Securing access to the Yorkshire Dales

Paul Chattwood of the Dales & Bowland Community Interest Company writes on why MPs should support the Dalesbus in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

National Parks were established by Parliament with prime twin purposes to protect the UK’s finest landscapes, and to enable the general public to enjoy access to those special open spaces.  Whilst much has changed since the first National Parks were established, those fundamental principles are as relevant as ever.  Accessibility lies at the heart of why the nation funds and supports our National Parks.

Between 20% and 25% of the UK population live in households without access to a car, and this figure is unlikely to reduce as personal disposable incomes decline in real terms and much new-build city centre housing has limited parking facilities. In urban areas and among certain age and income groups – younger people, older people and less affluent families the proportion is higher than the national average.

The Dalesbus, Yorkshire Dales.

Ensuring that access to the National Parks is available to these people through the provision of affordable, effective public transport should be a key issue for National Park Authorities. This fact is recognised in Early Day Motion 650, recently tabled by John Grogan, MP for Keighley – an urban area adjacent to the southern border of the Yorkshire Dales.

Around 30,000 passenger journeys are made on the DalesBus network managed by D&BCIC each year, indicating strong demand for the service. Surveys have also shown that visitor traffic is considered the single biggest disadvantage of living in a National Park, but it is impossible to persuade visitors to leave their cars behind and use more environmentally friendly bus services if those services do not exist.

A recent undergraduate study by Leeds University indicated the huge importance of DalesBus services to many very vulnerable people and how for them, time spent in a National Park facilitated by DalesBus, is of huge importance.  One significant finding of this survey was the number of regular users who live on their own, for whom the bus is a vital way of connecting with other people in the social environment of a public bus, an important antidote against depression and loneliness. 

Ticket sales via the farebox and concessionary reimbursement cover around 50% of the direct costs of providing the DalesBus network, leaving an annual funding requirement of around £85,000. This reflects the high mileage and fuel costs involved in rural bus operation which cannot be fully recovered from users without fare levels becoming prohibitively high and deterring the very people DalesBus is designed to attract. Just as rural railways, such as the Leeds – Settle – Carlisle line, can only survive with significant public subsidy, rural buses also require some, albeit much smaller, financial support.

Should the National Park Authority commit funding to the Dalesbus?

 

Financial support for DalesBus has recently been provided by local authorities (currently from only West Yorkshire Combined Authority plus a small NYCC Locality Fund grant for Nidderdale) and private sector sponsorship together with donations from local community groups and individuals. However much of this funding is on a “one-off” or short-term basis – I believe that in order to effectively deliver it’s objectives the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority should commit to funding of the DalesBus of at least £23,000 per annum on an ongoing basis.

I hope that Members of Parliament will recognise the importance of this issue and the social, economic and environmental consequences that would result from a reduction in the DalesBus network, and offer their support to the Early Day Motion today.

The Dales and Bowland Community Interest Company (D&BCIC) is a subsidiary of the Yorkshire Dales Society (the Friends of the Dales), a registered charity. The Company is a volunteer-run, not-for-profit social enterprise.

Campaign for National Parks is calling on MP’s to support EDM 650.