Ian Johnston: Parking charges in the wider Cairngorms area have featured in TAC before, notably in connection with the car park at Spittal of Glen Muick - see TAC50, pp16-17 - and it's surely no coincidence that two other car parks became pay-and-display immediately following the designation of the Cairngorms National Park on 1 September 2003.
First out of the blocks was Invercauld estate, with a £2 charge introduced at Keiloch. In fairness, a free toilet in a new building has been provided - although the litter bin inside the building may be a mistake. The blurb next to the payment machine states that revenue raised "will be used to improve access for all visitors to the estate". This sounds laudable, but it should be noted that this estate is currently applying for retrospective planning permission for a track bulldozed at Gleann an t-Slugain. Let's hope that walkers and cyclists aren't inadvertently paying for more land abuse.
Next up was the National Trust for Scotland, with a £2 charge introduced at Linn of Dee. A consultation exercise had indicated that the majority of visitors wouldn't be averse to paying, as long as revenue raised was put back into (for example) footpath maintenance on Mar Lodge estate.
The introduction of the pay-and-display here was interesting. The plan is for a composting/bio toilet block and an "interpretative structure" (a noticeboard with a roof), together with the creation of a few more parking spaces and the removal of the cattle grid at the entrance. Having recently had occasion to push a wheelchair around the estate, I appreciated this last change greatly. The blurb on the existing noticeboard clearly stated that "charges will be introduced on completion of the works". What actually happened was that the machines were up and running, together with pay-and-display notices, before work had properly got underway.
The legalities of parking charges are no doubt complex and contentious. I'm not violently opposed to paying at either of these sites - in both cases a facility exists to park in a defined area, and the charge is per visit rather than per day, recognising that significant numbers will be off for a night or two. I do however have a couple of suggestions which would make charges more acceptable.
In the case of the Keiloch and Glen Muick, a bit of transparency would be good. After a period of operation - say a year at Keiloch - a notice should be put up showing how much has been made and where the money has been spent. Something more specific than "improving access" - if there's nothing to hide then there should be no problem.
The same thing applies to the NTS. Is the money raised going directly to Mar Lodge estate or into a central fund? I'm full of admiration for the work being done to eradicate vehicle tracks on the estate. If parking charges pay directly for this sort of work, I'm convinced that people would be happier. There is also the issue of other methods of getting to Linn of Dee. How about some joined-up thinking with a small bus running from Braemar? Realistic timetabling and reasonable frequency might tempt folk to use such a service, and would open up walking options from a simple stroll through the Mar Lodge grounds to big routes. It might also tempt people to spend a bit of dosh in Braemar, too.
Adam Watson: The Keiloch case added insult to injury by the deposition of large unsightly boulders on all places along the road to Keiloch where a car could be stopped, and also at a small space on the south side of the nearby main Deeside road. Since the last site was used by people walking down to the Dee and not to the hills, the obvious intention is to force such people to pay at Keiloch even though it is a quarter of a mile to the north. Given the shortage of spaces for a tourist to stop and take a photograph or a short walk, this is counter-productive.
The boulders were placed far too near the road, some even on the tarmac. The roads department received a complaint from my wife, who is a councillor, and I saw in early November that the boulders have been moved back away from the tarmac edge, but were still preventing a car from parking.
Ed. - When Andrew Coleman of the Upper Deeside Access Trust explained the Glen Muick charges in TAC50 (in 2001), he stated that there would still be scope for "hard-liners" to "park further down the road away from the car park if they are intent on avoiding payment" - an option which the Keiloch boulders appear to have removed from that area. Inverurie-based TACer Jon Metcalf recently checked the Glen Muick situation and says this: "There are two 'No verge parking' signs within about 200 metres of the actual car park [which costs £2 for cars]. Bar these there has been no attempt to block casual parking such as with the boulders at Keiloch, so you could get a car safely off-road in a non-passing place at several places within a kilometre of the roadhead." It would be good to hear from anyone who has tried this "free further back" option - any hassle?
All this creeping pay-and-displayism in the east is wearyingly predictable (see also Neil Reid's letter on page 17), and it will surely be only a matter of time before it spreads to the west. The NTS owns not just Mar but also Lawers, the Coe, Kintail etc, while the Loch Lomond / Trossachs park isn't likely to be slow in mimicking the moneymaking methods of its companion (and rival?) authority in the east. As things stand, there are no payment machines at Rowardennan, or at Inveruglas (where the new toilet block / info centre is an undoubted improvement, as is the footpath to the start of the Sloy road), but for how long?
Re the Linn of Dee, TAC has seen a statement written by Iain Gabriel (email@example.com), the Aberdeenshire Council director of transportation and infrastructure, in reply to a query from Jenny Watson (Adam Watson's wife). Dated 21/11/03, it reads: "I understand that the Council's initial resistance to the introduction of charges for car parking at Linn of Dee was not supported by the introduction of charging in other car parks in Council ownership. Consequently the terms of lease of the car park to the NTS includes the following:
"Car Park Charging: The tenant shall be permitted to levy charges for car and coach parking within the subjects leased, if they so wish, provided that the level of such charging remains consistent with the principles of maintaining (and not discouraging) public access and provided that all proceeds from such charging are reinvested, by the tenant, into the maintenance and management of the car park/ancillary facilities and the footpath networks leading therefrom or used for other related access infrastructure/projects on the Mar Estate or other neighbouring land."
Gabriel ends by noting: "I am advised that the Trust is undertaking a considerable amount of work in the area which would adequately demonstrate that the receipts from parking charges are being utilised appropriately and in accordance with the terms of the lease. No monitoring or auditing arrangement [is] in place which would assist a more detailed response but I trust that this will be of some assistance." Well, monitoring/auditing should be put in place, and quickly. And as for that "not discouraging access"...
TAC 60 Index