It was rather ironic that Tourism and Heritage Minister John Penrose visited the Monsal Trail during his visit to the Peak District this week. Sure, it’s good to see a government minister out and about in one of the country’s flagship national parks, endorsing the powerful Peak District brand and acknowledging the importance of the national park to the region’s economy. But last month his very own government turned down Derbyshire County Council’s bid to the Local Sustainable Transport Fund to complete the Matlock/Buxton Cycle Ring, complete with links to surrounding communities and a wider health and tourism promotional package. There would have been infrastructure connections south of Matlock, through the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, and public transport connections packaged with cycle hire facilities. The bid was supported by the Peak District National Park since, amongst other things, it would have seen the completion of the Monsal Trail Bakewell-Buxton link.
Cycling in the Peak District ticks so many obvious boxes for the funders and decision-makers – sustainable travel in a car-dominated national park, health and exercise for an increasingly obese population, an inclusive and democratic activity that anyone of any age or background can pursue – but it’s clearly not enough. With its evident accessibility and huge audience, the Peak District could be the cycling ‘model’ for other national parks to copy and learn from, pioneering a new type of cycling tourism through flexible and inventive cycle hire arrangements, new initiatives with public transport operators to carry bikes and service providers to positively encourage cycling visitors, even (dare I say it) more seasonal road or traffic restrictions to allow bike-only access, and so on. But all wishful thinking for now.
So where does the county council and the national park go from here? How much longer will the Monsal Trail be marooned from Buxton – when public funding designed to extend the route via the tunnels to this key Peak District town failed to deliver the goods? Will Peak Cycle Links valiantly struggle on alone in their efforts to create a cycling route along the Derwent Valley and out of Buxton? And what of the National Park Authority’s long term plans for their trails and cycle hire operations?
Cycling seems to be on the up in so many ways, and even a modest (by national standards) cash boost could have propelled it so much further in our region. But, as it stands, some fundamental long term questions remain. It’s great to see the Pedal Peak District team still hard at work, and Pedal Ready encouraging a new generation of cyclists, but we have to plan ahead and provide new routes, better routes and more safe and attractive routes if those cycling in the Peak District are to remain in the saddle.