THE slowdown in Cumbria’s pandemic-hit economy should be used as an opportunity to rethink how people travel and move to cleaner and greener modes of transport, says one of Carlisle’s best known environmental activists.

Green Party Carlisle city councillor Helen Davison spoke out after campaigners called for a London-style congestion charge to be introduced to the Lake District.

The group involved - the Ambleside Action For a Future (AAFAF) - says its proposal would allow the county to rebrand and market the Lake District as a new “green tourist destination” - although businesses hit by the downturn in tourism may regard the idea as potentially heaping more economic misery on their sector.

But Dr Davison, the Green Party city councillor for Belah and Kingmoor, said the idea should be seriously looked at.

“We do need to move to a place where we are discouraging car use and encouraging the use of public transport and other more sustainable modes of transport,” she said. “We really do need to be looking at that.”

She said that having fewer cars in Lake District would help to make it a more pleasant place for visitors and residents alike.

Asked about whether such a congestion charge would be appropriate for a city like Carlisle, she said: “What I’d like to see is really cheap, more affordable public transport.

“It’s critical to make sure there’s investment in public transport infrastructure.”

She said she wanted to see a future where walking, cycling, or using public transport became the natural default choice of people - but that requires investment.

By making Carlisle more accessible through those modes of travel, planners could take the car out of the city.

Dr Davison added: “Climate change is massive: it’s way bigger than the pandemic that we’re now facing and the economic crisis we’re going into. Coming out of this, we need to move forward in a way that is sustainable.”

She favours encouraging and incentivising a switch to greener transport rather than a congestion charge for a city such as Carlisle.

AAFAF wants to enforce a charge on vehicles driving into the Lake District to encourage more visitors to ditch their cars and use the train or other modes of public transport.

But with Cumbria’s economy so heavily reliant on tourism - it accounts for about £3bn of its £11bn total value - any major change in how tourism is approached in Cumbria is treated by authorities with understandable scrutiny.

The County Council’s highways and transport cabinet member Keith Little said that congestion charges have been discussed “multiple times”.

He said: “Many, many people are supportive of it, but I have mixed views on it,” he said.