Parking rage hits a peak in national park

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It's a tough life being a parking meter in the Peak District National Park. The one in the Pay & Display car park near the tiny village of Curbar has been attacked with a sledgehammer, disabled by having superglue poured into it, and had its solar panel knocked off, effectively killing it for over two months.

The new meter installed last year in the car park beneath the rock climbers' Mecca, Stanage Edge, has suffered similarly. After it was disabled recently, an anonymous letter, claiming to come from a group of "Park residents, local climbers and walkers", warned: "This is not a random act of vandalism ... If you repair this equipment we'll do it again."

What's the fuss about? In a word, collision - between people who run the national parks trying to reduce traffic in them, and the rest of the population wanting to visit in their cars.

If the weather improves, the problem should be obvious once again this Bank Holiday weekend, particularly in the Peak District, which receives 22 million day-trippers a year, of whom over 90 per cent come by car.

The decision to install meters has enraged some climbers and prompted protests against the pounds 1.50 parking charge from their representative body, the British Mountaineering Council (BMC). In reality, though, the meter fee is unlikely to deter people who may pay up to pounds 80 for a pair of specialised rock-climbing boots.

The anonymous assailants of the parking meters say that the by introducing them, the Park's administrators have "failed to address the issues relating to car use and parking in this area. Local roads are virtually unusable by local people in the summer. Large car parks encourage car use. Public transport has been run down." The way forward, the authors argue, is to find ways of keeping the cars out of the Park, or concentrated in one place, and organising cheap public transport options.

Almost all of the 10 national parks are seeing steady growth in traffic and, like the Peak Park, the Lake District, Snowdonia and Dartmoor are all readying traffic management strategies which are likely to bring them into conflict with the ever-increasing car culture in Britain.

All the parks talk of "honeypot" towns which attract more people - in cars - than they can hold. Thus towns such as Matlock Bath, Kendal, Buxton and the roads through Dartmoor and around Ogwen in Snowdonia become clogged, or verges are eroded as people try to park somewhere, anywhere.

The New Forest planners are even considering temporary road closures or tolls to dissuade car-borne visitors, while the introduction in the Peak District of Park and Ride schemes has been a limited success.