Cairngorm & Glenmore: Long Term Management Consultation

NEMT commented on the draft Strategy for the long term management of Cairngorm and Glenmore, as follows:

I am writing on behalf of the North East Mountain Trust (NEMT), a voluntary body, based in the Grampian area, which represents the interests of hill-goers and those who enjoy visiting wild land. NEMT membership, comprising eleven hillwalking and climbing clubs along with individual members, totals around 900 people. NEMT maintains an interest on behalf of its members across the whole of Scotland but has a particular focus on the Cairngorms and the wider Grampian area.

NEMT welcomes the opportunity to comment. We support many of the proposals which we agree will create a more welcoming and better planned approach to the area.

Question 1: Set in the wider context, what in your view is the distinctive character and role of Cairngorm and Glenmore? How can it best contribute to the wider area?
There are two separate issues here - the distinctive character of Glenmore and Cairngorm resides in its diverse ecology, with various zones from high mountain plateau to low-level glen, and its outstanding and varied landscapes. The defined area cannot be divorced by arbitrary lines from the surrounding areas and the wider Cairngorms. Some specific parts of the area are particularly vulnerable to human impact, and reducing this must be a priority. Encouraging increased visitor numbers throws into relief the tensions between protecting the landscape and exploiting it for human gain whether the economy or enjoyment. Managing this dilemma is central to the wellbeing of the area. While this is acknowledged in the SWOT analysis, fuller consideration might have been given in the document as to how this might be achieved.
The document stresses the area's role primarily in economic and educational terms. Its conservation role needs to be given as high a profile. Because of the development of outdoor activities and easy access to beautiful scenery, Glenmore has become something of a 'honeypot', with an extension up Cairngorm primarily as a result of infrastructure in the form of access roads and carparks, and the funicular and its stations. The document suggests that it is desirable to increase this 'honeypot effect' or, at least, not lessen it, and it is disappointing that the document does not discuss the implications of this for other areas of the Park. A wider view needs to be taken. While it may be to the benefit of certain businesses to present Glenmore as a flagship destination, this may be to the disadvantage of commercial enterprises in other parts of the Park which do not gain from the same profile or level investment. There could also be benefits in spreading the load environmentally.
We suggest that much more attention be paid to "spreading the load", both within the document's area, and outside it, e.g. to Nethybridge and Boat of Garten to the north, and to Kincraig, Kingussie and Newtonmore to the south. Such attention would involve both public and private transport, and signage, which should seek to link up these areas rather than facilitating almost all access up Glenmore and beyond.
Question 2: What do you currently like about Cairngorm and Glenmore that you want to see retained? What would you like to change or improve?
Glenmore provides interests for a wide range of visitors, from those simply wanting to enjoy a few hours in magnificent scenery to those wanting to visit regularly for outdoor activities. NEMT welcomes the proposals to modernise what is available and make experience more welcoming and coherent.
One of the characteristics of the area is that a visitor does feel that he/she is leaving a town and entering a wilder, more natural environment. The document notes that the potential for more infrastructure development is limited (7.4). NEMT would like to see this stated more forcefully. The essential qualities of the area will be eroded if ribbon development is allowed along the corridor from Aviemore to the Glenmore settlement. There should be a presumption against any new building along this belt, with development being limited to replacement or upgrading of existing buildings such as the Youth Hostel and Visitor Centre. Further uphill, even more stringent conditions need to be imposed.
Question 3: Do you agree with the proposed vision, aim and objectives? If not, what would you change?
NEMT supports much of what is outlined here.
NEMT strongly supports the long-term aspiration of an integrated transport network. We do not think that this should be only a long-term objective but rather one which all parties involved should address as an immediate priority. Along with this, there should be active encouragement to reduce car use along the corridor. The benefits in terms of reduced pressure on parking and carbon reduction are obvious. Imagination will be needed to create flexible arrangements to suit various types of visitor.
We suggest that the feasibility of banning all but the most essential car traffic beyond Coylumbridge in favour of various forms of public transport be examined seriously. Experience in other countries (e.g. Zermatt and Saas Fee in Switzerland, for one) shows that this is perfectly possible, and the many - and frankly rather tedious - reiteration of terms such as "world class", "iconic" and "unique" cannot be taken seriously without such consideration. Exceptions would have to be made for local residents and perhaps some staff, and possibly a limited number of arrivals by car (e.g. out-of-hours, or for the disabled) might be allowed for a significant fee, but a regular 16-hour bus-and-trailer shuttle service, plus group buses and minibuses (again for a fee), should provide a reasonable substitute, and avoid the substantial costs of staffing and maintaining car parks, roads and traffic management in the area. The benefits in terms of reduced motor traffic and easier walking/cycling access are obvious, as well as are the positive energy/GHG effects. If and when effected, this proposal would allow reduction or removal of the ugly roads and car parks that currently disfigure the upper area.
