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Cairngorms National Park

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Park Talk: Delivering during Covid-19

16th April 2020

By Xander McDade, CNPA Convener

The Covid-19 pandemic is constantly changing and this column may well be out of date by the time you read it but at the time of writing, this is the state of affairs for the Cairngorms National Park Authority. Our staff and Board are all working from home and we’re doing our best to maintain services to the Park’s residents and businesses to the best of our ability.

As I’ve written about previously, the CNPA has two statutory functions – we are the outdoor access authority which means we are here to raise awareness and promote responsible outdoor access and uphold access rights. At this time of year we generally encourage dog owners to keep dogs on leads in and around farmland to protect lambs or where ground nesting birds may be – and depending on the weather, we will also issue advice to guard against fire in dry conditions.

At the time of writing the Government advice is to exercise once a day, close to home and only with members of your household and our advice about dog walking during lambing time and nesting season still applies. As we’re all acutely aware at the moment it is vital that we do not place any additional strain on our emergency services and therefore we would ask that you do not light fires during the ongoing crisis.

Our other statutory function is planning and development management. We are working hard to ensure that we can continue to deliver our planning duties in a timely manner, whilst fully adhering to Government advice. Our Board met via Video Conference at the end of March and our Planning Committee will also meet via VC later this month. We’re currently hoping to be able to live stream these meetings from May onwards, and staff work in this area is already quite advanced as we had been planning to start live streaming Board meetings from later this year, albeit without the added complication of the Board and staff teams spread across 25 locations. In the meantime all papers and planning documents are available online as usual.

Our planning officers continue to process applications but they are not meeting with applicants or members of the public or visiting sites. Their recommendations to the Planning Committee and the decisions taken by members will be based on the information supplied with an application and presented to them in reports and representations. Whilst this is not ideal, our priority is keeping people safe and we will continue to deliver our statutory functions as best we can. Preventing delays in the planning system will aid our economic recovery in the aftermath.

Tourism is vital to the Park’s economy and the impacts of this crisis will be far reaching. To help with this, the Cairngorms Tourism Emergency Response Group has been set up, chaired by the CNPA. The group will provide consistent and comprehensive analysis of the implications of Covid-19 for tourism, coordinate communications with the industry, ensure close working between key agencies and the private sector, gather, share, facilitate, interpret and disseminate information and agree relevant actions and delivery plans. It involves the Cairngorms Business Partnership, VisitAberdeenshire, MoraySpeyside, VisitScotland, Aberdeenshire Council, Highland Council and Highlands & Islands Enterprise.

Furthermore, over the coming weeks, myself and the Chief Executive shall be leading our Board and staff teams as we develop our plans to provide further support to our communities and businesses in the difficult months ahead.

I can assure you, that as the National Park Convener, a local councillor and a business owner, I fully understand and share the angst and worry that the current situation creates for everyone in our communities, but by working together we can overcome the challenges ahead. Finally I would like to thank all those who have volunteered to support our communities and key services across the Park and the CNPA staff who continue to support them during this difficult time.

Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives.