The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) has sent an open letter to the Chief Executive of Cairngorm Mountain Limited (CML), highlighting concerns relating to parking charges at Coire Cas, which were recently introduced on a trial voluntary basis (see UKH news).
Approval for this scheme was granted by the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) in July, and the donation boxes have been in place since late summer. Visitors are asked to donate £2 per car - the same, CML point out, as the charge at Forestry Commission car parks within Glenmore. Initially this will be a two-year trial scheme, as required under the terms of CML's Visitor Management Plan.
The success or otherwise of the current voluntary charges will influence a decision whether, in the longer term, to adopt a mandatory parking charge.
The MCofS has three concerns which relate to the current parking scheme, the use of voluntary donations, and the potential imposition of mandatory charging.
The organisation believes that the current voluntary donation trial is inadequately signposted and that, as a result, visitors may be unaware that the scheme is in operation. In their letter the MCofS urges CML to improve signage to avoid the possibility that the voluntary donation system will fail due to lack of public awareness. They don't pull any punches:
'While we understand that further signposting is planned, this will be essential to allay any suspicions that CML is planning for the voluntary donation scheme system to fail.'
The letter also raises a concern that the income from voluntary car parking donations will be used solely for CML general maintenance and running costs, as opposed to being applied to environmental work in the National Park:
'The MCofS believes that car park maintenance and snow clearance of the access road are essential for the viability of CML's skiing, general tourism and funicular business and that these are therefore essential operational costs.'
One of the key principles of the Cairngorms National Park's Outdoor Access Strategy is that net revenue from car park charges should be 'reinvested in caring for the natural and/or cultural heritage of the area or the opportunities to enjoy it'. The wording arguably invites a degree of ambiguity with regard to operations such as snow clearance on access roads, since people's opportunities to enjoy the Cairn Gorm area rest in part on their ability to access it.
The letter also cites the long tradition of free parking at Coire Cas for climbers and hill walkers:
'The MCofS is fundamentally opposed to the imposition of mandatory car parking charges and believe that such charges would constitute a charge for access.'
'Furthermore' they conclude, 'the MCofS does not understand why you insist on pursuing climbers and hill walkers who are in any case, as assessed by reference your own figures, a tiny minority of the total visitors to Coire Cas.'
The open letter can be read here.
CML has yet to respond to the concerns it raises.