Navigating land decisions for transport in the Hope Valley
1st December 2022
Hope Valley Climate Action is one of the biggest and most active climate groups in Derbyshire. Its landmark project, Travelling Light, is being funded by the Department of Transport as a national beacon pilot, pioneering creative, sustainable and inclusive solutions to a rural transport problem in the Peak District National Park’s Hope Valley.
But despite this ambition and the energy behind it, the project is having to navigate the same barrier that organisations, institutions and communities are facing across England: competing pressures on land, and no way to navigate them. We spoke to some of the people involved to find out more.
The picturesque Hope Valley in the Peak District.
Hope Valley is home to some of the most picturesque villages and breath-taking scenery the Peak District has to offer. It’s also within striking distance of Sheffield and Manchester, making it an ideal location for those who want all the wildness and beauty of a protected national park, but under an hour's commute from two major UK cities.
It is, perhaps, because of this special location – truly the best of both worlds – that Hope Valley presents some complex transport challenges when it comes to decarbonising travel and making sure that land in the valley works for everyone. Travelling Light’s overall ambition is to reduce the reliance on cars by residents and visitors by 2030, and instead transition to safe, active travel – like walking, cycling and using public and shared transport instead on relying on private cars.
Chair of the Peak District National Park Authority and Chair of National Parks England, Andrew McCloy explains the national significance of sustainable transport in the Peak District. “National Parks make up almost a tenth of England and they are so important in terms of their landscape, wildlife and heritage that they have the highest level of protection. Yet they need to work for people who live and work in them, as well as those that visit in their millions, since flourishing rural communities are a critical part of their future.”
Like most rural areas in the UK, the Hope Valley is an area overly dependent on car use. Just one arterial A-road connects the villages and residents of the area to both cities, local train stations, shops and the only secondary school in the area.
A recent cycling rally organised by Travelling Light.
And while there’s relatively good transport infrastructure in place, like fast and well-connected train lines and good bus routes, there’s a lack of integration between services to help people reduce car use. There’s also a lack of alternative transport options, such as safe cycle routes, for those who can’t or don’t want to drive.
Marianne Quick, Project Leader at Travelling Light, is finding practical, creative and community-focused solutions to the problem. From inclusive cycling schemes to community car clubs, it’s a coherent and integrated approach, and is, as Marianne says, all about “empowering communities to take action and change the status quo.”
The knock-on effects of a more integrated, sustainable transport system in the Hope Valley could help relieve some of the other pressures that people in this rural community are facing – from health and housing to finances and jobs.
“Relying only on public transport is hard, it adds time to your day. If the bus doesn’t turn up and you’re going to be late for work, it’s stressful and could impact your job and work-life balance. Not having access to a car around here is a challenge – and offering good public transport could be a real leveller.”
It’s a picture that repeats itself across the country. Earlier this year, the Rural Services Network released research showing that rural households spend on average 33% more per week on transport compared to urban households.
A few years ago, a campaign to reduce traffic and increase cycling was led by a group of residents in the Hope Valley, one of whom was Matt Heason. In an attempt to open a cycle lane to connect villages in the area and provide a safe route for children cycling to school, Matt tried to bring together landowners and stakeholders – the National Trust, the National Park and local farmers – whose fields the cycle lane would run through.
It was an important campaign that could have transformed the local area – but it lost momentum. For Matt, the problems boiled down to overloaded bureaucracy and a lack of consensus. “There was no system in place for landowners and stakeholders to make decisions about community issues, like a cycle route. We ran into so many blockers from different groups – and there was no way to bring everyone to the table and raise awareness about the benefits of alternative transport solutions to cars.”
A better way of making decisions was clearly needed, and this is something that the Travelling Light project has been developing “Our approach is to respect people and build trust. Even though we’re all from the same part of the world, each village has a different identity and set of goals.”
Through “community conversations”, Marianne is aiming to bring people together to try and find some common ground. “As well as reducing carbon emissions and addressing the climate crisis, we’re also trying to build sustainable, accessible and resilient communities – and everyone can get on board with that. At first glance, people might not think that access to reliable transport or addressing the climate crisis is a priority for them, but they do care about their village. And supporting young families in the area who want to walk their kids to school safely and reduce traffic congestion is part of that.”
Through these community conversations, creativity and storytelling is an essential part of the engagement process. “We ask people to imagine their village in 2030 What does it look and feel like? Is that old oak tree still there? Or is there a new car park? What do you want for your children and grandchildren? It’s about getting people to use their imagination to envisage a future they want to help shape. This kind of process means there’s much more buy in – and people start to listen to each other.”
Marianne is keen to emphasise that there’s no one size fits all. “There’s no telling what will bring a village or community together. But if you build consensus around one issue, you can support landowners and other stakeholders to make decisions that benefit everyone. They also want to do the best for their local community.”
Travelling Light brings together different landowners and stakeholders in the Peak District to find community solutions.
But even after common ground has been found, turning ambition into action is easier said than done. One concern is data. “We need to establish some baseline data. We need to work out movement patterns and the routes people are taking. There’s some already out there already but we need specific data about the Hope Valley. Then we can start to build a really strong case for rolling out some of the schemes we’re trialling here across the country.”
Another challenge is too much bureaucracy – and not enough legislation that enables better decision-making about how we use our land. “We need legislation such as the proposed Land Use Framework to help communities to break down barriers and enable change. It must be easier to navigate, and it needs to help communities to engage in local democracy.”
Marianne thinks the solutions to the multiple crises we’re facing ultimately lie in the hands of local communities – and that this needs to be built into policy. “They have ideas, they understand their area and the needs of their community. The government can't do everything, and they don't need to. They just need to enable and facilitate communities to act.”
Travelling Light’s national beacon status and the creative power of a community to find solutions that work for them is gaining traction – and are assets that keystone institutions like National Parks are learning to harness. Andrew McCloy is emphatic on this: "Projects like Travelling Light show what can be achieved when local leaders and communities pool their ideas and try out new and innovative approaches, so we can co-create a fair and sustainable future and ensure that our National Parks are living and healthy places.”
So, is there hope for rural communities like Hope Valley? “Absolutely” says Marianne. “If you don’t have hope in the Hope Valley, you may as well pack up and go home.”