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Kate Forbes: Skye’s Fairy Pools offer a lesson for handling ‘overtourism’

In a recent comment piece (13-09-23) in The National newspaper, Kate Forbes MSP highlighted the huge success of The Fairy Pools Car Park and Toilets project, a local community and environmental charity-led partnership between the  Minginish Community Hall Association and OATS, which tackled ‘overtourism’ at Skye’s Fairy Pools, one of Scotland’s most iconic and popular visitor destinations.  She felt it was a project that many popular visitor destinations with a lack of access infrastructure within remote communities could learn from.

Read the full article here:

Background to the Fairy Pools Car Park and Toilets project

A community and environmental charity led project on Skye that has helped boost tourism to the famed Fairy Pools, one of Scotland’s most popular and remote visitor attractions near Glenbrittle, was formally opened on 12 July 2021 by Kate Forbes MSP.

Ms Forbes, the then Finance and Economy Secretary, visited the site which benefited from an £800,000 investment in the development of a 140-space car park (now 177 spaces) and off-grid toilet block. The site can now safely accommodate 200,000 visitors a year.

The project was spearheaded by Minginish Community Hall Association (MCHA), the local community volunteer organisation, OATS, and the Highland Council Development and Infrastructure Service; with funding from LEADER, Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Land Fund, and additional financial support from both OATS and MCHA.

An unsustainable 82,000 people visited the Fairy Pools in 2015, with more than 180,000 visitors recorded in 2019. The narrow single-track access road was regularly blocked with parked cars, verges were damaged and both local residents, businesses and emergency services had to deal with significant disruption. The lack of infrastructure and onsite facilities also led to path and habitat degradation and litter and human waste management issues.

MCHA used the Community Asset Transfer scheme to acquire the land from Forestry and Land Scotland. The car park site was then leased to OATS, who had the experience, expertise and capacity to deliver the scheme and handle the liabilities, for a 20-year period on the condition that they construct, operate and maintain the car park and toilets.

Quotes from the Kate Forbes article in The National

For years, the community [Minginish Community] had felt disempowered and disenfranchised, victims of the disruption and congestion they suffered. No public or private body felt their pain as acutely as they did, and therefore did not have an incentive to fix the problem. But the liability could become an asset if local people were empowered to solve it. And that’s exactly what happened; it became an asset.

The gain for the community wasn’t just that the problem had been relieved, it was greater than that.

The financial benefit from the car park and facilities was reinvested in community facilities…

Enabling visitors to contribute – not to national coffers or the Treasury – to local causes and local needs transformed the visitor experience and residents’ lives.

The truth of the issue is this; there’s always a solution to some of the economic challenges we face, but you’ve got to face up to the local impact and importance of community empowerment. Every local asset, whether that is land, buildings, resources or talent, should be to the benefit of the local community. They should have a say over how it is run, how it is built or how it is used. And the benefits should all be reinvested or recycled locally.

Other quotes:

Dougie Baird, Chief Executive of OATS, said: “There is a long-term issue of lack of basic infrastructure at popular remote destinations throughout Scotland. The effects can be far reaching with disruption to community and business and damage to the very special locations that people wish to see.

“The hugely successful landlord/tenant collaboration forged between MCHA and OATS is the perfect model to demonstrate how effective third-sector partnerships can address these issues. As well as actively protecting important and fragile assets and ensuring visitors enjoy a positive experience, the project generates revenue that will continue to provide funds for local community objectives and local and national environmental conservation. The legacy will be significant.”

Graham Campbell, Chair, MCHA, said: “At the outset, our priority was to help address the disruption the increase in visitors was having on local residents through congestion and vehicles parking on verges, often causing blockages. It wasn’t feasible for us to do this on our own. Working with OATS and with the support of Highland Council, HIE, Forestry Land Scotland and our MSP, the issues for local residents have been alleviated, the bonus being the much-improved visitor experience, the creation of local employment and an income stream for MCHA that is allowing us to support other Minginish community projects.”

Since opening with the first 100 parking spaces in January 2019 the car park has generated enough annual revenue to pay for full-time and casual support staff [from the local community], the rent, PPE equipment, and further site infrastructure development and admin costs. This has included the addition of a defibrillator on site. The operating surplus is being re-invested as seed-corn funding for access and conservation work, including for the recently completed Skye Iconic Sites Project, and funding local community benefit projects.

Despite a number of construction challenges, stemming from the site’s remote location, ground conditions, and constantly increasing visitor numbers, the new facilities have been fully operational since October 2020.


Related articles from The National:

‘New approach’ needed as Glenfinnan Viaduct tourist numbers rocket – 13 June 2023

Glenfinnan: How a Highland hamlet is cracking under Harry Potter mania – 02 July 2023

Fairy Pools takeover has calmed overtourism at Skye beauty spot – 30 July 2023

Duncan Bryden, Oats’ Chair, talks to journalist Steph Brawn from the National

Villagers call for public toilets in ‘mad and chaotic’ Glenfinnan – 31 August 2023