Porthcurno - silicon surfing

Minack Theatre Funds Unnecessary New Path - A Slippery Slope With No Hope For Badgers

Update late April 2018: The Minack Theatre now say they are not proceeding with this path, and are planning instead to create leaflets showing the existing bridleway route and possibly signposting that eventually.

Original article:

Conwall's controversial Minack Theatre is now funding new greenfield plans for an unnecessary and steep new path past badger setts and through woods in a clifftop AONB, well under 200m from an existing and more usable path that goes to the same place. No real need for creating this path at Porthcurno is being presented, but the Minack is now seeking comments and views on the extensively developed and costly plans from people, though not from the affected badgers and doomed trees. (info@minack.com - scroll down for list of contact details.)

To get from the Porthcurno beach carpark and bus stop, most simply walk up the road on the hill which leads direct to the Minack, enjoying a spectacular view and relatively slow moving traffic. An alternative, long-established and steep footpath also leads directly up to the Minack from the beach, and the Minack have in fact already abandoned two separate plans to carve unsightly rough surfaced paths through the scrub above the beach, which would have been very little used. Their surveying has left a scar on the landscape there, and the Minack are also funding greenfield roadbuilding plans in the AONB funded by housing development. Badgers are a protected species, and there are particular rules for planning applications involving them. The regulations include "noise, additional lighting or vibration" among the list of activities that harm badgers. The regulations also say you can get a six month prison sentence if you "disturb badgers in setts."

From the carpark and bus stop one can also walk up a gentle ramp to the Telegraph Museum entrance, passing its interesting sculpture garden, outdoor heritage trail plaques and exhibits at key locations, then from there along the very short, quiet Old Cable Lane to cross the main road by Seaview B&B, then turning left up the hill on a broad, gently sloped bridleway with good hard-packed surfacing and drainage. That joins a quiet road at the Rospletha settlement which is in law a footpath bearing left and taking you right to the Minack Theatre. This route provides an excellent and informative route to the Minack and clifftops with gentle gradients, excellent surfacing and visibility, and no steps, and is suitable for individuals and educational or coach groups with leaders or instructions. It would benefit many more if signposted and promoted,and it does in fact already feature in the Telegraph Museum's excellent Valley Tales and Trails brochure and map as a walking route, with the brochure available free from the Museum's reception. (You can see the start of the bridleway where it meets the road on your right in this link to Google Streetview.)

The start of the Minack's desired new footpath, at the Cable Station Inn, is just 170m from the start of the bridleway by Seaview B&B, and simply joins that same route further on. Yet this new proposed path is steep and secluded and unlit, with granite steps sure to be covered in wet leaves, mud and runoff from the hillside, and a rough surfacing unsuitable to many pedestrians and their footwear. In other words, to save 170m and skip all the outdoor exhibits and history trail of the museum, a much worse path is to be created at considerable financial expense, and cost to the badgers who live there. As you cannot see where it goes as enters the trees, even as a fairweather daylight alternative it is not likely to be attractive to users, and even those instructed to use it may not want to due to surfacing or weather or personal security issues. And that assumes that it is properly maintained.

When paths are not maintained, they fall into disuse and can become dangerous. It makes no sense to launch a path without binding financial commitments to maintenance; presumably that falls on the landowners by default, which in the woodland section is the Telegraph Museum. Will the perpetually cash-strapped museum really want to maintain a path that is being washed away? Who will clear the broken glass, cigarette ends, litter, leaves, mud and used condoms from the path? After the inevitable accidents occur, will there be pressure from insurers for lighting or to close the path, or simple decisions to close it by landowners unwilling or unable to afford the upkeep? The steps to the Porthcurno beach are now closed, probably permanently, precisely because the well-financed National Trust itself does not want to spend to maintain them.

The path will not be lit, in fact the law will not allow it to be as that would disturb badgers, but that will hardly stop pubgoers from congregating on it and falling down the steps drunk in the dark. More interestingly the woodland section will offer a new and naughty nocturnal attraction: an ideal location for a new Porthcurno dogging hotspot, advertised far and wide by eager participants, due to being so close to carpark and pub, and having woods and seclusion and lack of lighting.

Location map showing the Cable Station Inn pub at Porthcurno, where the proposed path would terminate

Is it safe? How did we get here?

The MInack seem to claim that there is a terrible road safety problem here for pedestrians, yet do not propose a pavement, speed reductions, park and ride, shuttle buses, land trains, or traffic reduction. Instead they want to just take, or force, the pedestrians off a road where they have a perfect right to walk in safety - just to accommodate more cars. In fact the road up the hill to the Minack has had no recorded personal injury accidents in the last five years, as reported by Cornwall Council in a planning application in 2017 where they stated "There is an absence of any personal injury accidents (PIA) along the extent of the C165 for the latest five years of available data that would otherwise indicate a safety problem with the existing road conditions. This includes the use of Mansel Hill. " In fact many local authorities are finding the concept of simple shared space works well to deliver safety and low speeds by mixing pedestrians and other traffic, without other measures, and even pinchpoints can be beneficial. And here in fact coach parties not wanting to walk up the hill do in season have the opportunity to use the small Community Bus to go up the hill - they are not forced to walk.

Attempts to force people onto paths often do not even try to understand user behaviour - people want direct, well surfaced and signed routes, not obscure unsurfaced detours. Often creating such paths carries a further risk of ignoring the needs of those using the original route, or even adopting a "blaming the victims" mentality where those who exercise their right to use the road are held to be somehow at fault and to blame for anything that happens to them. They are just told "You shouldn't be there, " and the door is closed on any alteration or improvements to address their needs on or at the road - such as the standard ones of reducing traffic speeds and volumes. Even so, most people will continue to walk on the road here, as they have done all along. And many visitors, particularly foreign ones, now navigate by seeking instructions from their smartphones, which do and will tell them to walk up the road direct to the Minack.

