IMG 20210606 140504This year’s holiday season in the Peak District National Park may be in sight but a solution to one of its biggest problems seems further away than ever. As more and more people visit the Park, the number of car journeys is climbing relentlessly, with consequent pressure on roads, the availability of parking spaces in villages and last, but certainly not least, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. MCA knows from conversations with the National Park at Board level that trying to encourage the availability and use of public transport and reverse the relentless tide of cars is a priority. We also know that they have struggled to get meaningful engagement on the subject with elected representatives on the Staffordshire side of the Park borders.

And on public transport it really is a tale of two counties. This July, the Hope Valley Explorer started its summer season, following earlier successful pilots. The Stagecoach-operated bus offers a hop-on hop-off service in the Hope Valley. Visitors are encouraged to leave the car behind, take the train from Sheffield or Manchester and join the Hope Valley Explorer at Hope.

Here’s a pared-down list of the attendees: Robert Largan, MP for High Peak, Andrew McCloy, Chair of the Peak District National Park Authority; John Young, Commercial Director of Stagecoach; Sir Richard FitzHerbert, Chair of Marketing Peak District and Derbyshire and many local councillors. Now close your eyes for just one moment: could you imagine a similar line-up for such a sensible and joined-up green travel initiative this side of the county line? No, I didn’t think so.

It’s not that the issue of car use isn’t a pressing one in the Staffordshire villages of the National Park. “Villages in the south Peak are really suffering. It is a tremendous problem,” said Gill Heath, local councillor and the County’s representative on the Peak District National Authority. She was reacting to the August news that the Park was intending to raise charges in its car parks to approach national levels as well as increase the scope of charging and enforcement. Cllr. Heath said the charges would “displace traffic more and more in the villages”.

She’s almost certainly right. But surely at least part of the solution must be to reduce the scale of the problem in the first place – i.e., the fact that for almost all visits into the Staffordshire part of the Park, a car is the only option for many?

Emma Stone, head of asset management for the Peak Authority explained that: “By charging for parking it is hoped that visitors will consider their travel decisions in a bit more detail and might be encouraged to move towards a more sustainable transport solution rather than pay for parking.”

In Staffordshire at the moment we have just Moorlands Connect, an on-demand service which covers an arc through the south of the Park. We do not have – despite talk of such a service, and despite talks about it – a Park and Ride service to visitor hotspots such as the Roaches or the Dove and Manifold Valleys. We certainly don’t have any strategy to create viable public transport options for visitors to the Park, or its residents.

The British weather may be famously unpredictable but one thing seems depressingly certain. This problem will roll up next summer, and bigger still; villagers and their elected representatives will complain about it again.

And in the meantime, nothing will be done.