OPINION: Don’t ruin Northumberland's best assets with car parks

The narrow road to Dunstan Steads and Embleton beach.The narrow road to Dunstan Steads and Embleton beach.
The narrow road to Dunstan Steads and Embleton beach.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only reader to be shocked at the major push for developing coastal car parks at sensitive locations on our beautiful coastline.

Northumberland County Council really seem to have lost the plot here – don’t they realise that visitors come here because they love it just the way it is? They don’t want to be visiting overcrowded beaches and litter bins every few metres. They could go to the Med (or Whitley Bay) for that.

Encouraging mass car parking in ecologically valuable sites like Embleton, Bamburgh and Alnmouth is throwing the tourism baby away with the bathwater. The visitors we want to encourage are those who value the environment and are willing to look after it – they don’t mind walking a little further to the beach, taking their litter away, and value nature over bars and nightclubs.

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Northumberland County Council needs to stop, think and launch a sustainable integrated transport plan fit for the 21st century before they trash our most valuable asset. How about setting an ambition of ‘Visit Northumberland – the greenest county’?

To give an example, and following from a recent article in the Gazette, the road to Dunstan Steads is the perfect place to embark on a visit to Embleton Bay and Dunstanburgh Castle.

At quiet times, the road reflects its location in an area of outstanding natural beauty and it is enjoyed by many walkers and cyclists exploring the area. Unfortunately, it is a single-track lane with sharp bends and few safe passing places.

Parking is only possible at the extreme end of the lane, about 1.4 km from the main road. The 20 or so spaces fill very quickly on busy days and for the rest of the day there is a constant stream of cars (possibly hundreds) making the futile journey to the bottom of the lane only to find there are no spaces. Frustration ensues and some visitors resort to illegal or dangerous parking. I’m sure that similar problems are associated with many such routes to the beach along the coast.

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Surely, safe cycle and walking routes should be prioritised over motor vehicles?

One obvious solution, which should be easily within the reach of modern technology, would be to install a parking counter at the beach, with a warning sign at the entrance to the lane flagging whether or not spaces are available. This would save visitors from wasted time and frustration, while protecting walkers and cyclists from speeding motor vehicles and enhancing the beauty and peaceful ambience of the area.

In the longer term, a grander aspiration might be to link all the car parks in Northumberland to an automated parking system, like the one that operates in Newcastle City Centre. Motorists can use an app on their mobile phones to identify, book and pay for parking spaces. This would allow the County to develop an integrated plan to encourage but also regulate access to tourist sites.

So, come on Northumberland, let’s see if you can sort this out for the 21st century and leave this beautiful county for future generations to enjoy.

Prof J Errington FRS,