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Events

To explain and publicise the idea and benefits of a Borders National Park, Community Councils within the proposed area have asked us to give a presentation at their meetings, and it is expected that we will have a stand at some Border events of note. This is a calendar of such events where you can come, ask questions and give us your thoughts on the matter.

Tuesday 31 January 2017 - NFU Scotland meeting to discuss the National Park
The meeting will be held at the Auld Crosskeys Hotel in Denholm starting at 7:00pm for 7:30pm. This is a chance to hear how a National Park in the area could benefit farmers and farming, and a chance for farmers to air their misgivings and reservations about living and working in a National Park. The meeting is for NFU Scotland members only.

News

31 January 2017

Latest Stakeholder Consultation - meeting with NFUS members 31st January

Introduction

Many thanks are due to NFU Scotland Regional Manager (Lothian & Borders) Kerry Clark who organised a meeting at the Auld Cross Keys Hotel in Denholm on the 31st of January to discuss the National Park concept. Kerry brought together some impressive speakers to help inform the discussion. Two of the these were farmers in the current Scottish National Parks who came a long way on a winter's evening. Special thanks are due to them, as well as to NFUS national vice president Rob Livesey who ably chaired the meeting.

It was a lively evening which provided a lot of useful information from the visiting farmers about their actual experience, much of it positive some of it negative (pointing to pitfalls that can be avoided in the Borders), and from the audience about their views. There was a full house of more than thirty. It was clear that many of the audience had already firmly decided against the National Park idea before the meeting and from the comments they made were unmoved by the points made in the discussion. However everyone was given a questionnaire to take home to discuss with the family. What can be seen from the responses now coming in by post and by email is that there was a range of views, and that the meeting had stimulated a great deal of ongoing discussion. We hope that at least some of those who came determined on opposition on the 31st may eventually arrive at a more positive view.

When we have collated all the responses the information will feed into the ongoing design of the proposal for designation.

The meeting

The panel included David Scott-Park (who farms in the Trossachs & Loch Lomond National Park), John Kirk (who farms in the Cairngorms National Park), Fergus Thomson (a chartered surveyor with Edinburgh land agents Davidson & Robertson), and Jane Bower and Malcolm Dickson from the Scottish Borders National Park Campaign.

Jane Bower kicked off, pointing out the threats to farming incomes and the problems accompanying declining Council budgets and Brexit. She briefly outlined how a National Park in the Borders could offer a range of opportunities to farmers which could provide additional income streams. National Parks attract more tourists which creates diversification opportunities and bolsters existing diversification (not necessarily related to tourism). A National Park Authority could be of direct benefit to farmers in giving help and advice in obtaining grants, coordinating local efforts, training opportunities etc. The uplift in the local economy due to tourism would be of indirect benefit to farmers too as it would mean that local trades and other services would be more viable and so more readily available, and it is likely that infrastructure would be better maintained, including roads and other communications.

Statistics show that the Scottish Borders attracts the lowest numbers of tourists, and the lowest income in tourist pounds, of any mainland region of Scotland. In fact the second-bottom of the league is Dumfries and Galloway which attracts twice the numbers of tourists despite being less accessible. It follows that a significant increase in Borders tourism made possible by National Park status, say between 50 and 100%, would hardly be noticeable to locals and would not put any strain on existing services or infrastructure. It is time that all of the fantastic efforts made by Borders people are galvanised into one big idea, and the only really big idea is a National Park.

Jane then quoted John Riddle, a Northumberland hill farmer who is former Chairman of Northumberland National Park, who has said that, for a National Park to be successful, it had to have strong local input into the governing National Park Authority. In Scotland, National Park Authorities are one third locally elected, one third locally appointed and one third government appointed so there is local majority control.

Malcolm Dickson was born and bred in the Borders and descended from centuries of Borders farming families. He has returned to the Borders after a highly successful career in the police. He spoke next, referring to the struggling nature of the economy in this part of the Borders, despite the best efforts of its people and many of their representatives. He was convinced that the economic uplift that would be a consequence of the area having National Park status could only be of benefit to the farmers living and working within it.

Rob Livesey then called on David Scott-Park who had come down from his Portnellan Farm on the shores of Loch Lomond, in the Trossachs and Loch Lomond National Park. David and his wife Freda were both very positive supporters of their National Park. David gave an excellent Powerpoint presentation which showed how the opportunities for diversification which had come about due to National Park status had enabled them to transform what he called a 'failed dairy farm' into a viable and growing business. They sell their organic beef direct from the farm and have transformed the old farmhouse into tourist accommodation. They offer a variety of water sports on the Loch which borders their farm. David was asked if they had created more jobs and replied not yet - except that his son was now fully occupied in the business and he had made use of local contractors and suppliers and so indirectly maintained jobs in the area.

