The Lake District and Yorkshire Dales are set to share nearly £6M of new funding to help improve and integrate public transport. This may have a bearing on how walkers choose to travel to and around both National Parks in future.
Conservation charity the Campaign for National Parks, together with local authorities and two National Park authorities have successfully lobbied the Transport Minister to provide new funding for transport in the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks. The twin aims of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund are to promote economic growth and cut carbon emissions. Secondary aims include improving safety, air quality and levels of physical activity. The Lakes and the Dales are two of 39 successful bids from across England.
A plan that aspires to turn the central and southern Lake District into a 'world-class' hub of sustainable transport has won £4.890M of the new Government money.
The project has an ambitious remit, no less than to 'transform how people get to and travel around the Lakes'. It is targeted at the National Park's 15.8m annual visitors, said to be responsible for three quarters of all carbon emissions. Local people should also benefit from improved passenger transport services and better systems of traffic management to tackle congestion and reduce delays.
The bid from Cumbria County Council and the Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA), called the Lake District Sustainable Transport Beacon Area maps out a four-year programme of investment and improvements that will combine the £4.89m contributed by the DfT with funding from the LDNPA, County Council, Stagecoach and other bus operators, Windermere Lake Cruises, Cumbria Tourism, and electric bike and car providers to create a total funding pot of £6.9m.
The money will be spent on initiatives such as joining up passenger transport services so there is far more scope for hopping on and off between bus, boat and bike on a day in the Lakes using a pay-as-you-go targeted "smart" ticket. Safe, continuous networks for walking, cycling and wheelchair use will also be developed, as will a network of pay-as-you-go electric (!) bikes and low-carbon vehicles for hire.
The improvements will be concentrated around the tourist hotspots of Windermere, Bowness, Coniston, Ambleside, Grasmere and Kendal. Supporters of the scheme estimate that the shift towards more sustainable transport will save over 11,000 tonnes of CO2 in 2015, generate an extra 100 full time jobs and bring in an extra £7m per year into the county through tourism revenue.
The National Park Aurthority points out that currently some 87% of visitors come to the Lakes by car, resulting in emissions of 322,000 tonnes of CO2 per year in travelling to the Lakes and a further 205,000 tonnes in travelling around the National Park. Lake District residents add a further 165,000 tonnes of CO2 per year from their own personal car use. The Lake District Sustainable Visitor Transport Beacon Area project envisages reducing the car mileage per visitor by seven per cent during the four-year period of the programme, with continued reductions thereafter.
Councillor Tim Knowles, Cumbria County Council's Cabinet member responsible for environment, said:
'Cumbria has done brilliantly in being one of just 39 projects nationally to secure Government funding. This money will allow us to work with the Lake District National Park Authority to make the Lakes a truly pioneering hub of sustainable transport and encourage a step change in the way people visit and travel around the Lakes.'
LDNPA Chief Executive Richard Leafe said the £4.89million was 'great news' for the sustainable transport ambitions within the national park. He also acknowledged that this would not have been possible without excellent support from partners such as Cumbria County Council.
Meanwhile over in't Dales there's something to celebrate too, with the Connecting the Dales project (a collaboration between the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Metro and North Yorkshire County Council) receiving £1.102 million to be spent over the next 4 years on a similar package of smarter greener transport.
In response to the news Christine Reid from Campaign for National Parks sounded upbeat:
'Thanks to nearly £6M of new Government funding, we will be able to say goodbye to snarled-up country lanes and car-parks bursting at the seams. We will once again experience the joy of safely getting around by bike, and even boat, and basking in the fresh air and tranquillity that these landscapes uniquely provide.'
Cynics might suggest that given the scale of the traffic challenge the promised sum is unlikely to be sufficient to guarantee such a rosy future, though few would argue with the aspiration.
'We are absolutely delighted' she continued. 'This money will pay for a host of innovative sustainable transport schemes, like the GoNowLakes pre-paid travel card, which can be used across rail, bus and boat networks in the Lakes. Visitors can also expect excellently connected local buses and trains, bicycle hire networks similar to London's Boris Bike scheme (including electric bikes for those hill starts), plus a "pay as you go" low-carbon emission car rental scheme.'
The bidders estimate that across both Parks, carbon emissions will be cut by up to 33,500 tonnes during the four year programme.
The Campaign for National Parks urges visitors to take up these new travel innovations as they become available, and to think seriously about leaving the car at home.
Christine Reid continued:
'We believe these schemes will make a huge difference to people's experience of National Parks – and allow them to enjoy what they really came for, in a way that also helps the planet.'
'We look forward to exciting transport bids from the other English National Parks in the next tranche of the competition in 2012, so that we can continue this transformation in transport around these great visitor destinations.'