Support for a new National Park in the UK's 'Outdoor Capital' is split "with strong feelings on either side", according to the steering group that is taking the bid forward.

Mike Pescod, of the Lochaber National Park Working Group (LNPWG) said Highland Councillors had supported the nomination "with the condition of a statutory vote" and said it would be withdrawn if this was not agreed by Scottish Government.

Ministers have pledged to establish at least one new national park in Scotland by the end of this parliamentary term, with the commitment part of the Bute House Agreement between the SNP and Scottish Greens. Thursday is the deadline for bids.

On Saturday a protest was held in Fort William, organised by the campaign group Lochaber National Park - NO More.

Opposition groups have sprung up online with locals concerned about over-tourism, the increased restrictions that come with a new park authority and rising house prices. 

Angus MacDonald, Liberal Democrat councillor said the money needed to create the park should be spent building the delayed replacement of Fort William's Belford hospital.

The Herald: A protest took place in Fort William over plans to designate Lochaber a National Park

Mr Pescod said both the working group and opponents were united in one aspect; that local people have not been given enough information to make an informed choice.

He said: "The small turnout at Saturday’s protest further highlights how difficult it is to reach enough local residents in short time frames and with limited resources.

"It is also unclear how many Lochaber residents attended as it was a protest against existing and new National Parks across Scotland, with a large contingency attending from the Cairngorms area.

The Herald: Fort William: The whole of Lochaber could be designated a National Park Fort William: The whole of Lochaber could be designated a National Park (Image: Colin Mearns/Newsquest)

"Due to the limitations of the first phase of the consultation process as set out by the Scottish Government, which both the LNPWG and the No More group have acknowledged, the working group submitted the nomination for Lochaber this week on condition that Scottish ministers agree to a statutory vote on any final proposal.

"If a vote is not agreed to, the nomination will be withdrawn.

"In Lochaber, there is a 50:50 split in opinion, with strong feelings on both sides.

"If short-listed, all Lochaber residents will have the opportunity to take part in extensive consultation in the next Government-funded phase of the consultation process, and to have their views heard in a statutory vote on the final plan following the consultation period."

READ MORE:

'Outdoor capital says NO'  - Anger mounts over Highland National Park bid 

Poll: Should Scotland have a new National Park?

He added: "Everyone wants the best future for Lochaber and the whole population, but the best way to achieve this is unclear.

"With this way forward to consider National Park designation, we can all take part and decide collectively whether it is a good option for Lochaber."

The Herald:

Skye and Raasay, Affric and Loch Ness, and Wester Ross have joined Ben Wyvis and Glen Affric to withdraw from the process.

Ben Wyvis and Glen Affric said locals felt under-informed and rushed in their decision.

Areas understood to still be expressing interest to be given the status include Perth and Kinross, Dumfries and Galloway, the Scottish Borders, the Tay Forest, the Lammemuirs, Largo Bay and Loch Awe.

A spokeswoman for Lochaber National Park - No more said: “The initial protest on Saturday which was organised in just four days had upwards of 100 people.

“Imagine what we can do in 28 days if that's what we achieved in four.

“The nomination process has failed,  the majority are clearly not in support of a national park.

“Other areas are pulling out of the nominations rapidly as the process is an abject failure.”

Grant Moir, CEO of Cairngorms National Park Authority says the designation could help arrest depopulation in rural areas.

According to authority figures the population rose from 2001 – 2021 by 14% and is forecast to rise by a further 5% by 2043.

"This comes at a time when other rural areas of Scotland (and the wider UK) are suffering from depopulation." said Mr Moir.

He says house price growth in the Cairngorms National Park from 2003 – 2019 was below Highland, Aberdeenshire, Angus and Moray Councils and above Perth and Kinross.

After 2019,  prices grew faster than those areas but he attributes this to increases in people leaving cities after the pandemic.

He said the regulatory framework for land management "is the same inside the National Park as it is outside" and said the authority has leveraged in around £25 million of funding on top of core funding from Scottish Government since the park was set up.