New permanent car park in Lake District National Park could set dangerous precedent

9 November 2021

As Lake District National Park Authority decides whether to grant permission for a permanent car park in open countryside, Friends of the Lake District Policy Officer Lorayne Wall explains why they - like Campaign for National Parks - are opposed to the idea...

Catbells in Lake District National Park by Ian Brown

Like many National Parks, the Lake District has seen year-on-year increases in visitor numbers for some time, matched by increases in traffic. This has been exacerbated by changing visitor trends during the COVID-era.

Portinscale village, near Keswick, and roads just to the south, has found itself at the heart of this issue. It’s the main route for people accessing the popular Cat Bells summit. The sheer numbers of vehicles, and how and where they are parked, has created serious problems, particularly when they have prevented access for buses and emergency services.

We recognise the continuing issues relating to parking and traffic in the area, and the need to address them, but in the summer of 2020, we responded to a pre-application consultation for a new 150-space car park in the area at Ullock Moss with concern.

The need to reduce car use

At the time, the Lake District National Park Authority had made clear their targets to reduce the percentage of visitors arriving by car from 83% in 2015 to 64%, and for the car to be the main transport mode for under half of visitors by 2040. This was set out, along with many other measures in their Smarter Travel plan in 2018. We strongly supported the plan and held a Transport Conference in 2019 to explore solutions.

Our main concern is, that the car park will undermine any attempt to reach these targets.

The proposals conflict with planning policies too. They’re in open countryside, and do not form part of any wider plan to facilitate sustainable travel. They threaten to attract yet more traffic, harm the landscape and damage important habitats. This was confirmed in the LDNPA’s pre-application advice and in previous decisions for car parks in the area that had been turned down.

A contentious issue

When the application was submitted in December 2020, the proposed site of the car park had already been in use as a temporary car park under extended permitted development rights brought in during the pandemic.

The local community and others were polarised by the proposal. Some consider a car park the obvious solution to parking problems while many others, including Campaign for National Parks and the National Trust, share our view that alternative approaches are needed.

The complex proposal took until 3 November 2021 to come before the LDNPA’s planning committee. During that time, the LDNPA’s intent to dramatically reduce car use in the Park has been restated in the policies of a new Local Plan and National Park Partnership Plan. The Authority has also signed up to a target for Cumbria to become carbon neutral by 2037 (see also here).

A dangerous precedent

As well as undermining crucial targets, this development would set a precedent that would impact upon the wider Lake District and other national parks. We’ve seen what Snowdonia National Park has achieved, implementing proposals similar to those in the LDNP’s Smarter Travel Plan, and wonder why the same can’t happen here.

The planning committee deferred their decision, deciding without any debate that they needed a site visit to properly assess this proposal. The site visit is due to take place tomorrow, with a decision to follow on 1 December 2021. We hope to have good news to report next month.

Find out more about the campaign against the new car park on the Friends of the Lake District website.