AROUND 25 years ago my wife and I decided to give up our car, writes Colin Speakman. It was partly because we couldn’t afford the repair bill to our elderly Citroen, but also because we thought, living where we did in Ilkley we could enjoy a car-free lifestyle, using excellent local buses and trains and walking and cycling whenever we could - what is now the Government’s new green agenda.

But for the first time in those 25 years we are now regretting that decision. Since lockdown we have been told we can only use our local train service on “essential” work or business and should avoid using buses if at all possible. So those of us who don’t own a car are now restricted to where they can walk from home. Our freedom to travel is currently what it would have been 180 years ago, before trains, trams and buses became common. Even in those times, there were stagecoaches if you could afford them, or for the less well-off, carriers’ carts to take you to Leeds or Bradford - where we have not been since early March.

For our car-owning neighbours things are very different. They can drive to the Lake District or the coast, whenever they choose. They can play golf, play tennis, go climbing.

Whilst we have lost our much valued weekend DalesBus network, we have watched on television with some horror scenes at Burnsall, Malham, Richmond, Hawes where local communities have been overwhelmed with a tidal wave of visitors and their cars. Dales businesses, desperate for trade did not benefit in any way from the influx - the very opposite. A degraded environment with traffic-congested lanes, roadside verges turned to linear car parks, litter and noise, may deter many people from future visits when businesses re-open.

The problem was the Government’s timing could not be more unfortunate. With people kept indoors during the warmest and driest spring in a century, they gave people the green light at a time when all facilities– cafes, pubs, shopping, leisure centres, sports grounds, gyms, theme parks - were closed. People had nowhere to go. It was like taking the cork out of a Champagne bottle. People headed to the nearest bit of green space close to water.

“They can’t go to Benidorm so they’ve come to Burnsall” was one wry local comment.

It is hardly surprising that after the experience of the last few weeks, (but such scenes occurred over several fine weekends last summer) there are now calls for car-free days in the Dales.

Whilst this seems a very attractive idea, certainly if you live in the Dales, it won’t help Dales businesses desperate for visitors to come and spend money in hopefully soon to be reopened cafés, shops and B&Bs.

Over the last twenty years visitor traffic management has totally disappeared off the national park authority’s agenda. With 93 per cent of visitors arriving by private car, public transport was perceived as marginal. The unspoken view was that if places get crowded, everyone goes home at 5pm so end of problem.

It took the pandemic and a tsunami of uncontrolled visitor traffic to end that view.

In fact, North Yorkshire County Council as Highway Authority, in partnership with the National Park Authority, have considerable powers, if not the resources (ultimately a political issue), to solve much of the problems experienced by Dales communities. Measures available include creating Parking Control Zones and Freeways to solve the issue of verge parking at key honeypots and in Dales villages. These can be seasonal, policed and supported by traffic wardens paid for by parking fees and penalties. Speed limits can reduce antisocial behaviour on Dales roads, and other measures can include greater priority for cyclists and walkers, and park and ride bus services. Far from being anti-motorist, such measures improve things for drivers.

What should underpin all such effort is the need to give local people and visitors true greener lifestyle choices. Changing modal choice is also a traffic management measure. As DalesBus proves, it is possible, for relatively modest cost, to have an excellent weekend bus network, linking to the wonderful Settle-Carlisle and Bentham lines, and maybe also Embsay and Wensleydale Railways, supplemented by Community Transport and shared taxi schemes.

The pandemic crisis will change Britain, and the Yorkshire Dales, forever. Sustainable transport, in all its varied forms, needs to be at the heart of any recovery and we should start planning to make this happen. A decent network of perhaps electric powered buses, backed by walking and cycling options, would not only help economic recovery but form part of a new vision for a greener, cleaner and more prosperous Dales.