A councillor has led calls to scrap charging for entry to Dalkeith Country Park, accusing the landowner of turning it into a “money making enterprise for his wealthy family”.
Joggers, cyclists and walkers are being charged £1 at the gates of the popular green space after the 10th Duke of Buccleuch Richard Scott, the UK’s largest private landowner, implemented the charges following the introduction of a £20 ‘annual pass’ for dog walkers a number of years ago.
A £4 million redevelopment project is currently under way at the park, which will become home to a cafe, shops and a new adventure playground.
Dalkeith councillor Margot Russell is to write to the Duke on behalf of those who are enraged by the decision.
She said: “Richard Scott is one of the largest landowners in the UK and was granted £3.5 million of public money to turn the park into a money making enterprise for his wealthy family.
“It is a disgrace that in the 21st century privileged landowners can still impose their will on less well off people.
“His son bears the title Earl of Dalkeith but they have no real connection with the town of Dalkeith and its inhabitants.
“The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 formalised the tradition of unhindered access to open countryside as long as there was no damage.
“In this case the tradition should be upheld and the Duke should scrap the charges thus removing any barriers to the freedom to roam as a God given right not at the discretion of an ancient dukedom.”
Not only has the Duke been accused of breaching Scotland’s ‘right to roam’ law, locals have criticised his attempt to limit access by installing CCTV and electric controls on the main gate of his working estate.
In the past drivers and those using the old playground were charged – but many users believe that the £1 entry charge to the main park is a step too far. Some former park users have refused to pay the fees, while there are fears that the £1 charge will act as a barrier for people who want to keep fit. One resident described the fees as “morally repugnant” at a time when the public is being encouraged to have an active lifestyle.
Staff said that there had been a “nominal charge” for access for a number of years and the annual fee had been “well publicised”.
Edward Morris, manager of Dalkeith Country Park, said: “Our plans to alter the structure of our access fee have been well publicised and have been formulated following extensive consultation with local residents, community councils and stakeholders.”