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The Scottish Government needs to play a lead role alongside local authorities, partners and private sector landowners when it comes to managing the boom in camper van staycation holidays.
So said Caol and Mallig councillor Allan Henderson, responding to statements by Scottish tourism minister Fergus Ewing after the latter appeared to palm off responsibility for the issue onto already struggling councils and national park bodies.
Responding in the Scottish Parliament to a question from Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant on how the Scottish Government is going to tackle residents’ concerns about ‘dirty camping’ and future tourism pressure , Mr Ewing stressed adequate service provision is ultimately for the local authority or national park authority involved.
A multi-agency group, which met in September, is due to report back in November to look at solutions and make recommendations to ministers.
The group will address two themes, education, engagement and enforcement, and a national visitor management plan [VMP], along with the provision of visitor facilities, Mr Ewing said.
But Mrs Grant said she had serious concerns: ‘Councils and public agencies in our region were already struggling with their finances before this pandemic hit and the extra stress caused by Covid-19 will further tie their hands to invest in solutions.
‘Communities and local businesses want the Scottish Government to hear their voices on this issue and want to be assured that next year there are solutions and infrastructure in place to relieve pressure on pinch points such as the NC500 and on the Western Isles.’
In his reply to Mrs Grant, Mr Ewing said: ‘While the responsibility for adequate service provision is ultimately for the local authority or national park authority involved, we recognise that many areas of rural Scotland have seen an uplift of visitors in recent years.
‘This group will therefore build on the work of the successful £9m Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund which has helped realise material solutions at rural pinch points through the installation of infrastructure such as car parks, toilets and motorhome waste disposal points.’
The group has agreed to identify how public bodies, communities and national park and local authorities might work closer to identify long term solutions to visitor management at rural pinch points and scenic areas.
However, asked for his view, Councillor Henderson told the Lochaber Times the coming winter should not be handed over to political wrangling, but used for actually getting something done.
‘I think the Scottish Government should take a lead role alongside local authorities, partners and the private sector landowners,’ he said.
‘This would be in the form of a National Visitor Management scheme to address the current pandemic situation and expected growth of camper van staycation holidays, with extra funding to be injected in to the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund.
‘This VMP [Visitor Management Plan] would need to enable quick installation of emergency infrastructure to support local initiatives, by reducing bureaucracy .
‘Coupled with wardens to support maintenance and education this could be revenue cost neutral in areas with most pressure.
‘To me the winter is not for petty squabbling, but action. To this end we have the B8008 working group up and running with already solutions identified.’
His fellow Caol and Mallaig elected member, Denis Rixson, added: ‘I think Rhoda Grant makes a fair point. The Scottish Government has invested in rural infrastructure through the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund, but Highland applications alone could swallow up the fund for the whole of Scotland. If the Scottish Government is serious about tackling the problems of the tourist industry post-Covid then they must invest. They hold the purse-strings.’