LOCH LOMOND PARK AUTHORITY BACK IN THE BLACK FOLLOWING SECRET TALKS WITH THE SNP

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority has been awarded a significant increase in funding by the Scottish Government for the next financial year which has brought a significant turn-around in its fortunes just prior to the Holyrood elections on May 6, reports BILL HEANEY.

However, at a meeting of the board, the Park Authority, has decided to allocate £10,910,000 or 92 per cent of their £11,877,000 anticipated income for next year -, but to delay deciding how to spend the remaining £965,000 until June. 
Parks campaigner Nick Kempe has been scathing about this.  He said: “While Councils are struggling for every penny and faced with a tsunami of visitors, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Park Authority is awash with money which could have been used to pay others to provide facilities.  By June, it will be almost certainly too late [to do this].”
In September, the Park Authority reported a significant hole in their finances, with a projected deficit of £397k following the drip, drip of cuts imposed by the SNP.
This was then plugged by a £400k additional grant  until the new SNP junior Environment Minister, Ben MacPherson revealed he was in secret talks with the two existing National Parks about a large increase in funding.
The budget approved by the Scottish Parliament provides a 26.9% increase in revenue for Loch Lomond and a 49.9% increase for Cairngorms.

Parks campaigner Nick Kempe, left, said: “While the increase in funding welcome, it raises serious questions about whether the Scottish Government has any coherent plan to manage the influx of visitors into the countryside when lockdown eases and also about whether the additional monies for National Parks will be well spent.”

Kempe’s reservations are founded on the fact that the new cash is primarily intended to mitigate anticipated visitor pressures this summer.  and does not take into account the need for investment in new infrastructure (e.g car parks, toilets) to support visitors.

Loch Lomond’s more detailed budget for 2021-22 suggests “secure measures” could cover items like vehicles, used to enforce the camping byelaws, and new automated number plate recognition systems to charge people for using car parks.

Nick Kempe commented: “If so, this capital investment will arguably make it harder, not easier, for people to enjoy the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

“Scotland’s councils received a 2.5% increase in revenue funding.  Once they have satisfied commitments already announced by the Scottish Government, like the public sector pay award, that leaves less than 1% to address a large array of problems from homelessness to potholes in our roads.

“Given those demands, it is to their credit that some Councils such as Perth and Kinross and Highland have allocated money to employ additional Countryside Rangers this summer and are undertaking other actions to prepare for the wave of staycations. Unfortunately it won’t be nearly enough.

“The Local Authority funding shortfall won’t be filled by the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund, which was set up in 2018 and which has been increased from £3m to £6m.

“Indeed, two of the projects funded for next year, to improve visitor infrastructure around Loch Katrine and at Ben A’An and to renovate the toilets at Glen Shee, are both located in our National Parks.

“While both are very worthwhile projects, they illustrate that funding for visitor infrastructure and management is a postcode lottery  in which generally our National Parks have been more successful than other areas.”

He added: “The explanation for these disparities in funding lies with the Scottish Government spending portfolios and the power and interests of the relevant Cabinet Secretaries and their associates.

“Local Government has endured a decade of cuts and is slowly being strangled by the Scottish Government.  Environment, Land Reform and Climate Change by contrast received a 9.7% funding increase.

“This made it possible for the Ministers responsible, Roseanna Cunningham, right,  and Ben MacPherson, to provide more funding to our existing Parks to help meet the anticipated increase in visitors.

“What they didn’t do, however, was extend that funding to other parts of Scotland through creating new National Parks or increasing NatureScot’s budget (up 2.3%) so it could spend more on supporting Outdoor Recreation (outsides its own Nature Reserves)..

“Rural Economy and Tourism received an even bigger increase, 39.5%, although much of this appears to have been a re-allocation of funds formerly provided by the EU to agriculture and tourism.

“The evidence, however, suggests that the tourism elements of the budget are being seriously misspent by the Cabinet Secretary responsible, Fergus Ewing.

