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Stormy waters at lake

CULTURE Secretary Tessa Jowell has been asked to look into claims by campaigners that £70,000 worth of lottery money was used to try to close a popular Cheshire lake to the public.

CULTURE Secretary Tessa Jowell has been asked to look into claims by campaigners that £70,000 worth of lottery money was used to try to close a popular Cheshire lake to the public.

Friends of Hatchmere Lake have carried out an investigation into what they describe as the misuse of lottery grants by Cheshire WildlifeTrust (CWT) which owns the attraction.

The group claims that instead of using the money to improve public access to the lake, they have tried to prevent people using Hatchmere, an accusation hotly denied by the trust.

And the Friends believe the trust's actions at the lake near Norley have exposed a serious lack of safeguards to prevent misuse of lottery grants, including the absence of an effective complaints mechanism .

They have contacted Weaver Vale MP Mike Hall whose constituency includes Hatchmere who has written to Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, asking her to look into the matter.

At the heart of the group s investigation is a claim that CWT has set out to restrict access to the lake for the general public by planting reeds across it and shutting it off with unsightly fencing.

The group concedes the CWT has no such restrictions in place at the moment but objects to the fact this is subject to an annual review by the trust itself.

Yacov Lev, secretary of Friends of Hatchmere, said: 'This is a complete scandal which contradicts Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) principles and has exposed serious shortcomings in its procedures.

'The fund is pledged to improve access to our natural her-itage not restrict it. CWT has an obligation to use this public money for projects which enhance the landscape not to destroy the beauty of a pretty bay.

'The lake has been used by the public for generations for fishing and bathing.'

It was purchased by the CWT in 1998 with grants from the HLF, the Countryside Agency and Vale Royal Borough Council.

Campaign members claim the HLF officials who awarded and monitored the grants are the same as those who pass judgment on complaints to the fund a claim denied by the fund.

Friends of Hatchmere says that, to date, the CWT has received more than £835,000 from the lottery for various projects.

In a statement, the group say: 'Although the HLF's conditions of grant impose a duty to keep the lake and all its facilities open to the public, the trust tried to fence off the bay which gives public access and remove parking facilities used for sightseeing by pensioners and disabled people.'

Angry protesters removed both fence and reeds and the group concedes this led to the CWT producing a management plan which allows public access, subject to an annual review.

But they also claim the trust's official website is still asserting its intention to deny the public use of the water.

Mike Hall has also been asked to ensure that anglers who are not currently members of the exclusive Prince Albert Angling Society (PAAS), which holds the fishing rights for the lake, are allowed to share the fishing at Hatchmere.

Prior to being taken over by the CWT, a local angling club held the fishing rights. Now the Friends of Hatchmere wants the PAAS to either offer membership to local fishermen at a more reasonable cost or provide day tickets something the society does not do at present. 

CHESHIRE Wildlife Trust has defended its work at Hatchmere stating that at no time has the trust considered closing the reserve to the public

Director Chris Mahon said: 'The recent claims by the Friends of Hatchmere that we have misused Heritage Lottery Fund money by trying to close the lake to the public are completely untrue.

'In fact, the enhancement and improvement of public access to our nature reserves for local people, alongside effective nature reserve management, is extremely important to us and a strong feature of the work that we carry out on all of our sites including Hatchmere.

'The group's assertion that we have harmed wildlife through our activities is particularly erroneous and mischievous at a time when wildlife and the countryside are struggling to recover from the impacts of foot and mouth. We have corresponded with MPs regarding this matter over the last 12 months and are more than happy to enter into discussions with ministers if necessary.'


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
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