The Cairngorms National Park Authority have published a final draft of the National Park Partnership Plan, incorporating a range of suggestions from members of the public and partner organisations. The new draft draws upon feedback from more than 1,400 people who took part in the formal consultation, which ran from 23 September to 17 December last year. The plan will be reviewed by the Park Authority board on 10 June, before being submitted to Scottish Government for approval over the coming weeks.
Of the 1,400 responses received to the formal public consultation, more than half came from people living or working within the National Park, with a range of businesses, community groups, land managers and environmental NGOs also represented. Over two thirds of respondents supported the draft Plan’s outcomes and objectives across the three themes of Nature, People and Place; however, there were a number of areas which respondents were keen for the Park Authority to review.
Whilst there was a good level of support for this section of the original draft, a number of changes have been proposed based on respondent feedback, including:
- Being more ambitious and targeted in tackling both the climate and nature crises – the Park Authority is working with independent experts Small World Consulting to establish firm targets for reaching both a net zero and carbon negative position. The suggested target for peatland restoration has also been increased from 35,000 ha to a minimum of 38,000 ha following a detailed mapping exercise (a 9% increase).
- More targeted action on species conservation and wildlife crime – specific actions have been added on tackling wildlife crime, as well as targeted support for species including beaver and capercaillie.
- Ensuring private finance delivers public benefit – the final draft suggests that green investment ‘must deliver long-term benefits and be in the public interest… shared between the owner and local communities.’
- The right tree in the right place – in response to some concerns over indiscriminate tree planting, particularly on agricultural land, the new plan takes the approach of ‘the right tree in the right place for the right reason’, ensuring that the relatively limited area of in-bye land* in the National Park continues to play a part in the nation’s food security and is protected from wholesale conversion to woodland.
- Recognising the role of moorland management – there were strong views on either side of the debate regarding moorland management; however, the important role moorland managers play in supporting nature in the National Park has been recognised, and deer targets have been broadened to include wider herbivore impacts. Reference has also been made to a new national licensing regime for grouse moors.
Nearly three quarters of respondents agreed with the original draft outcome and objectives for People; however, a number of changes were requested including:
- Providing more explicit support for a range of under-represented groups – amongst a range of measures, specific actions have been added to encourage Disability Confident and Carer Positive employers, and to support the Young Person’s Guarantee. The objective on housing has been strengthened to include support for those facing economic hardship, people with disabilities, ethnic minority communities and LGBTQ+ communities.
- Skills and training opportunities – The need to support rural workers in the National Park to take advantage of the growth in green jobs has been recognised in the new draft, including support for stalking employment and the skills that will be needed to do this work over the long-term.
- Community ownership, community benefit – many respondents wanted the plan to be more explicit about the benefits of community ownership, and to reflect that community management could be just as significant in some areas. This wording has been amended, and the need for further training and support to help communities take forward these projects has been added.
- Gaelic and celebrating wider cultural heritage – a range of views were expressed on the approach to Gaelic, with several respondents also highlighting the importance of Scots and Doric. This latter point has been recognised, alongside the need to celebrate the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the area.
As with the People theme, a large majority of respondents supported the draft outcome and objectives for Place, but there were a few key areas that required attention:
- Highlighting the need for affordable housing – affordable housing and controls on second homes and short-term lets was seen as the number one priority by the majority of respondents and three objectives on this topic have been moved to the start of the section as a result. A more detailed rationale behind the targets has been included, and specific action on second homes / short-term lets included.
- Improving public transport – whilst the need to improve public transport was included in the original draft, the new version includes more detail on the Heritage Horizons: Cairngorms 2030 programme, which will work with residents and partners across the National Park to improve public transport and better connect communities through seven specific transport and active travel projects.
- Better visitor infrastructure, including accessible toilets – a number of people wanted to see a more explicit commitment to improving visitor infrastructure (for example, campsites and toilets); this has now been included, alongside a specific action on accessible toilets.
- Active travel and vehicle usage – in response to calls for improving path and cycle networks across the Park (with a specific focus on accessibility), the latest version includes a commitment to improve path, cycle and outdoor access networks for to the widest range of people. Some residents felt the target of >50% of journeys not taking place by private car was too ambitious due to the rural nature of the area and this target has been adjusted to 20% in line with Scottish transport commitments.
- Diversifying the economy – the new draft plan includes a commitment to encourage and support businesses to use nature-based solutions to support a diverse economy, making the Cairngorms an exemplar for rural economies across Scotland.
Xander McDade, Board Convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, said: “The Park Authority board has been delighted with both the high amount of engagement and quality of responses to our fourth National Park Partnership Plan, and it is encouraging to see the final draft addressing specific comments from residents, local businesses, land managers, partners and many other groups.“The public consultation and analysis stage is an integral part in the process of delivering a Park Plan that reflects local and national priorities and I would like to again thank the more than 1,400 respondents who took the time to give feedback. The board will now discuss the final draft in public session on Friday 10 June, with a view to a final plan being sent to Scottish Ministers for approval over the next few weeks.“I believe that this draft plan is the most ambitious ever written but, crucially, it is also achievable, helping harness the energy and participation of Park residents, visitors and organisations operating in the National Park over the next five years.”