Month: December 2016

December 29, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Looking north along the Bruar track, you get a sense of its length. The new hydro power house is rear centre. Note the large expanse of aggregate dumped onto the vegetation on the right of the track.

This is my second post on the Bruar Hydro Scheme (see here) which I visited at the end of August.   I  am fairly confident that few of the issues identified in this post will have been remedied since my visit but would welcome more up to date photos from anyone who is in the area.

Looking south along the Bruar track as it rises over the hill to Calvine. This section of track has been subject to less upgrading work but note the width of the track, the steep left edge which is unturfed and will erode away and the culvert pipe projecting into space. None of this meets SNH standards for Constructed Hill Tracks in the uplands.

The Glen Bruar Hydro track is about 12k in length in all.  While prior to the installation of the Bruar Hydro scheme there was already a track from Calvine to Bruar Lodge, most of the track appears to have been “upgraded” to enable heavy construction machinery to be brought in.  It has been extended in two main places (there is also a short section of new track close to the A9 which I have not looked at), the first a new spur off the existing track down to the powerhouse, the second from opposite Bruar Lodge up the west side of Bruar Water to the dam.

 

All along the track the remains of piles of aggregrate, that have been dumped on vegetation, are clearly evident.  The SNH Guidance on hill tracks snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/heritagemanagement/cons.. does not say anything explicitly about storage of track materials – my guess is that this is because it assumed track constructors would never dump materials in this.   Other parts of the guidance make it very clear it expected the verges of hill tracks to be properly restored:

The Environmental Statement from the developer (ultimately Atholl Estates) stated they would follow SNH’s guidance, so the question is why has this not been observed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The side of the track here is eroding away and into the burn below.  The SNH Guidance is very strong on the need to prevent track materials being washed into burns.

Another view of the eroding track edge.  Note the boulders placed to prevent vehicles driving off the edge and the width of the track.  Its c4m wide at this point.  According to SNH Guidance the maximum required for 4 wheeled drive vehicles – all that is required here – is 3m and Lomond and Trossachs National Park Guidance indicates a maximum width of 2.5m on straight lengths of track.   This track should have been reduced in width once the construction had finished.   There is no sign there has been any attempt to do this.

Another view of the same section of track.  Contrast the finishing of the original track here – the stone facing – with the latest work which appears to have consisted of dumping aggregate on and alongside the old track without any attempt at finishing.

The SNH Guidance clearly states track developers should restore/finish the edges of new tracks as construction progesses:

So much for the developer (Atholl Estates) providing an “immediate source of vegetation cover” to reduce the risk of erosion.  I have looked through the planning documentation and part of the problem is that while the developer said they would follow SNH guidance, there is no documentation I can find in the planning application documents on the Cairngorms National Park Authority webite setting out how they intended to do this.   Moreover, while the CNPA attached a large number of conditions to the planning permission (some of which were not observed and have never been enforced – see first post) very few of these concerned the track.  Indeed the main requirements were for the short new section of track by the A9.

 

No requirements were made for the new section of track to the powerhouse.   While there have been attempts made to revegetate the verges of the new sections of track, the track here is far wider than it need be.

Contrast the way this culvert has been constructed – which is typical of the culverts along the new sections of track – with what the SNH Guidance says on how it should be done:

 

 

A new drainage ditch has been dug along this section of upgraded track, its unfinished ditches and edge of track on left is unfinished – there has been no attempt to revegetate it, either with turfs or re-seeding.

Among the kilometres of upgrade track where there has been little or no attempt to mitigate the landscapes or environmental impacts of the work, this bridge stands out as an exception.  Note the new retaining buttress on the right.  Unfortunately it appears the work has never been finished as material is still spilling down round the edges of the stone work on either side of the bridge.

Another view of the not quite finished bridge

While the SNH Guidance allows for passing places this corner would be more suited to a race track.   Large areas of vegetation have been destroyed and never restored.  How can this be allowed in a National Park?

Here aggregate appears to have been dumped on the edge of the area excavated for the pipeline.   The Developer claimed the poor restoration of the pipeline was because the organic material was too shallow but said nothing about how they had dumped other materials onto the line of the pipeline.  This could only have happened after the pipeline had been “restored” as the road aggregate sits on top of the “pipeline restoration”.

The track is not even good for the people who live or work at Bruar Lodge.  Here staff have had to mark the holes that have eroded out of the track.  Its not clear to me why Atholl estates would have tolerated such poor work.

 

 

 

 

While there was mention of temporary areas of tracks and laydown areas in the planning application all were meant to be restored.    Why has this vehicle area been left in the midst of the scar left by the pipeline?   Its hard to imagine how restoration of a hydro pipe and track could be worse than this (do send in your photos).

By contrast the work on the new section of track beyond Bruar Lodge appears to have been constructed with far more care.   It is much narrower than the section of upgraded track and restoration work has taken place along the verges.   This is less than 2k though out of a total track length of 12k.   The reason for this appears to be that the CNPA did set out conditions:

 

I have been unable to find the specific construction method statement among the planning papers on the CNPA website (I need to check again in case I missed them) but it does appear the CNPA has followed up this planning requirement and this has had positive outcomes.  However, since there was also a track up to the dam on the east side of the river, there are now two tracks to the dam rather than one.    Why was this necessary?

The turning/storage area by the dam however has not been restored or properly cleared up.  Again note the track aggregate dumped on the bank on the left.

This is the section of the old track north of the dam, ie beyond the hydro scheme.  It illustrates a number of features that the CNPA should ensure are applied to the 12k of track to the dam, namely its narrow, the sides are vegetated and a narrow vegetated strip runs down the centre of the track (as recommended in guidance by the Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority on hydro tracks).  While this track penetrates a prime area of wild land, in design terms it illustrates the standards our National Park should be aspiring too where tracks are agreed.

The section of track linking Glen Bruar to Calvine appears to have been subject to far less upgrading work than that in Glen Bruar itself.  If construction vehicles could access the Glen by this track, which is far steeper and narrower than any of the track along the glen, it begs the question of why the Bruar track needed to be upgraded.  Possibly it was in poor condition but simply dumping tons of extra aggregate on top of the existing track as a quick fix, which is what appears to have happened, should never have been allowed.

What needs to happen

In my last post I made suggestions about what the CNPA needs to do to ensure proper restoration of the hydro infrastructure apart from hill tracks.   In relation to the hill track,  I believe the CNPA needs:

  • to commission an independent survey of the track along with options for restoring it so that at the very least it meets the standards set out in the SNH guidance on hill tracks
  • take appropriate enforcement action
  • learn from the experience of this and other tracks and adopt a clear set of standards for all hill tracks  (it has guidance for hydro schemes but not for hill tracks as such)
December 28, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment
The article that appeared in the Strathy last week

After the Strathy’s excellent coverage of the Save the Ciste Group’s criticisms of what is happening at Cairngorm  (see here) it was inevitable that Natural Retreats would try and suggest that they are in fact doing lots to improve the skiing experience at Cairngorm and the article above duly appeared last week.   While the work has been contracted for by Natural Retreats, who are therefore responsible for the quality of the  work undertaken, almost all the work listed has in fact been paid for by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (see here).   Indeed out of the £700k Natural Retreats claims to have spent on maintenance and improvement work  this year, it appears £601,286 has been paid for by HIE.  If this is right, it appears Natural Retreats has invested just £100k, which could easily be paid for out of £400k savings the accounts show they made the first year they owned Cairngorm Mountain Ltd.

 

The truth behind the spend on ski infrastructure listed in the article is as follows:

  • Replacement of West Wall poma return station – paid for by HIE grant – planning permission breached by Natural Retreats’ contractors
  • Strengthening Cas T-Bar Gantry – £73,377 paid for by HIE for all works associated with gantry – Natural Retreats had still not in mid-December properly restored the site (see here)
  • Installation new safety circuit cable –  £315,641 paid for by HIE (electrical upgrades to surface uplift)
  • Replacement of motors and drives at Ridge poma, Car Park Tow and Polar express – unclear if this part of the electrical upgrades to surface uplift and therefore who paid
  • Installation of 4km new fencing – this is being paid for by Cairngorm Mountain Ltd, cost unknown.  The work however is not yet complete as implied in the article eg for photographic evidence showing West Wall poma uptrack fencing was not complete earlier this month (see here)
  • Removal of obsolete rope from Coire na Ciste chairlift – this is new, unclear who is paying
  • Installation of new haul rope for Polar Express – unclear who is paying for this
  • Completion re-instatement around Shieling rope tow and Cas Gantry – while the original works were paid for by HIE (£78,353 for Shieling ground works and £73,377 for Cas Gantry) I have submitted FOI request to HIE asking them to clarify if their payment included the costs of work undertaken by Natural Retreats without planning permission.

