A group of stakeholders from the public, private, and third sectors were welcomed by West Highland Community Rail Partnership (CRP) in Glenfinnan on Friday 9 June to help the community manage the adverse effects of over-tourism.
Propelled into the limelight by Hollywood’s Harry Potter franchise, Glenfinnan Viaduct’s tourist draw is putting local infrastructure under enormous strain, with the majority of visitors arriving by car or motorhome and spending long enough only to watch the Jacobite Steam Train cross the famous bridge (1.5 hours on average). The local community are keen to use their voice to find ways of improving both the quality of life of local residents and the Glenfinnan visitor experience, ultimately shaping a greener, climate-safe and community-friendly transport vision for the area.
Earlier this year, the local community council partnered with the West Highland CRP to commission Ansons Consulting to deliver a travel management plan for Glenfinnan. When the report was published in April, one of the recommendations was to call a multi-agency summit to address the situation.
The resulting summit was hosted by the West Highland CRP and chaired by Kate Forbes MSP, with support from Glenfinnan residents Hege Hernæs and Ally Entwistle. Delegates gathered at Glenfinnan’s Prince’s House Hotel on Friday 9 June, including representatives from Transport Scotland, Network Rail, Highland Council, Visit Scotland, Police Scotland, ScotRail, NatureScot, Forestry & Land Scotland, Lochaber Chamber of Commerce, Glenfinnan Estate and Glenfinnan Community Facilities. In a positive spirit of collaboration and engagement, discussions were held about public communications, public transport improvements and governance of the travel management plan, with a number of concrete initiatives being proposed.
Kate Forbes MSP said: “The latest visitor figures to the viaduct are thought to be about 500,000 annually, and this is expected to keep growing for the foreseeable future. For context, the local area has a population of less than 150, and with the best will in the world, it is unrealistic to expect Glenfinnan residents to manage this on their own. A partnership approach is required, and the first steps were taken at our June summit. I hope we can kick on from there.
“When the Harry Potter crew first came to film at the viaduct, I don’t think anyone expected to see such sustained growth over 20 years on. Glenfinnan is now one of Scotland’s top attractions, and very much on the world stage. It’s great that so many people are coming and enjoying the Highlands, as well as supporting the local economy, but there’s a responsibility to ensure visitor numbers are managed in a safe, respectful, and sustainable way.
“Following the summit, there are a number of options now being looked at – including data collection, on-site facilities, travel arrangements and public messaging – and I look forward to taking this forward with the community and other stakeholder groups.”
Hege Hernæs said: “Encouragingly, we found that there was a clear willingness to help among those present at the summit. We are grateful to all the agencies that sent high-level officers to Glenfinnan so they could sit down in a room together and talk.
“We are also indebted to Kate Forbes for her perceptive chairing of the summit. As our local MSP, she clearly understands the problems we experience, which is one she recognises from other beauty spots within her constituency and beyond. She has now expressed willingness to help us oversee the next stage of the process we started at the summit, and the local community is delighted to have her aboard.”
Keep up to date with future news, projects, and events from the West Highland CRP via their website.