Almost two-thirds of Cumbrian businesses say that traffic congestion is a problem, with the A591 through the Lake District and the A595 in West Cumbria the main culprits.
Those are two of the more predictable findings of our survey of transport issues, which also revealed an appetite for reopening the railway line between Penrith and Workington, a road crossing of Morecambe Bay, and flights from Carlisle Airport to Amsterdam Schipol.
The Chamber is gathering information from businesses to shape our response to Transport for the North’s consultation on its draft Strategic Transport Plan.
Julian Whittle, the Chamber’s Business Engagement Manager, said: “This document will be the blueprint for transport improvements and spending across the north of England for the next 30 years.
“It’s vital, therefore, that Cumbria’s needs are recognised.
“Our view of the draft is that it lacks detail and a list of prioritised schemes. We hope that omission will be rectified in the final version.”
To date, 128 businesses have completed our online survey. If you haven’t done so yet, click here to do it now. Here is a summary of the findings so far.
We asked: Is traffic congestion a problem for your business? If so, identify particular blackspots and explain how these affect you.
62% of respondents said congestion was a problem.
The road cited most often was the A591, particularly between Grasmere and Windermere, along with the A5074 from Windermere to Bowness.
One said: “My business is in Ambleside. If there is ever a hold up because of lights on the Windermere-Ambleside road it causes chaos.
“This leaves customers very cross at the additional journey time and does not help either me or my staff trying to get to or home from work. Something has to be done. The Lake District cannot cope with the traffic it currently has.”
A close second to the A591 was the A595 between Carlisle and Sellafield.
One respondent said: “I have a 23-mile commute from Seascale to Workington. Getting stuck behind slow-moving vehicles is a fact of life.
“If there is an accident I am often diverted, which can result in very lengthy delays. The worst delay meant that the journey took me just under two hours. As a result I am sometimes late opening with the potential of lost sales.”
Other blackspots identified were the A590 through Ulverston, the A66 in West Cumbria, the A69 in Carlisle, Kendal town centre and Carlisle city centre.
We asked: What are your priority road improvement schemes for Cumbria or elsewhere? Explain how these would benefit your business.
The A595 was top of the list for improvement, with calls to upgrade much of the route to dual carriageway and to build the Whitehaven Relief Road.
Next was the A66, particularly between Penrith and West Cumbria – the Government has already committed to upgrading the A66 east of Penrith to dual carriageway all the way to the A1 at Scotch Corner.
There were calls to improve the A590, including a bypass for Ulverston, or to circumvent it entirely by building a road crossing of Morecambe Bay.
And there was support for the proposed Kendal Northern Access Route and the Carlisle Southern Link Road.
Potholes and poor road maintenance were constant complaints.
We asked: Do the cost of parking, lack of public parking spaces or inadequate public transport affect your business? If so, explain how.
60% cited these as a problem. Lack of parking was the most common complaint, particularly but not exclusively in the Central Lakes – Whitehaven has a shortage of spaces too.
The high cost of parking was cited frequently, along with calls for pay-on-departure car parks to encourage shoppers and visitors to stay longer.
One respondent said: “We have recently closed a shop in Keswick and one of the issues with Keswick is the rip-off parking charges and enforcement.”
Lack of bus services was the third most-raised issue, particularly in rural areas and in the evenings everywhere.
One said: “Lack of public transport means that staff recruitment becomes more difficult for access to employment opportunities.”
We asked: HS2 proposes that its high-speed trains from London will pass through Cumbria without stopping, forcing passengers to change at Preston. Would this affect your business, and if so how?
61% said this would be damaging, 35% said it wouldn’t and 4% weren’t sure.
One said: “Why bypass the second largest English tourist destination outside of London? Madness.”
Another: “Not stopping in Cumbria is crazy. A big inconvenience and hugely disruptive on journeys to London.” And another: “This will be an absolute disaster for Cumbria.”
We asked: Are you content with the current rail service in Cumbria? If not, explain how any deficiencies affect your business.
A hefty 75% of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the rail service.
Reliability was the main issue, with complaints about trains arriving late or not at all – particularly on the Coastal Line from Carlisle to Lancaster via Barrow.
The Coastal Line appears to be a real bugbear, with calls for faster trains, more trains, a clock-face timetable with trains departing at the same minutes past each hour, and more modern rolling stock.
One respondent said: “The trains are completely unreliable, there are a huge number of cancellations at short notice and regularly late trains. The stock is awful and way behind the times.
“We do business in 34 countries and have international visitors every week. We cannot rely on the train to transport visitors as it is so unreliable.”
Elsewhere, there were calls for more trains to Windermere but, perhaps surprisingly, only a handful of complaints about the cost of rail travel.
We asked: What are your priorities for improving rail services in Cumbria? Explain how these would benefit your business.
The top suggestion was reopening the line from Penrith to Keswick, with several also calling for its reinstatement beyond Keswick to Workington.
There were calls to improve time keeping and reliability, replace older rolling stock, provide more trains and faster trains on the Coastal Line, provide more through trains to Manchester Airport, and electrify the Lancaster-Barrow and Oxenholme-Windermere lines.
We asked: Scheduled passenger flights from Carlisle Lake District Airport are due to begin in June, initially to London Southend, Belfast and Dublin. Do you anticipate using any of these services and if so which?
61% plan to use at least one of these routes, which will encourage Carlisle Airport’s operator Stobart Group.
39% said they would fly to London Southend, 29% to Dublin (some for onward connections to the US) and 18% to Belfast.
We asked: What, if any, other routes from Carlisle Airport would you like to see?
A number of respondents suggested “Europe” without naming a specific destination but, of those that did specify, Amsterdam Schipol was the number one choice, well ahead of Paris in second place.
One said: “A link to Amsterdam, the closest single international hub would be transformational.”
Within the UK, there were calls for links to other London Airports – City was mentioned as being preferable to Southend.
We asked: Have you any comments to make on Transport for the North’s draft Strategic Transport plan?
Unsurprisingly, few had the time to wade through TfN’s 96-page report but those that did were in the main critical.
A repeated complaint was that the Lake District is barely mentioned.
Respondents also said the report lacked specifics and appeared to be a biased towards major cities such as Manchester.
Three pointed out that there was no consideration of Northern Tidal Power Gateways’ proposal for crossings of Morecambe Bay and the Duddon Estuary.
We asked: Are there any other transport issues you would like to raise?
Lack of public transport and high fares were the main issues mentioned, along with inadequacy of provision for cyclists.
A handful of respondents called for a Morecambe Bay crossing.
Julian added: “As with our consultation on migrant labour last year, the survey has confirmed things that we expected and thrown up a few surprises.
“The issues of traffic congestion on the A591 and A595 are well documented, but it’s interesting to read the unprompted comments about a Morecambe Bay crossing and re-opening the Penrith-Workington railway.
“Our next step is to set up a working group of businesses to look at these issues in detail before we draw up our response to TfN’s consultation.”© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce