Q&A Election Candidates Q8.

HERE for Caithness

Question 8.

What are each candidates thoughts on/plans for addressing negative impacts of (some) aspects of tourism in the area, in terms of dirty/roadside/informal camping & park ups and associated impacts on local residents.

Thurso & Northwest Caithness

Iain Gregory

Once again, we are behind the curve. I have travelled all over Europe, and you will not go very far before you come across a “Camper Stop” (Aires de service in France and Belgium for example). All these places are, generally, simple areas where you can park your campervan, almost always with water supplies, often chemical toilet and “grey water” disposal facilities, and sometimes even electric hookups. They are very often free. In other words, Europe is geared up for travellers, and so should we be. Just how much would this cost? Get them every few miles, ensure that adequate toilet facilities are available at regular intervals as well, and the problem is cured. And for those who make an unpleasant mess, we do have the capacity to deal with them appropriately………………

Ron Gunn

Tourism can generate huge amounts of money for an area. ‘Invite to Pay’ (not compulsory) parking can also raise money, John O’Groats has raised over £100,000 with their Invite to pay and are resurfacing their car park with the money. Any ‘Invite to Pay’ funds should be used in the local area to address the local issues. Highland Council employs Seasonal Access Ranger teams to police the area and I would look into staffing levels and see if that was sufficient. Services for tourists also need addressing and that is something I would be happy to support.

Matthew Reiss

Similar for the last answer, Government should stop issuing small sums of money for short term cosmetic improvements and, instead, give Councils the freedom to decide how to use the money, with a minimum of paperwork. In other words: let’s stop centralisation.

I would increase the Ranger service, provide foul water disposal points and upgrade the utterly appalling worn out and faded tourism brown signs for starters.

We need a proper Tourist Information service in the county, staffed by friendly local people. I would abolish/reform VisitScotland, returning the funding to a local level. I would revise the Access code legislation increase the Ranger services, handing them some enforcement powers, similar to the Lake District National Park.

Thurso town centre would be helped by a lick of paint and new simple signs for visitors. Visit Scotland is not delivering for Caithness.

Gaelic road signs could be replaced by some Norse signs, highlighting our distinctive Viking heritage- the Viking on the side of the MV Hamnavoe is one small example.

We can learn much from our Orcadian neighbours and should actively build links, trying to gain a bigger share of the cruise ship economy and market our exceptional archaeology much more, as spearheaded by the Caithness Broch Project.

Struan Mackie

The impact of antisocial tourism has been plain to see in every corner of the county. This was particularly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic when ‘urban escapism’ saw swathes of unprepared tourists descending on the Far North with nowhere to stay.

The removal of the Visit Scotland office in Thurso was a deeply flawed and irresponsible decision taken by our national tourism agency. Despite fighting against the removal, we now have no professional tourism support between Inverness and Ullapool at a time when visitors are arriving in even greater numbers.

I have argued on the Highland Council’s Tourism Committee that we need to promote tourism responsibly and not portray our area as a great wilderness to be conquered. Although we live in a beautiful and exciting part of the country, the thoughts and fears of the locals must always be taken into account. Something that simply doesn’t happen at this time.

I am also highly critical of the North Coast 500 for their irresponsible promotion of the route and I believe there needs to be local accountability for the organisations actions.

Alex Glasgow

There have been accounts of such behaviour for some years although it became highly noticeable following Corona. The unanticipated rise of popularity of the NC500 route also has contributed with many vehicles the fragile rural roads were not designed for. Although we cannot legislate against bad attitudes by others, we can mitigate their effects.

Countryside Rangers currently conduct patrols where they offer advice to a high response rate. In some cases, it could be failure to understand the Outdoor Access Code. Providing literature with a simple printed guides have been suggested to me by those in the hospitality industry.

We could also incentivize responsible stop-overs by motorhomes such as the Aires model which operates in many European country. For a small service charge they would have access to charging points or chemical waste disposal sites. The Campa website currently reports only three of the latter in Caithness, one of which even I was unsure of the location! The promotion of ‘invitation to pay’ parking has provided immense amounts which can be directed to local area committees for infrastructure improvements.

Ultimately, though, much of these lies outwith the authority of Highland Council. Engagement with hospitality sector and statutory agencies should be pursued to improve Brand Caithness.

