Cable car will not lift gorge out the woods
Cheddar Gorge, one of the world' most dramatic views, is in desperate need of its own vision.
That was the feeling of a meeting in Cheddar where the Somerset branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and groups opposed to Longleat Estate's proposed cable car attraction, put forward other ideas to draw in visitors.
For most, including John Ward of Keep Cheddar Gorgeous, the "fairground ride" proposed by Longleat was seen as the ruin of the great natural treasure, which is not only the jewel of Mendip Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but includes a Site of Special Scientific Interest, an archaeological site of national importance and is home to six Scheduled Ancient Monuments.
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"Would Longleat run the cable cars on top of Longleat house?" was one reaction.
But it is not just the cable cars that are seen as a threat. The clutter of signs along road sides and in the village, the empty shops and other properties, some of which are owned by Longleat, and the cans and plastic bags left in the ponds, can all give a negative view of the lower Gorge area.
John Slingsby, chairman of the Lower Gorge Regeneration Group, spoke of proposals to develop a new plan for the area, and of hopes of using the area's wildlife and local food to bring in more visitors.
He suggested webcams could show the secret lives of the ponds' protected water voles, that the road through the Gorge could be closed for regular food festivals, cycling and other events.
Paul Bryan, planning liaison officer of the AONB, stressed the damage that cable cars could do to views, and ima gined a world in which the Gorge road could even lose its urban-style white markings and have a grass strip down the centre.
Longleat Estates, which owns 150 acres of the north side of the landmark, wants to bring in the cable cars, and build an education centre, to return visitor numbers to the 309,000 who poured into the Gorge in the 1990s. By 2010 the figure had dropped to 165,000
Two thirds of locals who responded to an Estates-commissioned survey last year supported the overall concept in principal.
The National Trust said in 2012 that the scheme was: "just not right."
Gill Scard, who runs Cheddar Crazy Golf with husband Malcolm, warned: "without something pretty significant I think the Gorge will continue to decline."
Fiona Howie, CPRE's national head of planning, outlined the impact that the National Planning Framework could have, seeming to give protection to the precious environment, but still giving "wriggle room" in various ways for development if the benefit to the community outweighs other impacts. She said the way ahead is for groups to work with Sedgemoor District Council and Longleat to develop alternatives and a comprehensive package for the area.The Lower Gorge Regeneration Group is looking for more volunteers.