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Verging on the ridiculous – new parking charges proposed for NC500

By Mike Merritt

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Motorhomes park up on verges near Durness last year.
Motorhomes park up on verges near Durness last year.

Highland Council is aiming to cash-in on the North Coast 500 by installing parking meters in several key locations along the route.

But already concerns have been raised over the potential impact – with fears that it could cause more motorists to try and avoid the charges by parking on verges etc.

Locals at various NC500 pinch points, such as around Durness, last year complained of motorhomes in particular causing havoc by parking off road.

Now Highland Council is to consult with community councils around the NC500 about introducing fees at various local authority car parks.

They include those at Bettyhill, Lochinver, Kylesku Bridge, Scourie, Bonar Bridge and Durness.

The plan was floated at last week's Sutherland ward meeting in Golspie.

Councillor Hugh Morrison, who represents North, West and Central Sutherland, said the proposals had "potentially big impacts."

"Essentially the council wants to introduce parking fees at certain points along the NC500," he said.

"The cost of installing each machine is around £5000 and then there is the issue of who will enforce the fees?

"This really needs thinking through. It is not like introducing fees in urban areas where there is no nearby alternative. There is a danger that those who do not want to pay will simply drive two minutes up the road and park on the side, causing more problems.

"The cost of installing and enforcing these charges could be counter productive. It may end up costing more than it brings in. There is a lot of work to be done before this is settled."

A spokeswoman for Highland Council said that community councils would be consulted soon.

Draft traffic orders will also be published in due course, giving the public the opportunity to comment. The council stressed the orders would be widely publicised.

The move is part of a new off-street parking policy agreed last October by the then named Environment, Development and Infrastructure Committee, which could generate income for local investment.

Surplus income would go to local area committees to decide what to spend it on.

Smoo Cave in Durness alone has around 90,000 visitors a year and is a popular destination with drivers of motorhomes.

One enterprising entrepreneur recently submitted plans with Highland Council to demolish the derelict building near the site and install a free-standing outdoor laundry unit capable of turning round 18kg/40lb of laundry in 30 minutes.

Kris Scott also wants to put 20 pay and display car parking spaces on the site to ease congestion at Smoo, and is mulling over the possibility of renting pitches on the roadside to catering vans, if there is demand.

Last year it was revealed that the NC500 had generated more than £22m in 2018 for the north Highlands' economy.

The NC500 is the 516 mile-long touring loop in and out of Inverness which takes in a network of roads around the region's north, east and west coasts.

The study by Glasgow Caledonian University's Moffat Centre for Tourism also reported 180 new jobs were created in 2018 linked to the route.

But for some it is more a highway to hell than a road paved with gold - with complaints from locals of long conveys of traffic, conversely speeding motorists and pit stop tourists replacing longer stay visitors.

A fifth of the route is single track, where a lot of the problems occur.

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