John Kirk farms in Nethy Bridge in the Cairngorms National Park but has several strings to his bow - including a building supply business. He was keen to present a balanced view, and his presentation started out with some negative experiences with some of the administration of the Cairngorms National Park. He had been impressed by the Cairngorms Partnership which was the predecessor of the Cairngorms National Park, but was critical of the current Cairngorm National Park Authority members who, John said, did not listen to the people who live and work within the Park. John warned that Borders farmers could lose their influence in the area if a National Park Authority did not have their interests at heart. He related how he, as a man with passionate views on how the National Park should be run, had been urged to become a member of the Park Authority, but said that as a busy farmer and running his several businesses he really did not have the time - which was true also for many of his friends. However, when the floor had been opened for the audience to answer questions, John became far more positive about National Parks. Asked if National Park planning authorities are obstructive he said no, considerable new building was going on within the National Park, including a new town, An Camas Mor opposite Aviemore on the River Spey, which will have 1500 residential units. He did criticise the planning authority for allowing terrible designs to go through on the nod. On a question about quarries, John noted that three new quarries had opened up within the National Park and there was more quarrying now than before the area became a National Park. John noted that house prices had gone up and commented that some local people were finding it difficult to buy houses in the area. John's building supply business had done very well out of the building activity within the National Park, he said. Queried about a slow response from the planners to an application he had put in he said that it was partly his fault for putting in a large, complicated application involving two farms. He also agreed when questioned that most of the difficulty with planning came about from the fact that the Cairngorms National Park straddles five local authority areas (the Borders Park would be much simpler, as part of only one local authority).

Other points

To a question on whether the National Park had helped pay for the improvements on either speakers’ farms, they replied that the Park had not contributed financially, except for the fact that the LL & T National Park had produced a very helpful farm business plan for the Scott-Parks which had been a significant contribution to the recovery of their enterprise.

What about the extra layer of bureaucracy and planning a National Park would impose? Jane Bower noted that since the proposed National Park was totally within the Scottish Borders area there would be no need to take over from the excellent job Scottish Borders Council do currently on planning. A possible approach would be an administratively 'lite' model which would leave planning with SBC and the National Park as a statutory consultee in planning matters. With this model farmers, and other National Park residents, would not see any difference from the current situation. John Riddle, who farms in the Northumberland National Park was quoted again as saying that there is no added planning burden at all within the boundary of the Northumberland National Park. It need not be more burdensome in a Scottish Borders National Park. Malcolm Dickson pointed out that the Borders landscape is the way it is because of farming, not in spite of it - it is and has been for centuries, a worked and lived-in landscape, one which must change to accommodate the needs of farmers, landowners and residents. The relevant Scottish legislation does not expect a National Park to be a place where time stands still and nothing is allowed to develop, in fact one of the statutory aims of all Scottish NPs is the promotion of sustainable economic development.

What about the damage and mess that tourists might leave behind as they tramp over farms and fields with farmers not able to do anything about it? More moderate heads generally agreed that the Access legislation exists with or without a National Park and this was not really a National Park issue. In any case, walkers and hikers generally stick to paths and marked routes if they are provided and a National Park would facilitate and maintain the footpath network as part of its function. There is already an excellent and extensive footpath network within the Scottish Borders which is maintained by the Scottish Borders Council. As Council budgets continue to be tightened, the Council may find it increasingly difficult to maintain the standards of this and the many other excellent facilities and amenities it provides. A National Park would be able to help and would be expected to work in partnership with SBC.

Any other ways that a National Park could help farmers directly? Everyone was aware that the current system of farm payments would end in 2020, and few if any were predicting that replacement payments would be higher. What might be predicted more reasonably was that the Scottish Government, based on past and present priorities, would be very likely to link farm payments even more emphatically to environmental stewardship. Farmers had been familiar with this for decades and many had embraced the role enthusiastically. The National Park Authority, with its similar priorities, would be able to help farmers and landowners maximise the benefit they could derive from such a revised regime.

Why not just give more resources to existing bodies to do more of what they have been doing? The problem here is that they are all being cut, not given more funds. They will have less capabilities, not more. The advantage of the National Park status would be its internationally recognised 'branding', its permanent funding, largely from Government, and its ability to bring together many of the existing and future economic and environmental improvements to create a benefit that was greater than the sum of its parts.

