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Extra Lochaber countryside rangers could be one of the key benefits from the large cash injection being made by Highland Council into its new Visitor Management Strategy (VMS).
The council’s SNP Group and Independent-led administration joined forces to
produce the budget for the Highlands, which features a £6m Economic Prosperity Fund to deliver targeted support for business recovery while providing opportunities for school leavers, graduates and people facing unemployment for the first time.
The capital plan will see a total investment of £260m across the region over the next two years, enabling investment on projects including renewable energy generation and waste reduction programmes.
Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP Ian Blackford welcomed the council’s ‘budget for recovery and jobs’ which includes a £1.5M visitor management strategy.
‘This is a budget for recovery and jobs, averting feared redundancies at the council, one of the Highland’s biggest employers,’ commented Mr Blackford.
‘A £1.5m Visitor Management Strategy will provide much-needed tourist facilities and infrastructure, ensuring the Highlands is a welcoming and attractive place for people to visit when Covid restrictions ease and people from all over the UK head north for staycations.’
Projects in the visitor management strategy include: £280,000 to improve passing places, lay-bys, road signs and verges; more than £200,000 for better parking management at tourism hot spots; £300,000 for 10 new seasonal access rangers focusing on visitor management issues; £60,000 to improve public toilets; £180,000 for waste management to help combat littering; £200,000 for motor homes campsite waste servicing and £60,000 for park and ride public transport to three sites on Skye.
Caol and Mallaig (Independent) councillor Ben Thompson said the scale of the funding was a major plus: ‘Last year the council attempted to react very quickly to tourist pressures and to put a together a package of measures to submit to the government.
‘But that only resulted in under £400,000 to do stuff right across the Highlands. This latest £1.5million will help us do all the stuff we wanted to do last year and a lot more besides.’
However, Councillor Thompson warned: ‘It still might not be enough to do everything needed to fill all the gaps as the pressure from visitor numbers this summer could be even greater than last year.’
Councillor Thompson said he felt one of the key measures was ranger service ‘boots on the ground’ and he was hopeful some of those will be in Lochaber.
‘The important thing for any boost to the ranger service is that the council does not duplicate what is already being done by groups like the Nevis Partnership which already has a ranger training programme or what Outward Bound and NatureScot are doing.
‘We need to work in tandem with these organisations.’
And Councillor Thompson said the big question would be how this level of funding for visitor management would be maintained into 2022 and beyond.
‘This is a one-off. This is raiding the piggy bank and we need to think carefully how we can take it forward after this year.’
Lochaber councillor Ben Thompson. Photograph: Abrightside Photography. FW Councillor Ben Thompson 1no JP