Lakes Line Bulletin

I was asked to submit something to the Lakes Line Bulletin. I was delighted to do so. My submission was:

The Commission for Rural Communities is an independent advocate, advisor and watchdog for rural people, and was set up by this Labour government in 2005. It consistently makes the case for improved public transport in rural areas. In a recent report, the Commission noted: “While for those aged 11-16 in urban areas, 52% of trips for social and sport are made as a car passenger, the figure for villages and hamlets is 70%.”

We hear much about a ‘digital divide’ but the evidence cited by the Commission points towards another, and equally important rural/urban split – the ‘public transport divide’. The infrastructure required for high-speed broadband is certainly important, but we must not forget the importance of our public transport infrastructure.

This ‘public transport divide’ contributes to congestion on Kendal’s roads, with its environmental and public health consequences. It also leaves the car-less, often the elderly and vulnerable, more isolated. It’s vital that it be addressed, but, with necessary constraints on public expenditure at the moment, we will need to find innovative and cost-effective ways to do this.

The first step is to do what the Lakes Line Community Rail Partnership has done: bring the community together. We all know that communities acting together, towards well-defined objectives, can be tremendously effective.

I am currently campaigning for South Lakeland District Council to publish the size and makeup of its carbon footprint annually (and also to join many other councils who have signed up to the 10:10 pledge to reduce carbon emissions). If they do so, I believe it will galvanise community activism towards reducing the carbon footprint and promoting greener lifestyles, including increased usage of the Lakes Line and other public transport alternatives.

Another tangible step towards higher usage on the line would be the addition of a number of new halts. Which new halts should go where is something that should be decided by the local community, and I would encourage that debate. The most innovative and effective solutions to the failings of public transport services in rural areas will come from such local discussions, not from the top down. And in areas like Westmorland & Lonsdale, better public transport is key to bringing, and keeping, our community together.