National Parks (Scotland) Bill

NEMT's response to Scottish Executive on the draft Bill

The North East Mountain Trust (NEMT) welcome the opportunity to comment on the draft National Parks (Scotland) Bill. NEMT believe that, broadly speaking, the contents of the draft Bill are fundamentally sound and is pleased that some of the comments which we made in response to previous consultations have been incorporated in the draft Bill.

Notwithstanding the foregoing NEMT would wish to make the following more detailed observations:

  1. NEMT do not disagree in principle with the aims set out in Section 1(3). The greater weight given to the natural and cultural heritage is to be welcomed. Nevertheless NEMT believe that this commitment is so important that it should be clearly set out alongside the aims rather than in a separate Section (Section 8(5)) later in the document. It is also unclear whether the list of aims is ranked in order of relative importance and some clarification is required in this regard. If a rank order is proposed then NEMT believe that aim (c) should be promoted above aim (b) and that it should be made clear that aim (d) is subsidiary to the other aims. The objective of ensuring that each of the four aims is achieved to the greatest possible extent (Section 1(2)(c)) is unsatisfactory since pursuing one aim may restrict the potential to pursue another. This comment draws attention to the need to rank aims in order of importance.
  2. We can envisage a situation where there may be a conflict between the dual aims of conservation and enhancement of the natural and cultural heritage. For instance there may be a conflict between deer stalking/grouse shooting (cultural heritage) and enhancing biodiversity (natural heritage), or between the restoration of Derry Lodge (cultural heritage) and restricting visitor numbers, preserving wild land and promoting the long walk in (conservation interests). Which part of this aim would take precedence in such circumstances?
  3. NGOs such as RSPB, NEMT and LINK and bodies such as SNH are the main sources of expertise on conservation issues in the prospective National Parks whilst recreational users (skiers, walkers, climbers etc) will be the main users of the Parks and would bring a substantial amount of money into local economies from outwith the National Park areas. With this in mind NEMT is concerned that there is no requirement for representatives of these interest groups (eg the Recreational Forum in the Cairngorms) to actively participate in National Park designation and implementation. It is also of concern that there is no statutory requirement for representation by these bodies on the National Park Board or the advisory groups. It is acknowledged that the individual designation orders for each Park will have the power to specify the groups that should be actively involved. Nevertheless NEMT believe that the opportunity should have been taken at the draft Bill stage to give firmer guidance to ensure that these interest groups cannot be overlooked. Controls are to be placed on the expertise of members appointed to the National Park Authority. Surely Section 18(2) should similarly specify that members of advisory groups should also have a special knowledge, skill or experience which is pertinent to the running of a National Park.
  4. With particular reference to the Cairngorms the NEMT believe that the zoning of land is important to preserve and enhance the unique wildlife and conservation value of some parts of the Park (eg the Cairngorm interior and plateau) whilst allowing sustainable development in other less sensitive locations (eg. the fringes of Spey valley settlements). The value of this approach is explicitly mentioned in Section 18 of the Policy Memorandum but does not seem to be carried forward into the draft Bill. NEMT believe that the Bill should make an explicit commitment to the value of the zoning approach to land management and planning in National Parks.
  5. Section 7 of the Policy Memorandum states that there is no standard model for a National Park. NEMT would point out that the IUCN has formulated a standard model of National Parks which envisages six categories of National Park ranging from those areas which require the most protection from human disturbance to those that require the least. We believe that it may be possible to usefully apply this model to National Parks in Scotland or to sub-areas of National Parks eg. more restrictive protection for ecologically vulnerable areas. The highest possible IUCN designation should be pursued for each area with some of the core areas eg the Cairngorm plateau worthy of Category 2 designation.
  6. Section 9 gives a designation order the responsibility for determine the planning powers of the National Park authority. NEMT would reiterate the comments that we made in response to the previous SNH consultation. The National Park authorities will only be truly effective if they are given both the strategic responsibility for the formulation of the National Park Plan and the power to implement the Plan via development control, enforcement, project promotion and implementation. Section 3 of the Policy Memorandum acknowledges that the voluntary principle adopted by the Cairngorm Partnership has not had the full authority to give strong leadership and the direction needed to make difficult decisions. In the light of the foregoing we believe that it is essential that the National Park Authorities are given both the powers and the finances to actively shape the future of the National Parks for which they have responsibility. A full and unrestricted range of planning powers is an essential element of a truly effective National Park. Development control powers should be extended to control over afforestation and the formation of tracks for any purpose.

    If it is decided that National Parks should be responsible solely for the National Park Plan there should, at the very least, be a requirement for Local Authorities to comply with the policies contained in the Plan.

    NEMT do not believe it is appropriate to allow the National Park Authority to delegate any function or functions it chooses to Local Authorities (Section 15(1) of the draft Bill). NEMT are only too aware that it was a local authority that was responsible for giving planning approval for the Cairngorm Funicular. We would suggest that the Bill should restrict the scope of delegation to routine administration and sub-contract work only.

  7. NEMT believe that the commitment made in the Policy Background to Marine Parks should be carried through to the body of the draft Bill.

NEMT look forward to commenting in detail on the specific proposals contained in the designation order for the Cairngorms National Park and request that a longer consultation period is given to allow a comprehensive response to the very important issues which will be raised by that document.

Jennifer Cook, Ken Forbes, Daniel Lewis, Carl Morris, Donald Thomas, March 2000

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