Drive is on to save Snowdonia from blight by cars

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The Independent Online
Traffic wardens could scour the highways around the highest mountain in England and Wales, searching out cars parked on the roadside. Nicholas Schoon, Environment Correspondent, looks at radical plans to persuade motorists to switch to public transport in Snowdonia National Park.

Road tolls, barriers and soaring car parking charges will all feature in an extensive, six-month study into managing traffic in northern Snowdonia which has just begun.

The national park is already blighted by private cars during August, summer weekends and public holidays. The park authority says the congestion and despoliation are bound to get worse unless something is done.

Together with local councils, the Welsh Tourist Board and the Government's Welsh Development Agency, it has commissioned the study from a group of expert consultants, headed by the University of Wales at Cardiff.

The brief is to come up with a strategy which will persuade visitors to the core of the park - the highest, most scenic mountain parts - to leave their vehicles outside this area and either use public transport, or walk or bicycle in.

The park authority is concerned that local people may oppose this strategy, and is anxious to win their support. Locals worry that visitors will be turned away, damaging businesses, and that their freedom to drive around their own area may be restricted.

But, says the park's head of planning policy Peter Ogden, local businesses and employment would hopefully be boosted by shifting people out of their cars. "A lot of people drive into the park for just a day's walking or climbing and spend nothing, or next to nothing, in the area," he said.

"Our aim in trying to get visitors out of their cars is to make them spend more time here, rather than just whizzing through the towns and villages on the way into the core of the park."

New car parking policies are expected to be a key part of the emerging strategy. At present, it is legal to park on any roadside in the area. During peak periods, 1,000 cars or more can be parked along a three mile stretch of the Ogwen Valley which carries the A5 through the park, turning the road into one huge, linear - and entirely free - car park.

Mr Ogden said the consultants will look into the scope for legal restraints on roadside parking without using yellow lines. They will also consider steep increases in parking charges for the small number of car spaces within the core area. At present it costs pounds 4 to park for a day at Pen y Pas, in the heart of the mountains. The 120-space car park there is full by 9.30am for much of the year.

The extra revenue from car parking charges will be spent encouraging people to leave their cars outside. The possibility of non-polluting electric buses, and double decker open-topped sightseeing buses, is being mooted.

"If they are viable in major tourist cities like Bath and London, then why not here?" said Mr Ogden.

The park authority wants to cut the number of cars in the core area, but not the number of visitors. Visitors will be encouraged to leave their cars in the surrounding towns and villages, where there will be parking spaces and bus services.