Cairngorms National Park Authority

- Consultation Drafts of the Local Plan and associated Strategic Environmental Assessment

Local PlanThe Cairngorms National Park Authority recently issued draft copies of the above documents for consultation. These are important as they set out the way ahead for the Park. If they are right, then we will all have an easier time in the future. NEMT commented on both documents. As they really form a combined whole, many of the comments apply to both. For this short summary, I will treat them as one and herewith provide an outline of the more important points.

An over-riding general comment is that the documents would be considerably improved, if the Park Authority agreed to adopt some form of the Zoning Principle, where the park is divided into a number of zones of varying environmental sensitivity. Thus, a development that would be acceptable in, say, Aviemore, would be completely unacceptable in an inner park zone. Similarly, new forestry plantations may well be acceptable in some zones and not in others. Formal adoption of a zoning strategy would bring clarity to all and enable increased and stringent protection of the inner park areas while allowing necessary development in the surrounding communities.

Following on from the above, the whole problem of providing local housing needs to be addressed. This requires a number of thorny problems, such as possible residency criteria, to be tackled if we are to avoid simply building more holiday homes.

The area's unique importance in a national context needs to be emphasised. Planning decisions need to balance both the national importance and local requirements. The area has the most persistent snow of anywhere in the UK and is the largest block of arctic-alpine land in the UK.

It truly is a national asset. Recognising this more explicitly would help to set in context issues such as new electricity pylons, which might be deemed to have a national importance that could over-ride local concerns.

One interesting issue is where to draw the baseline. Man has deforested and cultivated the lower lying land over a long time; resulting in significant changes to the landscape. Similarly, ongoing closure of heavy industry and fitting of Flue Gas Desulphurisation in UK power stations is causing acid rain pollution to decline significantly. Do we consider the current level of soil acidity to be the baseline or should we go further back before the industrial revolution? Where does prevention of forest regeneration due to excessive deer numbers fit into this?

Regular readers of Mountain Views won’t be surprised to see that we argued that the section on permitted development rights need to be tightened up. At present, landowners can build roads for shooting access, simply by saying that they are for forestry or agriculture.

Tourism, with its associated economic benefits, is seen as a positive development. However, common sense as well as real evidence from Switzerland suggests that it can lead to unacceptable damage. There is a need to study what additional controls on the expansion of tourism, if any, are necessary.

The documents refer to limited data. This is a complex issue. On some issues, such as the effects of excessive deer numbers, we don’t make full use of the data that we already have. Would additional data be of any benefit? On the other hand, even basic data concerning the highly important subject of housing expansion is missing.

There are, of course, other, more detailed comments. The intention of this short piece is to give a flavour of the general issues. For those who are interested, copies of either document can be obtained from the park office in Ballater

Dave Windle, Editorial Team

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