Question 4: Do you agree with the proposed approach and suggested headline areas of work identified? If not, what would you add or change?
NEMT welcomes the recommendation to increase the area of montane woodland, the emphasis on species conservation, and the suggestion regarding engaging visitors in conservation work. But why limit the latter to visitors? The potential for involving local people more fully in conservation is important too, and the desirability of doing so is strong.
It is obvious that unless increased pressures are carefully managed from an environmental perspective, the experience will become less attractive and the businesses which hope to benefit from improved facilities will suffer.
NEMT also supports the opportunities for environmental education.
Question 5: Are there other specific issues relating to Glenmore that you think this plan should address?
Mention is made of signage at various points in the document. Good signage on the road, at the start of woodland trails, and at critical junctions along these, is clearly important.
NEMT is strongly opposed to signage in open countryside and in wilder and remote areas for three reasons. Firstly, signs are visibly intrusive and remove the 'wild feel' when travelling through such areas. Secondly, they could encourage people who are inexperienced and ill-equipped to venture where they could be at risk. Thirdly, such way-marking is contrary to Scotland's lengthy tradition of self-reliance in the hills. It is important that Natural Retreats is aware of these risks and traditions, and operates within their context.
Question 6: Do you support the proposals? If not, what other proposals would help deliver the enhancements sought?
The Visitor Management Plan will undoubtedly make the area more welcoming and will improve facilities and access to them. Good toilet arrangements in such a busy area as Loch Morlich and the ski area are essential. NEMT would like to stress again that it does not think that there should be any further new build of houses or commercial premises along the whole corridor except to replace end-of-life or incongruous existing development, or the unique 'feel' of the area will be lost forever.
Question 7: Any Additional Comments
1) The document is entitled 'Cairngorms and Glenmore' but its prime focus is the latter. NEMT considers the consultation to be inadequate without fuller consideration being given to Cairngorm Mountain and the current Natural Retreats proposals.
NEMT fully appreciates that Natural Retreats needs to make a commercial success of its management of the ski area. The company has stated that part of this will involve enhancing the visitor experience by making it more family-friendly and less weather-dependent, and the company has outlined its plans in this regard. However, the company will also no doubt feel the need to maximise visitor numbers, and the scope for increase is primarily in summer. We are alarmed that the company has, to date, seemed coy about providing details regarding the activities it proposes to develop to attract more summer visitors. Such developments are bound to have environmental impacts within the ski area and possibly beyond it, and we think that plans should have been made public at the time of the public sessions which the company organised regarding the re-design of the base station.
Related to this is the importance of not altering the closed-system arrangements for the top station. NEMT is aware that from time to time pressure is brought to change this system, in order to allow visitors to leave the top station in summer. NEMT remains strongly in favour of retaining the current restrictions as the overriding need to protect vulnerable areas of the plateau has not altered. It considers that any (further) moves to institute an "open access" system would need EU approval since the original funding for the funicular derived from this source. Secondly, the initial drawings/mock-ups we have seen of the proposed new base station are of concern, as we do not consider what is proposed to be sympathetic to the environment. Square corners with large exposures of concrete should have no place in an area where any buildings should be designed to blend in with the surrounding land forms. We have been advised by the company that what has been presented in public to date are only preliminary proposals. We very much hope this is the case. We assume that the Park and landowners will be working with Natural Retreats on the final design of the infrastructure prior to a full planning application. The new buildings will need to last for a very long time, and it is essential that their design is absolutely right for their setting.
2) As is common in similar documents, the role of the key NGOs with a particular interest in Park is hardly acknowledged (para 2.3). Although some of these NGOs are based outside the Park, it is a national park (claimed to "rival any of the world's best National Parks"), and these communities of interest have considerable knowledge of the history and issues affecting the Park, and can act as important 'critical friends'. Many of their members visit the area regularly and so support the businesses there. It is about time that they were welcomed more fully 'into the tent'.

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