Making tracks

The recent announcement that the Government is investing £12 million to support cycling in National Parks is good news indeed.  All too often over the years, politicians have said how important walking and cycling are, yet have consistently failed to back the fine words with hard cash.

This increased investment comes at a time when there has been a resurgence in cycling over a number of years, but which has really taken off with the success of Bradley Wiggins and our other Olympians last summer.  Not only will it be good for public health and the environment, investing in cycling in the National Parks will be good for the local economy too.

Already in the South Downs National Park, there are a number of initiatives looking at the feasibility of improving cycling.  One of these is SHORTcut (Sussex and Hampshire Off Road Road Track) which is a local registered charity which has been established to promote and develop a new Greenway track for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.

It’s looking at a route along the old railway line from Petersfield Train station to Midhurst.  The track would be almost completely off road and ideal for children and families to use.

Further east, Brighton & Hove City Council is looking to improve links to Stanmer Park and ultimately to Ditchling Beacon along Ditchling Road.

While all of these projects are in their early stages, they offer a real opportunity to significantly increase access to and within the National Park for families wanting to leave their cars at home.  They can also become attractions in their own right as can be seen by the success of the Monsal Trail in the Peak District.  Closer to home the popularity of Centurion Way and the Cuckoo Trail highlight the demand that there is for better cycle facilities.  Hopefully, these are just the beginning.

We must seize this opportunity with both hands.  At the moment cycle provision is ad-hoc and fragmented.  Getting a few projects off the ground to show hows things could be might be the catalyst that is needed to inspire further improvements.  The more these can be linked up, the more popular and viable they will become.  Let’s hope the Park Authority is both bold and ambitious in helping to take this forward.

Park transport bids left in limbo

The South Downs National Park Authority’s (SDNPA) bids for funding under the Local Sustainable Transport Fund have been left in limbo following an announcement on 24 May about 30 projects which will receive funding.  Up to 18 out of the 53 bids received will find out ‘shortly’ whether they have been successful or not.  No reasons have been given for the delay by the Department for Transport.

The SDNPA has joined forces with the New Forest National Park Authority and Hampshire County Council to submit a bid around changing travel behaviour for people accessing the Parks for recreational purposes to boost the local economy while cutting carbon emissions.

In its other bid it is working with East Sussex County Council around improving walking, cycling and public transport for people going about their daily lives, living and working in Lewes.  The aim is to boost the local economy while reducing the impact of this activity on the National Park.  This second bid is quite different from the joint bid with the New Forest in that it is not specifically aimed at tourists and recreational travel.

Road traffic already has a big impact on the special qualities of the South Downs.  Given the Government’s seeming determination to increase bus and rail fares, the former through cuts in the fuel duty rebate that bus operators receive, this is likely to get worse.  This is exacerbated by local authorities cutting funding for rural bus services as their budgets are squeezed.  That is why it is essential that the two bids for the National Park are successful.