Questions to the panel
After the main presentations from the members of the panel, questions were invited from the audience. What follows is a summary of the questions and the answers.
A resident of Bonchester Bridge asked: "Does the Scottish Borders have a strong case for a National Park? Where do we stand in comparison with other proposals in Scotland and who is the main competitor?" John Mayhew replied that historically there had been 7 areas identified in Scotland for NP consideration and whilst he would be delighted for any of the remaining areas to be so designated, there were presently active campaigns both here and in Dumfries and Galloway.
SBC Cllr. David Patterson asked the panel: "I am aware of concerns that farmers in the area have about restrictions which National Park designation may bring. Can you allay their fears?" John Riddle replied that such fears were an incorrect perception and in his view there are no significant extra restrictions. As a farmer he may be required to paint a building green or brown, but this is Northumberland County policy anyway. Sometimes stone may be preferred in some places. Overall, he considered that there were not may negatives for farmers and in fact there were many more positives. Tony Hackney commented from his experience with Cairngorms NP, and his understanding was that farmers found the Authority very supportive.
A member of the audience asked: "How is the idea of a National Park for the Borders compatible with the demand for windfarms?" Prof. Jane Bower replied that as of last year, the UK Government had closed the subsidy regime. Too, the Scottish Government had started to charge business rates on all such developments. In consequence, the viability of new schemes had become problematic, as highlighted by the fact that wind farm planning applications are starting to be withdrawn. It was therefore not thought that wind farms would be an issue for the proposed National Park. John Riddle commented that while in the Northumberland National Park wind farms are not allowed, community and 'farmers' turbines are encouraged.
A member of the audience who was both a Northumberland County councillor and member of the executive of the NP Authority stated that he supported the Scottish Borders NP initiative and hoped SBC would liaise with the project group leading it. He emphasised that people need have no fears about a National Park and in the case of Northumberland it had provided a significant boost to the economy.
A local resident asked: "What is the reason why the Scottish Government does not appear to be supportive of further National Parks, including a Borders National Park?" John Mayhew replied that the Scottish Government currently had no plans for additional NPs. It was not so much that they were against more, but they were not presently high enough on the SG agenda. There may be concerns over potential costs of a new National Park, but a Scottish Borders National Park would cost considerably less to start up than the existing two National Parks did.
A farmer from Liddesdale commented: "In our area, blanket forestry is an issue as well as living next to Kielder. It is important that there is a careful integration between forestry, farming and other land use. Do the panel consider a National park would be able to help in successfully achieving such a balance?" Tony Hackney was in full agreement of the need for the careful planning of forestry and land use integration was essential. From his experience of his company working within other National Parks, land owners were mindful of the FSC system and the market for timber products. John Mayhew agreed, stating that the National Park Authority would be consulted on forestry planning schemes. The Northumberland National Park is beautiful because of the way it is kept, which is the result of the partnership between all stakeholders and the good governance of the Authority. Unsightly blocks of forestry can be remodelled with the use of grants and working with land owners, unpleasant blocks can be removed.
Member of the audience asked: "Has the Borders National Park Steering Group had any discussions yet with the Scottish Borders Tourism Partnership?" Alan Bailey replied that he and Jane had given a presentation to the SBTP which was well received and it was their understanding that the Borders National Park would receive SBTP support.
SBC Cllr. Alastair Cranston asked: "Would the National Park be able to help with the further development of footpaths in the countryside?" John Mayhew replied that yes, a National Park was all about encouraging people to responsibly enjoy the countryside, while not adversely impacting upon the integrity of farm land, forestry and other areas. John Riddle added that in his experience the situation was better within the Northumberland National Park because of the active role of the Park Rangers in creating and maintaining footpaths, as well as controlling litter. The NNP also brought in volunteers to help with footpath and Right of Way maintenance. Also the NNP Visitor Centre presently being constructed would create thousands of activity days.
