Tag: public transport

June 20, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

Following the downpour at Cairngorm (see here and left) the photo above taken last week shows the impact of such flood events.  While Natural Retreats and HIE’s recent mismanagement of Cairngorm has contributed to this, the problems go back much longer and the large car parks for example contribute to the rate that water runs off the hill.  The motor car (which most people including this writer rely on for transport much of the time) has been central to the unsustainable development of Cairngorm ever since the ski road was constructed.  As part of the Cairngorm masterplan (see here) Natural Retreats included a section on transport.   The analysis and proposals in it are far more sensible than the Ptarmigan re-development or installation of snowflex artificial ski slopes above the Coire Cas carpark but do they offer a way forward?

 

Natural Retreats’s brief summary of the transport situation at Cairngorm, if you read past the marketing speak, is pretty damning:

Extract from FOI

Poor public transport, no imaginative solutions such as those used in the Alps (where school buses are used to transport people up valleys in the holidays), no bike or ski racks, a lack of path connections.   So what are Natural Retreats’ solutions?

While there are some good ideas here the package has a whiff of self-interest.    The short-term proposals should be easy to do, as they are all minor improvements, but could be read as a smokescreen for implementing parking charges at Cairngorm (which is one of HIE’s objectives).  There is no information about how they, or more importantly the medium and long term proposals, could be financed despite the owner of Natural Retreats, David Michael Gorton, being extraordinarily rich – but then the way his companies are operating currently at Cairngorm is to take money out of the area rather than invest in it.  Its not surprising therefore that the proposals such as hybrid buses, which the owner of Natural Retreats could afford to pay for now, have been scheduled as “Medium to Long Term”.   There is no indication that he is going to invest anything that does not guarantee large immediate returns (like car park charges) or will not rely on the public sector to pay for everything while NR take the profit.

 

The proposals have been developed without any consultation.  Under the Glenmore and Cairngorm Strategy, approved last year, Natural Retreats were supposed to be part of a Cairngorm & Glenmore Transport Working Group involving Highland Council, HITRANS, Forest Enterprise Scotland and the Cairngorms National Park Authority.  Its not even clear whether this group has ever met let alone been and its telling that Natural Retreat’s refer to a slightly different group of stakeholders in the transport section of the masterplan  including “the Glenmore Masterplan” (is this the same as the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy?), the CNPA, Cairngorms Connected and  Active Cairngorms.  In other words HIE’s and NR’s proposals don’t appear joined up with the plan developed by the CNPA.    There are a couple of specific examples of this.

 

NR’s proposals make no reference to the action point in the Glenmore Strategy that there should be a  “Feasibility study for improved public transport and park and ride approach”.    So, does Natural Retreats support a feasibility study or not and will it contribute to the cost?

 

There is also no reference to the proposal for a new cycle route up to Cairngorm, the cycle link, as set out in the map below:

On the other hand, HIE and NR have plucked out of a hat a new proposal for a “tourism train like that seen at Chamonix or York”.  I am a fan of the Chamonix train  – its free if you are staying in the valley – but to treat a back of a fag packet idea as a proposal without any consultation or working with other people on how it will be financed tells you everything you need to know about how NR and HIE operate.

 

What needs to happen

 

While some of NR’s proposals could support the objective of the Glenmore Strategy that, there should be “Improvements to transport and access infrastructure will increase public transport and non-motorised access to the area from Aviemore and beyond; and walking and cycling within the area”, they are unlikely to “Make a significant change in the way people access the area to increase the proportion of non-car access” because of the way they have been “developed”.   Natural Retreats needs to start consulting the local community, business, visitors, conservation organisations and other stakeholders and to support structures set up in the National Park before it does anything else.

