Highlands & Islands

North Coast 500 needs strategy, says MSP

Kylesku Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The North Coast 500 involves 500 miles of road in the Highlands

A scenic route in the Highlands may need a 10 year-long strategic plan to ensure the roads involved can cope with increased traffic, an MSP has said.

The North Coast 500, also known as the NC500, covers 500 miles (804km).

David Stewart said the route was an important economic driver but added that there were road safety and maintenance issues to be considered.

North Highland Initiative, which promotes the NC500, said it encourages responsible driving of the route.

The NC500 features roads in the Black Isle, Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross.

It includes several challenging ascents and descents, including the Bealach-na-Ba at Applecross. The unclassified road rises to about 626m (2,053ft) over about four miles (8km).

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Mr Stewart said the route was a "brilliant concept".

Image caption Skid marks near Kylesku on the route of the North Coast 500
Image caption The group promoting the NC500 said only "one or two" irresponsible drivers used the route

But he said a balance had to be struck between attracting more tourists on to the roads, some of which are narrow, winding and single track, and reducing any negative impact increased traffic had on local communities.

Labour MSP Mr Stewart said: "There is so much to look at with regards to this issue that I do not want to miss an opportunity, particularly for those communities directly affected by the NC500, that I think those who can make improvements, changes, address concerns and market this route to the benefit of all, should sit down round a table and come up with a five and 10-year strategic plan for the safe development of route NC500.

"If nothing has happened so far, then I am more than willing to host such a meeting."

'Fragile area'

The NC500 website has a section on its website offering advice on safe and responsible driving.

North Highland Initiative chairman David Whiteford told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme that the organisation had said it would meet Mr Stewart.

He said the NC500 was helping to "grow the economy of one of the most fragile areas in Europe" and had been welcomed by businesses in the area.

On road safety, Mr Whiteford said there might be "one or two" irresponsible drivers on the route.

But he added: "The evidence from the police is that speeding fines are down year on year."

Image copyright Kirk Watson
Image caption Six of the team of seven women cyclists who set a new time to cycle the NC500 earlier this year

The NC500 is also regarded as a challenge for endurance cyclists.

In May, seven women cyclists set a time of 36 hours to complete the route in a non-stop team time trial.

The seven included Commonwealth Games cyclists Lee Craigie and Anne Ewing and British 24-hour mountain bike champion Rickie Cotter.

The other riders were author and travel blogger Emily Chappell, transcontinental cyclist Gaby Leveridge, plus Zara Muir and Jo Thom, winners of the women's pairs event at this year's Strathpuffer endurance ride near Strathpeffer.

Scottish endurance cyclist Mark Beaumont previously completed the NC500 solo in 37 hours 58 minutes.

Edinburgh cyclist and Commonwealth Games rider James McCallum also beat Beaumont's time after completing the route in June.

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