Rob Livesey finally brought the meeting to a close at 9:00pm, but individual discussions continued in a constructive manner. The campaign for a Scottish Borders National Park will likewise continue to discuss these issues with local people and welcomes comments and suggestions in the 'Comments' section on this website.

November 2016
Duncan Bride Associates have been appointed to produce a Feasibility Study relating to the designation of a National Park in the Scottish Borders area. This study has been asked for by Scottish Borders Council and will be the primary document used in their consideration of the idea. The study will be completed in May 2017, so it will be the incoming Council after the May elections to whom the study will be presented. The study will be published on this website.

17 November 2016
A 'Stakeholder Event' was held this evening in Jedburgh Town Hall at which anybody who considered they had a 'stake' in whether a National Park was created in the Borders - or not - was invited. A panel was assembled who either had long experience of working in a National Park, or how this area might be affected by a National Park, to give short presentations on their experiences and to answer questions from the audience. The attendance about twice what we expected! People were queuing out of the door and extra tables and chairs were needed to accommodate over 150 brave souls, who had come from all over the Borders to attend the Event. They represented all strands of society in the Borders - hoteliers; restauranteurs; farmers; owners of cafes, coffee shops and candy stores; solicitors; bankers and curious Border residents wrapped up warm against the cold night air. Present too were newspaper reporters and no less than six Scottish Borders Councillors... all keen in their own way to see how the weather vane of public sentiment would set by the meeting's end.

Jane Bower opened the evening by giving a brief review of how the idea of a National Park in the Borders was born and introduced the panel. Jane also announced an award by the Big Lottery Fund of £9,354 to fund a professionally produced feasibility study for a National Park in the Borders of Scotland. This award is very exciting as it gives us a hallmark of credibility and enables us to produce a formal landmark document setting out the case for a National Park.

John Mayhew is the Director of APRS, a geographer with deep knowledge of planning, and in particular an expert on the planning law of National Parks. John started by outlining the long gestation period of National Parks in Scotland, starting with the Ramsay Report in 1945. John then took us through the statutory requirements for setting up a National Park as set out in the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 which led to the creation of two National Parks in Scotland, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs and the Cairngorms. John was the major author in a document "Unfinished Business" co-produced by APRS and SCNP and published in March 2013 in which several more National Parks were proposed - including one in the Borders along the Cheviots. He moved on to how National Park Authorities are composed for National Parks in Scotland, and what their duties and responsibilities are. John reminded us that a National Park designation is the ultimate accolade of an area which is very special in terms of its history, culture and landscape, citing some major and well known National Parks around the world. John finished by remarking that while familiarity may lead many living in this area to think it ordinary, in fact we lack nothing in 'special-ness' when compared to the other two Scottish National parks. John's presentation is available.

John Riddle is a farmer who lives and farms within the Northumberland National Park. John started by saying that early in his farming career, he was against National Parks - a trait inherited from his father! But it would be an understatement to say that John had a change of heart as he is now a member of the Northumberland National Park Authority and Chairman of the National Parks UK Executive Committee! John explained that farmers need not fear National Parks, on the contrary farmers can find a National Park Authority a very positive influence on their business. When pressed by one of the many farmers in the audience to outline the problems of farming within a National Park John said he really could not think of any real problem at all.

Big business and forestry was represented in the form of Tony Hackney, Chief Executive of the largest integrated sawmilling, forest management and harvesting company in the UK, BSW Timber, which has its headquarters in Earlston. As the 2012 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Overall Winner in Scotland and UK Award Winner, as well as being the boss of a company which has operations in several national parks across the UK, AND someone who has made his home in Hawick since 2009, Mr Hackney spoke about the opportunities for business, environmental protection and improved facilities in a national park area to work together to improve the local economy and the well-being of local residents while attracting more much-needed tourists to a beautiful but under-rated part of the U.K. Tony's background slide is available.

The tourism theme was expanded upon by the final speaker, Alan Bailey, founder and director of Ruberslaw Wild Camping which won the Scottish Borders Tourism of the Year Award in 2015. Alan explained how NP status, which is an instantly recognised international brand, could truly enhance the experience of visitors by making access to the countryside easier and safer while coincidentally ensuring that visitors remain on well-made and signposted paths instead of wandering over open ground. He pointed to the fact that there is huge potential in the region - good facilities, hard-working people, good services - but that the Scottish Borders consistently attracts lower numbers of tourists than any other part of mainland Scotland. He believed that the fact that the area is unknown to and by-passed by tourists meant that all that was needed was a much better public profile and that, even if we doubled the small number of tourists we attract at present, this would hardly be noticeable to residents, except in terms of the improved health of our struggling economy. He said the Borders has to say to tourists "must do" instead of "drive through". Alan's presentation is available.

