HIGHLAND Perthshire is not unique in experiencing a substantial increase in visitor numbers. The sheer volume now threatens to overwhelm the carrying capacity of our local infrastructure and services. It is also creating serious concerns for our world-class natural environment.

This has been exacerbated by the impact of Covid, where “staycations” have become the default for people desperate to have a break from lockdowns. However, it is important to recognise that this “problem” has been growing for some time. Indeed, an influx of tourists during peak holiday periods threatens to damage the built and natural environment upon which tourism depends.

For Highland Perthshire and other beauty hotspots in Scotland, tourism underpins the local economy, creating employment opportunities across the tourism industry and sustaining the wider business infrastructure. However, not everyone views an uncontrolled, exponential growth in visitor numbers positively.

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Local residents can experience negative social impacts – anything from empty food shelves at local outlets to road obstructions caused inconsiderate tourists parking illegally. The environmental impacts are also not insignificant, with local degradation of the countryside through discarded waste and damage to trees caused by irresponsible campers.

Currently in Highland Perthshire, as elsewhere, there are critical staff shortages across the tourism sector. This is severely constraining not only growth but also the maintenance of pre-Brexit levels of activity. Restaurants, hotels and food outlets report severe shortages of key staff and have been forced to reduce opening times. Of course, Covid has added substantially to those difficulties.

It is worth noting that there are regular requests for accommodation from people moving into the area on social media. At the same time, we are experiencing a substantial increase in second homes and holiday lets. This has resulted in an overheated property market, such that local first-time buyers and key workers required by local tourism businesses are being priced out.

The National: The historic centre of the city of PerthThe historic centre of the city of Perth

This is an unsustainable situation which corrodes the economic and social cohesion of fragile local communities. We need to balance and integrate economic growth with environmental sustainability and social justice, and redress the imbalance between second homes, holiday lets and affordable housing. There are other imbalances and inconsistencies which act to frustrate the proper functioning of a vibrant and progressive local economy based on tourism.

The overall level and nature of investment in tourism by the current Tory administration of Perth and Kinross Council is out of balance with the changing needs of the industry. There is an apparent drive for high-end tourism, such as the proposed new boutique hotel in the city centre. That £1.9 million council investment in a private sector development is not being reflected in the support for new and improved facilities designed to cater for touring visitors such as campervans.

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Motorhomes continue to present a particular problem. Many are unable or unwilling to use licensed sites and they often park overnight in council car parks without paying any fees, despite clear prohibitions in place. The council rarely if ever takes enforcement action on this unauthorised overnight camping.

Arguably, national and local policy guidance in this area now looks dated and potentially contradictory. One example of this are the local policies concerning Travellers. In one reported incident, Travellers were removed from a car park near Perth in April 2021 while motorhomes parked up on the same location at the same time were allowed to remain.

There needs to be a major rebalancing. We need to urgently and radically review current tourism management plans. First and foremost, we needs to widely and comprehensively consult to ensure open debate and public ownership of resulting action. Above all, we must demonstrate that the economic benefits of tourism activity can be shared across the wider region and not concentrated on a few centres.

Mike Williamson is the SNP councillor and candidate for the Highland ward on Perth and Kinross Council.