 'Our budget from Defra is being cut from £8.2m in 2010-11 to £6.5m by 2014-15, so it makes sense to open the way for others to do what we cannot.'
Stakeholders, including the British Mountaineering Council (BMC), expect the PDNPA will choose the Staffordshore Wildlife Trust to take over the management of the Roaches. But UKC has learned that the front-runner in the three-way race is relying on financial support from Staffordshire Moorlands District Council - somewhat undermining the Government's aim to slash tax-payer support for England's national parks.
The SWT has promised to more than double the PDNPA's expenditure on the Roaches – currently around £25,000 – with the SWT itself committing £35,000 a year to the upkeep of the 395-hectare estate. An undisclosed sum is also promised from SMDC, essentially replacing one source of public funding with another. The SWT is also planning to appeal to other user groups, including the British Mountaineering Council.
The Conservative leader of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council Sybil Ralphs has been a vocal campaigner in demanding access to the Roaches remains unaffected by the government's decision to slash national park budgets. She declined to comment on her council's promised support of SWT's bid.
Of the other two organisations vying for the Roaches, the National Trust recently took over the management of the Eastern Edges with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and co-operation with the BMC. The Land Trust has sufficient resources to manage the Roaches, but isn't considered to have a serious chance.
Henry Folkard, Peak District access representative for the British Mountaineering Council, said:
'They [the Land Trust] have no expertise of a site like the Roaches and we know nothing about them. You can join the National Trust and the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, but you can't join the Land Trust. The Roaches is public property. There's an issue of accountability here.'
The BMC's Peak Area Newsletter for November 2011 has more on this.
BMC Chief executive Dave Turnbull told UKC:
'The BMC's preferred option is for the National Trust to get the Roaches. It's got the resources and it has lots of experience of recreation management. Historically, we've had a good working relationship with the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and we could work with them if they are selected.'
The BMC resisted a bid by RSPB to manage the Eastern Edges on its own, preferring a broader-based coalition of interests. In its bid for the Roaches, the SWT promises to work with other stakeholders and hold public consultations but says it doesn't want a legally binding partnership.
The PDNPA says it has consulted widely to ensure the public's interest in the Roaches is maintained.
'These bodies often have long experience in sensitive land management, plus bigger budgets, access to grants, professional expertise and volunteers,' Jim Dixon said.
The authority has overseen a marked improvement in the condition of the Roaches estate in the last 30 years. Once part of the larger Swythamley estate and owned by the Brocklehurst family, the Roaches was in poor condition when it was bought for the nation by the Peak District National Park in 1980. It is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Rockhall Cottage, originally an 18th century folly built into the crag, is leased to the BMC as a climbing hut. The park authority says that interest will be protected in any new agreement. PDNPA says it is unlikely it will sell the freehold to the Roaches, theoretically available to the right bidder, preferring a long or short leasehold. A spokeswoman told UKC: 'We can't comment on any of the proposals until a decision is made.'