A new national park in Scotland?

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Loch Lomand is part of a national park…

Recently there was a debate in the Scottish parliament to consider the establishment of new national parks to add to the two that already exist.

There have been calls in the past to set up particular national parks but the SNP Scottish government has always replied that the cost is too high and that it could drive up house prices for locals. That hasn’t stopped campaigners for pursuing their causes and this debate was led by Finlay Carson, MSP for Galloway and West Dumfries, who has been pushing for a National Park in Galloway for many years.

He pointed out there were ten parks in England (which cover over 9% of the country) and might have added that Wales has three which cover some 20%. Scotland’s two, on the other hand, cover just 7%.

As he pointed out, the Scottish Campaign for National Parks and the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland have identified seven areas of the country that could be designated national parks. He also noted that the Scottish Government could propose areas for designation so that they can be tailored to local circumstances. I take this to mean that some  housing, for example, could be reserved for locals or that incomers would pay a premium for property as happens on Guernsey.

With evidence from Visit Scotland which found that 17% of all visitors to Scotland went to the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park and that 12% went to the Cairngorms National Park, the case for having another or even more national parks seems compelling.

Having national parks certainly drives tourism as Colin Smyth said. “Galloway national park association believes that a new park could attract between 250,000 and 500,000 new visits each year and £30 million to £60 million per annum of additional spending in the short term for the local economy, as well as helping support or create between 700 and 1,400 additional jobs. The association argues that a Galloway national park authority could provide direct employment for between 40 and 80 rangers. In short, it says that a Galloway national park would be a social and economic game changer for the region, which the Government knows has massive economic challenges.”

…as are the Cairngorms

Opposing Carson were a number of SNP speakers but their attitude seemed to be that they were in favour of more national parks but not now when money was tight and other issues were more important. This has been their attitude for some time and they raised issues, some of which could be alleviated just by the way that they drew up operational plans for the park. To say that the government couldn’t agree to the seven new parks that had been suggested years ago was a misinterpretation of what was being asked. Nobody expects seven to be given the go-ahead immediately but the Galloway project could be started as a test bed for the others.

For the SNP, Emma Harper pointed out that a Galloway national park idea had mixed support from locals. Kate Forbes referred to rising house prices in national parks and current financial restraints which were also echoed by Graeme Dey and the cabinet secretary responsible, Roseanna Cunningham.

But if money was the real reason what are the costs involved?

Roseanna Cunningham said “Our two current national parks have a combined annual budget of about £12 million that comes out of the portfolio budget”  So each of the parks costs about £6 million give or take. The Scottish Campaign for National Parks estimated that their running costs may be as little as £1.5 million to £3 million because the model suggested would not be as complicated as that for the other two parks. But, for a moment, let us suppose it would be as high as £6 million, what would a new national park generate for the Scottish economy?

According to the Galloway National Park Association, quoted during the debate, it believes that a new park could attract between 250,000 and 500,000 new visits each year and £30 million to £60 million per annum of additional spending in the short term for the local economy, as well as helping support or create between 700 and 1,400 additional jobs. The association argues that a Galloway national park authority could provide direct employment for between 40 and 80 rangers.

but Galloway Forest Park is not a national park. Yet!

Alison Johnstone for the Greens, said that the Northumberland National Park, which receives 1.7 million recreational visits each year, brought in around £190 million in visitor spending and that was done on a budget of less than £2.8 million in 2013/14.

A relevant point that MSP’s could raise is why the two national parks in Scotland cost so much to run compared to those outside Scotland. Why can a country like Kenya  – a country with a GDP of less than half that of Scotland – support 23 compared to Scotland’s two?

Cunningham ended the debate by saying, “We have seen no convincing evidence on how proposals for the creation of seven new national parks will satisfy the statutory requirements set out in the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 and the vision agreed by the Parliament on the role of our national parks.”

Tourism generates 5% of total Scottish GDP according to government figures. One contributor are the two national parks. Tourism is obviously a key driver of economic growth so why not invest in a proven attraction? Visit Scotland will receive £45.9m grant in aid in 2016/2017 and, although it is receiving less from the government, couldn’t £1million pa for three years be diverted to set up a new tourist attraction?  Why can’t funding from the European Regional Development Fund be used as an alternative to diverting Visit Scotland cash? We are still members and are entitled to apply. Why won’t the government spend up to £6 million when the example of the Northumberland National Park suggests that a spend of £6 million could generate thirty times as much for the economy?

Politics should be about the art of the possible not the art of obfuscation.In the light of strong economic evidence, one wonders why the SNP government cannot support the idea of more national parks and more Scottish economic growth particularly at a time when the EY Scottish Item Club says that the Scottish economy is showing signs of slowing faster than the rest of the UK.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,