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Park Talk – Building on our strengths

13th November 2015

Park Talk November 2015 by Peter Argyle, CNPA Convener

I was very pleased to have been able to attend the Cairngorms Business Partnership annual conference in Coylumbridge on November 4th This strongly attended gathering of businesses and partners from across the National Park took as its theme ‘Building on Our Strengths’.

It was good to see that the CBP is in good heart, with over a hundred people present to hear some highly informative presentations and participate in the workshop sessions.

The theme of the conference was well chosen; there are some real strengths that we should celebrate. These are shown by the latest ‘Business Barometer’ survey of businesses across the Cairngorms and in the results of the CNPA’s recent visitor survey which were revealed during the conference.

Businesses are reporting that their confidence in the future is high, significantly improved over previous quarters and there is also a growing recognition of the importance of the Cairngorms National Park to businesses working in it, particularly when it comes to business promotion.

The results from the third 5 Year Visitor Survey were extremely positive. Over two and a half thousand people were interviewed for the survey, at locations all across the Park, over a period of twelve months, giving results that are robust and meaningful.

What is clear is that people visiting the National Park come here with very high expectations but, once they arrive, they find those expectations exceeded. The place is even better than they thought it would be across a range of areas, from the quality of the landscape or footpaths to accommodation or service standards.

Again, the fact that this is a National Park is a very important part of visitors’ decision making. This is particularly the case for overseas visitors (who stay longer and spend more while they are here). And overall, visitors scored their experience at 8.76 out of a maximum of 10.

This is very encouraging and positive but does mean that we will all have to work hard to continue to exceed visitors’ expectations over the coming years. There is no room for complacency.

A good deal of discussion in the workshop sessions focussed on the issues around Housing in the Park. We were reminded that prices here are 30% above the Scottish average while earnings are 26% below the Scottish average.

This stark statistic underlines the debate on housing and the need for homes that are affordable to people living and working in the Park, homes available on a range of tenures – to rent as well as to buy.

Over 1000 houses were built in Badenoch & Strathspey area of the National Park during the first 10 years of so of the Park’s existence – around 900 of those were completed between 2005-2015, with just over 300 houses being classed as affordable, usually delivered through housing associations. Interestingly enough between 1980 and 2005, before the Park and in its early days, over 800 council houses out of a stock of 1,100 in this area were sold under the ‘right to buy’ legislation.

Second home ownership across the Park is significant – as high as 22% in some communities. Houses classed as holiday homes and vacant properties also have an impact.

I have already written in these columns of my belief that housing will be the most important issue we will have to tackle in the next National Park Partnership Plan. The solutions are unlikely to be found in approaches taken in the past. We will need new thinking and new initiatives and we all need to work together to find solutions that work here.

The Cairngorm National Park has tremendous strengths, in its people and its businesses as well as its environment, landscape and its simple attractiveness to visitors. We can build on these strengths to address the very real challenges facing the Park, by working together and finding new approaches to create genuinely sustainable communities.