On 20th July 2017 the House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Berkeley “that this House takes note of the transport needs of remote island communities in England.” The Bishop of Newcastle, Rt Revd Christine Hardman, spoke about the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in Northumberland:
The Lord Bishop of Newcastle: My Lords, islands are special places and I am so grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for this debate and for learning, in his speech and those which have followed, so much more about the context of the Isles of Scilly. I discovered the Isles of Scilly only a few years ago. They are magical but after the boat trip over there, I understood why you can buy fridge magnets saying “I survived the ‘Scillonian’”.
Today, it is the transport needs of another remote island community I wish to speak about: the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in Northumberland. It is a very special place in my diocese. The island has been designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty. There is a national nature reserve covering 3,500 hectares. It has a rich historical and spiritual heritage including Lindisfarne Castle, owned by the National Trust, and Lindisfarne Priory, managed by English Heritage. The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is of course where St Aidan founded his monastery in the 7th century and based his mission to the people of Northumbria. For many it is a place of pilgrimage and if anyone who is able has not yet had the experience of walking barefoot the Pilgrim’s Way, following the poles across the water at low tide, then I commend it to your Lordships as a simply wonderful experience.
For the majority who do not walk the Pilgrim’s Way, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne has a road link to the mainland. This is a tidal causeway and Holy Island becomes an island twice a day every day of the year, with the times of access changing with the tidal pattern. At the beginning and end of access, traffic can be very heavy on the narrow causeway. Despite numerous clear warning signs, unbelievably, quite often someone chances their arm and writes off their car in the rising waters and needs rescuing. The tide is not under human control. It can be very inconvenient, but this natural rhythm of the sea is treasured by the residents, who number just over 100, many of whose families have been on the island for generations. The time when the tide rises and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne truly becomes an island once again is treasured by those who live there and those who are lucky enough to stay overnight on the island. As the vicar of Holy Island puts it,
“when the cars depart, the birds reinhabit the streets and the island becomes a very special sanctuary”.
The transport need of this remote island community is not to increase access but to manage access so as many people as possible can enjoy this special place. The manager of the national nature reserve believes it is not people but vehicles that are the problem. He urges that thought be given now to future-proofing the island so it does not become a giant car park. He believes that some sort of park-and-ride scheme may offer the solution.
Whatever the solution may be, it is important that the islanders’ voices be heard. We have heard this plea made for the residents of the Scilly Isles. It is very easy for the voices of the people who live on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne to be drowned out by the many other interests. Large bodies have an interest, but the islanders’ interests must be heard. Islands are special places. One thing is clear: each island is unique and there can be no one-size-fits-all solution. In every place, we need to protect each island’s environment and listen to the needs of those who live and work there, and those needs must be prioritised. On the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, the Isles of Scilly and our other wonderful islands we must not inadvertently destroy that which we love the most.
Lord Bradshaw (LD): My Lords, I shall follow what the right reverend Prelate said. I used to work in Northern Ireland, and the Giant’s Causeway is in some ways a similar tourist attraction. The National Trust does not let you approach close to the Giant’s Causeway. It has a bus service which brings you down the narrow road from the car park, which is not only a bit more remote but is out of sight. The idea of linking an island, where it can be done, with some form of park-and-ride service is a very good one. I cannot see why the people whose cars are driven over there should not pay the cost of it, but somebody needs to get on top of the problem and do something about it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport (Lord Callanan) (Con): My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for securing this debate on the transport needs of remote island communities in England. I know that he has for many years taken a keen interest in the future of island connectivity—in particular, to his beloved Isles of Scilly. In the presence of so many other admirers of the Isles of Scilly, at this point I should say in confession, in front of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, that I have never been to the Isles of Scilly but I have been many times to Lindisfarne, the holy island in the north-east but, given the glowing descriptions from many noble Lords, I look forward to the opportunity to visit the Scilly Islands.
Most of the speakers in the debate have concentrated on the Isles of Scilly, except for the right reverend Prelate, who waxed lyrical about the wonderful Holy Island, in Northumberland, which, as I said, I have visited many times. There is indeed a road connection for part of the year, and it is a source of amazement to me—as it will be to other Members from the north-east—that every year there are tales of people’s cars floating off the causeway. I assure your Lordships that it is not possible for the council to put any bigger signs indicating the required crossing times and the consequences if you do not adhere to them. The most amazing thing is that normally, these are not people who speak a foreign language and do not understand English, but people from the local area or other communities in the United Kingdom, who just wilfully ignore the signs and see their car floating away in the distance as the tide comes in. They normally take the rescue and shelter halfway across. There is no legislation against stupidity, I fear.
I take note of the right reverend Prelate’s suggestion of a park-and-ride scheme. I am sure that she will understand that is a matter for the local authorities to determine. I am sure that under its new leadership, Northumberland County Council will look closely at her suggestion. She is fortunate to represent what is in my biased opinion one of the nicest dioceses in the country.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. We have learned a great deal about the problems and issues around travel and transport mainly to and from the Isles of Scilly. However, it was good to hear the right reverend Prelate talk about the challenges of getting to Holy Island, and the joys and benefits of island communities, with or without cars, once you get there.