Ambitious plans for a National Park in the Borders will founder unless it can be demonstrated there is a threat to the existing scenery.
That was the stark warning from Scottish Borders Council councillor, Ron Smith, who told Monday night’s Hawick Community Council meeting in the high school that the Borders would not get National Park designation unless it could be shown there was “something to protect”.
He said all of the national parks were there because they were at risk from something, and highlighted the scenery in the Lake District, Cairngorms and Loch Lomond, which was under pressure due to large visitor numbers.
Mr Smith added: “Unfortunately, the whole proposal is undermined because there are two National Scenic Areas in the Borders, and neither of them is in Roxburghshire. And if we have already, as a community, identified that there are those two – Upper Tweeddale and the Eildon Hills area – how can we come now and say that the Cheviots, for example, are even more requiring of protection than the two that have already been identified as National Scenic Areas?
“My attitude is that I remain to be convinced that a National Park is feasible in this area.”
Mr Smith was commenting following a presentation by Malcolm McGregor, of Whitropefoot Farm, who responded to Mr Smith by saying that one of the purposes of the National Park Scotland Act 2000 was to “improve the socio-economic prosperity of the local people in the area. That’s one of the functions, as well as the protection of an area.”
During his presentation earlier in the evening, Mr McGregor said: “We have a unique combination of assets in our particular part of the Borders, which include our landscape, our history, and our distinctive cultural heritage.
“However, there is a problem, and there are threats, which include cuts to public spending; falling farm incomes; a declining population; and yet, paradoxically, the Scottish Borders has the largest proportion of 65 years olds and over in Scotland; limited socio-economic opportunities for local people; and inappropriate industrial development.
“And yet, tourism continues to be a major growth industry in the UK. Although our area here in the Borders remains relatively uknown and unappreciated in the outside world.
“We do have successful tourism businesses here, but they have to work very hard to attract custom. Moreover, our area has wonderful farm produce, expecially Borders lamb, but it doesn’t make the impact that it deserves because the brand is not distinctive enough.
“The opportunities arise from the label National Park and designation, because this facilitates boosting tourism and other businesses such as farming and the textile industry, and has an associative increase in employment levels.”
Community councillor French Wight expressed concern over where the money was going to come from to run a National Park in the Borders. Mr McGregor said the “major input” would be from the Scottish Government who would expect a return on that.
Community councillor Andy Maybury echoed Mr Wight’s concerns about the project’s finances, and also said he wasn’t convinced that there would be an increase in tourism to areas just because of a particular designation.
Mr McGregor replied: “You’re quite right. For example, if we look at Hawick at improving the socio-economic prosperity of Hawick, it’s a multi-dimensional challenge, and one of the dimensions, I think, which would be helpful and supportive, would be National Park designation. It would be one strand that would be better for our area than not having it.”