National Park

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:11 pm on 8th June 1999.

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Photo of Keith Raffan Keith Raffan Liberal Democrat 5:11 pm, 8th 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.