Member of the audience commented: "I question the wisdom of a Borders National Park. Whilst I am a critic of National Parks, the present two are special cases and appear to have worked well. A Borders National park is a totally different kettle of fish here, another quango with extra restrictions and I am not convinced these would be less and if this is a good idea?" John Riddle replied that he could not think of any extra restrictions inside the Northumberland National Park, that are not there outside the Park. A key factor would be the number on the NP planning committee. The NNP had 9 and he thought this was the right number to provide good governance. John Mayhew stated that in his view, the Scottish Borders was a special case because it had an abundance of all the necessary assets to justify designation. The issue of extra restrictions was not borne out by the facts.
Member of audience: "If the Scottish Government can be persuaded, and a Borders National Park be established, will continued funding of the new National Park be problematic, given the pressure on the government's budget?" John Mayhew agreed that it would not be sensible to allow a newly formed NP's funding to gradually dwindle away. This would be an unlikely scenario as it was rare for a National Park to be abolished. Although a serious decision for the Government, the funding represented a relatively small investment for a big reward. Prof. Jane Bower referred to the financial analysis and review of income for the NP on the Borders National Park website. Additional income tax and an increase in tourism spending would provide significant receipts for the Scottish Government.
A resident of the locality asked: "Would a side effect of increased tourist numbers be busy roads and over-crowding on the footpaths?" Alan Bailey described that in the experience of his own operation, if there is not the necessary infra-structure, then visitors will not come. One of the roles of a National Park will be to manage its assets effectively. This will include the provision of good, clearly defined footpaths. He had found that visitors appreciated these and stuck to them.
Member of the audience: "Although a National Park would protect the countryside of the Borders, how would it protect the culture of the area?" John Riddle confirmed that cultural heritage in a NP was very important and referred to the 'People and Places' Reiver Project on the English side of the NNP. Also, for example, the playing of the Northumbrian Pipes was fostered and supported by the NNP. John Mayhew referred to the 'Special Qualities' survey which is carried out by a NP, aimed at protecting and fostering the range of unique cultural qualities of an area. With respect to the Borders, as examples he referred to Rugby, the Common Riding, the Reiver history, textiles and fishing. Indeed, the designation process involved consideration of both the natural and cultural heritage qualities of an area.
Local land-owner comment: "I own a popular local land-mark, which a lot of people climb. I am not against a Borders National Park as such, but against the need for any form of 'Big Brother'. It is important for land-owners to be consulted over foot-paths and for visitors to follow rules, foot-paths and not disturb farming and other agriculture." John Riddle agreed and outlined how in the case of Hadrian's Wall, the NNP had received few complaints from land-owners, of visitors straying off designated foot-paths. People preferred to know where they are going. Whilst sometimes there was the 'odd bad apple', there were not persistent complaints.
Question from Rob Livesey, NFU Scotland Executive Office holder: "What may be the economic benefit through farming, (excluding diversification), but in terms of their core economic-value farm business, as well as funding for any additional costs, which may be expected directly by farmers?" John Riddle replied that there are 220 farms within the Northumberland National Farm and he believed that every farmer who initially wished to be within the boundary has benefited. For example, the NNP applied for and obtained European Grand Funding for an Apprenticeship Scheme for young Shepherds and Shepherdesses. This was very successful. There is also a scheme to support native breeds on farms such as Galloways. He further expanded upon this by referring to additional courses which had been provided for young people to learn the skills of Hedge Laying and Drystone Walling. Prof. Jane Bower added that a Borders National Park could facilitate the raising of the branding profile of, for example, Galloway meat and the selling of this direct to restaurants etc.
Questions for the tables and individuals
Following the questions to the panel, each of the tables at which the audience were sitting were asked to debate a number of questions to help us better understand the public perception of the proposed National Park. There were 10 group responses to the three questions for discussion.
1. Do you agree with the proposed boundaries?
2. What are the three biggest issues a Borders NP should address?
3. What are the three main benefits a National Park could bring to the Borders?
Due to the enthusiasm of table discussions we ran short of time, and only three of the participants got round to answering the sheet of questions for individuals. Notably, the only answer to the question of whether there are any other ways the UK and international image of the Scottish Borders could be raised, apart from NP designation, was a massive increase in Scottish Govt spending in the area. This does not seem very likely in the foreseeable future. Hence National Park designation is so far the only idea which has come forward for significantly improving the socioeconomic status of the area.