A DECISION by land managers to limit public access to a stunning estate by closing its car park during the winter has divided opinion among local residents.

Managers of the Hopes Estate, in the Lammermuir Hills south of Gifford, announced on Facebook that they would be closing its car park to the public in order to complete construction works.

The post stated: “For many years, the estate has opened [the car park] up to enable access for the local community. It only has capacity for approximately 15-20 vehicles.

“During the Covid pandemic, it has been extremely busy and frequently unable to cope with the demand from members of the public.

“Numbers of visitors have grown from circa 10 cars per day to over 150 cars per day, with excess vehicles spilling out onto the grass verges, blocking gateways, parking/blocking the passing places or just being randomly abandoned.

“The level of demand has also placed a significant burden on the Hopes Estate with increased litter, health and safety issues, security concerns and limiting/preventing commercial and farm operations and access for Scottish Water to their facilities.

“We are taking the opportunity over the winter months to redesign the car park and the car park will be closed from November 1 to February 1 for construction works.

“From February, the car park will re-open on a permit basis with an emphasis on permits being made available to the local community.

“Details of the new system, and how to access it, will be made available shortly.”

One supporter of the action said: “They are making improvements for the benefit of local people.”

Another said: “Someone owns this land… and allows others to use it. As with everything, there are a few who spoil everything for others and ruin nice places.”

But one local said the move was “a travesty”, adding: “The whole thing smacks of getting anyone off their land.

“I’m appalled at this metaphorical putting up of the gates. The hills are for everyone and not just the rich who shoot birds on them.

“I haven’t seen any litter or witnessed any bad parking all summer at Hopes – the place is usually empty and will be again soon.”

Robert Douglas-Miller, Hopes Estate owner, told the Courier: “It’s not about preventing people coming here. It’s about making it safe and manageable for everybody.

“We went from having five or 10 cars a day to having up to 100 – I think 147 was the highest number of cars that we had at any one time, parked up there. And it simply isn’t able to cope with that. We also had a number of incidents, so someone’s dog got hit by a car, a cyclist got knocked over by a car.

“I’m perfectly content with people using that space. But the problem is that it simply isn’t able to cope with the number of people during the pandemic. And it’s hard to know whether that’s a one-off or whether that volume of people will continue, but what I’ve done is taken the midpoint on that. So we’re going to re-lay out the carpark and make it slightly bigger.

“It’s about getting a little measure of control over the space, and also providing some guidelines about how to behave properly.”

A spokesman for Ramblers Scotland said Hopes Reservoir and nearby Lammer Law were major attractions, and visits to them supported people’s health and wellbeing, as well as the local economy.

It added that the car park was “the only realistic access point to this area for most visitors”.

Helen Todd, Ramblers Scotland’s policy manager, said: “We aren’t opposed to modest parking charges at popular places, as long as all money raised is invested in much-needed facilities like paths, signage and car parks.

“However, the proposed permit system risks creating a permanent barrier to public access for all but a lucky few. This isn’t a proportionate response to what may prove to be a short-term challenge caused by unprecedented demand for outdoor recreation during the Covid-19 era. It is also likely to make the problems caused by people parking at the sides of roads worse, not better.”

An East Lothian Council spokesperson said: “Landowners do not have to provide car parking and the land itself remains open to responsible access on foot or bike.

“Our access officer has been working with the landowner to understand their concerns caused by issues that they have been facing, which are largely due to an increase in numbers of cars.

“We are aware of the community’s concerns regarding the lack of car parking and hope we can find a solution that will work for all.

“However, as the landowner is acting within their rights, we cannot compel them to make the car park available.”