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Park Talk: opportunities knock for new national park

26th October 2023

By Eleanor Mackintosh, Deputy Convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority Board

2023 marks 20 years of the Cairngorms National Park. It was established immediately after Loch Lomond and the Trossachs in 2002. At that rate, you would think Scotland might have had several more national parks by now!

However, work is now underway to create a third national park with communities and organisations being invited to submit their proposals, following the opening of the nominations process. The Scottish Government has committed to designating at least one new national park by 2026, to “bring positive benefits to the environment and economy”.

In a change from how the early Scottish national parks were established, for the first time in the UK, nominations for a new park are being driven entirely by local communities and organisations. For me, having communities at the heart is key to any new park’s success.

I have served on the board of the Cairngorms National Park Authority from the very beginning. I remember well, attending the first board meeting in 2003 with all 25 members – yes 25 (it’s now 19)!

From the development of the very first Local Plan to the recent launch of the fourth National Park Partnership Plan – and everything in between – our communities have been fully consulted on the Park’s future.

You can never please all of the people all of the time but we cannot be accused of not asking for your opinion, whether it be about beavers, core paths, development management or multiple other areas of activity.

I am proud to have been voted onto the board of the Park Authority all these years, witnessing first-hand the positive impacts of national park status. For me, it gives an area a cohesiveness while still respecting that different areas within it have their own distinct identity, opportunities and challenges.

The Park brand, which I was involved in launching in 2005 and the project to mark the boundary highlighted the Park as a single entity. But alongside that we have had inward investment, from the likes of the National Lottery, focusing on particular corners of the Park, such as the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Landscape Partnership or the Badenoch Great Place Scheme – celebrating the uniqueness of these areas and bringing with it regeneration and boosting the local economy.

Thinking about my roles in the Planning Committee, there have been many successful, impactful planning approvals that have delivered for communities and businesses. And there have been refusals too, where the wildlife or landscapes that make this place so special, were at risk.

Planning and Development Management is a statutory function. With a Local Development Plan and policies to guide decision making it should be straight forward but that is not always the case – we are often faced with tricky decisions. How do you provide much needed affordable housing while not harming the environment? Progress is being made and I am delighted that we are the first planning authority in the country to introduce a minimum 45% affordable housing quota on developments in communities that need it most.

This is a big opportunity for those areas seeking national park status – it can bring enormous benefits. There is more focus on the protection and enhancement of the area’s natural and cultural heritage. It can attract vital support to hard-pressed communities, and brings people together to achieve positive change. It is not all plain sailing, and while there are occasional things I might not agree with, I would not change the fact that I am in a national park.