Do your bit for the Dales by bus says Alex Sobel MP

1 June 2018

In our quest for tranquillity and access to a fresh and beautiful landscape the overuse of cars is undermining everything that makes it special. Leeds MP Alex Sobel calls for more of us to enjoy the National Parks by bus.

I always think that Leeds, as a place to live, is one of the UK’s best kept secrets. We have great food, a vibrant music scene, impressive theatres and art galleries and a thriving city centre. But one of the best perks of living here is the proximity to the breath-taking and awe-inspiring Yorkshire Dales; seemingly endless miles of rolling hills and serene lakesides, quaint towns and luxurious green landscapes. Starting from the tip of my constituency in Otley (itself a beautiful, historic town), the Yorkshire Dales attracts worldwide recognition and visitors flock from far and wide in their cars to spend some time walking, cycling or relaxing. But that’s just it. They come in their cars.

I have a car, and if I take my kids out to the countryside for a day, I often drive. This is the problem. I am part of the problem

I am no better. I have long advocated for protection of our natural world and do spend a lot of time thinking about pollution—and ways to reduce it— but I have a car, and if I take my kids out to the countryside for a day, I often drive. This is the problem. I am part of the problem. Many of those beautiful roads next to those breath-taking landscapes are, at certain times of the year, transformed into carparks, with stAlex Sobel enjoys a ride on the DalesBusationary traffic pumping out pollutants, trying to negotiate infrastructure never designed for so many cars.  In our quest for tranquillity and access to a fresh and beautiful landscape we are destroying everything that makes it unique.

But who can blame us? There aren’t many other options. Trains are great for getting to places like Harrogate or Knaresborough, but less so when attempting to reach the more remote locations. Buses are confusing and rare and take forever to get anywhere. This creates a circular problem; the more we drive, the less bus companies want to invest in their routes, and round and round we go. As my friend John Grogan MP found out, the ten National Park’s authorities only spent £100,000 between them on public transport.

There are many in my constituency who do not and cannot have a car. Young people who do not have the means to own a car, older people who are no longer able to drive, as well as those who, in tough economic times, are not able to afford the extortionate costs of car ownership. Those people are excluded from access to the Dales.

As anyone who spends any time in the Dales will be able to tell you, the countryside is fantastic for your physical mental and emotional wellbeing. With stress and other mental health issues on the rise, access to our beautiful open spaces has never been more important.

Alex Sobel enjoys a full Dales Bus! Photo credit: the office of Alex Sobel MP.

All of us who love the Dales can do our bit by using the bus - enjoying the freedom of our beautiful Yorkshire countryside and helping to keep it accessible for everyone for years to come.

That’s why I was so pleased to be able to launch Dales Bus, a project led by volunteers that raises just enough money to put a small network of buses together, running Sundays and bank holiday Mondays. The dedicated team is led by experts on the Dales- including Colin Speakman who literally wrote the book on it—so the network is impressively thought out to enable linear walks, day trips and access to some of the finest places in North Yorkshire. I took my family and members of my constituency office team to try it out. We caught the 821 from Otley bus station to Lofthouse, and from there it was a short walk to How Stean Gorge - with exciting caves and activities for the whole family.

The Dales Bus

The best thing about it was the choice. This wasn’t a minibus taking us out for the day to a location already decided by the project leaders. It is a network of buses that gives you the freedom of the Dales. You can take a bus to a linear walk (not possible in a car), or to a fabulous country pub, or link up with the rail network for your ride ome. It’s cheaper, easier and better for the environment.

But this comes at a cost. The volunteers work all year round to scrape together the funding for their project. But in national terms, the cost of Dales Bus is just loose change. We must do all we can to convince the National Park Authority to supply the money that will safeguard the Dales Bus for years to come.

All of us who love the Dales can do our bit by using the bus - enjoying the freedom of our beautiful Yorkshire countryside and helping to keep it accessible for everyone for years to come.

Alex Sobel is the MP for Leeds North West and sits on the Environmental Audit Committee