July 6, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments

IMG_6172

Dear LLTNPA,

I know at the behest of the Scottish Government both our National Parks have been promoting  scenic routes and as part of this some interesting sculptures have been created over the last year or so including the structure at Inveruglas.  To many people like myself though the natural beauty of the area speaks louder than any sculpture.  I was dismayed therefore to see the suburbanisation of the Rest and Be Thankful, which should be one of the finest road pass in Great Britain, that took place last year.  I wonder what  the drovers and the soldiers who built the military road have thought of the turning circle and installation of an urban style bus shelter between Beinn Luibhean and  Beinn an Lochain, two of the finest hills in the National Park.  I realise the plaque in the bus stop says responsibility for this lay with Argyll and Bute Council, Strathclyde Transport and Transport Scotland but could the National Park Authority really do nothing to influence this?  I am all for improving the public transport in National Parks but is this really the way to do this?

 

Happy travelling

 

Parkswatchscotland

May 6, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

In London, what appears to be a  very successful campaign  is developing to turn it into the world’s first National Park city.  The proposal won the support of the Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat and Green candidates for the London Mayor election.  Its proponents, from health experts to nature conservationists, architects to geographers, are now trying to win support from local councillors.   According to a poll in the London Evening Standard something like 90% of Londoner’s agree with the idea.

 

As the Greater London National Park City admits, the proposal is not for a National Park in the traditional sense.   It is not about the countryside, does not fit the criteria of the National Park legislation in England (see statement from National Parks England) and does not fit any of the international criteria for protected areas.   The City of London will still dominate.  It is though about further greening of the city.  The term “National Park” is being used because it has resonance, the power to convey a message.

 

Thereby, I believe,  lies a danger.  That the whole concept of what National Parks should be about is diluted, perhaps even polluted.   The risk is the term “National Park” no longer represents ideas about putting the natural environment first but rather becomes associated with attempts to fit nature better around human development.    To put it crudely, if the City of London merits the term National Park, what is to prevent us from building a city in the middle of the Cairngorms or over the top of Loch Lomond if the need arises?

 

The success of the campaign though does tell us something about the importance of nature to people.      People want to connect to nature but, because London is so large and difficult to escape from, the only option for many people is to green their our own backyard or treasurer the pockets of wildness among the skyscrapers.    People like David Lindo, who writes for the RSPB magazine about urban birdwatching, illustrate the point well and the London City National Park campaign pages have some fantastic photos of London wildlife.

 

Cities in Scotland, and indeed the rest of England, also have some wonderful wildlife – the discovery of water voles in the East End of Glasgow comes to mind – but because they are so much smaller, the  countryside is much easier to access.    If you want to connect to nature, it is much easier – if you have the income – to escape the city.  There are of course plenty of green initiatives in Scottish cities, people care just as much as they do in London, but I think our geography reduces the political pressure to green our urban environment.   The middle classes can and do get out – and its often to our two National Parks – areas where the natural environment should come first.

 

While our geography should make it easier to keep the concept of National Parks separate from Greening the City, I believe we need  to consider the relationship between our cities, where most people live, and our National Parks.

 

To give one example, if you agree with our National Park’s current statutory objectives to promote recreational enjoyment and understanding, their connectedness and accessibility  to the urban population should be one benchmark of their success.   By this measure, at present our National Parks are not doing well, aside from the arterial routes along the A9 and A82 and their railway lines, with large swathes of the inhabited off limits for those who have no car.

Try getting to:

    • Ben Lomond from Glasgow – our aspiration should be that everyone from the Glasgow conurbation should experience the view from Ben Lomond once in their lifetime but the only way to get to Rowardennan by public transport is by expensive private waterbus in the summer months
    • Braemar from the south – Balmoral is, for better or worse, one of our most famous tourist attractions but  even as a tourist, after viewing Holyrood palace, you cannot jump on a bus to Deeside but have to go the long way round to Aberdeen.  Blairgowrie to Braemar is 45 minutes or so by car, 5 hours and 30 minutes by bus.
Lochnagar, an iconic mountain like Ben Lomond which is very hard to access without a car
Lochnagar, an iconic mountain which, like Ben Lomond, is very hard to access without a car

There are many other examples, particularly of dead-end roads that provide the main means of access to some of the core areas of our National Parks.   This is a challenge if you are a hillwalker or mountaineer with a green conscience but its also an issue, to use the current political terminology,  about social inclusion, equality of access and social justice.   Its another very good reason for the new Scottish Parliament to review our National Parks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 3, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