 

While I will submit a further FOI to HIE to try and clarify further what Natural Retreats has invested at Cairngorm, on the facts as presented by Janette Jansson it appears unlikely they are paying for all the items which were not clearly covered by the FOI request.  Indeed there are other items, not referred to by Janette Jansson,  such as replacement lift huts ,which we know HIE have paid for.   I think it is safe to conclude therefore that almost all of the investment that is going on at Cairngorm is coming from the public purse.

 

What Janette Jansson has failed to answer is the questions I raised previously:

“Can HIE and Natural Retreats answer publicly, whether they can evidence:

a) each are investing sufficient monies at Cairngorm, in their own areas of responsibility, to prevent further deterioration of the ski infrastructure, and

b) whether the cuts in staffing which were evident in Cairngorm Mountain Ltd’s accounts the first year Natural Retreats took over, has had an impact on the progress that has been made in replacing fencing at Cairngorm and other aspects of maintenance of the ski infrastructure for which they are responsible.”

 

If Natural Retreats are contributing so little to Cairngorm – indeed they appear from the accounts to have been taking money out of it – the public interest question is why should the public and the politicians who represent us allow the HIE lease with Natural Retreats to continue?

December 27, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The second letter, while not about explicitly National Parks, could be – our National Parks are failing both wildlife and visitors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following my post (see here) on the discussion of litter at the last Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board meeting, it was good to see Peter Jack’s lead letter to the Herald.  I hope this will help bring the failures of the National Park to the attention of a different audience.  (And if you didn’t see the excellent letter from Dave Morris the previous week on the VisitScotland initiative to promote wild camping just as the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority is trying to ban it………….. (see here))  

After my post, a reader gently reminded me that a few years ago the LLTNPA had made a serious attempt to tackle litter.   This was when Grant Moir, now Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, was at the LLTNPA and Kevin Findlater was Chief Inspector of the police for the Trossachs Area.  Their efforts culiminated in the Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan in 2012.  It had a whole page on actions to address litter which is worth reading in full.
While I have covered on several occasions the LLTNPA’s failure to implement the (excellent) plans for campsites contained in the 5 Lochs VMP,  I have not covered LLTNPA’s abandonment of other aspects of that plan – litter was one of them.  Actions originally planned for 2012-13 – the first Keep Scotland Beautiful Litter Audit was one of them – were generally delivered but after that almost nothing:
  •  Litter strategy for 5 Lochs Area – planned 13/14; never delivered
  •  Implement new powers rangers to award fixed penalty notices – planned 13/14 – delivered June 2016
  •  Creation of recycling points – apparently abandoned e.g Loch Venachar north carpark constructed without recycling point which was on original plans
  • Litter signage; never delivered (thought Park now spending £100k on no camping signs)

 

There appear two explanations for why the 5 Lochs Visitor Management Plan appears to have ground to a halt in 2013.  First, Grant Moir, the driving force in the LLTNPA behind the 5 Lochs Plan left the Park Authority in that year.  He was replaced by as Director of Conservation and Visitor Management by Gordon Watson who is now Chief Executive.  Second, in September 2013 the Board started its secret discussion of camping byelaws.   Whether the change in direction was decided by the LLTNPA Board or its senior staff, I am still trying to find out, but it does seem clear is that in 2013 the Park abandoned its plans to tackle litter and instead started to focus on how it could ban campers.

 

Since my post on litter and the Board Meeting, the LLTNPA has responded  to questions I asked about the long delayed Keep Scotland Beautiful litter audit (see here).   While the LLTNPA published the litter report soon after receiving it on 18th November, EIR 2016-063 Response date KSB litter report received, what’s interesting is that the LLTNPA had three meetings with Keep Scotland Beautiful about the Report in April, June and September.  Its hard to see how LLTNPA could have met KSB about the report unless it had been provided with some documentation, and harder still to understand why there was 3 months between meetings unless KSB had been asked to undertake extensive re-writes.  If this is right, the fact the LLTNPA holds no drafts – as stated in the letter – suggests that it has deliberately decided to destroy them.  This suggests that the first draft of the report may have contained some inconvenient truths LLTNPA did not wish to see in print.  (If this interpretation is wrong I would be very happy to publish a response from the Park explaining how it could have three meetings about one report and not hold any information on it).

 

All of this adds further support to Peter Jack’s theory that in order to restrict camping rights, it has suited the Park not to have tackled the litter problem.   Unfortunately I think it is unlikely the Scottish Government will order a full inquiry into the Park’s failure to tackle litter because any objective look at litter would involve an examination of the failures of its own agency, Transport Scotland, to keep the verges along the trunk roads in the National Park clean.   Keep Scotland Beautiful was not apparently asked to look at that.

December 24, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments

At the Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board Meeting on 12th December Bob Ellis, the Board Member on the Local Access Forum, reported he had been to visit the Loch Chon campsite and suggested other Board Members might also visit.  Having visited last Sunday to look at the work in progress I recommend they do so, to understand where “camping in the park” is going wrong.

I am not sure why the Local Access Forum needed to visit – unless it was to take a look at the gate in the photo above, which Forestry Commission Scotland had installed and had stopped canoeists from accessing the loch.  I guess the Park was trying to persuade access forum members that it was worth sacrificing access rights for this campsite.

 

The former car parking area. Large amounts of aggregate have been imported to create a path network and new car parking areas in anticipation of all 26 pitches being full at the same time.  Photo Credit Louise Brimelow

If I was a member of the LAF the first question I would have asked is why with all this space is there not provision for a single campervan place in the new campsite?   Indeed why are campervans being banned completely from the Strathard Camping Management zone Strathard?  There is no rational reason for this.   As Strathard is relatively remote and has no public transport at least people with campervans might be able to get to Loch Chon, unlike the campers who have no car, and might even be able to afford the £7 per person per night camping fee, income which the Park desperately needs to pay for this unwanted campsite.   I predict the Park will be forced to allow campervans to stay at Loch Chon sooner rather than later.

Photo credit Louise Brimelow

The second question I would have asked the Park is why, when the rationale for this campsite was to prevent campers causing damage, is so much destruction taking place?

Trees have been chopped and cleared………because……….of all the damage uncontrolled camping is apparently doing to trees

The new car parking area where the toilet block will be situated. Note the large quantities of aggregate dumped on the ground in the foreground to create a surface for vehicles and more chopped trees on left.,

Compare the damage to ground vegetation that has been caused here by these works compared to all the damage that has ever been done by campers, responsible or not.

Photo credit LLTNPA planning committee report September 2016

This photo gives an impression of how the area looked before the LLTNPA started work on the new car park.   I am not against new campsites, indeed I have argued for them, but a campsite of this scale was never needed for this location.  The destruction is therefore unjustifiable.

The new car parking area and site for toilets

Its ironic that the National Park which claims it was against roadside camping has extended a road into the woods in order to let people to park their vehicles close to the fixed camping pitches.  There is a reason for this of course, the pitches are singularly unattractive for camping and if you could not park your car relatively close to them no-one would even have visited the campsite.

 

New track up to camping pitch. This track is almost certainly too steep and the aggregate is likely to wash away.

An extensive new pathwork, with side paths to each pitch has been created.  Paths were  needed because without them no-one would be able to find the “pitches” which in the the places where people have camped here up to now being up the hill and away from the loch.  Still, on the Park’s logic, what was the justification for this type of path which would be more suited to an urban park than an area which the Park now claims is for “wild camping”?

The westernmost pitch is about the nearest to the lochshore and has traditionally been used for camping. Compare the old path with the end of the new path which you can just see on the far left.

