The Peak District National Park Authority is cost-cutting - but it has £9m in reserves and a turnover of £15m a year
The visitor centre in Castleton, in the Peak District, is one of several that could be under threat
The future of the visitor centres at Bakewell, Edale, Castleton and Bamford could be under threat as part of an operational review being carried out by the Peak District National Park Authority as it seeks to save money.
New chief executive Phil Mulligan talked in detail about the proposed organisational changes in the exempt part of a bi-monthly authority meeting - with the press and public excluded - after members had heard about the authority's budget position in the public part of the meeting.
It is understood that proposals revealed by Mr Mulligan included the possible closure of visitor centres and although the authority has confirmed that the centres are "in the scope of the chief executive's internally-presented options", it said no final decision would be made until an authority meeting in July.
The four visitor centres attract thousands of people each year to key areas of the national park. Visitors seek advice and buy an array of items that are on sale within the centres. Closure would see a large number of permanent staff made redundant.
According to the authority's website, the Peak District National Park has just over 13 million visitors each year and is one of the most popular parks in the UK. An estimated 20 million people live within a one-hour journey of the Peak District. More than 50 million people live within a four-hour journey.
Each of the four visitor centres is situated in key tourist hotspots. Edale is where the Pennine Way begins and Kinder Scout is nearby - it is also valuable for moorland research. Castleton is famed for its extensive cave and cavern system and castle and Mam Tor. Bakewell, a market town dating from medieval times, is home to one of the UK's most important agricultural markets, is famous for Bakewell puddings and is close to the stately homes of Chatsworth and Haddon Hall, and Bamford.
One person, who did not wish to be named, said: "Our visitor centres provide a valuable service to
many of the thousands of people who visit the area each year and I cannot imagine what impression
this would give to those visiting if there was nowhere to be able to obtain information and help."
During the recent meeting at Aldern House in Bakewell, authority member Peter Tapping asked about the cost of running the visitor centres. He said: "It looks as if it costs £510,00 to run them, which is an enormous amount. So is that value for money?"
Mr Mulligan answered and said: "That figure is not totally correct and I will be talking more about this later. They cost more than that to run, around £800,000 but I will give the figures later."
Mr Tapping also observed that the authority has reserves amounting to about £9 million on a turnover
of £15 million a year.
Asked about the possibility that the visitor centres could be closed, a Peak District National Park Authority spokesman said: "With a long-standing 'flat cash' government grant settlement that is also expected to continue for the next two years, coupled with the organisation-wide impact of unprecedented levels of inflation, the Peak District National Park Authority is currently reviewing its operational structure.
"As part of this process, the chief executive has this week shared internally with staff a number of options to explore re-shaping the authority to ensure the organisation remains resilient and sustainable in an increasingly challenging financial situation.
"The review of operational structure also aims to ensure the authority has the right resources in place, including potential changes within its workforce, to focus on activities that will safeguard the future of the Peak District National Park including climate change, nature recovery and supporting those who live, work in and enjoy the area.
"An ongoing process of engagement with staff will take place to help develop proposals prior to formal consultation, with final decisions on areas of the organisation affected by the options being considered brought to members of the authority in July.
"Operations, services and activities currently being delivered by the National Park Authority will not be affected during this time. Any further information on how authority operations may be impacted will be shared when confirmation can be provided.
"Whilst the authority's overall financial turnover figure may be higher, our baseline government grant is around £6m a year - with almost all of the remaining spending being grant-funded and restricted to specific projects or other works. It is the government grant aspect of our funding that has remained unchanged for a number of years despite rises in inflation and increased costs.
"Although the authority does retain a financial reserve, this is similarly restricted for the most part for specific uses and activities."
Zena Hawley, Agenda Editor, The Derby Telegraph, 9 Feb 2023