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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Trouble at Lyme

Mr. Darcy, aka Colin Firth, is riding a white horse when he comes home to Pemberley, aka Lyme Park, in the BBC’s iconic 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. But these days, many of the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the gorgeous estate in Cheshire, England, each year arrive by car.

Now the National Trust, the UK heritage charity responsible for maintaining Lyme Park, wants to build a new 1,065-car parking lot to accommodate all those visitors—and some local residents are far from pleased. Opponents argue that the new lot will detract from the area’s natural beauty, clog roads with extra traffic, and do nothing to encourage mass-transit usage in an era of climate change.

“The National Trust’s future business model clearly still relies far too heavily on private cars being driven to its sites,” cycling blogger Anthony Sheridan told the Guardian newspaper. More than 1,300 people have signed Sheridan’s petition opposing the development, and some 300 have submitted comments on the planning application ahead of a May 19 deadline.

The National Trust insists the new lot won’t harm the environment or even increase the total number of parking spaces at Lyme. The current lot is susceptible to flooding, the Trust’s planning application says, with a majority of the spaces that are used for overflow on especially busy days unusable in bad weather—and, let’s face it, we’re talking here about a country renowned for its rain.

Excessive rain has wreaked havoc at Lyme before: In 2019, the gardens were ravaged by flooding, and two years later the National Trust announced plans to dredge silt out of the famous wet-shirt-Darcy lake as part of a flood-prevention effort.

The new plans involve “upgrading facilities and infrastructure to make it more resilient to extreme weather events,” a National Trust spokesperson told the Guardian. “We’ve carried out preliminary ecological surveys to minimize any impact and will be reverting the existing car park to rich grassland habitat.”

Who’s in the right? I’m not qualified to say. Back in Jane Austen's less democratic era, estate management may have seemed simpler -- but of course that’s because giant estates like Lyme Park were accessible only to a tiny, privileged minority, not to the hordes of visitors inspired by a man on a white horse.


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