National Park

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:58 pm on 8 June 1999.

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Motion debated,

That the Parliament:

(a) recognises the importance of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, the first National Park in Scotland, as an area to be maintained as one of outstanding natural beauty and for potential in terms of social and economic development.

(b) encourages the Scottish Executive to consider bringing forward the necessary legislation in relation to the setting up of the first National Park for Scotland at an early opportunity.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour 5:07, 8 June 1999

I am sorry to see that so many Scottish National party members have left, but not to worry. In February, the Government announced its intention of establishing Loch Lomond and the Trossachs as the first national park in Scotland. The designation recognises the world-class character of this natural resource and tourist attraction. It is an initiative that deserves and has received widespread support, and that could offer a model for developments elsewhere in Scotland.

There are, however, many issues still to be considered, and I would like to highlight three of them. First, the national park offers an opportunity to safeguard an area of great natural beauty and the potential sensitively to promote the social and economic development of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs area. Together, those objectives provide a major opportunity for the achievement of sustainable development that creates jobs and also sustain communities in a way that conserves the outstanding landscape. It would, however, be foolish to underestimate the tensions between the two objectives, but those must be resolved.

Secondly, the precise boundaries of the national park for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs need to be decided. Such a decision must be made with as much local consultation as possible, but we must learn from the experience in England and Wales. It is important that boundaries can be reviewed and changed as local circumstances change.

Thirdly, I will turn directly to the issue of democratic accountability. As Scottish Natural Heritage has argued, we need to promote local community involvement in the identification, governance and management of national parks. The present interim committee, which encompasses the three council areas involved and includes individuals from the various interested groups will, with legislation, be replaced by a national park authority. Through the legislative process, Parliament must look further into the methods and rules for appointing members to a national park authority.

My local authority, Stirling Council, is keenly concerned with the development of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs national park. Through a phase of extensive consultation with key partners, the council has already drawn up a comprehensive and far-reaching rural strategy that recognises that the rural landscape around Stirling is a major resource. It is a key amenity for residents and it plays a significant role in the local and national economy. The Loch Lomond and Trossachs park initiative must be developed alongside and as part of the broader rural strategy for Stirling and the adjacent areas of Argyll and Bute and west Dunbartonshire.

Much remains to be done if the vision of the first national park for Scotland is to become a reality. The Parliament must view this development as a priority and must ensure that the necessary legislation is brought forward at an early opportunity.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 5:10, 8 June 1999

My first concern when there is talk of setting up new Government organisations and of changing things is always the control of such organisations, which Dr Jackson mentioned. That concern is understandable, given the years of Conservative rule when privatisation was the name of the game and when decision making, even for institutions with a public remit, was controlled by unelected representatives.

Unfortunately, despite Labour's promises at the 1997 election of quango bonfires, the quangos of Scotland are still with us and their number has increased. Will Dr Jackson let us know today her party's real intention for the control of the national park? Will it be controlled by Labour party selection or by democratic election?

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

There is a problem with the computer screens, so I need to clarify who wants to speak. Dr Simpson, do you want to contribute to this debate?

Photo of Keith Raffan Keith Raffan Liberal Democrat 5:11, 8 June 1999

I support everything that Dr Jackson has said. I am sorry that I was not able to ask her for permission in advance to speak in this, the first debate on members' business. I hope that she will not object to my speaking.

It is important to have debates on constituency issues such as this, and I am glad that the first debate is on this issue. I have not attended any consultation meetings on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs national park, although I have attended a meeting on the proposed Cairngorms national park.

It is right that we should set up such parks and I support the Administration in doing so. Scotland is way behind the rest of the country on this issue. I was a member of Parliament in Wales for nine years and saw how valuable the Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons national parks were to conservation and to ensuring an integrated approach, so that the difficult balance between conservation and the environment on the one hand and local economic development on the other could be struck. I do not agree with much that Lord Sewel says, but he has said that it is important that initiatives such as the national parks do not become "a living museum". He is right about that.

