Throw our tourism trade a lifeline, minister urged

Henry Wild (above)  says Cumbria's tourism trade is in danger of being washed away by flooding

Henry Wild (above) says Cumbria’s tourism trade is in danger of being washed away by flooding

Britain’s Secretary of State for tourism has been told that Cumbria’s visitor industry could suffer “death by drowning” if more attention isn’t paid to maintaining the county’s waterways.

The warning was delivered last week by leading Cumbria tourism operator Henry Wild at a major London tourism conference at which cabinet minister John Whittingdale was among MPs present.

Both Mr Whittingdale and Mr Wild addressed delegates at the annual conference of the British Holiday & Home Parks Association of which Mr Wild is the UK national chairman.

Held at the QEII Conference Centre in Westminster, the event drew representatives from many of Britain’s 3000-plus park businesses, plus cross-party politicians and UK tourism chiefs.

Mr Wild, whose family business is Skelwith Fold Caravan Park in Ambleside, said that the government needed urgently to address the problem of ill-maintained inland waterways.

He said there needed to be a body appointed with clearly defined responsibilities for ensuring that waterways were capable of removing surface water from the land.

The Environment Agency, suggested Mr Wild, was clearly not up to the job and needed to be given new powers and funding to act on behalf of communities and businesses at risk.

Mr Whittingdale, whose portfolio as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport includes responsibilities for tourism, undertook to represent the concerns he had heard to government heads.

He also announced at the conference that prime minister David Cameron was that day in Cumbria to unveil a £3 million fund to speed up flood repairs and promote the county to visitors.

Mr Wild said that recent events in Cumbria had shown the potentially devastating impact that flooding could have on the tourism industry.

In the immediate aftermath of December’s deluges, he commented, many of Cumbria’s 100-plus caravan and camping parks had reported a fall-off in bookings for 2016.

However, he added, the threat to Cumbria’s £2.4 billion tourism industry – which included his own park’s 450 caravan and holiday home pitches – now seemed to be receding:

“It appears that many holidaymakers have been heeding the message that the county is determined to be back on its feet by spring with repairs made to much of our damaged infrastructure,” he said.

“But we still need to get the message out to anyone hesitating that it’s going to be business as usual as far as our visitor attractions and other tourism providers are concerned.

Mr Wild said that, like many other UK regions, Cumbria’s economy was highly dependent on visitors who,  according to Cumbria Tourism, sustain around 34,000 full-time equivalent jobs

Despite the estimated high cost of the floods, said Mr Wild, the real tragedy would be if any efforts or expense were spared to try and prevent a recurrence.

“Cumbria is a very resilient county, as made evident by the way in which our communities came together during and after the floods to help each other.

“We now need a clear road map which identifies the agency and the resources available to it for tackling the problem of an ever-rising water table,” said Henry.