Photographer snaps over chaos caused by Dunstable Downs car park closure

The National Trust has been accused of causing traffic chaos and putting lives at risk by keeping its car parks at Dunstable Downs closed at the weekend.
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Photographer Tony Margiocchi has hit out at the charity for double standards after keeping the gates at the Downs shut while opening its Whipsnade Heath car park less than a mile away.

The Prime Minister has said people can travel by car for “unlimited outdoor exercise” since last Wednesday and also sit in parks. Subsequently The National Trust told the Gazette there would be a gradual and phased reopening of its sites, but the safety of its staff, volunteers and the public was its priority.

But with the Downs car park remaining shut at the weekend, Mr Margiocchi said chaotic scenes of car after car parked on the verges beside double yellow lines had been caused by the Trust’s stance.

He said: “I am angry because these scenes were caused 100% by the Trust. They knew what would happen, the people just exercised their right to go where they could socially distance on a nice weekend.

“Look at the pictures, any crowds? No, just folks taking care, socially distancing and forced to park in a stupid way because of the Trust. I do not condone bad parking, but the people have rights and it is not for the Trust to take those rights away from them.”

He said back at Easter the Downs experienced one “silly day” where the public were not social distancing. But Mr Margiocchi said: “It was new to them, very new to them. That however is the benchmark the National Trust refer to whenever you question them on opening car parks.

“The National Trust do a great job on The Downs. However, that which they ‘manage’ was here well before they came up here.

Busy scenes due to the car park closure. Photo: Tony MargiocchiBusy scenes due to the car park closure. Photo: Tony Margiocchi
Busy scenes due to the car park closure. Photo: Tony Margiocchi

“The people have a right to access the land on top of Dunstable Downs at any time they feel like accessing it. They also have the right to access parking areas either free or by payment. That way the roads are kept clear and safe.

“The land is possibly now in joint ownership with Central Beds Council. It is there for the public to access when they like. Who are the Trust to lay down when we may access the Downs? They are NOT the law.

“By opening one car park, they left themselves wide open. That showed that they were refusing to allow the public access to land that is there for them. The present National Trust are getting above themselves, if they own the land that is one thing, but I don’t think they do because if they did they would secure it. This land is there for everyone, at any time, not at the whim of the Trust.”

The National Trust made parking available again at Dunstable Downs on Monday.

A closed car park.  Photo: Tony MargiocchiA closed car park.  Photo: Tony Margiocchi
A closed car park. Photo: Tony Margiocchi

A spokesman added: “Land at Dunstable Downs is either owned by the National Trust or owned by Central Bedfordshire Council and managed by the Trust on their behalf.

“We have worked closely with the council throughout the lockdown period and will continue to do so as we move towards gradually re-opening all of our car parks and more of our facilities.

"The Downs has been open to visitors throughout lockdown and been a fantastic resource for local people able to get here on foot or by bike.

“We have worked hard to ensure our car parks can be used safely and the main Dunstable Downs car park reopened on Monday and will remain open from 10am-4pm each day.

The Whipsnade Heath car park open nearby.  Photo: Tony MargiocchiThe Whipsnade Heath car park open nearby.  Photo: Tony Margiocchi
The Whipsnade Heath car park open nearby. Photo: Tony Margiocchi

“You do not need to book, but visitors may notice some changes to their visit, such as fewer spaces being in use to enable social distancing.

“Getting staff back from furlough, to manage our car parks and facilities, and ensuring we maintain their safety, has to be carefully planned in line with government guidance.

“We have been pleased to welcome people back to the Downs and want to thank visitors for working with us whilst we all adapt to the necessary changes that ensure we can provide a safe and enjoyable visit.”

In a video posted on Twitter, Beds Police's Central Community Team said of the parking situation: "This is absolutely irresponsible, selfish,dangerous and just shows how ignorant people can be. Enforcement officers have been called to issue tickets. If the car park is closed then its closed there is no excuse for parking on double yellows like this."