At a time when elsewhere in Britain there are attempts to seek a post-Covid Green Awakening, to seek new ways of managing every aspect of our lives in safer ways, including more environmentally responsible ways of travelling, somehow in the Yorkshire Dales, a national park which ought to be setting the highest standards of environmental protection from visitor traffic pollution, there is an almost total absence of action.

Here, Colin Speakman, vice president of the Friends of the Dales, airs his views...

Since the end of national lockdown there have been some of the worst traffic conditions in the Dales in living memory, with visitor traffic levels in hotspots such as Burnsall, Malham, Bolton Abbey, Grassington, Ribblehead reaching gridlock levels. Traffic noise along main roads is now massively intrusive to local residents and other visitors, especially from motor bikes.

What is happening is a predictable response from people forced to spend months indoors. The cancellation of foreign travel opportunities has made stay at home holidays and day trips the only option. With an almost total lack of traffic management or park and ride measures, overflowing car parks and chaotic verge parking have been an inevitable consequence.

What alternatives do people have? Cycling has increased, but heavy traffic on even minor roads reduces the quality and safety of that experience.

But the real loser is public transport. Months of constant propaganda has convinced many people that buses and trains are not safe to use. Yet a well-ventilated train or bus, with all passengers wearing mandatory masks, is safer than, for example, a taxi. Nor are cars 100 per cent safe. Unless your entire family are self-isolating, if someone has contracted the virus at school or work, in the cramped space of a private car risks are higher than on a bus or train where everyone wears masks.

Whilst rail services elsewhere in the UK are coming back to normal, user organisations in the Yorkshire Dales report that new post-Covid 19 timetables on Northern Rail on the Settle-Carlisle and Bentham lines still represent about 25 per cent reductions in service. These cuts mean that some key school and work journeys from the Dales into West Yorkshire or Carlisle are now impossible. If you are a keen walker and want to use the Sunday train to Dent, Garsdale (with its bus link to Hawes) or three Eden Valley stations on Sundays, the only useful teatime return train now does not stop at these stations. But weekday services between Skipton, Lancaster and Morecambe now suffer a huge 5½ hour gap in return travel opportunities, with no train from Morecambe to Leeds between 1432 and 2007. This reduces the line’s value for day trips and wrecks connections from the Lake District or Furness.

Unbelievably, there is now no weekend bus to Malham, and on weekdays the last return home is 1335 – useless for most visitors. The Monday, Wednesday and Friday NYCC 74A minibus to tourist hotspots Bolton Abbey and Burnsall during one week in August had to leave nearly 30 people behind. On several days the driver had to abandon the route via Appletreewick as he could not get his bus past visitors’ cars parked on verges and passing places on the narrow road.

Even though over 60% of all UK travel is now for leisure purposes, North Yorkshire County Council still lives in the past. It has a policy, in one of the UK’s top tourist regions, of refusing to fund Sunday and Bank Holiday travel, leaving Dales & Bowland CIC volunteers to manage the Sunday DalesBus network. In 2019 NYCC turned down a modest request from D&BCIC for a grant of £35,000 to help retain this popular network. In a few weeks’ time, the crucial 856 Sunday bus between Hawes to Northallerton, through Wensleydale, a lifeline for Dales communities, may cease to operate, not because of lack of money, but because of NYCC’s irresponsible anti-Sunday bus policy.

Worse perhaps, the National Park Authority and NYCC no longer carry out visitor traffic and parking surveys, hoping by refusing to measure the problem, it doesn’t exist – yet claiming, that the Park Authority is somehow “carbon neutral” in its work.

A few months ago, John Carey, volunteer Director of D&BCIC and Committee Member of the Friends of Settle Carlisle Line, produced a visionary report The Case for Integrated Transport on the Leeds-Settle-Carlisle Line Corridor. This suggests how the Settle-Carlisle line - as achieved by the pioneering Dales Rail project in the 1970s – could become the spine of an integrated, affordable transport network for the Yorkshire Dales and Eden Valley, for local communities and visitors alike. This document is a blueprint for action.

A gleam of hope is the Government’ pledge of partial devolution with elected Mayors given new funding for transport in our region. In the Yorkshire Dales we need to anticipate this, and to set up a new Transport Partnership for the Dales, including local authorities, Northern Rail (now publicly owned), bus operators, but also key user and environmental groups including Friends of the Dales, FoSCL, Friends of Dales Bus, and D&BCIC, people with the knowledge and practical expertise to make things happen.