The Park didn’t even think of using the tracks that were already there and which blended into the environment.  Instead it decided to create new paths which are totally out of keeping with the environment and unnecessary.

Same view from 50m further east. You can just see line of old path on right through the coppice. Photo Credit Louise Brimelow
This is the claim the LLTNPA made in their Committee Report

Most of the old narrow paths people used to use have been obliterated by the new construction.  Is any of the new pathwork or carparks really “sympathetic to the rural setting”?    In my view most of the work was completely unnecessary and very costly.

By the time we visited most of the path construction was complete.  The final bit of path to be constructed will follow the line between the red netting up the hill. This is to access two camping pitches, one where the path bends and another up the hill.   Photo Credit Louise Brimelow

It appears the Park planners prefer aggregate to grass.   That’s not the right choice in what is supposed to be a National Park.

Proposed camping pitch on hillside, it slopes and no camper in their right mind would choose to camp here.  Photo Credit Louise Brimelow

Whoever has selected the camping pitches appears to knows nothing about camping. This site is sloping.  The LLTNPA Committee Report stated that “To form the camping pitches, apart from some light scraping of the ground no ground works are required”.    The Park is though proposing to cover the pitches in bark and on this one its likely to slide down the hillside.

 

There was no evidence – and I looked at every pitch  – that anyone had ever camped there except in one case.   Most of the pitches are  singularly unattractive for camping.

The stakes mark the site of the proposed pitches

Would you choose to camp here even if the polytrichum moss is scraped away and replaced by bark as the Park is proposing?

Another sloping pitch at top of sloping section of path still to be constructed.  The evidence of the woodland clearing that has been necessary to create this unsuitable camping pitch is obvious.

Another pitch, prior to scraping

This is about as close to the park shore as campers will be allowed to camp

Pitch after scraping and before bark is laid

 

While several of the pitches on the hillside are sloping, many of those on the lower ground while flat are not  well drained and would never normally be chosen by campers.

  It appears that in order to make this “pitch” campable the Park has dumped aggregrate onto the ground by the tree to firm it up.

 

The basic problem is the thinking of the Park.  They want to stop people camping by the loch shores at whatever cost so most of the pitches are up the hill or – if you look at sign in first photo – on the inland sign of the path where it goes close to the shore.   The places where people currently camp – chosen because they are good places for camping – are by the lochshore and on well drained ground with grazed turf.  Its also worth noting that many people go camping to be sociable, they want to camp in groups and talk round a fire.  The Park wants to segregate people – Simon Jones Director of Conservation at the Board indicated pitches in permit areas would be 5m x 5m maximum, too small for several tents to camp  – and if this is applied to Loch Chon, why would groups, including families, ever come?

The remains from fire in foreground is less than 5m from loch shore. You can see how Park is not going to allow people to camp here in future, despite this site being adjacent to the path, but instead will force people to camp on inland side of path off short spur rear right.

In the BBC coverage of Loch Chon (see here) the Ranger was filmed talking about the damage done by fires.  The two fire pits in the  photo above (the only ones on this section of shore) are contrary to Scottish Outdoor Access Code which states you should leave no trace of the fire.  However, putting it into perspective almost as much ground has been affected by mole heaps and this is nothing compared to the new path behind.

The fire pit referred to by the Ranger in the BBC interview – if this was so objectionable why did not Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive or the Ranger bother to clear it up after the interview? I left it there.

The Ranger in the BBC interview referred to the damage done by tents.  The only bare patches that I spotted along the whole of Loch Chon were in this and the succeeding photo and the only patch that was almost certainly caused by a tent was that on the right of this photo.  One patch of bare ground compared to the 26 new pitches the Park is creating covered by bark.

 

Looking along the shore line you can see that there were not many areas good for camping – in fact there are just half a dozen spots like this along the whole shoreline.  The lack of many suitable camping areas plus the remoteness explains why not that many people used to camp here.   It was mainly fishermen that came – will they continue to visit if they cannot camp near to where they want to fish?

Looking back to fire pit from the Loch shore.  This was the most popular area for both camping and day visitors at Loch Chon.  Photo Credit Louise Brimelow

The Park has extended the new path to down near the area in the photo but no camping will be allowed here.  The bare patch in the earlier photo is behind the red firepit.  While the ground is eroded here its likely this has been as much through feet as tents.   Does this small area of eroded ground really justify the opinion of the Park’s landscape adviser below?

Opinion quoted in the Planning Committee Report

 

 

Finally, for the sake of completeness, its worth saying that we saw no evidence of human crap or toilet paper in the entire area covered by the campsite or along the shore of Loch Chon.

What’s gone wrong?

In my view the Loch Chon campsite is a disaster:

  • Gordon Watson made the misleading claim on BBC out of doors that the Loch Chon campsite enabled lochside camping – the reality is the Park has designed this campsite so people cannot camp on the shore or even close to it (with the exception of one pitch).  Why would people come here if they cannot camp by the shore?
  • The construction of the campsite has caused far more damage than campers have ever caused here and is completely overspecified – this should never have happened in a National Park
  • Most of the pitches are badly located and unsuitable for camping and would never be naturally chosen by campers.

I think the reason this has happened is because:

  • The Park has completely failed to consult with campers about the campsite design.  If it had done so this development would never have gone ahead.
  • The Park Planning Committee failed to make a site visit – the one great strength of the CNPA planning committee is it quite often makes site visits.  I think if Committee members had visited the site they might have rejected the whole proposal.
  • Park staff and Board Members are so obsessed with the impacts of campers – at the Board Meeting Petra Biberbach asked Park staff how they were going to monitor impacts of tents on vegetation so they can adjust the number of permits they issue – that they literally cannot see the wood for the trees.   If they visited Loch Chon they would see that the current impacts of camping are minor, tiny compared to what the Park is doing, and could have been fixed for a tenth of the price.

I supported the proposal in the Your Park consultation to create more campsites but until there is a fundamental change in thinking – which I think will require regime change – I don’t think the Scottish Government should allow the LLTNPA Park to develop any more campsites itself.  Community organisations working with recreational organisations could create much better infrastructure to support camping for far less money than the £345k that the LLTNPA is spending at Loch Chon.

December 22, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Bruar hydro scheme in construction May 2014

I have been meaning for several months to blog about the Bruar hydro scheme but have been prompted to do so by recent praise from the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s for their own planning performance (see here).    I am not disputing there may have been improvements in certain aspects of the National Park’s planning performance, but the real question is are these the things that matter?   The evidence of what is going on at Cairngorm (see here) and Dinnet (see here), suggests otherwise.   In this, the first of three posts, I hope to show why what has happened at Bruar should be of major public concern and another touchstone planning case that the CNPA needs to address.

I first became aware of the Bruar Hydro Scheme in May 2014 when I spotted the construction works from afar when out for a run over Beinn Dearg and surrounding hills.   I did not think twice of it then, like most of the population I assumed hydro was “a good thing”.   Having become aware of the hydro planning disaster in Glen Falloch (see here for example) I went to have a closer look at Glen Bruar on 27th August 2016 (and I give the date because it is just possible some effective restoration work has taken place since then).

The Scottish and Southern Electric hydro intake just below the new Hydro powerhouse. The intake has recently been upgraded (the concrete covered culvert takes the water back under the hill). I have been unable to ascertain whether the large heap below the intake dam was created by SSE or the Bruar Hydro construction.

 

 

 

 

The Bruar Water was already part of a hydro scheme, its waters being channelled 7km through the hill to the Allt Ghlas Choire above Dalnamein and from there eventually to the Errochty power station.  The new Bruar Hydro Scheme involved raising the height of an existing dam above Bruar Lodge, construction of a pipeline to a new power station just above the SSE intake pictured above and then burial of a new power line to Calvine.

The new powerline runs alongside the existing access track from Calvine to Bruar Lodge.

 

While the new powerline is over 10k, its impact on the landscape has been relatively slight because not that much material had to be excavated to dig the trench where it was laid.  While a lack of care in construction is evident – the photo above suggests that the turf removed to dig the trench was not properly stored as the developer said they would – vegetation is recovering quite quickly and I suspect in another year or so the line of the powerline will not be obvious to the casual observer.