Questions were then invited from the floor and it was clear that there was a great deal of interest in this initiative and that people had thought carefully about what it might mean. Although there were some doubts, these were largely addressed by the panel, and the overwhelming consensus appeared to be that there were far more positives to be gained from National Parks than negatives.

The audience then broke into smaller groups to discuss some carefully crafted questions, which were designed to gauge the view held by the general public on a number of important ways a National Park could affect the area. A summary of the discussions was written up by each table and an analysis of these forms is now available.

Discussion was animated as people headed out of the hall into the night. While there were some doubters and some who were defiantly unconvinced (that is the nature of society), it is fair to say the mood was overwhelmingly positive in favour of a National Park in the Borders of Scotland, and the benefits it could bring to those and live here.

29 October 2016
A detailed and quantified review of how a National Park in the Borders could get its income, with consideration of various possible revenue models, is  now online.

3 October 2016
You can now register online for the Stakeholder Event. You do not have to register online before coming to the Event, but it would help us to estimate numbers and also indicate the range of interests of the participants.

5 September 2016
A more detailed review of how a National Park in the Scottish Borders might be governed is  now online.

24 August 2016
A more detailed review of how a National Park would positively impact tourism in the Scottish Borders is  now online.

14 June 2016
A more detailed review of the case for and merits of a National Park in the Scottish Borders is  now online.

22 April 2016
The Scottish Campaign for National Parks held a seminar on the Socio-Economic Impacts of National Parks on 22 April. Jane attended and gave an update on our campaign.

The Chief Executive of Loch Lomond and Trossachs NP, Gordon Watson, gave a presentation on working with local farmers, landowners and community groups,which detailed the range of projects they were involved in and their success, not least in raising considerable funds from many sources for the projects. They are attracting events and sports championships to the Park, and they ensure that local businesses are all promoted at these events. He commented that designation brings a focus of resource and a strategy for developing an area.

The Convener of Cairngorms NP, and the Director of an English Area of Natural Beauty (AONB) which has the same protection as an NP but no planning powers, also gave presentations. There was a discussion about the pros and cons of having planning powers for NPs. Gordon Watson was in favour and said that had allowed them to give tailored support to businesses in the Park, increasing business growth, whereas if the Local Authority had all the powers there would not be the same focus on the needs of the people in the Park. The NP was also able to give a lot of pre-application encouragement and help in preparing planning applications. However it was agreed that it took up time and resource, and in the case of Cairngorms NP which has planning powers but has a complex arrangement with several LAs, it was clunky and needed reform.

Both NPs' projects involved a considerable amount of training and skills programmes leading to NVQ and other qualifications, helping local people into jobs, and extensive outdoor educational programmes with school children. They also raise funds for and manage environmental projects which involve substantial numbers of volunteers, repairing paths, peatland restoration, archaeological recording, etc. More information about all of their projects is on the websites of these NPs.

A study by Cairngorms found that the main factor among visitors in deciding to visit the area was that it was a NP, and 65% of overseas visitors came because it was a NP This confirmed the evidence of other studies that the NP label is a powerful, internationally recognised marketing brand.

Dumfries & Galloway have funded a feasibility study into designating an area as a NP and they are now going to do a consultation exercise.

Gordon Watson of LL&T has kindly invited members of our campaign to visit and find out more about the parliamentary and local processes they went through in setting up the NP, and also to meet some of the local project participants. We are arranging a date to take advantage of this offer.

7 March 2016
A useful meeting was held on 7th of March with some Scottish Borders councillors and officials from planning and economic Development during which they gave us good advice on the presentation of a proposal to put to the whole Council. To this end, we have started work on an initial feasibility study to present to the Council, and we are raising funds to pay for a full professional report.

We are planning a conference sometime in November to bring together everyone who is interested in creating a National Park in the Borders of Scotland - precise date and venue to be announced.

A presentation to the Community Council of Hawick was very well received. However, we have not yet had any requests for information from community councils in the Jedburgh or Kelso area. These are very important areas and we would really like to hear their views. Please contact us Jedburgh and Kelso!