BRAES ROAD CLOSURE COSTING £9M A YEAR

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re-opening the Bervie Braes road could be worth up to £9 million for Stonehaven and the surrounding area.

That’s according to an assessment on the economic benefits commissioned by the Stonehaven Town Partnership.

The report provided 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 road has been closed for a number of years because of safety concerns. However, now that work to stabilise the lower slopes of the Braes is complete, a decision has to be made as to whether it will reopen to vehicles. At present, it is open to pedestrians and cyclists only.

Chair of the STP, Douglas Samways, told the Leader: “Many in Stonehaven and surrounding area, especially those local businesses which benefit from tourism, believed that the closure of the Bervie Braes road has had 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 report we have commissioned demonstrates that, as a result of the road closure, the local economy has lost out to the tune of £9 million a year.”

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As the Leader went to print this week, the STP had provided all 12 Kincardine and Mearns councillors with a copy of their report and have asked to be granted permission to speak at the Area Committee meeting next Tuesday (February 12) as they hope to persuade councillors to recommend that the Bervie Braes road be opened to vehicles under three tonnes one way as soon as possible.

Mr Samways added: “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.” 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 lag behind the national average.

“Maximising economic opportunities 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, from home and abroad, to Stonehaven thereby bringing more money into the town and increasing employment opportunities – and the report’s findings confirm this. Our report includes a survey of local businesses, and majority of accommodation providers in Stonehaven who were trading before the closure of the road reported that it 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 increased 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 are 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 was in the best interests of the people of Stonehaven then here it is.”

The Area Committee considered the issue at a meeting at the end of last year and had deferred a decision pending a report on safety concerns associated with landslips. Councillors now have that report.

The STP argues that, as the consultant’s report appears to be saying that the risk to people travelling in a car is slightly less than that for pedestrians and cyclists and the road is already open to pedestrians and cyclists, then logically the road should be open to light vehicles.

“Our view is that the consultant’s report supports our case for the road to be re-opened,” said Mr Samways. “However, we recognise that councillors will want to be sure that they have taken everything into account when making their decision which is why we will be suggesting to them a couple of low cost but temporary barrier-type options which can be installed quickly and should help allay any fears about safety they may have. We would then be urging them to re-open the road while they investigate longer term solutions.”