Well, yes it's that time again, when we seek opinions from folk across the North and Northwest Highlands on how they feel things are run, could be ran better and what we really need to shore up our creaking infrastructure and make it suitable for this century.
Yep, all very much the same thing we've heard since the Survey Monkey was just a twinkle in Tarzan and Jane's een. Except this time, we're going about it in a different way. Much like Hannibal Smith in the 'A-Team', we've gone for a collection of unorthodox, but effective folk who live and work in the Northwest. It's been a bit like herding cats at times, but what has come out of countless Zoom meetings over the past year, with a diverse range of argumentative folk, is an acceptance and understanding that things need to change and the way we're going about it might just get us heard by those who can affect real change.
There will be a new government in Holyrood in a few weeks and we want the cabinet to be crystal clear that the North and Northwest is an integrally important part of Scotland, that we contribute far more than we take in terms of the public purse. That a week spent wandering our hills, beaches, woods and Lochs does more for wellbeing than a month in sunny España ever could. The tastiest, globally feted seafood and fish are landed at our harbours, within few years we'll see huge floating wind farms off our shores, contributing energy to our economy and way of life. Our long overlooked peatland is already the deciding factor in whether or not the Scottish and UK Government's hit their respective Net Zero targets. Then there's the hideously successful North Coast 500... which has enticed tourists in their tens of thousands from all over the world, desperate for a pie from Lochinver, chocolate from Durness and a selfie at various vistas from Badantarbet to Bettyhill. I say hideously successful simply because it has created the equivalent of 175 full time jobs, added an additional £23 million to the Highland economy. Bed nights are at capacity, positive visitor reviews have increased, as has the quality of accommodation, food and drink. Then there's the downside. We weren't ready for the massive increase. Nobody could have predicted the global interest in 58-59 degrees North. The thing is, other similar rural locations around the world cope with real over tourism. All six square kilometres of the Amalfi coast, an area that would fit into Sango Sands, has five million visitors per year. The North Coast 500 brings an average of 30,000 extra visitors to the North Highlands. That's two extremes, other areas throughout Europe have massive numbers visiting and they cope because their infrastructure is fit for purpose. Our infrastructure hasn't moved on too much since the invention of the combustion engine. Development Trusts, Community Councils and environmental agencies have had to react and all pleading to the same funders have managed to put the barest of facilities into place. It's barely enough. What's needed is proper investment. So that we can support the positive spin offs of tourism, well paid jobs, better and affordable housing, functional broadband, a joined up public transport network, all of which we currently don't have.
Not that tourism is the only game in town. We are educated people, those we export, mostly do well in life. Our young move away for education and most can seldom afford to return for jobs that don't exist with houses that lie empty at least six months of the year or longer.
It's not just our economy and landscape that are fragile, it's our population too. By coming together as one voice, dotting the i's and crossing the t's in every piece of survey, analysis and documentation that's required to lay the groundwork for change, our hope is that the door to the cabinet that will make decisions about the Northwest can inch open, just that little bit more so our voices are not only heard, but listened to and engaged with. Please take a few moments out of your day and complete the survey. We welcome feedback, be it radical, loud, critical or pleasing, as long as it's constructive.You have the solutions don't be shy in sharing them. Northwest 2045 Vision survey Thank you in advance Ewen McLachlan Development Officer Assynt Development Trust Lochinver, Assynt.