The Minack have already spent a remarkable sum on this proposal, yet with £4m+ cash reserves and a mid six figure profit each year they really could afford to do so much more to make things better and reduce traffic. Instead they present themselves as victims of their high ratings on TripAdvisor and passively accept all car traffic coming their way. Surely if they wanted to solve the TripAdvisor problem they could just ask people to give the Minack one star ratings on TripAdvisor?

Interestingly, the Minack itself has terrible pedestrian access from the road within the Minack grounds forcing people to walk on a narrow tilted grass verge, which they have further narrowed, removing the cord that used to encourage passing cars to stay off it and away from pedestrians.  From the main entry to that grass verge, no path at all is provided and pedestrians walk alongside all motor vehicles.  If the Minack can't keep their own house in order, does anyone seriously expect them to pay to maintain a new off-premises path once they have paid to build it? In fact this proposed new off-road path outside the grounds of the Minack could decrease the net safety of a journey on foot, not least because it is not continuous and introduces two road crossings whereas the existing road route has none. The second, uphill crossing, is on a tight blind bend - just possible with slow traffic or a guided group, but not when an unbroken stream of cars enters or exits the Minack and people are impatient.

This path proposal has been discussed and supported by the shadowy Porthcurno Coastal Community Team (CCT), who refuse to discuss pavements and traffic reduction and have explicitly given a higher priority to building a new road than to park and ride discussions, as reported in their 2017 Action Plan document. (Scroll down for contact details for CCT and other groups on this page.)

The Porthcurno Coastal Communities Team (CCT), set up in 2015 with government approval and a grant, is supposed to attract and channel grant funds to the area for the economic benefit and long term advancement of the local community, though not to act as a representative or decision making body. It has, however, demonstrated a surprising practice of allocating grant funds to its own members - 5k to the museum to write grant applications, which did in turn gain the museum about 10k in further CCT funding, up to 10k into the toilet in the carpark to keep it open for just a year despite that being a local authority responsibility, and 5k to the National Trust to extend the steps onto the beach. Having taken the money and extended the steps, the National Trust have now closed those steps, probably permanently, because they now refuse to maintain or extend them further, or maintain the sand level at the base in response to foreseeable changes due to tides and storms.- leaving only a steeper, narrower sand-only access to the beach which is an effort even for fit adults. CCT also spent over 12k on consultants reports without providing adequate remits or briefs to consultants, resulting in poor reports that have not been seen as helpful. You can download the original CCT document below, showing the breakdown of how 60k in funding has been used, or contact the CCT.

As the CCT is supported by receiving, free of charge, Cornwall Council officer time, it is a direct ongoing cost to the taxpayer, and that Council expenditure could instead be applied to many other productive uses in Cornwall. As the grant funding is now running out, the CCT quango looks to become an expensive talking shop which is not authorised to represent anyone, making it hard to make the case for it receiving further Cornwall taxpayer funding.

The Porthcurno CCT is reportedly very resistant to disclosing the minutes of its meetings, even to its own members, leading to further questions in 2018 about just what this publicly funded body is doing, and how, and who it is accountable to.

The Players - Who To Contact

Cornwall County Council

The elected County Councillor for this electoral division is Helen Hawkins, Liberal Democrat, first elected to represent this ward (called the St Buryan Ward) in 2017: helen.hawkins@cornwallcouncillors.org.uk. The St Buryan ward also includes Sennen, St Levan, St Buryan, Lamorna, Sancreed, and Newbridge.

Concerns about use of council funds and resources can be raised with council executives and Cabinet members.

The National Trust

The National Trust are supporting this project via the CCT decision making process, and associating their name with it as a partner of the path project, and spending staff time and consequently members' subscriptions and donations on it. National Trust members and members of the public can of course contact them about this:

National: enquiries@nationaltrust.org.uk

Cornwall: sw.customerenquiries@nationaltrust.org.uk

The Telegraph Museum

Without the consent of the Telegraph Museum as landowner this path project dies instantly. The current museum director Tim Cooke is leaving after just two years in post, so soon decisions could be reviewed.by either the new Director or the Trustees, possibly with a view to routing visitors past their own very interesting offerings along to the broad bridleway route described above. Mr Cooke had hoped to complete the sale to the Minack of a field from the museum's collection to bolster its troubled finances, and that sale has been completed. The museum's trustees can be contacted on chairman@telegraphmuseum.org.

The Minack Theatre


Porthcurno Coastal Communities Team (CCT)

Only a central Coastal Communities Alliance website provides any info, including the name, address, and telephone number of the official representative of the Porthcurno CCT, though previous consultation documents have supplied an email address at pkccteam@gmail.com for you to send the Porthcurno CCT your views (Update: in 2020 the Coastal Communities Alliance website gives this email as the official contact for the Porthcurno CCT: pkrassoc@gmail.com)The parent entity of all Coastal Communities Teams, who approve CCTs and their grants, is the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government (formerly Department for Local Communities and Government, or DCLG), contactable by email.

Some have suggested this article should be titled Badger Botherers Plan Path to Hell, and hinted that really the whole point of this comic episode is to give Minack performers a private path to the pub. Or is it sadly more of a tragedy, where a deluded tyrant's hubris leads to decay and downfall, perhaps to be titled The Minack Theatre: A Bad Actor On the Local Stage?