The possibility for the Speyside Way to be extended southwest from Aviemore to Newtonmore came a step closer last Friday when the Minister for the Environment, Stewart Stevenson MSP, confirmed a Path Order - a first for Scotland - which will allow the route to cross Kinrara Estate immediately south of Aviemore, despite the objections of the estate's owners.
The Speyside Way, one of Scotland's four official Long Distance Routes, currently runs from Buckie on the Moray coast to Aviemore. Investigations into the possible extension of the 84km trail began in 2004 and consultations involved a wide range of groups including farmers, landowners, community councils, accommodation providers and so on, with the consultations being led by the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) with support from Highland and Moray Councils.
Two rounds of extensive public consultation in 2005 and 2007 over a variety of route options resulted in a route being proposed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and approved in principle by Scottish Ministers in May 2009. The CNPA were charged with taking the project forward, and have issued a statement saying that landowners along the proposed route have been generally cooperative, and that agreements are now in place over most of the route.
But the Kinrara Estate has held out against the proposal, and eventually the CNPA was prompted to use its formal powers to place Scotland's first ever Path Order on the land to secure the line of the path. The Estate inevitably objected, and this led to Ministers appointing a Reporter to hear the arguments for and against the chosen route. The Hearing and site visit took place in August last year.
David Green, Convenor of the CNPA, welcomed last week's decision and said:
'The CNPA has long recognised the desire from communities along the length of the extension to have the Speyside Way carry on to Newtonmore, so this is fantastic news. The Minister has clearly weighed up all the arguments put forward and has seen the benefits that this new route will bring.'
'We rely on a great deal of cooperation from land managers to help people enjoy the Park. We only use our formal powers as a matter of last resort. This is the first time such powers have been used and confirmed by Ministers in Scotland. I hope that we can all now put this chapter in the process behind us and move forward. The hard work will now continue as planning permission is still required and finding funding to implement this project will be challenging.'
SNH, who had responsibility for submitting the proposals to Ministers in December 2008, also welcomed the decision.
Cattie Anderson, Operations Officer with SNH commented:
'Long distance routes promote health and well-being and allow Scotland's people to maintain an interest in our landscapes and species. They also provide social and economic benefits for communities. We worked with partners to put forward the proposed route for consideration by Scottish Ministers as there was clearly demand from local communities for the Speyside Way extension. We recognise that settling on a route which suited all involved was challenging. It is now for the CNPA as outdoor access authority to deliver the route.'
Since the Scottish Government's in principle approval of the Speyside Way extension in 2009, the CNPA and the Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust have continued to work with landowners along the route to prepare for the implementation of the extensions south to Newtonmore.