The following bullet points give a summary of the key element of the 2018 community consultation:
- Gravitate North East is a charity and community group leading the development of proposals to create an outdoor adventure centre at Durris Forest, Aberdeenshire.
- Collective Trax was commissioned by the charity to carry out a public consultation exercise throughout October and November 2018.
- The public consultation was aimed at residents in vicinity of Durris Forest
- Questionnaires and information leaflets were hand-delivered to around 850 properties; residents were invited to complete the questionnaire online or return it by post.
- 71 people attended a community drop-in event held on Wednesday 7 November 2018 at Durris Kirkton Hall.
- Representatives from the community council, Gravitate North East and Collective Trax were in attendance at the event.
- 134 questionnaires were completed – 124 of which were submitted by residents from the defined area around Durris Forest.
- 78% of respondents are either ‘very positive’ or ‘generally positive’ about the proposed adventure development.
- 16% of respondents are either ‘generally negative’ or ‘very negative’ about the proposed adventure development.
- ‘jobs & employment’, ‘facilities for local people’, ‘increased tourism’ and ‘health’ are identified by respondents as potential benefits of the development.
- Traffic management and road infrastructure are residents’ greatest issue of concern.
- Other potential concerns identified by residents include existing recreational users’ access to the forest and disturbance of wildlife.
A public consultation process was conducted in October and November 2018 in and around the Durris Forest area of Aberdeenshire. This exercise was commissioned by Gravitate North East (formerly known as NETCO); an Aberdeenshire-based charity developing proposals to create a major outdoor adventure centre for the north-east of Scotland.
The charity aims to provide high-quality mountain biking, snowsports and adventure activity facilities that are accessible to everyone. An extensive feasibility study, carried out in 2016-17, identified the western part of Durris Forest as the optimal location for an inclusive adventure hub.
Gravitate North East wishes to work with local people during the planning stages of this community-led project. Accordingly, it commissioned Collective Trax Ltd. to carry out a public consultation exercise, the aim of which is to ascertain people’s views on the proposals in the early stages of the project.
The findings will be used to inform and influence the content of the formal planning application(s) for the new outdoor centre; plans are expected to be lodged with Aberdeenshire Council in 2019.
Details of the research methodology employed can be found in Appendix 1.
Gravitate North East received 134 questionnaire responses. Only 10 questionnaires were completed by residents from out with the survey area. Therefore, 124 local households participated; over 14% of all households in the defined consultation area (refer to map in Appendix 2).
The questionnaires were generally completed to a high standard, with a large majority of respondents answering all or most of the questions relevant to them.
In response to the question: ‘From what you know about the proposed adventure sports centre, what is your first reaction to the idea?’, 78% of respondents are ‘very positive’ or ‘generally positive’ about the concept, 16% are ‘very negative’ or ‘generally negative’.
Respondents who answered the questionnaire’s first open-ended question cited the main benefit of the development would be “jobs and employment”, followed by “more facilities for local people” and “increased tourism”. Other perceived benefits such as health and encouraging young people to be active were mentioned.
However, the topic which by far most concerns local people is traffic – mentioned by 70% of all those who cited downsides in the second and third open-ended questions. It is thought that the proposed centre will increase traffic on the minor roads in the Durris area. It is felt by respondents that these roads and junctions are too narrow and would be unsafe for additional vehicles; it would jeopardise the safety of pedestrians and road cyclists. After this, the issue mentioned most often is wildlife in the forest (10%).
Drop-in consultation event
A drop-in event was held at Durris Kirkton Hall on Wednesday 7 November 2018. 71 people attended and the room was busy throughout the event’s 5½ hour duration.
No formal record was kept quantifying the number of local resident attendees versus attendees from out with the Durris area. However, it was clear that most attendees did live in the Durris area and only a small handful of people resided out with the consultation area.
Most attendees stayed for some time and were happy to engage in discussions with the Gravitate North East, community council and Collective Trax representatives.
The opinions expressed broadly reflected the survey outcomes described above. Once again, the main issue raised, even by those who generally supported the proposals, was the fear of additional traffic on the minor roads through the Durris area.
Residents also highlighted further issues to address, including:
• How the development might ‘reward’ local residents?
• How it might impact on existing forest recreational users?
Response and next steps
Gravitate North East welcomes the results and is greatly heartened to see many respondents are positive about the proposed development. However, there are clearly some negative views and issues that need to be considered.
Through 2019 we will conduct a number of studies in Durris Forest so as to support an application for Planning Permission in Principal. Studies include traffic and roads, landscape and wildlife, and environment – these studies aim to address the main issues raised.
Moving forward, Gravitate North East is committed to maximising the positive outcomes of the consultation to ensure that the facility is an asset to the local community, while taking necessary action to deal with the concerns raised. Addressing people’s concerns throughout the planning and management of the centre is a priority and we will continue to engage with the local community as the project progresses.
We are extremely grateful to those that took the time to participate in this consultation.
Appendix 1 – Study methodology
A suite of public consultation materials was produced, including a leaflet/ questionnaire, an online survey using the same questions as the leaflet version, posters, and a local press release.
The consultation process was launched on 1 October 2018, with the leaflet/questionnaire being distributed by hand to every household in an agreed area. There are an estimated 860 households in this area and the distribution coverage was around 99% (a very small number of locked/guarded/empty properties did not receive a copy).
Around 80% of the area’s households received their leaflet on 1 or 2 October 2018, with the remainder being delivered on 16 October 2018. The published closing date for the survey was 8 November 2018 (extended in practice until 11 November), which meant that recipients had at least three weeks to respond.
Laminated copies of the survey form were also displayed on local noticeboards, bus shelters etc. around the area.
In addition to the survey, a public drop-in event was arranged for 7 November 2018. The community event was promoted on the leaflet and in a press release, which was issued on 18 October 2018. The story was featured prominently in the Deeside Piper and Herald, the Mearns Leader, and included on a number of community-run Facebook pages.
The drop-in event took place on 7 November 2018 at Durris Kirkton Hall. Members of the public were invited to attend between the hours of 2.30pm and 8pm to learn more about the adventure centre proposals from Gravitate North East committee members and to voice their own opinions.
Members of Crathes, Drumoak and Durris Community Council were also in attendance to listen to local opinion. A total of 71 people attended the event.