National Trust’s Lyme causes two-mile A6 traffic queues

Two miles of traffic? Just a normal sunday at Lyme Park.

The National Trust’s Lyme Park, on the Cheshire edge of the Peak District, caused over 2 miles of queuing traffic on the A6 this Sunday morning — not for the first time.

Between 10.30 and 11am, the queue of crawling traffic backed up into Greater Manchester, through the village of High Lane, rapidly grew to 2.5 miles in length, stretching from the property’s entrance gate all the way back to the A555.

On a map of Greater Manchester captured at 11am, the Lyme traffic queue was the only significant red in the whole of the south eastern area and easily the largest traffic build-up in the entire city region of ten boroughs.

Google Maps captures at 10:59 on 15th October 2023.

There’s usually a heavy surge towards the Peak District on sunny weekends and not all of the traffic queue will have been heading to Lyme. But with so many drivers waiting to turn right, and Lyme’s queue extending off its property, the A6 was blocked by the volume of traffic (Disley and eastwards was all green). This is hardly a new phenomenon; mile-long traffic queues have been noted in the past, but it seems they just keep happening and getting worse.

Does the National Trust even care what effect this has? On High Lane, on other peoples’ journeys, on local air and noise pollution, on vulnerable road users like people cycling, on other nearby roads which drivers divert onto instead to avoid these regular weekend queues?

The causes and solutions are obvious, yet Lyme and the National Trust continually fail to act.

Crucially, the Trust hasn’t bothered to implement timed ticketing nor the requirement to pre-book parking, despite having systems for this already in place and operational for other properties. This would immediately flatten the wild spikes in vehicle entries, managing demand and encouraging people to visit on quieter days. It’d also give a better actual visitor experience, as the park facilities can’t really cope with these surges — Lyme on a packed day is not a particularly pleasant place to be.

Changes to entry pricing have only made traffic disruption worse. Rather than paying a standard parking fee or scanning a NT pass, all visitors by car now need to pay their complete house or garden entry charge per adult and child at the entrance kiosk, which only has one window and is located only 0.2 miles off the A6, despite the car park itself being 1.3 miles into the park.

On the flip side, this new pricing — scrapping a separate car parking charge — means people can now drive all that way into the parkland and store their car for free; there’s no incentive whatsoever not to drive. Unlike many similar attractions such as RHS Bridgewater and Chatsworth, visitors arriving by public transport do not get a discount. Suggestions to implement such an offer have been roundly ignored by Lyme.

A busy Lyme car park back in August.

Meanwhile, a significant contributor to these problems could be the near-constant “free family pass” offer the National Trust has been running across various national media (notably Reach plc). This year they’ve given away hundreds of thousands of these email barcodes — which it’s stated are “single use” but are usually in fact a generic code with no cap on uses. There appears to have been no thought to how this could affect properties like Lyme which see such damaging peaks in demand.

The pre-pandemic weekend park and ride bus has not been reinstated (Stockport Council intend to ditch the P&R site and make it an ambulance station, but Hazel Grove railway station with its large car park often empty on a Sunday could be an even better terminus). No improvements have been made nor are underway whatsoever to enable better cycling into the park or storage of bikes, despite repeated requests to improve the surface of traffic-free West Park Drive in particular.

So of course the National Trust’s only intervention to this ongoing pollution-fest is to submit a planning application to… build an even bigger car park! Double the permanent spaces, even further into the park, with no suggestion of changing the dangerous entrance off the A6 which clearly cannot handle such traffic.

Proposals to change the vehicle entry booth as part of this were bizarrely scrapped but early plans I’ve obtained, through a freedom of information request to the Peak District National Park Authority, show even these designs didn’t involve moving the kiosk further into the park. They’d prescribed merely rebuilding it with a second window in-line and “peak time only” NT members lane. The Peak park authority reacted negatively to the design and materials; it was omitted from the final application.

An excerpt from the freedom of information request showing proposed admissions building arrangements
An excerpt from the FOI request showing previously unseen plans for the proposed admissions building replacement. After this was omitted from the car park application, no further proposals have yet been made to take this forward.

The latest news on the National Trust’s shocking car park application is that there is no news; we await a decision. Whatever happens, why do Lyme think such regular disruption from visitor traffic is acceptable? This is a call for the National Trust to finally and urgently act; to implement new policies to stop these ridiculous two mile queues and to give people better sustainable access to what should be our breathing space.

Update 17/10/23 — Lyme National Trust have provided the following response:

We know that the volume of traffic on the A6 is high and we’re continuing to work on ways to ease the pressure in a way that will help us to adapt for the future at Lyme. Our plans include improving efficiency at the admissions hut, improvements to the car park facilities to allow cars to park after a period of rain and encouraging more people to visit Lyme without a car.

To help minimise issues caused by traffic coming in and out of Lyme, we’re currently developing designs to improve the admissions hut to make entry more efficient. We’re close to being able to share designs for a hut that has four windows to allow us to process cars quicker and can be configured to support pay on exit, which will avoid cars queueing on entry. We will be trialling pay on exit on busy days to help remove cars from the road from Spring 2024.  We are looking forward to sharing these proposals with people and the planning department at Cheshire East Council; this will help ensure that the plans help as many people who are using Lyme as possible.

To do this we need to improve our car park. After periods of rain, around 50-60% of our car park cannot be used and the 350 hardstanding spaces fill up quickly, meaning that we have to close Lyme. By ensuring that all car park spaces are available all year round whatever the weather, we can avoid having to close the site, which will lessen the impact on the A6. Our plans are not about attracting more cars to Lyme.

While the majority of our visitors arrive at Lyme by car, we remain fully committed to encouraging people to arrive on foot, on bike and by public transport. We are currently working with partners to raise awareness of car free access to Lyme, including offering a free trail for families during October half term and launching an incentive for all visitors who arrive on bike or by public transport in November.

I hope I have provided the relevant information to illustrate our approach and we will keep sharing information as designs progress.

Lyme, 16/10/23

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About Peaks & Puddles

Hello, I'm Anthony. I started Peaks & Puddles to chart the ups and downs of cycling and walking the edges of the Peak District around Buxton, Macclesfield and Stockport, and to help more people explore this brilliant landscape between town and country. Find out more about me and Peaks & Puddles here.