Pentland Hills tax plan to raise funds for reserve

Bob Johnson is against charging for events in the Pentlands
Bob Johnson is against charging for events in the Pentlands
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EVENT organisers will be asked to pay a maintenance fee and face stricter regulations over outdoor activities held in the Pentland Hills Regional Park under plans proposed for the wildlife reserve.

Land managers, including Edinburgh City Council, want greater controls for park users after the number of event participants doubled last year.

The number of recreational events held in the 90sqkm Pentlands park climbed from 26 in 2010 to 36 last year, with corresponding participants increasing from 1880 to 3356.

Land ownership of the park is split across three councils, the Ministry of Defence and several private land owners – a situation that has previously hindered introducing tougher restrictions.

In the past two years, forty-two per cent of events run in the Pentland Hills have been organised to raise funds for or awareness of charities.

Carnethy Hill Running Club secretary Bob Johnson, who helps organise the Pentland Skyline and Carnethy 5 hill races each year, said he would view charges as an insult.

He said: “My own view is the council should be encouraging people to go up there because it’s a darn sight cheaper for the country to get people up there and getting fit rather than the enormous amount of money we spend on health care.

“A running club like us, we should be sponsored by the council and the Government. We should be encouraging the use of those hills and anything like charging is wrong.”

Mr Johnson, who lives in Colinton and climbs the hills each morning, said frequent users were already respectful of the natural treasure.

More than 600,000 visitors use the regional park annually.

Edinburgh council does not have powers to withhold permission for the majority of events in the Pentlands under existing arrangements.

A council report said only 3 per cent of event organisers made a financial contribution to the park’s maintenance. Land owners are yet to make a decision about how much to charge for each event.

It is understood the size of the financial contribution would depend on the event’s scale and whether it was for charitable purposes.

Mandatory event fees are not charged at either Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park near Glasgow or in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs parks.

Initial discussions were held at a meeting of the council’s Pentland Hills Regional Park joint committee on Friday.

Committee chairman, Councillor Bill Henderson, stressed there was no intention to charge people either an entrance fee or for parking. A plan to charge drivers £2 for parking was scrapped last year.

Cllr Henderson said: “People have a right to go into the hills, but we’re trying to find a way of managing it better.”

Friends of the Pentlands chairman John Stirling said the organisation would support event organisers being charged.

He said: “Some of these events like a charity walk or for a school in one day, you can have 300-400 people going across. If you put all of that on the park, it can cause erosion.”

The Great Pentlands Push is one of the larger charitable events held in the Pentlands each year, raising funds to rebuild St Columba’s Hospice.

Senior fundraising manager Martin Lawlor said the 
hospice’s stance on new regulations depended on the detail. But he said: “It’s important for us that all the pathways are maintained.”

An MOD spokesman said they were not seeking stricter controls over events.