 

The impact of the hydro scheme on the landscape however changes totally from just south of the new power house to the dam.

 

South of the powerhouse and the SSE intake is a large bulldozed area.

 

I can find no reference to this bulldozed area in the planning application or Committee report.   While it probably dates from the construction of the SSE hydro tunnel it has clearly been used as part of Bruar hydro construction (see piles of aggregate top photo from 2014) possibly as a spoil pit to source aggregates to upgrade the track.

 

The planning application described two storage areas for pipes, above the power station and at the dam.  Broken sections of pipe have still not been cleared away 18 months after construction finished.   The CNPA never agreed to a new dump in the planning application.   Why is this still here?

 

Is this acceptable in a National Park?  There appears to have been no attempt at restoration.  Maybe the Estate is just hoping the river erodes away the flattened area completely but what about all the silt which is being washed into the river system?

The Bruar power house, the tailrace flows into new channel front centre. Note the failure to finish the wall to the right of the tailrace. There are many similar examples of shoddy and unfinished work to be seen further up Glen Bruar.

 

In order to construct the powerhouse in this location, a significant amount of material had to be excavated.  The planning statement suggested this should be re-used in track construction but one wonders if it might have been dumped by the SSE intake (see photo above)?   The CNPA needs to find out, if it doesn’t know, who was responsible for digging and dumping what and then take appropriate action in public.  The planning application stated that the amount of hardstanding around the powerhouse should be minimised – you can judge for yourself from the above photo whether this has been observed.   The building itself though in in my view perfectly acceptable:  our planners and developers appear much better at ensuring buildings are symathetic to the landscape than they are at looking after the land itself.

Pipeline – glass reinforced plastic – crossing burn just above power house

 

 

 

CNPA planning guidance on hydro (see here) states the number of stream crossing should be minimised.  This was hard to do on a 4.5k pipeline and at least the colour of the pipe is not bright blue as in Glen Falloch.  The poor standard of work is obvious at both the concrete pipe supports and the material on the left is already being eroded away into the burn:  its unlikely to survive a spate.

Overview of impact on landscape looking south to powerhouse. Besides dumps featured in earlier photos below SSE intake, more material has been dumped middle left. Track and line of powerline out to Calvine centre rear, Schiehallion in far distance.  The disturbed ground in foreground is where the pipeline has been buried.

The Planning Report approved by the CNPA suggested the construction should re-use old SSE spoil materials from their tunnel, not create new ones.   This has had a significant adverse impact on the landscape, a landscape of grouse moors which at present the Park is committed to conserving.  So why has this been allowed to happen?  How is it compatible with National Park policy?

 

Its the construction of the pipeline however that has had the biggest impact, creating a 4.5km trail of destruction up Glen Bruar.

Near the start of the pipeline above the powerhouse

While I have been very critical of the Glen Falloch hydro schemes, some of which should never have been allowed, in general the restoration of the land around the pipeline has been done well – unlike the tracks there – and it will be very hard to see the line of the pipes in a couple of years (see here).   I have never seen such terrible restoration of ground above a pipeline as in Glen Bruar.

And it goes on for 4.5km.

 

Boulders which were below the surface have been brought to the surface and left there so there is now a 30m wide trail through what was previously peat moorland.   According to the method, which set out how the pipeline would be constructed, the vegetation and organic matter would first be  removed and stored, the ditch then dug, the pipeline laid on and packed small aggregate (high pressure pipelines need to be well enclosed/supported and then the ground above restored to how it looked before.  It did not envisage problems with doing this.

 

I corresponded with the CNPA about this in September and was sent (which I appreciated, I did not even have to ask under FOI) this reinstatement note from the Developer.  Basically they claimed that the boulder trail resulted from the soil being unexpectedly shallow, that they now proposed to remove the boulders and use to shore up the river bank belong the dam and they would “rob turves” from elsewhere on the moor to cover up the mess.   By coincidence this is exactly what Natural Retreats tried to do at the Cairngorm Shieling tow after they had failed to store vegetation properly  (see here).

 

While on the steeper banks, as in the photo above, the organic material might have been shallow, if enough care had been taken it could still have been saved and replaced.  However, the ecological assessment conducted as part of the planning application clearly stated most of the pipeline was through moorland and peat.  If shallow organic matter was present, surely the ecological assessment should have identified this before work ever started?

I think the truth is, as this photo shows, is that there was a considerable depth of peat along much of the pipeline and that the developer did make some attempt to store it in places even though where they did so they did not always replace it.  The bigger problems was that vegetation and organic matter appears not to have been stored at all, as had been promised in the Method Statement.    The fundamental issue is the develop has ignored its own  Method Statement and this is therefore another enforcement problem.  It demonstrates why our National Parks and other planning authorities should NEVER trust developers to monitor their own work.  All that happens without independent monitoring is that the construction companies take shortcuts and ignore what’s in the Method Statements.  Where shallow soil was a problem, if it really was so shallow that no turves could be stored, any responsible developer would have contacted the National Park as soon as they discovered this to discuss alternatives.    Atholl Estates as far as I am aware never did this.

Line of pipeline in background. In foreground, spoil, whether from road or surplus to that needed for packing round the pipeline has simply been dumped at the edge of the track with no regard for vegetation.

In fact, there is plenty of evidence that the developers have breached their own method statement.    Indeed, there is also lots of evidence of them failing to keep to deadlines:  for example, in their “reinstatement note” the developers had said they would remove all the boulders by Spring/early summer 2016.  There was no sign of this when I visited at the end of August.

It would be difficult to find a worse example of finishing than this piped culvert opposite Bruar Lodge

 

The one area where there does appear to have been an attempt to keep organic matter separate from the soils beneath and restore the ground properly is around the intake dam.

There are far fewer boulders in these peat on the far side of the dam though you can see top right at the edge of the large turning area where boulders and peat have been mixed

The old dam here has been raised by c1m.   The dam wall itself hardly impacts on the landscape, the new intake wall and structures are more prominent from the angle this photos was taken as are the Lomond blue outlets.  However, when you are on the floor of the glen these aspects of the development are hardly visible and in landscape terms the intake is well positioned.

The restoration round the dam looks less good from the west.

Its clear though that even round the dam the restoration is far from complete.  Why has the ground to the right been restored with peat but that in the centre foreground left as it is?  When the Park granted planning permission in July 2012 a condition was that all of this area should be hidden within a new area of native woodland which would hide it completely and that plans for this would be provided BEFORE any work started.  The plans were provided by Atholl Estates in February this year AFTER all the other work had finished and they then committed to planting in the spring of 2016.  The CNPA told me in September the contractor was about to commence work.

The incomplete landscaping work below the intake dam. The flat bulldozed area middle right awaits peat – which will be taken from where? – and the plan appears to be to reinforce the river bank there with boulders from the pipeline.

The rip rap bouldering along the edge of the river contrasts with the natural erosion of materials that has taken place on the far bank.

 

Why has this all happened?

While the issues are not limited to those I have illustrated above (and I will cover the enhanced and extended track in a separate post) I hope I have shown enough to show that the Bruar hydro scheme should be of concern to anyone who cares about our National Parks.

 

I have read almost all the documentation associated with the planning application (see here) and the Report to the CNPA  planning committee (see here)  which set out 22 conditions for the development to go ahead.   While in retrospect there are probably some gaps in the documentation, for example the working site does not appear to have been clearly limited and this has allowed the developer to work in areas outwith that granted planning, the method statement appears to me generally acceptable apart from the question of whether the soil above the pipeline could be restored.   In my view, apart from this issue, the development was probably  justifiable, even though in a remote of the National Park, because as the Committee report stated there was already a track up the glen, already a dam in place and already other hydro infrastructure as well as Bruar Lodge.  If the work had been done to the highest standard there would have been relatively little impact.

 

If the soil was too shallow and the boulder scar an inevitable consequence of the works (which there is reason to doubt) in my view the development should not have gone ahead or else the CNPA should have required a proper tunnel linking the power house and dam, a distance of 4.5k.   The tunnel connecting Bruar Water with the Allt Choire Glas is at least 7k and that was done I believe over 50 years ago so.  What was good enough then should be good enough for a National Park now.

