An economic impact assessment commissioned by Stonehaven Town Partnership has indicated that the economic benefit to Stonehaven and the surrounding area of re-opening the Bervie Braes road to light vehicles could be as much as £9M a year. The road was closed by Aberdeenshire Council in 2009
The aim of the report was to provide an independent appraisal of the scope and likely scale of the economic impact associated with the closure of the Bervie Braes road to light vehicles, and focused specifically on tourism.
The STP provided all 12 Kincardine and Mearns councillors with a copy of itsreport and requested permission to discuss it at the Area Committee meeting on 12th February 2013, with the aim of persuading the councillors to recommend that the Bervie Braes road be re-opened one way to vehicles under three tonnes as soon as possible.
The council withdrew the item from the agenda on Monday morning shortly after receiving the STP’s report.
The Bervie Braes has been closed for a number of years because of safety concerns, but now work to stabilise the lower slopes of the road is complete, councillors have to decide whether or not to re-open it to vehicles. At present, it is open to pedestrians and cyclists only.
Chair of the STP Douglas Samways said: “Many in Stonehaven and the surrounding area, especially those local businesses which rely on tourism, believe that the closure of the Bervie Braes road is having a detrimental effect. We felt that the time was right to see if this was in fact the case as we knew the council was considering the issue again. We would contend that the economic impact assessment we have commissioned demonstrates that, as a result of the road being closed, the local economy is losing out to the tune of £9M a year.”
In recent years the local community in Stonehaven has worked successfully with the council to retain and improve local visitor attractions such as the Tollbooth Museum and caravan site.
“We focused on tourism because all national, regional and local policies and strategies, including those related to transport and infrastructure, are intended to support the Scottish Government’s aim of boosting economic growth,” said Mr Samways.
He added that,”although the tourist sector nationally and regionally continued to grow in recent years despite the recession, the money spent by tourists and the time they spend in the North East still lags behind the national average”.
“Maximising economic opportunity is in everyone’s interest and anything that can be done to boost tourism must be encouraged. We think opening the Bervie Braes road will increase the number of visitors to Stonehaven thereby bringing more money into the town and increasing employment opportunities. The report’s findings confirm this.
“Our report includes a survey of local businesses. The majority of accommodation providers in Stonehaven who were trading before the closure of the road reported that its closure was having a “Significant” or “Very Significant” detrimental impact on their business, somewhere in the region of 20 to 30%. This figure is particularly significant as, according to the Council’s own research, between January and December 2011, there was a 3% increase in the number of tourist visits to Aberdeenshire,” said Mr Samways.
Dunecht Estates, owners of Dunnottar Castle, contributed to the STP’s report. Their visitor numbers have increased by 121% in the past five years, with 30% of that increase taking place between 2010 and 2012. They support the opening of the Bervie Braes road, at least in one direction, as they believe this will strengthen the overall destination credentials of Stonehaven and help them realise their aim of securing their place in the “Premier League” of Scottish castles which includes Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, Eilean Donan Castle and Culzean Castle.
“The STP is very grateful to Dunecht Estates for their help in compiling this report,” said Mr Samways. “Everyone recognises that Dunnottar Castle, which attracted 76,500 visitors last year, is playing and will continue to play a key role in the development of the tourist industry nationally and locally. Indeed, Dunecht Estates is investing heavily in improving the visitor experience and facilities at the Castle. Like the STP, they see the economic significance of the Bervie Braes road and I’m sure our councillors do too. If any proof were needed that reopening the road one way to vehicles under three tonnes is in the best interests of the people of Stonehaven then here it is.”
The Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee considered the issue at a meeting last year and deferred a decision pending a report on safety concerns associated with landslips.
“We cannot understand why there has been a last minute withdrawal of the Bervie Braes item from the agenda of the Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee’s February meeting. So far they have not provided an explanation. The conspiracy theorists in the town are having a field day,” said Mr Samways.
He continued: “Some think it’s because of our report, others believe it has something to do with what the consultants have said. Some residents are even seeing this as proof positive that the council’s intention all along was to close the road to save money and they now need time to rethink their strategy because, had the item been heard next Tuesday they would have been left with no option but to open the road.”
The STP wishes to make it clear that it does not support any of these views.
“No doubt there is a perfectly reasonable explanation, possibly something procedural, for removing the Bervie Braes item from the agenda and we will be told what it is in good time,” said Mr Samways.