Confused development plan
Sir, Argyll and Bute Council has recently published a consultation on the next Local Development Plan which seeks to promote a vast new national park covering Argyll’s islands and majority of the western seaboard.
The council’s rationale is to grow our tourism industry; the new park perhaps bringing a brand focus to some of the UK’s finest land and seascapes, much of which is already protected within National Scenic Areas.
While economic development to sustain our declining working population in rural Argyll is necessary and laudable, there are significant dangers in surrendering local control of our communities to a new national park authority. The UK has 15 national parks, and since 2002 part of Argyll has been incorporated into the Lomond and Trossachs National Park.
Underpinning all these parks is the ‘Sandford Principle’: ‘National park authorities can do much to reconcile public enjoyment with the preservation of natural beauty by good planning and management, and the main emphasis must continue to be on this approach wherever possible. But even so there will be situations where the two purposes are irreconcilable... Where this happens, priority must be given to the conservation of natural beauty.’
What this means in practise is that the conservation of landscape trumps all other considerations, regardless of any socio-economic factors. At worst, such a policy leads to a ‘Brigadoon’ desertification of economic opportunity. At best it makes business development, including tourism, much harder and more expensive within the park area and its surroundings.
Essentially the creation of this national park would remove discretion, balance and local accountability from the planning and development process.
A narrow agenda of conservation risks frustrating economic development and job creation - further accelerating rural depopulation.
Regardless of the safeguards the council might introduce in the hope that it could sweeten the national park pill, the Sandford Principle is rightly not optional, and its application across a much wider area is not the answer to rural Argyll’s economic and population woes.
The council should choose its development tools very carefully.
Irrespective of motive, the misguided and inappropriate application of a new national park to promote tourism poses a real danger to the socio-economic sustainability of Argyll’s most fragile rural communities.
James F Lithgow, Ormsary