 

The failures of the National Park have come at the implementation stage through a lack of monitoring and enforcement.   Our Planning Authorities to be taken seriously need to take action as soon as planning conditions were breached:  in the Bruar case work started before all the required paperwork was in place.  The CNPA should have put a halt to it there and then.  They might then have been taken seriously.  Instead, there is now a major problem, a long glen in the National Park has been seriously scarred for over 5k (not just the length of the pipeline but the areas beyond).

December 19, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

After the two candidates for convener of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board had made their speeches last Monday, Cllr Fergus Wood  asked if he could put a question to the candidates.  The answer from convener Linda McKay and Governance Manager Amanda Aitkman was NO.  Cllr Fergus then gave a resigned shrug of his shoulders.  I could sense his frustration.

 

Candidates for election always try and present themselves in the best light and written statements and speeches rarely reveal much.  Having listened to both candidates and read their statements I could not tell what they really stood for and I suspect Cllr Woods didn’t either.  He wanted to know something, was right to ask and if he and other members had been allowed to do so, the way they voted might have changed.    That is surely what democracy should be about.   It is not a coincidence that it was Fergus Woods, an elected councillor, asked this question.  It will have been based on his own experience of being selected as a candidate for his party in his ward:  he will have been subject to questioning and subsequently may well have been subject to questioning by the general public at election hustings.  So why couldn’t Board Members question the candidates for National Park convener?

 

It turns out there is no reason why he should not have been allowed to ask a question.   Since the meeting, I have had a look at the Board Standing Orders which have a section on election of convener and this says NOTHING about whether Board Members could ask questions of candidates  or not (see above).    Therefore at the very least what Linda McKay as convener should have done is stated that asking questions of candidates was not covered in Standing Orders and asked the meeting what they wanted to do.  She didn’t and in effect closed off any opportunity to scrutinise candidates claims.  This was wrong.

 

Unfortunately no Board Member challenged Linda McKay on this.  I suspect this is illustrative of her time as convener, the current Board is simply not used to challenging what their convener and other Government nominees say.  This was well demonstrated by the Owen McKee case (see here) and (here).    The LLTNPA Board badly needs an injection of democracy and to become far more transparent about how they operate.  Current Board Members should not leave this to their new Convener to decide when he takes up post on 1st March, they should demand it of him and staff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 18, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The Board rightly told staff there need to be signs telling drivers not just when they are entering a camping management zone but also when they are leaving it.

The implementation of the camping byelaws dominated the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board meeting last Monday, with discussion taking place across a number of different agenda items.  This is a reflection of what is happening to our National Park, its allowed all its resources and efforts to focus on one issue, and because its taken the wrong path its now perched on a big cliff.     There was an indication some on the Park Board now recognise the dangers, when they elected James Stuart at the end, 9 votes to 8, as the new convener. James in his election statement (see here) had said it was time to start looking at wider look at what the Park is doing (a veiled criticism of how the Park is currently run).

 

I am not sure though James Stuart or most of the rest of the Board fully appreciates what a mess the Park has got itself into.   I sent the questions I believe the Board needed to answer (see here)  before going ahead with the new byelaws to Linda McKay, the current Park convener, and Gordon Watson before the meeting.   I have no idea if McKay and Watson shared them at the secret meeting the Board appears to have held that morning.    (The evidence that there was was a secret meeting is first that the visitor register showed most of the Board had signed into the building about 10am that day and second that Martin Earl – good for him for being open on this – made a reference to a Board discussion earlier in the day.  That the Board continues to have secret discussions though in the morning about items it is going to discuss in the afternoon is I believe totally wrong).

 

Will the permit system be ready for the start of the byelaws on 1st March?

Two questions I had identified were explicitly asked about this under the Your Park agenda item:

  1. David McKenzie asked if the permit system would be up and running on time?  Staff gave assurances it would, and what is more said it would be fully tested, even though the the IT developer was only given the contract on 1st December and staff said that the detail of the permit system was in the process of being handed over (another 12 days lost).
  2. The second question, also from David McKenzie, was whether there was a date for fixing broadband gaps in the Park to enable campers to book permits.  The answer to this was a feasibility report is due early in January along with an estimate of the costs of fixing this.   While there was then discussion about how good this would be for local communities many of whom cannot access broadband or mobile phone coverage at present, there was no discussion of what will happen if there is not comprehensive coverage by 1st March.

Now I  think its fair enough that Board Members should accept staff assurances that the electronic booking system will be fully up and running and accessible from all the campsites and permit places in the camping management zones by 1st March.  Staff had already stated very clearly in the presentation on the Board paper that the project is “on track and on budget”.   However, if it turns out that this is not the case, staff need to be made responsible and heads should roll.

 

How will campers, campervanners and drivers know where they can sleep overnight?

The Board Paper proposed 3 types of signage:

A crucial weakness in this proposal was revealed when a Board Member asked staff what signage there would be to show drivers they had LEFT a camping management zone – this is a critical question (which I had missed in my critique of the proposed signage(see here)).     The initial response from staff was that there was no money for more signs and they did not want to add to clutter.   A number of Board Members then made the point that this was unacceptable and drivers  needed to know when they had left a camping management zone (otherwise for example people driving up the A82 could end up in Fort William still not knowing if they would become a criminal if they camped by the road).   This meant placing clear signage that drivers could read that would indicate that they were leaving the management zones.   Well done the Board!   Unfortunately, as I understand it, no clear decision was then taken and it was left that staff would go away and reconsider.

 

After this excellent start, there was limited further discussion of other signage issues and the following key points were not addressed:

  • How will people who realise they are in a camping management zone but decide to walk to the edge of it to camp know when they have reached the boundary?  None of the proposed signage appears to have maps showing the boundaries as the illustration (left) for Inveruglas shows.  The sign is legally wrong because it implies the whole area pictured is in the camping management zone whereas access rights I believe apply top left and is misleading unless the boundary is depicted.  It appears designed to try and force people into permit areas where they will be charged to camp.
  • How will people know that stopping overnight is banned?  The signs for drivers simply say you are entering a camping management zone – that tells you nothing – its only the signs for walkers on the zone boundaries (left) which clearly tells the public they can only camp where permitted.   There is no signage proposed which says “stopping overnight here is a criminal offence”.  Unless the “area signs” showing where you can camp are placed in every possible camping spot in the management zones people will not know they will be committing a criminal offence by stopping off overnight.
  • Conversely, there is no signage proposed telling people with vehicles where they CAN stop off legally (since staying overnight on the public road network including laybys, is exempt from the camping byelaws).  How will people in vehicles know which laybys are exempt.  There needs to be a sign by every one where camping is allowed.

 

While I was encouraged the Board picked up on the need to know when one is leaving a management zone,  the problem is far far greater than they identified at the meeting.   People have a right to know exactly where they can and cannot camp or stop off overnight in vehicles but the proposed signage doesn’t tell the public this.   As long as it doesn’t, the byelaws will be unenforceable.  All anyone has to say is that the signage wasn’t clear and any Court case would collapse.    The Board’s failure to understand this goes back to the flawed review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws, which attributed all improvements there to the camping byelaws.   This took no account of the impact of the road to Rowardennan being a dead-end, which limited the amount of traffic, or a clearway, which prevented vehicles stopping day or night under road traffic legislation.   Provision of adequate signage in new management zones is a far more complex matter and this has been neither properly considered nor budgeted for.

