The right to roam legislation can come at a cost.
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The summer season may be late this year due to lockdown, but things are suddenly and undoubtedly very busy.
This is to be greatly welcomed by those involved in any way in the tourist industry, but it brings its own problems. The Right-to-Roam aspects of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, with the very best of intentions, give rise to certain behaviours which are less than socially acceptable, as can be witnessed in many tourist hot-spots across the Highlands. At a parochial level, my in-box contains regular complaints concerning visitor use of Dornoch Common Good land.
This has been a seasonal bane of my life for a number of years and I can find no ready solution.
Here is the situation as I see it. The title to all Common Good land in the Highlands lies in the name of Highland Council, with responsibility effectively falling co-jointly to the 74 elected members of that Council, on behalf of the individual communities. This means that Highland Council through its 74 members has responsibility for the lands of Dornoch Common Good. The circumstance by which motorhomes can park without active challenge overnight at the Dornoch Beach and Airfield Car Parks, and wild-campers can set up on any part of the Common Good land without active challenge from the Council, could mean that elected members of the Council are complicit in the operation of a free-to-use, unlicensed and unofficial camping operation, which has no toilet facilities, in direct competition to the officially licensed campsite 100 yards away – a campsite from which Highland Council levies a significant annual rent on behalf of the Dornoch Common Good Fund. There is a highly-unsatisfactory issue here which is difficult to address, especially if any enforcement costs were to be charged in turn against the Dornoch Common Good Fund.
Not that the council has any shortage of issues to address. The NT headline identifying the appointment by the council “Gold” emergency group on a temporary consultancy basis of an Executive Chief Officer (ECO) for Education at a reported wage of £936 per day would have made many stop and question. It came as a complete surprise to me. There may have indeed been a need for such a level of expertise, but there are two points which strike me. Firstly, the lack of transparency on the appointment and the level of payment – did nobody question the public perception of such a rate of pay. Secondly, the Education ECO ostensibly has area responsibility for Sutherland, but only for the limited duration of his contract. That to me is Highland Council being deeply disrespectful to Sutherland and its fragile rural economy.
Maybe the Boundaries Commission has the answer to our many problems. The current proposal is that Highland Councillors reduce in number from 74 to 72 – guess who loses the two? It is suggested that Edderton is hived off back into Ross-shire, and Sutherland becomes a single ward of four elected members, to cover an area of 2028 square miles. That to me is again simply disrespectful even to suggest.