During the European by-election, I participated in a consultation exercise in Ballater. One of the most valuable things that I learnt from that-certainly more valuable than the election result-was the importance of participation by local people in the running of national parks. Ballater is a relatively small village, so I was immensely impressed by the number of local people from every aspect of community life, including mountain rescue, who turned up because they wanted to have a say in how the national park would be set up and run. At one point, when we broke up into small working groups, I sat with members of the mountain rescue team. They had detailed inside knowledge of the entire Cairngorms area, which made the consultation a fascinating exercise.

It is important not only to involve local people in committees when national parks are set up, but also to ensure that local people, who know the area inside out, help manage the parks. At the meeting that I attended, one or two people pontificated who had probably never been up a hill in their lives-not even the ones outside Ballater, which are not particularly high. However, some of the people there, such as the mountain rescue team, had a tremendous contribution to make.

The success or failure of the national parks will depend on the extent to which we involve local people in their management. Such parks mark a tremendous advance across the board, in conservation of the environment and in planning, as the parks will have planning authority devolved to them from local councils. In effect, they will take over responsibility for the entire area, which makes a lot of sense.

I strongly support the principle of national parks, on which I believe Lord James Douglas-Hamilton attempted to take the initiative when he was a minister some time ago. In an article in The Scotsman in January 1989 he was reported as saying that he hoped to encourage the setting up of national parks in Scotland. I hope that real progress can now be made. We have been way behind England and Wales and it is time that we caught up.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

If members keep their remarks to three minutes, almost every member who wants to speak will be able to do so.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 5:15, 8 June 1999

I must declare an interest in this issue. I have spent many years representing the Trossachs-for the past five years as a member of the local council and before that as a community councillor and community councillor chairman covering the area up to Strath Ard-and am especially interested in the welfare of the people who would be affected by this measure.

I hate to think how many meetings I have attended where fears have been expressed about the interests of those who live and try to earn a living in a particular area. Time and again, under the previous Labour administration in Stirling, many of the comments that were made were not listened to. At one stage, no one living in the park was sitting on the various bodies that then existed to discuss the issue or to represent the views of those living in the park. I found that distasteful. I will make the point-Dr Jackson has passed it on and I hope that the minister gets the message-that there is a vital need for input from the people who live and work in that area. They must be present at and able to participate in any discussions.

The community councils in the area fought hard for representation. I, as their councillor, fought hard to try to ensure that we would have a two-tier management system; one for the Trossachs and one for Loch Lomond. I am afraid I have to say that the lord who was responsible refused that and decided that we were only going to have one body. In one stroke, local accountability and input were removed.

I am sure that that is not what this Parliament is about. I know that earlier on I accused someone of being parochial. I admit to being parochial now, but it is because we must get these things right. In the future, when we consider national parks in other areas of Scotland, I am sure that things will roll out. It is vital that we convey the need for local democratic input. Much lip service is paid to that principle, but I would like to see it in action for the people of the Trossachs.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 5:17, 8 June 1999

My concerns about the setting up of national parks reflect some of the things that have already been said. With respect to rural Scotland, Scottish Green party policy is that we would like much of it to be considered not as a wonderful and beautiful wilderness, but as a devastated land that was once heavily forested with incredible biodiversity and which was also well populated. When setting up a national park, one should keep in mind that we do not want to see the rest of rural Scotland as a national park.

The second point is the concept of carrying capacity. National parks are going to become extremely popular. I have been down to the lake district on a couple of occasions-indeed I was looking at a woodland area there just a few weeks ago-and in the summer the area becomes intolerable for the people who live there. The number of people visiting the park begins to impinge on the area that one wishes to protect and keep beautiful.

There is much to learn from Yosemite national park and we would benefit from sending one person there-or perhaps we should invite one person from there to address us so that we cannot be accused of junketing-to learn about the problems that they have had, which, to a large extent, they have solved extremely well.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

With members' agreement, I propose to allow the debate to continue for an extra four minutes, on account of our IT problems earlier.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 5:18, 8 June 1999

I congratulate Dr Jackson on raising a debate on a matter which the people of Scotland will expect us to solve in a way relatively free from party political considerations.

I would like to declare a number of interests. The second proposed national park in the Cairngorms falls within my constituency and many of the general issues that Dr Jackson touched upon have a similar, if slightly different, effect in my constituency.