 

The byelaws are unaffordable

While staff claimed the byelaws are on budget, the Board papers and questioning by Members revealed a rather different situation:

 

  • The £100,000 signage budget is all earmarked so there is no further money to provide the signage that is needed.
  • There is no cost as yet for plugging the gaps in mobile phone reception to enable people to book permits on their phone.  There doesn’t appear to be a budget either.
  • The Scottish Government has given a further capital grant of £85k towards a budget of £120k to scope the installation of further facilities at South Loch Earn and Forest Drive.   This indicates the Park has not the funds to do this.  Unfortunately no-one on the Board asked why £60k had been needed for south Loch Earn when they had previously seen at secret Board briefing sessions on more than one occasion a campsite design for Loch Earn (see here) – but perhaps that was just an artists impression?   In fact why the Park spends anything like this money on a feasibility study when when a top of the range composting toilet can be installed in a remote location for £30kl I am not sure but the Park’s insistence of putting all its resources (£245k this year) into the campsite no-one wants means it has no money to develop resources where they are needed.
  • What Board Members did uncover though was that while giving with one hand the Scottish Government is likely to take back with the other c£45k that the Park had earmarked to be spent on cars – so what you might think?   Well, this budget was for vehicles to enable Rangers to patrol the camping management zones as promised to local communities!    Since the byelaws are unenforceable anyway, the Government would be well advised to take this money back to stop further waste.
  • Then there was  the budget line that showed that professional fees were £138,233 compared to budget of £75,900.  How much of this related to the camping byelaws?
  • In fact the Your Park budget was overspent and is under considerable budget pressure.  The only reason the Park’s overall budget is balancing is because of a large underspend on staffing.  Now I had revealed previously the Park’s Commercial Director had gone (he was on a big salary, c£60 from memory)  and under the organisational update item Colin Bayes asked why under the Human Resources heading why there was no reference not just the commercial director going but all the Project Manager for Your Park!  Gordon Watson, the CEO, replied that it was not usual to deal with staff matters under the organisational update – so why then Gordon have a heading on Human Resources?    I think Colin Bayes was absolutely right to reveal this and also that the Park had put in what he thought was adequate cover.   Whether this is the case or not I think time will tell but to me it looks as though the Park is being pressed and the pips are beginning to squeak.
  • The financial pressures I believe explain the recommendation in the papers that the charge for camping at Loch Chon and Loch Lubnaig should be £7 per person over 16 per night.  No-one on the Board questioned the impact of this of people from Glasgow with very little money who have previously camped for free.  That was very disappointing.  What then happened surprised me.  Linda McKay, the convener, asked staff if Forestry Commission Scotland were going to raise their charges at Sallochy to £7 as she expected uniform pricing for similar facilities provided by partners.  In fact Sallochy will have cost lots less to construct because it has composting toilets and there is no reason to penalise campers because the Park is incapable of producing affordable infrastructure.     Board Members did though question Gordon Watson how much money they would raise from the permit system – he, rightly this time, said this was impossible to predict.  I suspect the financial sustainability of the whole Your Park system hangs in the balance.

The questions that were not asked or discussed by the Board

For the record, here are some  the questions which I think the Board should have, but failed, to discuss.

  1. What consultation has taken place on the permit systems with the Local Access Forum, a statutory consultee?
  2. Will personal data be held on campers?
  3. If so, how will personal data be used?
  4. If so, what procedures are in place for people to correct that data and appeal against any actions taken by the Park?
  5. What will be in the terms and conditions that apply to permits?  How will this be enforced?
  6. Given the Park’s claims they don’t want to discourage campervanners, despite providing only 20 places across all the management zones, what is the Board going to do about this by 1st March?
  7. What procedures are going to be put into place to enforce the byelaws fairly and transparently?
  8. Why are there no procedures to govern how staff will vary the number of camping permits in camping management zones?

 

While I welcome the fact that Board Members have become more prepared to speak out and think for themselves, as is evidenced by some of the debate and contributions last Monday, they have allowed themselves to be corralled on the edge of a big cliff and show little sign as yet that they need an alternative plan.

 

December 16, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments
The Coire Cas t-bar Gantry December 2016. HIE has paid £73,377 towards emergency works to stop the gantry collapsing but they have not been completed a year later. Why not?  Photo Credit Alan Brattey

Ten days ago I raised question about how much Natural Retreats is actually investing at Cairngorm  (see here).   The question of who is responsible for investing what at Cairngorm is complicated and not easy to see from the lease between Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Natural Retreats (I am working on it).  This FOI response  does show what HIE spent between Natural Retreats taking over and August 2016 (a total of £750,275) but what is not in the public realm at present is planned planned future investment, either by HIE or by Natural Retreats.  Whatever the exact division of responsibilities, the latest photos from Cairngorm show its not working.

 

The Coire Cas T-bar Gantry

 

December 2016 Photo Credit Alan Brattey

Emergency works were agreed to the Coire Cas T-Bar Gantry over a year ago to prevent its collapse before the ski season (a legacy of underinvestment).  Highland Council agreed these could go ahead without planning permission because it was an emergency and the associated works on the track and embankment were described as “de minimis”.    HIE paid £73,377 of public money to Natural Retreats as follows:

t/ ALL WORKS associated with the Cas Gantry, including Groundworks, Surveying, Tendering and Mechanical Installation.

 

Its not clear from this if the £73,377 just covered the works to the gantry, as illustrated in the photos above, or whether it also included the reprofiling of the bank and widening of the track to the south.  What the photos show though is that none of the work has been completely properly or to the standard one should expect in a National Park.

 

The “restoration” of the embanking. The blue reseeding pellets have been spread too late in the year and are being washed away by rainfall.   You can see how the slope has begun to erode and its not difficult to predict that by the end of the winter the erosion will be far worse.

What we don’t know is if the £73,377 was insufficient to complete the works or whether Natural Retreats has not completed all the works it was supposed to do.  Either way, HIE should have taken action months ago to ensure the works were completed properly.    What the failures at the Cas Gantry also demonstrate is that the planning authorities, whether Highland Council for supposed minor works or the Cairngorms National Park Authority, should not be agreeing to such works going ahead without planning permission.  It  means they have deprived themselves of planning enforcement powers which could be used to force Natural Retreats/HIE to spend whatever is needed to complete this work properly.   Both could still call though for HIE/Natural Retreats to repair the damage under the agreements they made in the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy.

 

The West Wall poma

HIE paid a further £75,612 of public money to Natural Retreats for:

 

“u/ ALL WORKS associated with the proposed extention and fixed return bull-wheel installation, including all submitted contractors and supplier’s costs for total realization of this Project.

The West Wall poma extension, paid for by HIE was completed in October.

While the work from a distance appears better finished than the Cas Gantry, you can see the damage that has been created by the use of tracked vehicles in the foreground. Highland Council has still not responded to complaints about Natural Retreats’ failure to ensure their contractors adhered to the conditions set out in the Method Statement.

 

The new return wheel contrasts with the bottom of the West Wall poma which is falling to bits.

Loading ramp fencing in a dangerous condition

 

Loading ramp wood showing signs of rot
The control hut door does not close [tied together with twine but open enough to fill with snow in a storm.                          All photos Alan Brattey

 

I am not clear whose responsibility this is, HIE who is responsible for paying for major works on the infrastructure, or Natural Retreats who are responsible for more day to day maintenance.  The position as I understand it is further complicated because the lease refers to a schedule of delapidations which was to be agreed before the entry date but which is not yet, as far as I am aware, in the public realm.

 

While HIE had paid £12,626 to Natural Reteats by the end of August for “Replacement Lift Huts” this appears not to have covered the lifty hut at the West Wall poma which is falling to bits:

 

West Wall poma lifties hut

Neither does it appear to have included the White Lady ski Hut which is in an even worse condition.

   What does seem clear from the FOI and lease is that Natural Retreats are responsible for replacing the snow fencing at Cairngorm (which was generally in a terrible state).  Back in August Natural Retreats said this about the progress on new fencing along the M2 and West Wall poma uptrack:

The weather has been fantastic this week on Cairngorm Mountain and the fencing team have been making amazing progress on the M2 and the West Wall Poma uptrack.Ops team.

Posted by CairnGorm Mountain Ltd on Saturday, August 20, 2016

The West Wall pomoa uptrack fencing has been worked on sporadically over the last two summers but is nowhere close to completion and obviously needs doing.    Did HIE set Natural Retreats any deadline for the completion of these works?

West Wall uptrack snow fencing December 2016 Photo credit Alan Brattey

Other Fencing

 

In fact Natural Retreats has now been working on replacement fencing across Cairngorm for over two years and its far from complete.

