Whose park is it anyway?
POSTED ON April 22, 2022 BY James Garry
During the Covid-19 lockdowns the popularity of the park increased as it provided an invaluable, and accessible, breathing space for thousands of residents
Holyrood Park contributes a great deal to Edinburgh’s unique appearance and famously includes Arthur’s Seat, the highest point in the city. It has always been popular with local walkers and cyclists and provides an iconic backdrop to high profile visitor attractions such as the Scottish Parliament and the Palace of Holyrood House. During the Covid-19 lockdowns its popularity greatly increased as it provided an invaluable, and accessible, open space and breathing space for thousands of residents, making the Scottish Government walking, wheeling and cycling priorities a reality for many new visitors to the park.
However, over the years the management of the park by Historic Environment Scotland, and its predecessor Historic Scotland, has not been without controversy. And the increased popularity of the park since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic has served to keep unresolved and contentious access issues, in particular, on the agenda. Campaigners have frequently drawn attention to speeding vehicles and dangerous driving, narrow pavements, incomplete cycle paths and the flouting of the long-standing ban on commercial vehicles. In response to consultations, some sections of the public have called for a complete ban on vehicular access to the park. There are also related concerns over the declining quality of natural habitats across the park and the apparent lack of an up-to-date whole park management plan.
Against this background, it is now particularly worrying that it has taken a freedom of information request to uncover that Historic Environment Scotland may “permanently prohibit all access” to Holyrood park’s Radical Road due to safety concerns. The path has, in fact, been shut since 2018, when 50 tonnes of rock fell on the path during investigative work on the cliffs above. The FOI obtained by the Ferret shows that a study conducted by Historic Environment Scotland in 2021 advised that permanent closure was the cheapest management option but also that such a closure would attract and adverse public response.
And it was in this context that a few weeks ago the Cockburn was concerned to see what looked like a permanent barrier at each of the Road as well as other structures such as netting covering the world-significant “Samson’s Ribs”, the basalt columns referred to by early geologists like James Hutton as they developed their theories of the history of the world. We wrote to the Chief Planning Officer to see if these had the necessary consents in place. We understand that investigations are ongoing but we have been told, “There are permitted development rights for development, including fencing, in relation to Ancient Monuments under Class 72B of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Scotland) Order 1992 (as amended). However, at this stage it would be my view that if the work is being carried out by or on behalf of Historic Environment Scotland, permitted development rights would not apply.”
We understand that HES has granted itself Scheduled Monument Consent for the works, but this does not address the wider planning issues including the fact that the Park is covered by several national designations for both natural and cultural heritage and is also a key feature within the informal buffer zone/visual envelope of Edinburgh World Heritage Site. The Scheduled area includes at least 1112 archaeological sites. The area includes 8 listed buildings. There are also two separate SSSI designations, one for Duddingston Loch, the other Arthur’s Seat SSSI covering the rest of the park. Historic Environment Scotland is concerned about public safety. Of course, we accept that public safety is important. However, Holyrood Park is not a monument or a masonry structure and it is not reasonable or sustainable to treat it as such. Safety in the countryside requires some degree of self-responsibility. Imagine if the same approach were adopted in Glencoe, Torridon or even the Pentland Hills. And safety also means taking your stakeholders with you in your management decisions, in this case local residents and visitors to the park. Whose park is it anyway?
Image credit: pixabay