Visitor strategy ‘falls far short’ of tackling problems as Easter looms

There have been calls for the Scottish Government to take a lead role in managing the boom in campervans visiting the Highlands and Islands.

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Tourism minister Fergus Ewing’s response to a parliamentary question that the Scottish Government’s Visitor Management Strategy (VMS) ‘will not resolve all the issues’ when it comes to problems caused by surging tourist numbers, will set alarm bells ringing in Lochaber communities.

Mr Ewing was responding to a question from Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, with the latter later saying communities will just have to wait to see what concrete plans the government has to tackle concerns about a predicted second wave of tourists descending on the region this summer and autumn.

‘You would think these plans are state secrets,’ commented Mrs Grant. ‘I can see that many people and families will be looking at staying in the UK this year, much like last year, especially if everyone has managed to be vaccinated by July and August.

‘It’s predicted that accommodation will be in short supply, especially in areas such as those around the NC500. What I would hate to see is dirty camping, litter left by the roadside and irresponsible parking, and I am sure that government ministers do not want that as much as anyone else.

Rhoda Grant MSP
Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant.

‘But what proposals are in the offing with Easter not far off and people looking hopefully to the summer? Whatever restrictions are in place by then, the country needs to be prepared and we can’t let it drift on as it did last year.

‘However, Mr Ewing’s response that its VMS ‘will not resolve all the issues’ has set alarm bells ringing that local communities, councils and parks authorities will have the burden of responsibility for enforcement after suffering the stresses, strains and funding gaps left by the pandemic.’

Councillor Allan Henderson (Caol and Mallaig) was not reassured by Mr Ewing’s response, telling us: ‘This is precisely what we were hearing at the B8008 working group on Friday past.

‘As councillors we are expected to sort the problems, but we really need the tools from government and Nature Scot working with land owners to manage the situation.

‘Members are extremely agitated that despite all the good progress the group is making to increase parking and manage vehicles, the VMP [Visitor Management Plan] falls far short of addressing the perceived problems approaching the area from Easter on. Banning will only displace the problem.

Councillor Allan Henderson. NO-F40-Allan-Henderson
Councillor Allan Henderson.

‘We get figures quoted of 14,000 new motorhomes being registered each year so the pressure can only get greater.

‘While increase in RTIF [Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund] is good news that will not address this year as there is a long run in time.’

Mrs Grant received an answer to a parliamentary question in October when Mr Ewing said that a multi-agency group was due to meet in November to look at solutions and make recommendations to government ministers but she says nothing more was heard.

Responding to Mrs Grant’s question on Friday, Mr Ewing said an announcement will be made ahead of the 2021 season outlining steps taken.

But he cautioned: ‘It should be noted though that, although some progress has been made by the Scottish Government and its partners, this will not resolve all the issues. This will require an ongoing partnership approach from relevant authorities and communities.

‘Littering, roadside dumping and antisocial behaviour should continue to be tackled through enforcement. The ultimate responsibility for adequate service provision also remains the responsibility of local and national park authorities.’