Karl Rosie

Tourism is a vital part of the economy throughout the Highlands and most of the visitors enjoy the range of attractions and stunning land and seascapes whilst treating them with respect. However, the Covid pandemic lockdown periods and the foreign travel ban created a staycations boom and greatly increased pressures on the increasingly popular NC 500 route.

An investment of £ 1 million was subsequently made to improve infrastructure, waste provision and collection services. The Council also employed 10 rangers who are responsible for increased policing of popular areas of tourism and areas being affected and impacted by increased numbers of tourists.

The Scottish Governments rural tourism infrastructure fund provides further opportunities for investment and improvement. I am convinced that there are many solutions within our communities to improve the offering for tourist and local communities alike. If elected I want to work with partners and communities to explore collaborative projects that enable revenue generation that benefits both tourism and local communities.

Wick & East Caithness

Bill Fernie

As the costs keep rising and the negative impacts keep coming we need something more radical such as a charge at rental of camper vans with the money being used to clear up more places. The users need to pay for the mess and unfortunately it is hard to identify the individual culprits. Bigger fines could also be looked at. Parking charges are to spread over Highland car parks and it might be possible to use some of those funds to deal with the problems. Of course not all vans are rented so other methods will also be needed. It may be also that we need to employ staff to go round to make sure people follow the rules and perhaps even impose fines on certain people if found to be breaking the normal rules. This would need to be balanced from the cost to the need but there may be other possibilities that communities suggest for the council to follow up. Starting with community councils and others we should be able to come up with an answer.

Willie Mackay

This situation was very concerning in 2020 when the surge on the NC 500 hit us all but thankfully our Local Authority put plans into operation to address the problem and still are as we speak. I’m convinced that now in the far North of Scotalnd that we have resources in place to welcome visitors from all over the world to our county . The introduction of rangers last year was for me a success in monitoring tourist traffic and behaviour and dealing with once ugly unwanted situations.

Neil MacDonald

Tourism brings income to the area and is essential to the hospitality industry. However, the upturn in tourism caused in part by the North Coast 500 but massively added to by Covid and the inability to travel has meant that we have received visitors on an unprecedented scale. There is not the infrastructure to deal with them. The Council needs to create some of that infrastructure, camping areas, waste disposal units and the like. It does not fall entirely to the Council to provide this but the Council should take the lead in encouraging small businesses and communities to look at doing this as well. All of this would provide income either to communities or the Council itself.

Jan McEwan

I would promote green tourism, and I believe we should start “Keep Caithness Clean” campaign, this would not only include the adverse effects of tourism but would also look at improving our towns. We need an innovative approach to deal with tourism effects due to the rural locations that have been substantially impacted. This may include looking at increased policing, enforcing, and reporting.

Andrew Jarvie

With the population decline, the tourist industry is becoming an ever more important part of our economy. However, the sudden surge in popularity of the NC500 without the essential infrastructure improvement has left too many communities paying the cost. No overnight camping areas actually need enforced, I’ve seen too many motorhome convoys literally blocking off lay-bys to others so they can park up. Most lay-bys don’t actually have bins, so even of you want to be responsible, there is no option. So many of these simple and low cost to fix, but I will continue to press the Government (who benefit handsomely from the extra tax income) to provide extra funds for more expensive projects like traffic calming measures through villages.

Raymond Bremner

Most tourists who visit our area are responsible and treat our local communities, areas of natural beauty and interest with utmost respect. A minority do not. As part of the collaborative budget this year and last year, in respect of the pressure of increased visitors to our area, mainly in respect of the popularity of so-called “staycations” as a result of restrictions on international travel due to COVID as well as the popularity of the NC500, the Council employed 10 rangers who are responsible for increased policing of popular areas of tourism and also areas being affected and impacted by increased numbers of tourists. An investment of £1M has been made in improving infrastructure and increasing waste provision and collection in local areas. The Scottish Government’s Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund also provides opportunity for capital investment including areas like the possibility of improving car parking facilities at Whaligoe Steps. If I’m re-elected, I’ll be looking to continue the investment in these areas and looking at opportunities whereby tourists can be given the opportunity to contribute to revenue raising streams that will provide for increased investment in tourism in the north. I’d also be looking to secure funding through government funding schemes as well as engaging with stakeholders who have a responsibility in tackling impacts of adverse tourism including a review of by-laws and regulations as well as providing an increase in regulated tourist sites.

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