The approach of this chamber should be to select the best elements from the rest of the world's experience of national parks and to learn from them, especially the lake district where the pressure has been unacceptable.

I should perhaps declare a further interest. Early this morning I went for a run, although that is perhaps an exaggeration of the speed, on the west Highland way. I ventured up Conic hill. The view from the top can be bettered only by views from the Cairngorms. I happened to meet a local shepherd and I asked him his views about this debate, because I was aware that it was in the business bulletin. He said that we must not have another quango, and a national park where the board of management is dominated by people who are not based in the area and who are not knowledgeable about local issues. I would like to see an elected body, comprising a majority of local residents, which has access to expert advice. That is suitable and necessary.

The second issue is one of expense. How much will the park cost per year? How will it be funded? Will the Labour party take this opportunity to rule out local road tolls, which were proposed by Scottish Natural Heritage as one method of funding?

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative 5:21, 8 June 1999

Dr Jackson will recall from the debate that we had on 26 April in Aberfoyle that there is a great deal of local concern about what the term national-or perhaps I should say nationalised-park really means. Much of the concern is about funding-for example, what funding might there be to mitigate the infrastructure problems that will undoubtedly occur?

There has been a lot of talk about using national parks as a branding exercise to bring more people into the Loch Lomond area. Certainly, many of the people who are in favour of a national park see it as a way to attract more tourists. As has been said, that can cause great problems, as the additional tourist load can erode the beautiful things that we are trying to preserve. National parks are a double-edged sword.

We must examine what can be done about viewing points, single-track roads and additional lay-bys, and we must ensure not only that there are toilets, but that they are kept open. Sylvia knows fine well what I mean by that.

I have no doubt that we will return to the issues of boundaries and who runs the park, but we are seeing undue haste on this matter-there is by no means a consensus that a national park is needed in the locality of Loch Lomond. The issue is not simply one of preserving the beautiful environment. The proposal will undoubtedly affect people's lifestyles and businesses. Indeed, in trying to preserve what needs to be preserved, we may be disrupting it. I recommend that the Administration resists the temptation to legislate immediately.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour 5:23, 8 June 1999

I support the motion in the name of Dr Sylvia Jackson. I shall declare my interest at the outset, as other members have been inclined to do. I am the directly elected member of the Dumbarton constituency, which covers the eastern part of the proposed national park for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. It is undoubtedly an area of outstanding natural beauty, enjoyed by people from across Scotland and from across the world.

Until the park authority is established as a legal entity, the interim committee is considering four key aims: to safeguard the cultural and natural heritage of the area; to promote the sustainable use of natural resources; to promote the social and economic well-being of local communities; and to provide for public enjoyment and understanding. I will focus briefly on the potential for economic development.

The constituents of Dumbarton and I are clear about the need for sustainable development. We must balance the need to protect the environment with the need to create employment opportunities. There is no doubt that that will be an extremely sensitive issue, but it is clear that where we can, and where it is appropriate, we should develop job opportunities.

Tourism continues to be important to the Scottish economy, contributing approximately £2.6 billion per annum and supporting 178,000 jobs. The potential to create tourism-related employment in the context of the national park is evident. We should encourage local agencies to work together to maximise the opportunities, and above all to connect people who are unemployed with those opportunities. That will provide added value to our efforts. Equally, there will be development potential in the supply chain, education services, park ranger services and general recreation, all of which should be exploited.

At the same time, we must ensure that our heritage and environment are protected. I believe that the national park authority for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is the mechanism to promote sustainable development and to protect the environment. I therefore support the motion calling for the establishment of a national park for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, and commend it to the Parliament.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 5:25, 8 June 1999

I thank Sylvia Jackson for initiating this debate. Every speech earlier this afternoon was prefaced by the phrase, "I wish we could have been talking about something else." Well, here is an important subject with practical significance for the future of Scotland.

There is widespread agreement about the need for a national park, but I will respond to some of the specific questions that have been raised. This is not a new issue; it has been with us for a long time. It is not a mark of haste to suggest that it should be one of the priorities for an incoming Scottish Parliament.