“The money being wasted on the funicular railway  – falsely claimed as needed to underpin tourism in Strathspey – palls into significance compared to the vast sums being thrown away by Visit Scotland.  While their core funding only increased 0.8% to £41,412,000 this year, most of this is:

‘To deliver high profile tourism marketing campaigns overseas and in the UK and a portfolio of national events that continue to grow sustainable tourism across Scotland.’

“Why VisitScotland needs to spend a penny on marketing consultants and advertising this year, when rural Scotland will be thronged by domestic visitors and international travel and large events are likely to be highly constrained, is not clear.

“After wasting a similar amount of money last year, one might have hoped lessons would have been learned and Fergus Ewing, pictured left,  would have channelled a large proportion of this budget into funding rural tourism infrastructure.”

Nick Kempe said investigative journalists from  the Ferret have  revealed that among the £ half billion of public assets flogged off by Councils between 2015-19 there were 29 public toilets.

“Unite [the trade union] was quoted as saying this has made work for those who drive for a living really difficult.  They could have added it is even more difficult for tourists.

“It is cuts like this and the lack of any government strategy for investment in outdoor recreation that will be responsible for the challenges rural areas will face this summer.

“Awarding extra money to our Parks in isolation is not going to do anything to address these wider issues, though it is an opportunity for them to show the Scottish Government what a difference funding can make.”

The Annual Operational Plan approved at the Loch Lomond board meeting shows why. Many of the actions are about developing plans – plans that should have been in place long ago –  rather than actually doing anything:

  • “Create a multiyear capital investment plan that considers what strategic investment would better support sustainable visitor management in the National Park”
  • “Develop and deliver priority projects and targeted interventions, including those informed by engagement with the Litter Prevention Action Group”
  • Develop strategic thinking on how to deliver transport services and infrastructure that will promote modal shift from private car use to access congested places”
  • “Work with partners to develop and deliver new transport”

Nick Kempe, in his Parkswatch journal, commented: “Board member Chris Spray, to his credit did try to ask about the timing of the various plans, both short-term and long-term, but was dismissed by board convener, James Stuart, who described this as ‘a comment to take away’.

“Responsibility for this sad state of affairs lies with Mr Stuart and senior staff.  They have allowed work that was done in the past to develop plans for investment in new visitor infrastructure, such as the Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan, to be abandoned (see here) and let the Outdoor Recreation Plan become years out of date (see here). They were thus  totally unprepared when the Scottish Government offered them money on a plate.

“The allocations in the Board Budget Paper (see here) are so high level it is impossible to see how the LLTNPA proposes to spend all the additional funding.  Spend on ‘visitor pressures’ is summarised in one short paragraph:  ‘We have allocated significant spend to our COVID19 response for the upcoming 2021 visitor season. This includes funding for temporary mitigation measures like temporary toilets,increased litter and waste picking,a bigger seasonal staff complement, and sustainable transport trials’.

The only breakdown is for £500k specifically awarded by the Scottish Government to meet Covid pressures:

The largest allocation is to plug loss of income, including presumably the abandonment of The Shore (see here).  How the proposed spend on Countryside Rangers and toilets relates to expenditure and what it means on the ground is not explained.

The paper titled  “Joint Response Visitor Management Plan 2021 & Litter Update Visitor Management Paper (see here) is equally vague:  “Toilets will be opened with increased capacities and opening times where possible, including 24hr access at some sites. Additional temporary toilet installation will be investigated and opened for times of peak demand at key locations.  Litter management will be undertaken by all partners on sites they are responsible for. Additional uplifts and bin capacity will be considered to meet demand. Temporary car parking capacity increases will  be investigated and if suitable enacted at key traffic hotspots for the peak season“.

