ONCE again your Highland Correspondent, David Ross, has his finger on the pulse. His shrewd analysis of the future role of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) needs further consideration (“Skye’s not the limit for population growth elsewhere”, The Herald, October 12). The Scottish Government’s development agency in the north is due for a make-over as ministers seek ever greater cost-cutting measures and the re-focusing of public body operations. As Mr Ross points out, recent suggestions by former HIE chairman, Professor Jim Hunter, that an entirely new agency, headquartered ideally in the Hebrides, could replace HIE, might be a more imaginative solution. Many will agree that public body efforts to stimulate economic development need to be shifted from the more prosperous areas of the Highlands. Going west, well away from HIE’s bloated HQ operations in Inverness, would be a good start.
So it was disappointing to hear the unstinting praise heaped on HIE by Nicola Sturgeon at a recent First Minister’s Questions. Perhaps party members at the SNP conference can persuade the First Minister to get out a bit more. A short walk in the northern Cairngorms will demonstrate what HIE really gets up to when given the wrong land to own and manage.
In 1971 a disastrous decision by the UK Government led to the transfer of nearly 1,500 hectares of the upper slopes of Glenmore National Forest Park from Forestry Commission ownership to Highlands and Islands Development Board, the HIE predecessor body. Today the First Minister can see the result of so-called stewardship of this iconic tract of land by HIDB/HIE – abandoned ski tows and chairlifts, derelict and decaying buildings, collapsed and rotting snow fences and zero possibility that her public agency knows how to plan for the future. The economic heart of our largest national park continues its downhill spiral. Ms Sturgeon needs only a brief exposure to HIE’s incompetence in mountain land management to realise this land must be returned to the Forestry Commission (FC) as soon as possible. We need integrated planning and operations, from the lowest to the highest slopes of Cairn Gorm, by the public body which has been managing land in the Cairngorms since 1923; even better if the FC can also establish a community development trust to involve local and national stakeholders in its management of the whole Forest Park.
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A new agency to replace HIE, based in the Hebrides, might also bring progressive ideas for economic development into our island and west coast communities. Top of the list should be Scotland’s third national park, centred on Harris, where there is already strong local support. Such an agency, under instructions from the First Minister to hone its skills with advice from other places, including the well populated and vibrant western seaboard of Norway, could pioneer a new approach to economic development. For Stornoway read Bergen.
Scotland needs to demonstrate how it can achieve rural prosperity, based on environmental awareness, underpinned by outdoor lifestyles that depend on magnificent scenery and wildlife. Time to get your boots on, First Minister.
2 Bishop Terrace, Kinnesswood, Kinross.