Incomplete new snow fencing shieling rope tow December 2016 Photo Credit Alan Brattey

What needs to happen

Given the evidence of the photos above, I believe it would be in the public interest for HIE and Natural Retreats to answer publicly, whether they can evidence:

a) each are investing sufficient monies at Cairngorm, in their own areas of responsibility, to prevent further deterioration of the ski infrastructure, and

b) the cuts in staffing which were evident in Cairngorm Mountain Ltd’s accounts the first year Natural Retreats took over, has had an impact on the progress that has been made in replacing fencing at Cairngorm and other aspects of maintenance of the ski infrastructure for which they are responsible.

 

Its time too  the Cairngorms National Park Authority started to ask for answers to the same questions and to make it clear to HIE and Natural Retreats that it expects the highest possible standards at Cairngorm and will do everything in its power to see this happens.

December 15, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

If you have not read it, I would commend the lecture Andy Wightman gave last week on the case for a renewal of Scottish democracy.  I am not a member of any political party, the lecture does not mention National Parks but what it says is, I believe, entirely relevant to our National Parks and the issues that are covered on parkswatch, from the need for transparency to corporate power.   I was particularly struck by the following extract:

 

Parkswatch is a blog, a platform for critical thinking (and I hope debate) about National Parks but in covering issues I and other contributors have made demands and suggestions of what need to change.  Much of this has been in response to what the Parks are doing or failing to do.  Its reactive.  I think Andy is right.  Those who care about our National Parks need to scale up their engagement and to start to take initiatives.

 

While our National Park authorities continually talk about local communities, its been pretty clear where the power has been to date and there has been very little sign of bottom up initiatives.  There are though signs of change.  The best example I can think of is the Save the Ciste group, who have been developing their own plan for Cairngorm and are now openly thinking about alternative ownership and control of Cairngorm.  A major challenge to the powers that be.   I think we need lots more of that in our National Parks:

 

  • how about an alternative to Flamingo Land at Balloch instead of waiting for the developer to come up with their own proposals?
  • how about developing some alternative plans for some of the large landed estates, such as Dinnet, to restore missing species and repair the damage that has been done through the unlawful creation of bulldozed tracks?  Re-wilding plans.
  • how about some plans to restructure the blanket afforestation in the western part of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park that is again devoid of wildlife.  Instead of waiting for Forestry Commission Scotland to do something, why not go for it?
  • what about communities in Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park taking the previous plans for campsites there that have been abandoned by the LLTNPA and, in partnership with recreational organisations, deciding good places for campsites and then demanding the LLTNPA gives them the resources to deliver it?
  • what about alternative guidance for hydro schemes, not just design standards but about where they should be located in our National Parks?

 

Parkswatch is not an organisation but if individuals or organisations have ideas for injecting “a bit of risk, danger, excitement and creative energy” into our National Parks, please contribute them.

December 14, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

Most members of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority appear to have spent Monday morning in yet another “Board Briefing session” before the public Board meeting, but had they walked round the riverside area in Balloch it might have helped them inject a sense of perspective into to the discussion of camping byelaws in the afternoon.  Both photos featured here are  part of the site Scottish Enterprise has appointed Flamingo Land to develop and in the National Park.

I do not condone the chopping of trees by campers or day visitors – its stupid – but within the context of all the trees being chopped down in the Park for “management reasons”, whether here by the head of the River Leven (with the property used by Maid of the Loch) or to clear road verges the “problem” is tiny. Yet, once again in the afternoon staff cited campers chopping down trees (they have never said how many!) as a justification for removing access rights

The Board meeting and litter

 

To be fair to the Board for six months now they have recognised that the litter problem is much wider than campers and litter is less frequently cited these days as a reason for the camping byelaws (the justifications at the meeting in the afternoon were framed in terms of environmental damage such as chopping of trees, vegetation eroded by tents etc).   The problem, evidenced at Monday’s Board discussion, is the Board have not yet managed to get their staff to act effectively to ensure basic litter infrastructure is in place, such as install bins and ensure they are emptied and even perhaps installing notices to warn the public about fines for littering..

 

The first and strangest thing was that under the organisational update there was no mention of the Keep Scotland Beautiful Litter Audit which had recently been published a year late (see here) and no reference to this in discussion.   It was impossible to tell therefore if the Board has simply not been told about the Audit, which casts serious doubt on the alleged miraculous impact of the east Loch Lomond byelaws, or whether they had decided to ignore inconvenient truths.  What the organisational update did say is that Park staff had issued one Fixed Penalty Notice for litter since these were introduced in June and this had been paid.  There was no comment on whether the threat of using Fixed Penalty Notices has had any impact on littering.

 

Colin Bayes, in his verbal update from the Delivery Group, which he chairs, told his fellow Board Members that the Park receives more complaints about the lack of lack of toilets and litter than anything else.  I think this was deliberate – he now appreciates what the real issues are.  His  comment sparked a discussion by Board Members on litter.  Cllr Fergus Wood asked officers what was the last time officers had sat down with colleagues in councils to discuss the issues – the question was spot on.  He was told the lead on this Claire Travis was not in the room, there had been meetings and support from some councils and not others.  Officers did not say which.  They did not explain either why these discussions had been delegated to middle managers.   It should be obvious to anyone that sending a relatively junior manager to go and talk to council opposite numbers about their failures to collect litter could not achieve anything.  Instead, it was announced that senior management had arranged for Keep Scotland Beautiful (the authors of the audit report which was not discussed) to facilitate discussions between roads authorities, other Council departments and the Park on litter collection.    This quite frankly was bizarre but perhaps the Park has so upset Council colleagues that they have refused to communicate directly with senior management?

 

Councillor Board members again made the excellent point that with bin lorries passing laybys for domestic collections it should not be hard for them to stop and empty bins if only they were provided.  The Councillors, again offered to help broker discussions with their own local authorities.  They had made this offer at the June Board Meeting and I guess none of them wanted to ask directly in public why senior management had not got back to them since then.    Its a question that Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive, needs to answer.   To date  NO progress has been made on improving litter bin provision and collection and there was no mention of the long awaited litter strategy.  It will be interesting to see whether this appears in the new Park Partnership Plan or whether Chief Executive Gordon has decided to ditch it, along with other plans such as the Five Lochs Management Plan which would have addressed litter and the lack of toilet provision, and focus all his efforts and that of the Park on trying to manage camping.

 

The Board discussion showed that while Board Members are showing an increase grasp of what the real issues are, they have still not managed to get staff to put their efforts where these are needed.   LLNPA has got its priorities all wrong and while that remains the case it will continue to fail as a National Park and waste huge amounts of resource (which I will cover in a second post on the Board Meeting).

 

December 13, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Images and notes from completed reinstatement of sunkid lift (Shieling rope tow) November 2015 (Natural Retreats document submitted to Cairngorms National Park Authority).

Donald Trump was in the national media at the weekend for failing to keep to the planning agreements he had made at the Menie golf course North of Aberdeen.  While this should have come as no surprise to those who have followed that saga there are similarities with how  Natural Retreats have acted at Cairngorm.  There are several examples of both Natural Retreats and Donald Trump doing what they want and then either applying, or checking if they need planning permission afterwards.    Both appear to assume if planning permission is required it will be granted and the the planning authorities will never dare take action against them.

 

Photos taken at Cairngorm on Sunday provide more evidence to show that NR is no different from Donald Trump in failing to stick to their word.  From the comment on the photo above you would have thought the dump was temporary and would have been cleared up long ago.   In fact the photos below show that even more rubbish has been dumped at the former Fiacaill T-Bar loading area. There was no dump here until Natural Retreats took over Cairngorm Mountain Ltd.

Photo Credit Alan Brattey 11th December 2016

Photo credit Alan Brattey 11th December 2016

Parkswatch will publish more photos this week showing that there is now rubbish strewn all over Cairngorm and that the Fiacaill dump is just a small part of the problem.  It is though something the Cairngorms National Park Authority as planning authority should take action on.  Once you allow an organisation like Natural Retreats or Donald Trump to get away with breaching planning rules, you are just encouraging further breaches.  Partnership does not work with people to whom finance is king.  They need to be given limits and that means the CNPA taking enforcement action.

