Today's main event was a meeting of the Cairngorms National Park Planning Committee, to do what's called the 'call in report', followed by an informal board discussion and a visit to the opening of an affordable housing development in Kincraig. So, I hear you avidly ask, what's a call in report? This is clearly the burning issue of the day.
Planning in the Cairngorms National Park is unique. There is nowhere else where the planning authorities remain the Local Authorities (Highland, Moray, Aberdeenshire, Angus) but the Park has the option, within twenty one days of the lodging of an application, to decide that the application raises issues of significance to the aims of the Park and that therefore, the Park's planning officers and the Park planning committee (which consists of the entire board) should decide on the application. Most applications don't get called in in this way - but some do - either because they are obviously controversial, or simply because they do directly impact on one or more of the Park aims. Call in doesn't mean that the Park is 'against' an application - it just means it thinks it is important enough for them to want to have a say. The side effect of this is that, since we have to decide this within twenty one days of any application being lodged, we have to meet every fourteen days - spring, summer, winter or autumn, in between Christmas and New Year included - keeps us on our toes....
The informal discussion invloved a presentation by the entertaining duo of 'Gergask Air' - Councillor Jaci Douglas and board member Lucy Grant, who transported us in their make believe world to the year 2050 and what the Park had achieved, by making changes in how it inter-related with partners and public, beginning way back in 2009. Fortunately they transported us all back to 2009 (apart from Convener David Green, who they seemed to want to leave lost in space), with plenty of food for thought on how we might improve things. From that we went on to a couple of working groups to look at what we do well and what we do not so well.
After lunch, we turned to the vexed question of a web portal for the Park, which has been in gestation for two years now, but still has issues in relation to delivering fair and equitable linkages to all members of all business organisations who have quality accreditation and should therefore appear on the portal. This is a really complicated problem because there are so many organisations that tourism businesses - especially accommodation providers - might choose to join - andwe can't be seen to be favouring one over any other. We need to work with the business community to obtain concensus on a way forward - but quickly!
Then on the Ard Gheal, the new group of four affordable houses built under the auspices of the Highland Small Communities Housing Trust, on land made available by the Forestry Commission. The houses actually cost around £160,000 each to build in the end, but with grants and part ownership, the price for each family was much reduced. Fergus Ewing MSP did the honours opening the development. Back then to the car, where a flat offside rear tyre greeted me - but a trip down to the boathouse at Loch Insh Watersports found Jonny Freshwater with a compressor to hand to oblige with a refill.
And finally .... today's beef - BBC Breakfast TV did a piece this morning on how the Royal Mail were withdrawing five post bus services from remote parts of the Western Highlands - but totally failed to mention that Hiughland Council had reacted swiftly to put emergency measures in place to maintain a public transport service in these areas whilst a more permanent solution was worked out. They had their story, and they were sticking to it, even when I contacted them to point out what we were doing. Such is life!