Friday, February 27, 2015

The “missing link” coastal path between Inverness and Nairn – Highland Council accused of no action over last 18 months - a project with potential economic benefits going nowhere?

Here on the Gurn we have detailed many times how we believe that “the missing link” coastal path section between Nairn and Inverness would bring benefits (not just for residents' recreation, but for visiting hikers, cyclists and other tourists and thus the local economy). We believe, like many of the town’s community councillors, that this is a doable project in a time of austerity and perhaps even more so now given the economic boost it would bring. 

With the “missing link” in place Nairn would then be part of a long distance path network extending west beyond Inverness and into the Great Glen way and the West Highland Way beyond that. Also eastwards to Forres and Findhorn and into the Moray and Aberdeen Coastal paths. Anyone who has attempted long distance walks will know that an infrastructure to support walkers with food, accommodation etc grows up around these trails. We wouldn’t of course get numbers like the many tens of thousands that walk the West Highland Way but this observer believes that many walkers trying the Great Glen Way could be tempted to take an extra day starting or finishing in Nairn – after all Inverness doesn’t have a beach – to say nothing of the local residents and holidaymakers who would be willing to spend a day on the walk.

Walkers using local facilities in Milngavie  before setting out on the West Highland Way - if the "missing link" coastal path between Nairn and Inverness were to become reality then such scenes could become a regular sight in Nairn.
What we need now is for the Highland Council as the local authority, to take the lead in negotiating with landowners and co-ordinating bids to potential funding sources such as the Coastal Communities Fund. They are best placed to administer and deliver the missing Link. Sadly they seem to be very lethargic in this direction however. At the meeting of West Community Council on Tuesday night in Nairn Academy, Brian Stewart chairing the meeting for the Westies made reference to Dick Youngson’s efforts for the Suburban CC on local rights of way and stated:

“All of us in different ways have been pushing on the Coastal Path because it is the so-called missing Link between Findhorn and Inverness and it is something that has quite a substantial impact [...] For anybody who lives and anybody who wants to visit or everyone who wants to watch birds or cycle along the coast. It is something that will contribute to tourism and visitor numbers and therefore to the economy of the town in a way that is important. 

We last raised the question of the Coastal Path with Highland Council officials about 18 months ago and there was a very specific agenda to that because the plan is already there - and just for your collective information we followed up recently and asked what further action there had been over the last 18 months because there are particular things the local authority has to do like talk to the landowners and things like that. A copy of the letter we sent is available and more to the point the reply we got, very quickly, from the Highland Council official concerned. That the summary of the report of what has happened over the last 18 months is no action, no progress and no prospects – now that is pretty bloody disappointing[...]."

Brian said he made common cause with Dick over his bridle path efforts and also with Murd and his colleagues who want to see improvements to the riverside paths and crossings, he went on:

“This is a portfolio; this is an area of work where we already have assets. What we have got to do is make sure they are in good shape and where possible improved and enhanced. We have a core path strategy; we have an official in the Council who is directly responsible for delivery. Over the last eighteen months zero has been delivered. [...] We need to see a slightly more proactive approach, it isn’t fundamentally about money it’s about engaging and doing the necessary work. Whether it is negotiating with landlords, whether it is putting up signposts or whether it is just getting tech services to clear shrubbery. There are a lot of things that can and should be being done. They don’t require reports to Council and they don’t require written updates or action plans, I’m a great one for action plans, but the plans are all there. It is about delivery.”

The Gurn supports the Community Councillors who are pushing for “the missing link” footpath between Nairn and Inverness. It seems we need our four Highland Councillors to shake the corporate tree a little and ensure speedy delivery of the Coastal Path. We are told that money is not available but as Brian Stewart states, a lot of the work has already been done. It is now about the will to do this and the implementation. Are our Councillors up to the job to deliver this for our community? When our four representatives really want something to happen then they can find the cash, manpower and spur officials into action. Witness the costly disappearance of the Big Slide on the Links and the money spent recently on the abortive Kingsteps access issue that went all the way to the Court of Session.

We would urge our Councillors to act and act quickly. Perhaps also our representatives at higher political levels and any Westminster parliamentary candidates or their aides and supporters that might be reading this might wish to make an intervention to support a project with such obvious benefits to the community.

For those Gurnites that wish to support local efforts to see the missing link Coastal Path implemented, please click the read more tab to see the text of the letter from the Westies to Highland Council and the e-mail reply from the official concerned.

