Proposal for a Cairngorms National Park
The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is pleased to respond to the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) consultation on the proposal for a Cairngorms National Park. The RSE is Scotland’s premier Learned Society, comprising Fellows elected on the basis of their distinction, from the full range of academic disciplines, and from industry, commerce and the professions. This response has been compiled by the General Secretary with the assistance of a number of Fellows with substantial experience of conservation and the environment.
The RSE welcomes the proposal for a Cairngorms National Park. A key issue, however, is the question of the allocation of planning powers. It is the Society's view that central to the success of the National Park will be the implementation of an integrated management programme under the Park Plan, and that this will depend upon the Park Authority having full planning powers. Given the potential number of Local Authorities involved, the retention of the planning function by them would seem to be a recipe for disagreements and delay. Experience elsewhere has also shown the crucial importance of National Parks being secure in their powers, including planning. If the Park Authority were to be merely a 'statutory consultee' there would be no assurance of its ability to maintain a coherent policy of conservation and sustainable development, nor could uniformity of approach among the several local authorities be expected. The Society, therefore, recommends that the Cairngorms National Park Authority (NPA) should become the planning body for the park.
It is also surprising that conservation is little mentioned under the section on Issues and Opportunities. While National Park designation may bring a range of benefits to the area, its prime purpose should be to conserve the heritage values for which it has been designated.
The specific questions identified by the consultation paper are addressed below:
Whether the general area of the Cairngorms meets the legislative conditions for designation as a National Park
The general area of the Cairngorms fully meets the legislative conditions. It is not only of National, but also International significance because of its natural and cultural heritage, incorporating as it does the most extensive continuous area of arctic-alpine ecosystems in Britain, as well as the surrounding slopes, foothills, valleys, rivers and lochs (incorporating the finest remnants of the once extensive native Scots pine forest). These areas provide habitats for a wide representation of the Scottish fauna and flora including many rare and scarce species.
The Cairngorms area also possesses a very distinctive character, being markedly different in many ways from the West Highlands, and has a well-recognised and coherent identity. It also has special needs, particularly in terms of the variety of land uses represented (and a history of conflicts between them, to the detriment of the conservation and well-being of the whole). A National Park would certainly be the optimal means of reaching the goals of integrated management.
Area of the National Park
The appropriate size of the National Park and the preferred option for the area
The Society believes that Option A is too restrictive in that it fails to include major areas of importance to biodiversity and for recreational activity. The area could not be effectively managed and conserved without incorporating the surrounding areas, which ecologically and in terms of land use and the needs both of local residents and visitors, could not sensibly be separated from the core area. Option C, on the other hand, might prove to be open to difficulties in achieving integrated management because of some peripheral districts which identify less readily with the mountain heartland of the Cairngorms.
In general, therefore, the Society prefers Option B, modified along the lines proposed in the Mountain Areas Scotland Review (1991) but with the inclusion of settlements and the following provisos:
The approach SNH has developed to assess the area against the conditions set out in the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000
The evaluation framework criteria and indicators seem to be sound but consideration could also be given to the zoning outlined in the 1991 Mountain Areas of Scotland Review.
The specific boundary for the Park
The principles which SNH propose should be used to establish the detailed boundary of the National Park
The Society agrees in general with the principles proposed for determining boundaries, but it believes that a major road is not an unacceptable boundary. They are easily recognised by the general public and, to all intents and purposes, are permanent features. In many cases such roads also follow natural features.
Powers and functions of the National Park Authority
Whether there are any further powers that could be envisaged for the National Park Authority in the Cairngorms
The Land Reform (Access) Bill will provide some tools for visitor management in the Park. In addition, however, the Society believes that consideration should also be given to the following additional/complementary powers:
The maintenance of existing footpaths (including Rights of Way) and the creation of new footpaths will be an important function of the Park Authority. Powers to enter into 'footpath agreements' and to make 'footpath orders' should be available to the Park Authority.
The Park Authority should have last resort powers to make 'Land Management Orders', requiring an owner to adopt management practices which are consistent with the policies of the National Park Plan.
Since the most prevalent and damaging management practices concern the control of red deer numbers it is argued that powers to make 'Deer Management Orders' should be available to the Park Authority, as a last resort.
The merits of Scottish Ministers' preferred option for the planning function remaining with the local authorities
It is illogical to argue in the case of Loch Lomond for the Park to have planning powers and suggest the reverse for the Cairngorms. The argument that making the Park Authority the planning authority "would provide for an integrated and more focused approach to the planning issues in the area" is equally valid for the Cairngorms as it is for Loch Lomond.
