Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Is the National Trust growing fat off Cornwall Council's desire to save lives?

I've just got back from a meeting of the Environment Scrutiny Committee at County Hall. One item on the agenda was a discussion about the new Maritime Division of the Council.

Residents around the county will know that the RNLI has been providing lifeguard services at many beaches in Cornwall. They are a fabulous organisation and this is a great service. The total cost is around £3 million a year and Cornwall Council pays about £1 million of this. The National Trust pays nothing.

So why should they contribute?

Simple - many of the beaches in Cornwall are owned by the National Trust. Only about 24 of the 57 beaches in the County are Council owned. The rest are a combination of town and parish council, National Trust or private ownership.

The RNLI service is, quite rightly, provided on the basis of need - how many visitors there are and whether they go into the sea.

But it doesn't stop there.

In many cases, the National Trust owns the car parks next to the beaches and charges visitors to park there. They are making huge amounts of money but paying nothing for the safety of beach users.

And there's more.

For many beaches, Cornwall Council also provides toilet cleaning and dog bin services. That's more money that you and I are paying for a valuable service when the beach owner pays nothing.

I am not arguing for the withdrawal of our services. To do so would cut visitor enjoyment and, in the case of the RNLI lifeguarding, could put lives in danger. If we withdrew then I suspect the NT would simply put up a sign saying that there is no lifeguarding at that particular beach.

But surely it is fair that if the National Trust (or any other organisation) owns a beach and makes money from it then they should be contributing fairly to the costs.

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