‘We can’t just keep building more car parks’ on the Northumberland coast
Thousands of tourists have come to soak up the beauty of the Northumberland coast since the Covid lockdown ended.
Yet its growing popularity means the ever increasing number of cars cluttering its picturesque villages and narrow country lanes threatens the tranquillity for which it is renowned.
The balancing act of preserving the natural environment while recognising the economic importance of the tourism industry is the challenge facing Iain Robson, manager of the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership.
"We have listened to local people who have told us about the impact of cars and car parking on their communities but we can’t just keep building more car parks,” he told the AONB’s tranquillity-themed annual forum.
"It’s unsustainable and it’s even more unsustainable to build those in an uncoordinated way. We need to have a plan to get people out of their cars.”
The AONB team is seeking funding for a strategic review of parking and transport on the coastal strip.
However, with more than 90% of visitors to the coast arriving by car there is no easy solution in sight.
Then there is the AONB’s goal of being net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
“It’s a big challenge,” Iain admitted.
"We’ll be looking at natural ways of sequestering more carbon through habitat creation, working with communities to cut emissions and minimise waste and to decarbonise tourism and look at transport in the AONB.”
The AONB team is working with Northumberland Tourism on the creation of its new destination management plan which will work towards that goal.
"The plan has to ensure that we have a thriving tourism industry here on the coast that protects the special qualities of the AONB and delivers the benefits of tourism to the whole community,” he explained.
Looking back at the post-lockdown period, he felt lessons had been learned from the summer of 2020 when coastal communities such as Bamburgh, Seahouses, Craster and Boulmer suffered major congestion issues.
“When lockdown finished last year, lots of people headed for National Parks and AONBs across the country and, unsurprisingly, that was the same here,” he said.
"It was brilliant to see people coming back out, after a horrendous time, enjoying the countryside and protected landscapes and supporting businesses whenever they could.
"Obviously this great number of people coming to enjoy the AONB did come at a cost and created tensions in some of the local communities and certainly impacted on the natural environment of the AONB.
"So, in 2021 we were much better prepared and had a plan in place. A coastal summit was held with parish councils and that brought forward many of the issues.
"Northumberland County Council brought together a tactical group to manage visitor pressure. For the first time, it brought together the police, fire service, coastguard and various council departments and ourselves and, from that, came big things like the ‘Love It Like It’s Yours’ campaign which seemed to be very successful.
“There have been variable messages signs on highways and smaller things like getting cones out for farmers at harvest-time to help them get to and from their fields.
“It all helped to ensure that in 2021 we coped much better with the huge numbers of people who visited the coast than we did the previous year.”