Text of letter from Nairn West CC to:

18 February 2015
Stewart Eastaugh
Access Officer
Highland Council
Round Tower
Inverness Castle Inverness IV2 3EG

Dear Stewart


1. It is more than a year and a half since our last exchanges of correspondence on this subject. Questions of coastal access and recreational amenities have continued to feature in local Community Council discussions, and in media reporting – from the legal dispute with Alexander Brodie to the vexed question of maintenance of the Nairn riverside local path and the footbridges over the river. It therefore seems timely to seek an update on progress with the delivery of the coastal path.

2. You did not respond to my last communication on the subject (my email of 31 July 2013 – copy attached for ease of reference). Your previous messages had said that

You would be putting an update of the Action Programme to colleagues in the development and planning department, and to PED Committee, by the end of the year [2013], and it would be updated annually; 

You would be reporting to the Access Forum, again by the end of the year [2013]; 

Your personal view however was that the coastal path project“would not be delivered quickly”, since you did not expect developer contributions to be forthcoming, and Council budgets were tight.

3. Your prediction - that the project would not be delivered quickly - certainly seems to have been borne out. But it would appear that the principal reason for this is the total inertia of those tasked with progressing its implementation. You acknowledged in our earlier correspondence that you were the official primarily responsible.

4. It is perhaps relevant to remind you that the Coastal Trail project has been on the table for almost a decade if not longer. It was a ‘focus’ of the Green Network
strategy outlined in the 2007 A96 Corridor Development Framework. It was listed as a “Priority 1” commitment in the Green Networks Action Programme adopted as Supplementary Guidance in May 2011. Even more important, this and similar proposals were identified as key (eg in section 4 para 4.28 and in para 5.33) of the Scottish Government’s National Planning Framework, published in June 2014. That document, NPF3, lists the paths and trails network as National Development 8, on which SNH was tasked to lead key partners in developing a coherent plan. In the case of the Nairn-Inverness coastal path, the fact that Highland Council already has a detailed plan and design specification drawn up and approved as supplementary guidance on effect means that the plan is already in place. The requirement is to implement it.

5. Against that background the apparent lack of action is – or should be – a cause for serious political embarrassment. A detailed plan already exists. Your responses in 2013 implied that the constraints were largely financial. This was misleading and misguided. Delivery of the coastal path is not dependent on, or conditioned by, developer funding. The Moray Coast Trail, the Dava Way, the Speyside Way and the Great Glen Way have not been delivered by developer-contributions. Moreover, as was illustrated in the announcement by Danny Alexander MP on 26 January of grant-funding totalling some £10 million from the Coastal Communities Fund to Scottish communities and projects, there is money available from alternative sources such as that scheme. The latest round of the LEADER programme has also now been launched. As pointed out earlier, there are many other potential sources including the SRDP, the ERDF Northern Periphery programme, the Big Lottery, HIE, and others.

6. Your earlier responses also listed the other actions that needed to be taken locally – which included a clearer definition of roles and responsibilities, negotiation with landowners, the identification of alternative and additional funding sources, and proactive engagement with SNH and other relevant agencies. None of these require dedicated funding: all are management/administrative/planning tasks.

7. It would therefore be appreciated if you could itemise what specific practical action you and other responsible Council officials have taken since mid-2013 to progress this priority project. Taking the list in your own emails as a starting point:

a) Was a report and recommendations submitted to PED before end-2013, and if so with what result?

b) Did the Access Forum discuss the project and if so with what outcome?

c) Was a further report prepared and submitted to PED before end-2014 in line with your comment that the Green Networks Action programme was to be updated annually; and if so, what progress did it report and is a copy of that report available?

d) What recommendations did you put forward regarding this and indeed other core paths for inclusion in the proposed Inner Moray Firth Local Development Plan which is currently being examined by the DPEA?

e) What further contacts and negotiations have taken place between the Council and relevant local landowners about the proposal to establish a coastal path/trail between Nairn and Inverness, and if so with what results?

f) In particular, what dialogue has taken place with Cawdor Maintenance Trust (applicants to develop a site at Delnies) and Morlich Homes (developers of the former Altonburn site) about the delivery of relevant sections of the coastal path?

g) What further action remains to be taken, or is required, by the Council as local authority in order to establish the appropriate public rights of way (if necessary) along the route of the coastal path?

h) What contacts have there been over the past two years with SNH and other agencies about the implementation and delivery of the planned coastal path?

i) What proposals have been put to potential funding sources (such as those mentioned above) for grants towards the delivery of this coastal path? If none, what are the constraints or obstacles to doing so, and how might they be overcome?