The consultation paper argues that one reason for not making the Park Authority planning authority is that there are relatively small numbers of development proposals within the proposed Park area outwith the main settlements and that dealing with main settlement planning applications would become a major part of the Park Authority's work without much influence on the large areas of high natural heritage value. However, the decision has already been taken to include most, if not all, of the peripheral settlements within the National Park because it is recognised that these are the gateways to the core area. They provide the accommodation, information and facilities that are an inseparable part of the experience of living in or visiting the National Park. Developments within, and arising from, these settlements have a profound effect on what happens in the surrounding countryside as well as influencing people's impressions and attitudes. Development control would certainly form a vital element in the work of the Park Authority should it possess these powers but at least they would be exercised by a single authority and not by five separate local authorities, each with their own agenda and priorities. Being a statutory consultee is not a substitute for being the planning authority and indeed could lead to discord and uncertainty.
Without planning powers, the Park Authority will lack authority and not be able to provide the consistent planning and management framework which is required across the whole of the Park. Experience in England has demonstrated the need for these powers for Parks to be effective and these have therefore been conferred on those areas which did not initially have them following the 1949 Act. The RSE recommends, therefore, that the Cairngorms Park Authority should have planning powers in the same way as the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs Park Authority.
The possibility of establishing a single local plan for all or part of the area
A single local plan prepared by the Park Authority, for the whole area, is essential if an integrated approach to planning and management is to be achieved.
Whether the local authorities should be required to consult the Park Authority on all development proposals, or just those which have particular importance to the special qualities of the National Park
If planning powers do rest with Local Authorities, the Park Authority should be given the right of consultation on developments not directly concerning the Park. Developments outwith the Park could well impinge indirectly upon it and attempting to draw boundaries between types of application would be a recipe for discord and bureaucracy.
Whether local authorities should be required to notify Scottish Ministers of all development proposals on which they are minded to give planning permission against the wishes of the Park Authority, or just those which have particular importance to the special qualities of the National Park.
If planning powers do rest with Local Authorities, Scottish Ministers should be notified of all such proposals which the Local Authorities are minded to approve against the wishes of the Park Authority.
Representation on the National Park
The size of the Park Board, and the number of its directly elected members
The Society believes that the proposed size of the Park Board is acceptable. Whatever system is adopted, the legislative framework ensures that local people will be well represented (and in the majority) on the Board either by directly elected members or by members nominated by Local Authorities or Scottish ministers.
The approaches proposed for the allocation of membership between local authorities, and on alternative approaches that could be envisaged.
The Society suggests that a formula based on population and area would provide the fairest allocation of members.
The potential areas of knowledge and expertise of those nominated by local authorities and directly appointed by Scottish Ministers
With regard to the list of potential areas of knowledge and expertise that nominees and appointed members of the Board might be expected to cover, the Society has one important reservation. Under aim (a) - to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area, an extremely important area of expertise has been omitted - this is wildlife conservation or ecology. This area of knowledge and understanding will be key to a National Park authority, and is not adequately covered by the term biodiversity within "biodiversity and earth heritage", important as this is. This is a serious omission since the Park will be a major wildlife resource, requiring good conservation practice that goes beyond the maintenance of biodiversity.
In addition, while the Society agrees that it would be unwise to reserve Board places for specific public bodies or interest groups, we would suggest that the designation order might include the list of potential areas of expertise with a wording to indicate that it is expected that these should be 'covered as far as possible'. It will also be important to look for individuals with a range of knowledge who can take a holistic view and clarify whether substitutes will be allowed for nominated experts unable to attend meetings.
The total number of 'local members' on the Park Authority and the number of these who should be nominated by local authorities and appointed by Ministers
A minimum of 5 local residents would seem reasonable. However, it would not be wise to limit the choice of Ministers by insisting on a set proportion of locals among those directly appointed. It will be important that all the Minister's appointees should be those with a national perspective and collectively with expertise particularly in aims a, b and c. It should be remembered that these are National Parks which may include aspects of international importance.
The timing of the direct elections with respect to the appointment of other members of the Park Board
With regard to the timing of direct elections, the Society believes that these should shortly precede the appointments and nominations, so that the latter could take account of the extent to which the elections have covered the requirements for 'local members' and some of the specified areas of expertise. However, it will be important that all appointments to the Park Authority are undertaken within a short space of time so that the Authority can form a cohesive group.
Name of the National Park Authority
The name of the National Park proposed for the Cairngorms area.
The Society supports the familiar title "Cairngorms National Park".
Views are also welcome on any other aspect of this consultation paper, including the supporting material contained in the annexes.
In Annex 2, in 'Core Operating Costs', it is not clear if the costs of appointments to the Park Ranger Service are included. In Annex 3, Table 4, under "Natural and Cultural Heritage", some reference should also be made (in addition to mentioning national and international designations) to the presence of species of plants and animals listed in the Government's Biodiversity Action Plan and other rare or endangered species.
In responding to this inquiry the Society would like to draw attention to the following Royal Society of Edinburgh responses which are of relevance to this subject: National Parks for Scotland (November 1998); People and Nature: A new Approach to SSSI Designations in Scotland (November 1998); National Scenic Areas Review (April 1999); EU policy on Biodiversity (May 1999); Study of Environmental Planning (October 1999); National Parks (Scotland) Bill (March 2000); and A Proposal for a Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park (February 2001).