There was more press coverage last week about the reduction in cycle storage capacity on the West Highland Line http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14388363.Campaigners_warn_that_train_refurbishments_will_slash_space_for_bikes/   

On Friday I received a response to my letter to Gordon Watson about whether the Park had made any representations about the impact this would have on tourism in the Park.  I covered the potential impact on the National Park in a previous post http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/03/18/public-transport-national-parks-1/     As is usual, the reply was in the form of an FOI response: the answer appears to be that the Park has made no attempt to influence Transport Scotland or the Government on this issue FOI 2016-011 Response

 

I hope that tourism and cycling interests will now put pressure on the Park to speak out.  While there is an unspoken rule between public authorities that they do not criticise each other in public, Transport Scotland is listed as one the Park’s key partners in the LLTNP Partnership Plan 2012-17. You might have thought therefore that Transport Scotland would have consulted the Park about the reduction in cycling capacity on the West Highland Line and – assuming they failed to do this – the Park would have made representations when the news became public.

 

You might also have thought that Transport Scotland was signed up to the transport objectives set out in the Partnership Plan and the Park would be deeply concerned by the proposals to reduce cycling storage on trains which can only undermine that plan.   Among the statements in the plan are the following:

  • “There is great potential for improvements to scenic routes, viewpoints and public transport” – but not apparently if you want to put your bike on a train to Tarbert and take the cycle route back to Glasgow
  • “There is a lack of value attached to maintaining existing infrastructure and assets to a high standard to support tourism”  –  as now is further evidenced by the proposal to reduce cycle storage capacity on trains
  • “Creating, co-ordinating and promoting a wider range of well integrated transport options which will appeal to visitors…………….”  but not apparently if this is about increasing opportunities to take your bike on the train

Partnership Plan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The statement that “linking public transport and recreation and tourism is crucial” is spot-on but if those words are to mean anything, the Park needs to speak out about changes to trains which will undermine this and make the links far worse for cyclists.   Transport Scotland, meantime, need to start acting as a partner to the plan instead of unilaterally.   Bizarrely, they are not listed as a relevant organisation in VE (Visitor Experience) 11 on sustainable transport.   Perhaps the new Environment Minister, who chairs the annual reviews of the Park’s Parternship Plan, will knock some heads together but I suspect it will need more campaigning to achieve this.

March 18, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

When I was out on Monday on west Loch Lomondside I was struck by the number of cyclists.  It was a lovely sunny day and lots of people were out on the main National Cycle route.     Get the West Highland Line to Tarbert and cycle back to Glasgow or Dumbarton- a great day out.

 

The Cycle Campaigns, Spokes and Go Bike, are now both protesting against the design of the trains that are being refitted for the the West Highland Line Scenic route.   They will have only two places for bikes instead of six as at present (which are often fully booked)  or as they put it a 66% reduction in cycling capacity http://www.spokes.org.uk/2016/03/cuts-coming-to-train-bike-spaces/.  The cycling campaigns have highlighted the impact for tourism in Fort William and Oban but there will probably be as significant an impact on Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and the ability of people from the Glasgow conurbation to get out for a day cycling.    Coupled with the camping ban, which will make cycle touring along west Loch Lomond much harder, this is not good news for cyclists in the National Park.

 

There is also huge potential to cut down on car use in our National Parks through promoting travel by train and then bike (the A82 on a holiday weekend is a nightmare).   Lots of people drive out to the head of Loch Long to walk up the Cobbler but the Arrochar/Tarbert station is not close enough to make this an attractive walk.  Make it easy to put the bike on the train and increase the number of trains and we could open up these hills to many more people.   I believe this is something the National Park should be advocating.

 

I have emailed Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive of LLTNP today, asking him if the Park has made representations to the Minister about the impact of reducing cycle places on the West Highland Line.  The Park sits on the A83 landslip group that is chaired by the Minister so they should have plenty of opportunities to get the message across and the importance of looking at public transport and cycling as well as roads on the western side of the National Park.