Pentland Hills Regional Parks Strategic Park Consultation

Posted on: February 7, 2020

The Cockburn’s response to the Pentland Hills Regional Parks Strategic Park Consultation.

“The Pentland Hills Regional Park (PHRP) is a living, changing environment and has evolved as a mixed land use resource which is an important leisure, economic, community and heritage asset to the capital city and the surrounding Lothians.”

In the early 2020, the City of Edinburgh Council held a public consultation on the future of this unique site.

Cockburn Response

The Pentland Hills are an essential component of the Lothian landscape – culturally and naturally. They provide a strong boundary between Edinburgh and its hinterland and have been a recreational asset for millions of people over the years.

The context this plan is change.    Edinburgh’s population has increased by 12% over the past decade and predications suggest that the City Region population will grow by 50% over the next 25 years.  Housing pressures continue to rise.  Development pressure both in the Park and in its immediate environs is increasing.  For example, proposals to redevelop the Midlothian Snowsports Centre with hotel, retail and additional catering facilities will have implications and will increase the existing visual intrusion of the dry slopes.  A related but separate proposal to create mountain-biking centre on the former Lothianburn Golf course and adjacent land has been the subject of recent consultation.

Similarly, the potential development of the former Redford Barracks and the further expansion of Burdiehouse will further encroach on the landscape setting of the Park.

Existing visitor infrastructure is already under significant pressure.  Car parks at Harlaw, Flodderstone and Red Moss, and at a number of other more informal access points, overflow during peak times of use intruding onto the public highway and creating localised congestion hotspots.  Here, the main action appears to be the better utilisation of existing space which is laudable but will not address the problems of increasing number of visitors.  The  strategy notes that penetration of public transport into the Park providing opportunities for mitigation.  However, it is very light on how to achieve great modal shift and there appears to be no analysis or consideration of increased penetration into the park (e.g. buses running to Red Moss, for example).

However, the greatest change and  challenge facing the Pentlands Hills, and the one that has the potential to bring about far-reaching and dramatic changes to every aspect of the area, is Scotland’s changing climate.  The Scottish Government and both Edinburgh and Midlothian councils have declared a climate emergency and have announced interventions to address the challenges and opportunities of climate change.  In addition, a range of Scottish and UK national bodies have recently brought  forward a range of reports highlighting the declining condition of UK and Scottish natural habitats and wildlife and the further and accelerating challenges ahead for both species and their habitats

The draft PHRP Strategic Plan does acknowledge climate change but it does not present actions and interventions on a scale which matches the challenge of the Climate Emergency.

In broad terms current research suggests that the climate related challenges for the PHRP are predictable and clear and a range of impacts including (but not limited to) the following can be reliably anticipated:

  • Species loss:
  • Habitat Shift:
  • Non-native species expansion
  • Changing rainfall patterns and seasonality
  • Changes to woodlands and other habitat types
  • Drying out of peat, wetlands, streams
  • Deterioration of standing water bodies
  • Greater risk of extreme weather events
  • Accelerated footpath erosion

At the same time, the recognition of greenspaces to social, health and environmental well-being is increasing.  The Strategy highlights the benefit of outdoor recreation and the need to provide suitable infrastructure to support this.  The growing population will undoubtedly see an increase in people wishing to access the park.  A clear framework for managing this growth is essential.

As a matter of urgency, the draft PHRP Strategic Plan must put in place a set of actions to assess the challenges of a changing climate on all social, economic and environmental aspects of the park and design and implement a set of actions to quickly and effectively address these challenges.

Overall, the Strategy whilst to be welcomed on one level strikes as a “roll-over” document, continuing the same policies without meaningfully attempting to engage in the emerging significant challenges that the Park will face in the short, medium and long term.  As such we think that major revision is required to address:

  1. The ecological damage through decades of land management practice that have eroded the landscape and biological qualities of the Park;
  2. Encroachment of an expanding city through suburbanisation of the Green Belt and exploitation of development opportunities. This could serious erode the landscape and the continuity of countryside that is a current feature of the wider setting of the city and its hinterland.
  3. The inevitable intensification of recreational and visitor activities with associated development pressures.
  4. The challenges of our changing climate.

Without a robust evidence-based resources-supported vision to address these, this Strategy will not achieve its vision or its objectives.

The Cockburn’s support for the Pentland Hills Regional Park is absolute.  We hope that this comments will result in revisions to the Strategy and more ambitious action plan aimed at addressed these key challenges through the Strategy period and beyond.