For centuries, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs have been celebrated for their outstanding scenic qualities. The area supports a rich mix of water, wild land, forest, woodland, farmland and people. It is an exceptional landscape throughout the year and is of the highest importance, both nationally and internationally, in terms of natural heritage.

To those who suggest that a national park would create pressures, I say that there are already pressures. The real question that we must address is how to manage existing problems in an integrated and effective way. Somewhere in the region of 5 million people visit Loch Lomond and the Trossachs each summer. Many of them are stopping locally, but many are staying for a longer period. Many of them arrive by car: about 93 per cent of visitors travel privately, the vast majority by car. Mr Monteith's comments about parking and infrastructure are absolutely critical and must be addressed.

The west Highland way, which was mentioned by Fergus Ewing, attracts more than 50,000 walkers per year. There are already problems in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. Robin Harper was absolutely correct with his comments on managing the critical and carrying capacities of the area, but we need a mechanism to do that. Although we do not currently have such a mechanism, the national park may provide us with one.

I offer one last snapshot of the issue's importance. Around 70 per cent of Scotland's population can travel to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs in less than an hour. That is an awful lot of us for a day trip, and does not include visitors from abroad.

Since the election of the Labour Government in 1997, we have made substantial progress. Scottish Natural Heritage has carried out a huge amount of research, in two phases. Initially, people were asked to give their views; those consulted included local authorities, community councils, public agencies and everyone in the area who was interested. Reviews of national park structures elsewhere were commissioned, and the experience-which Mr Raffan mentioned-both nationally within the UK and internationally, was considered. A huge number of meetings were also held. In the second phase of the consultation, more than 10,000 copies of Scottish Natural Heritage's proposals and consultation paper were issued.

A great deal of consultation has been carried out. That does not mean that everybody is happy, but in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs area there is substantial support for our moving ahead with this measure.

There is less support overall for such a measure in the Cairngorms, as was mentioned by other members. I acknowledge that there is less enthusiasm in the Cairngorms, but we need to consider bringing people together to discuss the issues. The national park legislation must contain enabling legislation that is appropriate to different areas.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I will not. I should emphasise to Mr Ewing that we do not want one blueprint for the whole of Scotland. We need national parks proposals that are appropriate to individual areas. We as a Parliament need to steer a consultation process, initiated by the Executive and the Parliament, and covering the whole of Scotland-

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I can see that Mr Ewing is absolutely desperate, so I will let him make a brief intervention.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

No one is suggesting that there should be one blueprint for the whole of Scotland. The question is how Labour will fund a national park in Loch Lomond. How much will such a park cost per year? Will the Executive rule out imposing local road tolls to fund it?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Funding depends on the kind of national park that we in this Parliament collectively agree on. We can speculate-SNH predicted how much particular kinds of national park would cost-but until we know what kind of park there will be, it is impossible to answer Mr Ewing's question.

I want to emphasise the crucial point made by Jackie Baillie and Sylvia Jackson about balancing social and economic objectives with long-term environmental objectives. We need to get the balance right. That is the challenge and that is why establishing national parks is an exciting idea-it is an exciting issue for the Parliament to take up. We have had a lot of consultation and there is a lot of enthusiasm for a national park at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. Our challenge is to take the debate forward and to continue to involve people in that process.

I know from Linda Fabiani's comments that she has an aversion to quangos. It is important to note that the mix of people who are involved in running the national park will be crucial. Local people need to be involved-both those who run businesses and those who live in the area-as do local councillors and people at the national level. By setting up a national park, we give national priority to the issue of national parks as a whole. How we strike the right balance is one of the key matters that we need to discuss during consultation.

Work is well under way to establish national parks in Scotland. The issue is one that the Parliament needs to examine and one in which we all need to be involved. There is not just one approach for the whole of Scotland; we need enabling legislation to select the appropriate models for different parts of Scotland.

The partnership Government's commitment to establishing national parks in Scotland is clear and unequivocal. It was in the "Partnership for Scotland" agreement and is one of the key matters that we want to debate during this session.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

That concludes the Parliament's first members' business debate.

Meeting closed at 17:32.