Transport and National Parks: the Glover review through a lockdown lens

The 2019 Glover review[i] proposed the Lake District as a pilot national park to be given more powers over transport. Here, we explore lessons from lockdown[ii],[iii],[iv] that might shine a light on what this might mean.

At the onset and easing of lockdown, the relevant pragmatic instruments to hand to manage access were mainly about control of formal car parking and design and delivery of public messaging. The co-ordination by NPAs across landowners of car park closures coupled with the real-time car park status website on reopening has been a real success of NPAs. In addition, NPAs have played a key role through many Local Resilience Forums as their priorities shift from incident management to recovery.

However, as post-lockdown re-opening is gradually taking place, with respect to transport and highways, national parks are caught in a vacuum.

The high-profile government initiatives for locking-in walking and cycling[v],[vi] involve the fast-tracking of traffic regulation orders coupled with a (re-focussed) commitment of £2bn for active travel. However, this means little to national parks for three reasons. Firstly, transport authority (as delivery body) officer capacity is already strained. Secondly, the priorities of transport authorities are primarily to their residents (the majority of which live outside national parks) whereas access and transport in national parks is often significantly influenced (and often dominated) by demand from visitors. Thirdly, government priorities are mainly aimed at utility (rather than leisure) and implicitly to higher density areas.

As a result, NPAs and 3rd sector bodies are having a hard time getting serious attention for relevant active travel interventions - walking, cycling, scooting, wheelchair, pushchair & running - within national parks. These generally involve:

  • Access restrictions and speed limits on smaller roads: (relatively) low cost and deliverable, creating key access corridors and great car-irrelevant experiences for the 10s millions of visitors who will return to our national parks this summer. Given leisure travel accounts for 63% of car miles driven leisure journeys are relatively easy to influence, the DfT priorities are missing a post-lockdown trick.
  • Safe, attractive accessible village centres.

Both of these are for both utility (travel to work/education/shopping) and leisure (for visitors and residents) purposes.

So what does this mean for where appropriate powers lie?

Lockdown has shown that Glover was absolutely right in observing that national park authorities “…are well placed to take on an active role in coordinating and promoting transport. They are the bodies best placed to communicate with visitors...”. It also indicates a need for NPAs (or some hybrid body that prioritises the visitor economy and NP resident communities) to have the powers to negotiate directly with DfT over public transport (c.f. Transport for Cornwall[vii]), speed limits and highways access (via TROs). This is not a criticism of the current transport authorities but an acknowledgement of different priorities and capacity.

There is a looming risk that as the coronavirus lockdown lifts, traffic and parking congestion may once more lock down national parks. Organisations who recognise this and are brimming with ideas for recovery interventions[viii] just don’t have the necessary powers to make the case to the DfT. Key transport & access powers (over passenger transport, speed limits and highways access & TROs) need to be shifted to national parks not only so that its residents don’t get forgotten, but to help England’s national parks become truly world class[ix].

 

Alastair Kirkbride is currently a Foundation for Integrated Transport Fellow working on Glover’s proposal 19

 

 

[i] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/designated-landscapes-nationa...

[ii] “Coronavirus: Police urge public not to visit Peak District”, Daily Express, 29 March 2020; https://www.express.co.uk/videos/6145546775001/Coronavirus-Police-urge-p...

[iii] “Coronavirus: 'Unprecedented' crowds in Wales despite warnings”, BBC news, 22 March 2020; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-51994504

[iv] “Coronavirus: Farmer's anti-walker barricade taken down”, BBC news, 22 May 2020; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cumbria-52761345 

[v]  DfT announcement on 9th May “£2 billion package to create new era for cycling and walking”;  https://www.gov.uk/government/news/2-billion-package-to-create-new-era-f...

[vi] Carlton Reid provides a well informed and balanced great perspective on DfT active travel recovery announcements; https://www.forbes.com/sites/carltonreid/2020/05/09/uk-government-boosts...

[vii] Transport for Cornwall are “...delivering the vision for a high-quality, integrated and customer-focused public transport network across the predominantly rural county https://www.transportforcornwall.co.uk/

[viii] “Is it time to start talking about traffic free National Parks again?” including “Take a valley, consider what would be possible without traffic, do the sums, sort out the marketing and try it. Someone will, and the rest of us will look at it and think 'why didn’t we do that?'”; https://www.cnp.org.uk/blog/it-time-start-talking-about-traffic-free-nat...

[ix] The Alpine Pearls is a “necklace” of 21 “soft mobility” destinations across the Alps; https://www.alpine-pearls.com/en/