The public will be banned from driving their cars on more than 500 miles of Scottish roads under a controversial new deal to limit visitor numbers to the Highlands and reduce the country’s environmental footprint.
In the year of the COP26 climate conference in Scotland, no visitors will be allowed to drive their own vehicles on the famous NC500 route, The Press and Journal can reveal.
Amid mounting concerns about a boom in staycations that would overwhelm the Highlands, a groundbreaking new deal has been struck with Tesla that will allow visitors to rent the company’s high-end electric vehicles in order to tour the famous 516-mile route that begins and ends at Inverness Castle.
Plan to manage tourist numbers
From next month, all private cars will be stopped at key intersections by police and told the route is only passable with a rental car.
The public will be directed to Tesla which has struck an exclusive deal to supply the vehicles.
The project will allow Highland Council and VisitScotland to manage tourist numbers and help to reduce pollution in some of Scotland’s most scenic areas.
The only other vehicles allowed access on the route will be locals and delivery vehicles. Cyclists will be exempt.
“This will thin out the traffic massively and it will be controversial, but in the year of COP26 having almost all electric cars is a great message to send to the world,” said Prof A Lilo of green lobby group Are Friends Electric?
It is understood the deal emerged out of talks around a spaceport in the north of Scotland which have involved Tesla founder Elon Musk.
Data analysis has carefully predicted consumer demand and the company will supply 1,421 of their new Tesla hatchbacks for use on the route. The cars will also have speed limiters with a 60mph maximum to reduce accidents and a range of 180 miles forcing tourers to stop to recharge.
This has been described as “great for hotels”.
The pre-loaded satnav, which will narrate highlights along the route, is being voiced by Olive and Mabel star Andrew Cotter.
All of the cars will be either blue or white after the Scottish Government rejected red Teslas.
“If we’re doing this the last thing we want is a picture of three cars – red, white and blue – driving along a scenic Scottish road,” said a government insider. “We’re no daft.”
Electric charging points, branded superchargers, already exist on the circular route.
As part of the deal, 14 new permanent charging points will be added, which will remain after the initial two-year deal expires and be available for locals to use.
However, the deal has attracted criticism.
Kylescu landowner Laird Foalposy told The P&J that the deal would result in queues for locals just trying to go about their normal business.
“Aston Martins and campervans will be turning up unaware of the change. And traffic will be backed up. All to save the planet? No thanks.”
A spokesman for the UK Supercar Owners Club said: “This is an absolute joke.”
A spokesman for Police Scotland said: “Anyone who isn’t driving a blue or white Tesla on this route can expect to be stopped and questions asked.”
Early results from the pioneering project will be presented as part of COP26 in Glasgow in November and insiders believe it could spark similar schemes in other countries.
“This could be a blueprint for national parks in the USA like Yosemite. At a stroke you slash pollution and manage visitor numbers and charge the public a fortune for hiring cars,” said Cheta Ketched from analysts Sure Thing.
Sticky situation after cars get Alba badges
In an embarrassing twist, the first Tesla cars bound for the NC500 route were adorned with “Alba” branding.
It is understood an executive at the Palo Alto-based company, with Scottish connections, thought adding the signifier would be a “lovely touch”.
But with the surprise launch of Alex Salmond’s new party of the same name ahead of the Scottish elections, this has turned into a sticky nightmare.
“There are kids on their knees in California, with soap and water, being paid to remove these adhesive badges.
“It’s taking a while,” a source said.