8. There is wide support in Nairn – and we would assume elsewhere – for the completion of this ‘missing link’ in the coastal path network along the Moray Firth. We believe that its delivery will make a significant contribution not only to the recreational amenities available to local residents, but will also enhance the appeal of the area to hikers, cyclists and other tourist visitors, thereby boosting the local economy. There is corresponding disappointment that so little is apparently being done to deliver the project.

9. The offer made in our original letters to you still stands. As a Community Council, our task is to represent the views of our constituents to the Council and elsewhere. We are ready, as I believe are our colleagues in other local CCs, to engage with you and support you in practical action to bring this section of the coastal path into existence. An update from you covering the points listed above will, we hope, be the basis for renewed effort by all concerned.
10. I look forward to your response. I hope we might expect it in a matter of days or weeks, rather than months....

Yours sincerely
Brian Stewart
Brian Stewart
Secretary, Nairn West CC

Reply from Stewart Easthaugh to Nairn West CC

Sent: Thursday, February 19, 2015 5:05 PM
Subject: RE: Coastal paths - Nairn to Inverness

Dear Mr Stewart,
Many thanks for your email and letter.

In response:

1.0 I seem to recall responding to your email dated 31 July 2013 – attached?

2.1 An updated Action Programme was drafted for colleagues. It was not taken to PED Committee and has not been formally updated

2.2 I have reported to the Inverness and Nairn Local Access Forum

2.3 I still believe that the project will not be delivered quickly

3.1 We hope to deliver the section of the Coastal Trail between Nairn and Moray but that will require the consent of the owners and managers.

4.0 Scottish Natural Heritage have been in touch to discuss the project and we hope to use their help and experience in delivering these trails.

5.1 Delivery of the Coastal Trail is dependent on resources [money and staff] and agreements. All the projects you have quoted have needed investment and staff [voluntary, embedded or contract] time to deliver.

5.2 We will have to review how the trails are financed.

6.0 Management, administrative and planning tasks take dedicated time. There will either be an opportunity cost and other roles are sacrificed or additional costs as staff ae employed to deliver the projects.

7 (a) No report was submitted to PED

(b) It was discussed at the Forum. Since then I’ve taken responsibility for trying to deliver the Nairn – Moray section.

( c ) No report was prepared, it has not been updated and there is no progress to report.

(d) None. The Core Paths Plan is not being reviewed.

( e ) None

(f) None

(g) I think you may mean path agreements here. We have taken no further action to develop path agreements for the Coastal Trail.

(h) In the last month I have discussed the project with SNH and the RSPB.

(i) No proposals have been put to potential funding sources

8.0 Noted

9.0 Noted


Stewart Eastaugh
Access Officer, Inverness and Nairn
Environment and Economic Development
Development and Infrastructure Service
The Highland Council
Round Tower
Inverness Castle


Anonymous said...

Isn't there the large military hurdle at Fort George including surrounding land to overcome for such a project?

Graisg said...

Yes that is true but one could go over the brae and down to the Gun Lodge for a pint etc and then up to Fort George for a tour if that took your fancy, otherwise continue Snecky bound.
A coastal path might not necessarily hug the coast every step of the way.

The Jacobite said...

There is a few missing links with some of the thinking. Creating new path's fine but look after the ones you have first.For example On our door step Cawdor Castle known all over the world . In a few weeks time you will need jungle training and a machete to get from the Firhall Bridge to Cawdor. And there is more as the saying goes get your own house in order first before you start on others.

Anonymous said...

The Jacobite is right!

But also, What above all the local and central scottish government statements about £27 million of this and £18million of that "invested" in cycle paths and walkways for a more healthy Scotland - where is all this going?

All these monies and investigations into high street decline and "reinvestment" packages etc.
GET THE PEOPLE HERE and we wont need them. Give them a coastal multi-use path!

not holding ma breath said...

'Coastal path'. Can this be filed alongside Nairn bypass? Maybe we'll get lucky and Danny and the Lib Dems will get behind it