The future of transport in the Peak District

PUBLISHED: 09:29 27 October 2020

The 442 bus service travels through beautiful Tissington and Dovedale

The 442 bus service travels through beautiful Tissington and Dovedale

Ann Taylor-Hughes

Andrew Griffiths asks what the future holds for transport in the Peak National Park and talks to Julian Glover about his ‘Landscapes Review’

Stanage has come under pressure from large visitor numbers post-lockdownStanage has come under pressure from large visitor numbers post-lockdown

They say true character is revealed in times of crisis and the Covid crisis has taught us many things about the character of our society.

The time spent in lockdown made many of us look carefully at our lives. Some of us developed a new-found love for nature. Because we were confined to our homes it made us look closer at what had been under our noses all the time and many of us were delighted with what we found.

As lockdown restrictions eased we began to travel further afield, and this soon put unprecedented pressure on our National Parks. Beauty spots became honey pots as crowds flocked to the same, familiar places. We all saw the pictures on television and the Peak National Park did not escape as the usual suspects became swamped with day trippers: Dovedale and Stanage amongst those so afflicted.

This leads to the paradox: lockdown gave many a new appreciation of beautiful landscapes and nature close to home, but by exercising that new found passion, people are in danger of destroying the very thing they have grown to love.

Rural bus services can be few and far betweenRural bus services can be few and far between

This is nothing new, as Peak Park Authority Chair Andrew McCloy documented in a recent article on gritstonecoop.co.uk, where he quotes one visitor as finding: ‘An indescribable heap of filthy paper, empty fruit tins, broken bottles, cigarette and chocolate wrappers, matchboxes, cigarette ends and other litter’. This was at Stanage, after a raucous Bank Holiday weekend, as reported in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph - in 1929!

But it is a problem still with us today - the Peak National Park spent £37,000 in 2019 clearing up litter. As McCloy points out, this would pay the salary for an extra Park Ranger for a year. He concludes about the Covid summer: ‘Ultimately, though, littering our beauty spots and countryside in general on such a scale as we’ve seen recently is an appalling reflection on us as a society and the regard we appear to hold for landscape, wildlife and the wider environment. It’s surely time to demand something better?’.

One person hoping to help find a way to something better is Julian Glover. Derbyshire-based Glover is associate editor of the London Evening Standard and former speech writer for David Cameron. He chaired a review of the National Parks which was published last year as the Landscapes Review. Jim Dixon, former Peak National Park CEO, served on Glover’s panel.

Glover’s Landscapes Review called for a wholesale modernisation of the National Parks to enable them to better protect nature and widen access to those who have not traditionally visited the countryside. But any talk of increasing visitor numbers further increases the pressures on the landscape and can lead to the gridlocked scenes highlighted.

Littering in rural hotspots has been a big problemLittering in rural hotspots has been a big problem

A moment’s thought about the problems associated with visitors to the Peak National Park will conclude that a major problem is traffic and transport. ‘The future is electric’ we are told, and while this will move us in the right direction towards meeting our emission targets of zero carbon by 2050, it will do nothing to ease congestion.

The volume of cars on narrow lanes not designed for such traffic causes many problems. Farmers cannot access land and emergency vehicles cannot navigate narrow village streets, potentially costing lives. Swap petrol or diesel for electric and the problem remains.

Transport is a subject close to the heart of Julian Glover (he has served as a special advisor in the Department of Transport) and plays a significant role in his Landscapes Review.

‘Our national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty have huge numbers of people living in them and working in them, which makes them different from lots of other places which are protected around the world,” says Glover. ‘There is the need to have transport for people there, which means we can’t treat them as some other countries might do, which is almost to keep cars out or to limit where cars can go; that matters. You can’t just say: stop cars going in, for instance, that wouldn’t work.’

Welcoming an influx of visitors to our beauty spots creates challenges and opportunitiesWelcoming an influx of visitors to our beauty spots creates challenges and opportunities

Public transport has a major role to play as we head towards 2030, both in relieving car congestion and in helping achieve our target of 1.5 degrees C warming as written in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

‘One thing we do have is quite a good public transport network in a lot of England,’ says Glover. ‘It is not as good as it could be, but in National Parks, it is there and it isn’t always used as much as it could be.’

