LOO LOMONDSIDE: SPENDING A PENNY FOR PRIVATE ENTERPRISE?

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A tourist bus refuels at the new facilities at Tarbet, Loch Lomondside

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Investigation and pictures by Nick Kempe, of Parkswatch Scotland

The main investment in new visitor infrastructure that the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority has made this year is in upgrading facilities on their land at Tarbet and Inveruglas on the west shore of Loch Lomond.

Extract from Annual Operational Plan progress report

 

Tarbet featured in no less than 6 different sections of the Annual Operational Plan Progress Report submitted to the December LLTNPA Board Meeting (see here for paper).   On my way north on Saturday, I stopped to take a look for myself.

The creation of a chemical disposal point at Tarbet is extremely welcome.  The camping byelaws were intended to apply to campervans – although this has proved impossible to enforce –  and should have been accompanied by a major expansion in the provision of new infrastructure.  Parkswatch blogged about the dire situation on west Loch Lomond in May 2017 (see here).   Two and a half years later – or four years since Scottish Ministers gave the LLTNPA time to prepare for the new byelaws – this is the FIRST example of new campervan provision that the Park has delivered. (The creation of “permit spaces” in car parks and along roads where campervans previously were able to stop for free, which involved a few white lines being painted, shouldn’t count as new infrastructure).

The Rural Tourism Infrastructure fund, created by the Scottish Government, appears to be the main source of funding.  This is only half welcome.  The Scottish Government has been financially strangling public authorities so almost that all investment, as in this case, is now dependant on grant aid from  them.  Our National Park are just minor branch offices of the Scottish Government which has been extremely slow to acknowledge the need for investment in new tourist infrastructure across Scotland.  Hence the crises on the North Coast 500, Skye etc where tourists, including those in campervans, are overwhelming local facilities and public authorities have no resources with which to respond.

The LLTNPA has – perhaps in return for its punitive actions against campers? – done relatively well financially compared to other public authorities.  Its been awarded standstill budgets while the budget for SNH, for example, has been reduced  by 40%.  It is still, however, dependant on the Scottish Government for all investment.  As a consequence its not clear whether a second chemical disposal point, say on the Trossachs side of the National Park,  is anywhere on the funding horizon.

Its also welcome that  the LLTNPA is making no charge for using the chemical disposal point…for the time being.  There is ample evidence that compulsory charges act as a deterrent and have adverse consequences (just a with litter where charges for waste disposal feed the fly tipping problem).

Extract from Annual Operational Plan (AOP) Progress Report December 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

The free campervan chemical disposal point is, however, out of kilter with the LLTNPA’s general approach to tourist infrastructure which is to instigate charging whereever possible (see above). So far the LLTNPA’s record in trying to charge for facilities has been a miserable failure.  Its now three years and four months since the LLTNPA tendered for an Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system for Inveruglas, Tarbet and Milarrochy (see here). This was intended to provide a quick source of income for the National Park.  Its still classified as being “behind schedule”!   The report to the Board also reveals that the plan to introduce an ANPR system at Balmaha have fallen through while a cost-benefit analysis is “to be complete Q4 for delivery beginning of 20/21”.   So, why, one might ask was a tender issued in 2016 BEFORE there had been any cost benefit analysis?  Why too did the Board at their meeting endorse the new timescales to introduce charges (not a single Board Member questioned the plan)  BEFORE they know whether it makes any sense?

Just why the LLTNPA thinks that aiming to “maximise the generation of toilet income” is a worth policy objective for a National Park is unclear, as is why staff are only working to introduce charges at Luss and Balmaha but not at the other 6 toilets we, the public, own?

Small mercies there, plenty of people were using the toilets at Tarbet – although when we dropped in to Inveruglas 10 minutes later the new 24 hour toilets there were locked.

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Tourists on the LLTNPA’s land at Tarbet 28th December

The LLTNPA still seems to be in denial that the tourist season now lasts all year  While there is still a high season, there is now a steady stream of people year round, with various tourism peaks.  On Saturday the weather on Loch Lomondside was miserable but there were hundreds of people on the publicly owned land at Tarbet.  The LLTNPA’s cafe was, however, closed – perhaps as a result of the lease being put out for tender again (see above)?

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Full bins at the new Tarbet car park 28th December

Given the visitor numbers, it was not surprising to find the bins were overflowing.  Whether  the smart bins which are being tested will solve the issue is less clear:

Extract from Annual Operations Plan Progress Report

 

While the LLTNPA is belatedly doing some good things at both Tarbet and Inveruglas, their motive for doing doesn’t appear to be because they see it as their mission to serve the public.  Rather they see Scottish Government infrastructure funding as an opportunity to raise income to keep themselves going.   I doubt this will be successful.  The amounts raised are likely to small, even if the LLTNPA follows the example of Argyll and Bute Council at Arrochar (see here), and the unintended adverse consequences are likely to be significant.   The LLTNPA would be far better to drop its plan for this hotch potch of charges and return to its fundamental principles which are about serving the public, local communities and the natural environment.

There are, however, other factors going on at Tarbet.  The LLTNPA’s land, where the newly upgraded parking area, cafe and chemical disposal point are located, has been included in Moulsdale Properties new development proposals for Tarbet (see here).  The LLTNPA Board should have discussed whether they would agree to allow public land to be used by a private developer BEFORE any new investment in their property went ahead.  By failing to do so the LLTNPA appears once again – as they did with Flamingo Land (see here) –  to be putting the interests of private developers before the public interest.

Comments on “New visitor infrastructure at Tarbet – welcome investment but for whose benefit?”

  1. If the LLTNPA are spending money in up grading perhaps they could put in lights round the Duncan Mills Slipway for health and safety before some one is hurt

  2. Scotland’s national park budgets are constantly undermined. Could it be that Scottish ministers see it as their primary duty to oversee all aspects of national life where they can be praised, but are left with too little time to oversee long term policy issues? Failures – regarding SNH and Scottish forestry; failure regarding oversight of countryside planning issues; negligence over oversight of regional Policing, and now the manner in which Scotland’s public spaces and parks are funded – become too clear. Policy in each area could be modified. Each of these issues represent examples where any failure to perform has been “skillfully” “outsourced” ( wonderful, jargon that ! ) to another “statutory” authority, and ministers can ‘pass the buck’ while keeping their own reputations intact?
    There are two truths that leap from the present hand’s off approach to National Park funding . First, every single visitor to Scotland is a potential source of income to local and national business. Each will also contribute through general taxation in every purchase they make, everyday, while on Holiday in Scotland. ( They might choose to go anywhere in the world – if they did, Scotland would get nothing from them.). The second is that proper parking facilities, lay-bys and camping spots near attractions are essential to encourage visitors to stop and stay long enough to spend. It has to be recognised that ..in the round..visitors to Scotland are not an expense. The simple presence of them across Scotland becomes an asset to the exchequer every time they open their wallets. It is hard to believe any local authority, including the National park boards ever pause to consider how many visitors always will drive on whenever there is a charge to park or to camp. ( I am one and yet pay residential rates in Scotland. ) The first principle of being visitor friendly overrides everything. Adequate central funding for the National parks, not piecemeal monitoring and wholesale “fleecing” of everyone silly enough to stop in a public place is the wiser approach.

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