Nick Kempe has flagged up the following:

  • Credit for three out of the five new parking areas lies with the Sir Walter Scott Steamship Trust at Loch Katrine (funded by the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund referred to above).  Despite being by far the largest landowner in the National Park, the sum of Forest and Land Scotland’s contribution appears to be six “new” locations where they say camper vans can stay overnight.  FLS have miles of tracks and hard standing that could be used for parking with a little imagination, including off the new clearways where parking on the verge will be illegal.
  • Despite the £150,000 budget, no locations are shown for temporary toilets.  Instead of providing toilets at the places where the need for “irresponsible toileting measures”  have been identified, marked with the brown arrows, the LLTNPA intends to hand out “poo bags” and lend trowels.  All these sites are in the camping management zones, where the camping byelaws were supposed to stop such problems, and where new provision was once planned (e.g. North Loch Venachar and South Loch Earn).
  • As for the toilets the LLTNPA proposes to open overnight, all public toilets should be open 24 hours anyway – but not having to lock them up each night should save money.  I
  • There are no plans for additional campsites or camping permit areas within the camping management zones, despite demand exceeding supply several times last summer.  It should be clear now that the LLTNPA has completely reneged on its promises to increase camping places in future.

The Visitor Pressures map, on which this vague plans are supposedly based, is revealing because of its terminology:

Most problems are blamed on visitors not on lack of infrastructure:

  • “irresponsible parking” rather than insufficient capacity;
  • “antisocial behaviours associated with camping” rather than lack of camping provision;
  • “irresponsible toileting” rather than insufficient toilets”;
  • “irresponsible fire lighting” not the failure to provide barbecues;
  • “littering” not absence of litter bins or binfrastructure as the park now calls it.

Nick Kempe maintains: “The attitude of the LLTNPA is fundamentally anti-visitor.  Not a single Board Member at the meeting questioned this or made the case for places that might benefit from additional parking, temporary toilets, additional bins or further camping provision.

“The budget paper presented to the Cairngorm NPA Board,  however, is far superior to that presented to the LLTNPA Board. In explaining that direct grant in aid has increased from £4.96 million to £7.1 million, with a further£2.29 million made available for peat land restoration, it also states these amounts were negotiated with the Scottish Government to meet objectives in current plans where shortfalls in funds/potential to invest more had been identified.  As a result:

  • in contrast to the LLTNPA, the CNPA budget balances and all the new money is allocated
  • almost all items of expenditure are related to existing plans which have been approved by the Board, enabling anyone to see the rationale for the allocations (unlike the LLTNPA whose plans are all “under development”.

Moreover, the CNPA generally provides more detail about how the money will be spent. For example,in relation to visitor management, the structure and size of the new permanent Ranger Service is transparently described.

With this there is a description of what these staff will do and how they will relate to the Rangers  who are employed by other organisations/landowners in the National Park (and in some cases partially funded by the CNPA).

Just how many Countryside Rangers are now employed at Loch Lomond – there have been cuts – it’s impossible to tell.

One area where the Cairngorm does not have a fully developed plan is in relation to investment in visitor infrastructure but, even there, Annex 3 to the Tourism Action Plan (see here) sets out all the projects that have been agreed so far for this year.

It is probably not enough but it does demonstrate a coherent approach and unlike the LLTNPA there are a number of practical measures to increase parking capacity at popular places for visitor across the National Park.

The intention behind the CNPA’s proposals seems to be about assisting visitors to do the right thing, not blaming them or making it harder for them to visit.

Nick Kempe says: “With the Cabinet Secretary responsible for National Parks, Outdoor Recreation and Access, Roseanna Cunningham, stepping down, there is an ideal opportunity after the Scottish Parliament elections for the new Scottish Government to look at how much investment is really needed to support rural tourism and how this should be allocated.

“In doing so, they could usefully learn from the successes in the Cairngorms and review how the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority is being mis-managed.

“While, given the silo mentality of government, the new minister is hardly likely to hand the LLTNPA’s unallocated £965k to local authorities, a sign of intent might be to hand to over to the CNPA given that their overall budget is still considerably less than that of the LLTNPA.”

One comment

  1. The best authority that money can buy.

    Friend of the wealthy land owner and corporate interest. A good idea gone rotten.

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