Glover says currently it is difficult for local authorities to meet the needs of visitors and in the Landscape Review he calls for the National Parks to have a greater role in running a public transport service.

‘Because the National Parks don’t have a direct role in transport, it is often a challenge for the transport authorities to think about visitors and the parks as part of their aim.’ he says.

The 442 is run by High Peak Buses and runs from Buxton to Ashbourne. It takes in some of the Peak District’s prettiest villages such as Hartington and Tissington. It should be perfect for walkers and visitors, yet it now runs Mondays to Saturdays only - in May 2018 the Sunday services were cancelled ‘due to the very low numbers of people using them,’ says Keith Myatt, Head of Business Development for the bus company.

The service had been subsidised in part by Staffordshire County Council, which withdrew its funding and caused the Sunday service to be withdrawn. This was because, the council said at the time: ‘When we need to spend a record £300m on care this year, it is only right that we continue to look closely at how much public money is used for bus journeys.

‘While the vast majority of bus journeys are made without any subsidy from the county council, some journeys still cost taxpayers more than £10 every time someone gets on board, which simply isn’t sustainable.’

I contacted the council for an update and all that has changed is that it now spends £320m a year on care. So, the half-full 442 bus, in the tourist season, makes its way along the borders of Derbyshire and Staffordshire and struggles to get through village streets because of the volume of tourists’ cars on the road. On a Sunday, which should be its busiest tourist day, it doesn’t run at all. There in a nutshell lies the problem.

‘We can’t just call on the council to subsidise services that people don’t use,’ says Glover. ‘We need to encourage visitors to use it.’

‘All of this does take money, so we have to show that people will do it, and not just provide a service and then people say: ‘Well it is easier to drive anyway so I am going to use my car’. That is a huge challenge.’

Brian Taylor is head of policy and communities for the Peak National Park. In part as a consequence of Glover’s Landscapes Review, the Peak Park is working with bus companies to develop low carbon, more sustainable forms of transport. These include electric buses, bike buses where cyclists can take their bikes to make their experiences ‘bike and ride’, and ‘hopper buses’, which are more flexible - and frequent - to cater for the needs of walkers along key walking routes.

But the transport re-think isn’t just for visitors: ‘We are thinking about how rural areas in general can be better supported by public transport,’ says Taylor. ‘It is a big rural issue generally.’

When it comes to getting people into the Park, the ambition is for the visitor to use a mix of transport options. But it is getting people to step out of their cars and make that switch that is the challenge, which Taylor acknowledges.

‘If we want more people using public transport, how do we get them to come in a different way?’ says Taylor. ‘It’s why we are working closely with the marketing people because it has got to be about something more. People come into the National Park because of their basic knowledge of the area - ‘Let’s go to Ladybower’ or ‘Let’s go to Bakewell’ they say. Then they stumble along to a National Park office or a visitor centre and say ‘What can we do?’’

They don’t tend, says Taylor, to research their day out beforehand, and this is where he sees an opportunity.

‘We have to try and capture that, somehow, and incentivise people. Preferably by ‘park and ride’, where you are capturing people at the edges.’

Covid has been disastrous for public transport. It has, as Julian Glover says, ‘been heart-breaking to see buses running with no people on them.’ Some smaller companies will struggle to survive.

But Brian Taylor does find some glimmer of hope as we go into an autumn and winter. The fact the business models of the transport companies have been so disrupted, it has made them all the more receptive to change, he says.

‘They are thinking: ‘How do we encourage people back? How do we make it more interesting? How do we make it more integrated, more complete as a journey?’ They are looking for new products. They are trying to tap into the zeitgeist of what people want now.’ says Taylor.

‘A bus company told me the last few months had moved their thinking forward about five years.’

Glover too sees some positive emerging from the wreckage of the virus and looks forward to a post-Covid era.

‘It is a massive opportunity. We have seen two things clearly over the last few months,’ says Glover. ‘One is a huge public desire to be out in the countryside, to enjoy it and have it protected and see it as a special place.

‘The other thing is nature. How do we protect our environment? How do we make sure our environment is improved and not rapidly degraded? There is a sense our countryside is losing something, the wildlife that the countryside should have isn’t always there, and that is true of National Parks too.

‘People are strongly in favour of seeing more for nature and more for people, and that is exactly what I called for in the report.’ says Glover.

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