HIE says no to marine national park Published: 06 December, 2006
THE board of Highlands and Islands Enterprise has opposed the coastal and marine national park being promoted by the Scottish Executive for the west coast.
While supporting the principle of a park, Board members criticised the lack of clarity in the process, the unseemly haste with which it was being pushed through, the threat to economic development and the way in which the consultation had been carried out, with one member describing the process as botched.
A report before the board stressed that HIE wanted clear evidence that the park would support a growing population, increased job opportunities, improvements in transport, easier access to housing, increasing tourism and promoting sustainable fisheries and aquaculture and the development of renewable energy.
John Watt, HIEs head of strengthening communities, said that there were concerns the CMNP would impose higher standards of planning, and that the lack of clarity of the parks aims could further disadvantage island communities and businesses. He also suggested that more time should be taken working up the proposals for the park, as had happened with Scotlands two other national parks, to make clear what the benefits were and to garner local support.
Board member Duncan MacInnes, said that the consultation process on the CMNP so far had been seriously lacking. The Executive has made a botched up job of the consultation. Part of it consisted of people going round Co-op car parks in the islands. We must be careful about this from an economic development point of view. We have already seen an area of sea in Barra which was proposed as a Special Area of Conservation. There was an application for a mussel farm which is one of the most green developments you could have in an SAC and it was opposed by SNH. We also have to be careful with renewable energy, because the CMNP could stop underwater cables being run on the seabed to take the electricity off the islands, he said.
He was backed by HIE chairman, Willie Roe. Mr Roe said that there were a number of proposals surrounding the CMNP that caused grave disquiet within HIE. Experience of working in the west Highlands and Argyll has shown us that for us to support the CMNP, it must promote sustainable economic and social development. It must also allow and promote sustainable development in the marine environment, and it mustnt impose new burdens on these areas in terms of planning, which would make the CMNP worthless. We also feel strongly that you cant just put a CMNP onto a set of communities. It needs to be worked up over a long time as were the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond national parks. The area being proposed by the Executive from Argyll to South Skye is an extremely difficult area to do anything in. There are no inter-island transport links to speak of and these would need to be part of the creation of the CMNP. The islands dont have a big set of relationships at the moment either. We support the principle, but if the Executive gets it wrong, they will generate opposition to the CMNP and then it wont work anyway, said Willie Roe.
He added: The cheap and cheerful type of consultation is not the right way to do it. The odd thing is that in Scotland over the past 10 years we have become very good at public consultation. If the CMNP is to be taken forward, then equally good public consultation must take place. If the park is to be set in the Argyll islands and west coast and you want a public meeting with communities, where would you have it? That itself shows the enormous geographical problems in this area.
Mr Roe counselled the Executive to have a rethink of what it is trying to do with the CMNP. He offered the services of HIE to try to build up a consensus on a set of proposals that would appeal to the communities affected. He said: You cant impose a national park on people who dont want it. You will have to work long and hard to win public support for it, and understand what a park will have to be like for people to welcome it, want to have it and support it. If you cant do these things there is no point in having a national park because people will oppose it bitterly and it will divide communities and a CMNP that did that wouldnt be worth the name. The case needs to be built and argued and support needs to be won. If I was the Executive I would pause and reconsider the process and I would put in place mechanisms to consult all the communities and build support, otherwise its not worth doing.