 

 

December 12, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments

I have attended all the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority meetings since April 2015, when the Board agreed to recommend camping byelaws to the Minister, and in all that time the Board has never been asked to make a choice in public about anything.   This is because everything has been decided in secret beforehand.  Today’s Board meeting will be different because there is an election for the new convener, which while conducted by secret ballot has to be held in public.  At last Board Member have a choice.

 

The term of office of the current convener, Linda McKay, ends the day before the byelaws are due to come into effect on 1st March.  I had been a little concerned that the Scottish Government was going to appoint her for another term as the vacancy has still  not been advertised.  The election  creates an opportunity because Linda McKay’s “leadership” has been disastrous for the National Park:  the Board has taken to making all important  decisions in secret, evidence is simply ignored, so-called partners are bulldozed into doing what the Park wants and the wider vision of what the National Park was for has been completely lost.

 

Two Board Members have put themselves forward for election, Major James Stuart and Petra Biberbach and both have made election statements (see here) and  (here).   The statements are different in style and while both contain implicit criticisms of the current leadership – talking of the need to reach out and talk to communities of interest that have been marginalised – neither makes the case for a fundamental change of direction.

 

Both statements should be taken with a large pinch of salt.  Neither candidate has spoken much at public Board meetings, in fact James Stuart hardly said a word for his first year, so its hard to tell what they stand for:   maybe though their silence is because both have made well thought out contributions at the monthly secret Board “Briefing” sessions?   On the camping byelaws, it would appear both are strong supporters, with James Stuart talking of “bold steps to do the right thing”  (a peculiar take on NIMBYISM) while it was Petra Biberbach who had the April 2015 Board Minute changed to ensure it was recorded that the Loch Lomond islands were up next for camping byelaws.    As for integrity, it appears James Stuart has now dropped the “Major”, to become a man of the people, while Petra Biberbach, along with most of the current Board, was involved in trying to cover up Owen McKee’s secret trading in Scotgold shares (see here for example).

 

What we don’t know of course is how far the limitations of the current candidates has been due to the control and influence that Linda McKay has exerted.   I would suggest therefore the new candidates should be judged by how far they commit to the following:

  • An end to secrecy.  The practice of holding secret monthly Board Briefing sessions should end immediately.  Yes, Boards occasionally need to meet to develop ideas or consider issues in great depth but when I was at SNH this was at most once or twice a year;  it should be the same in our National Parks.    Decision taken at meetings involving Board Members should be recorded, minutes taken timeously and made public available.  The minutes of Board Meetings prior to 2014 should be restored to the Park website.
  • Senior staff being  held accountable for what they say and what they do by the Board.  One example covered recently on  Parkswatch (see here) was the failure of the Board to investigate who falsified the minutes of the April 2015 meeting which approved the byelaws.     The misinformation put out by senior staff however continues on a weekly basis.  On the byelaws, for example, Director of Conservation Simon Jones claimed on the radio that there was no camping ban  (see here), while Chief Executive Gordon Watson trying to suggest on BBC Out of Doors 10 days ago (see here), in response to a question from Kevin Keane, that Loch Chon had experienced similar levels of problems with antisocial campers as east Loch Lomond had previously.  Complete nonsense.
  • Recreational organisations being re-established as key partners.  It was the recreational organisations which called for National Parks to be created and represent the people who visit them.  Since the creation of our Park Authorities however they have been sidelined (and not just on the camping byelaws) and this I believe explains many of the failures of both our National Parks.  The new Convener should commit to immediate discussions with the recreational organisations of how the Park can extract itself from the byelaw disaster but then start engaging on longer-term issues, such as levels of visitor infrastructure in the Park and the impact on landscape of developments such as hydro schemes.  This new approach should then be incorporated into the forthcoming National Park Partnership Plan.
  • Real  partnerships, where each partner is encouraged and clear about the contribution they needed to make, instead of the current farce where Park staff try to bulldoze partners into accepting their agenda while  at the same time claiming that failures in the National Park (such as provision of toilets and litters bins)  and the responsibility of these partners and nothing to do with the National Park Authority.
  • Developing a proper visitor management plan which looks at the impacts of all visitors, instead of focussing all the Park’s efforts and resources on a small group of campers, and develops the infrastructure necessary to support these visitors.   Visitor Management needs to be placed in the  wider context of the conservation of the Park as a whole, recognising that the major conservation issues are not visitor impacts but issues such as overgrazing, continued blanket afforestation and inappropriate developments.

 

If neither candidate commits to a change of course, there will be a further opportunity to change convener next year as a result of the Local Authority elections which could see a number of Local Authority representatives on the Board change.  Then, a year on,  a further four Government appointees, including Petra Biberbach, are due to retire in October 2018.  By then we need a Board that looks and acts very differently and is focussed on how to achieve the statutory objectives of the National Park instead of acting like a third rate public authority.

December 11, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

On Friday Mountaineering Scotland issued a news release calling for the proposed introduction of camping byelaws on 1st March to be suspended for a year to allow for a re-think.  The story was covered in the Herald on Saturday (see here).    It is great that a recreational body (which I was closely involved with in the past) has now clearly stated what should be evident to anyone who has been following the camping byelaw farce and that is the Park is plainly not ready to implement the byelaws.  While some of this is due to the incompetence of senior management,  the fundamental issue is that it would be almost impossible to implement what is fundamentally a flawed and incoherent set of proposals (as I have highlighted in my last two posts).

 

In terms of the immediate future, however, Monday is the last Board Meeting that is scheduled before the byelaws are due to commence on 1st March (the next Board Meeting is 13th March).  The Board therefore needs to consider whether they are certain on the evidence available that it is safe for the byelaws to go ahead.   Among other issues, I suggest they need to provide answers to the following:

  1. Has the Park satisfied the legal requirement to consult the Local Access Forum on the proposed permit system (the LAF are a statutory consultee on matters affecting access rights)?
  2. Will the Park hold any personal data on campers who book through the proposed electronic booking system?   If so, how does the Park intend to use this data and what systems are in place to meet data protection requirements?
  3. If the Park does intend to hold personal data about the behaviour of campers, what procedures are in place for people to correct that data and appeal against any actions taken by the Park (eg a decision not to allow a person camping permits in future)?
  4. Given that the “camping booking system” was only put out for tender on 10th October and the contract awarded (see below) on 1st December, is is reasonable to expect any IT developer to have an electronic booking system fully up and running in 3 months (or 10 weeks if people are to be able to book permits beforehand).  The original deadline of this being ready by 1st January has been clearly been missed but the paper claims all will be ready by mid-February.  The Board, if it has any experience of IT tenders, should know more often than not  they run behind schedule and there are lots of glitches.   If it cannot guarantee a fully functioning system is in place 1st February it needs to delay the implementation.
  5. Similarly, given that the only proposal is for an electronic booking system, is it really reasonable as suggested in the paper that most of the gaps in mobile phone coverage in the National Park are going to be fixed by 1st March?   If the Park has only been able to produce 1 new campsite (and its not finished yet) at Loch Chon in two years, how on earth do they expect phone operators to address gaps in mobile and broadband coverage in this short period?   So, what alternatives are the Board going to put in place for people who turn up to camp, find they will become a criminal without a permit but are unable to book one?
  6. What is the Board going to do to sort out signage which tells everyone who will be criminalised by the byelaws where they stand and not just campers?  (see here)    Again, the issues are so complex, how is the Board going to address this in ten weeks?
  7. Related to this, how is the Board going to ensure that by 1st March clear messages are given to ALL drivers who might sleep in their vehicles in proposed management zones and all Campervanners and mobile home owners which laybys in the Park are exempt from the byelaws because they are classed as being part of the public roads network?
  8. Moreover, given the Park has stated they don’t want to discourage campervanners, despite providing only 20 places across all the management zones, what is the Board going to do about this by 1st March?  Its no good saying we recognise there are not enough places.  What places are going to be added and where?   This decision needs to be taken in public.
  9. What procedures are going to be put into place so the public knows that the byelaws are enforced fairly and transparently?   Why were procedures for the enforcement for Fixed Penalty Notices for litter put before the Board for approval but no such procedures are being put to the Board for enforcement of the byelaws?  This cannot be right.    Moreover leaving enforcement to the discretion of staff when booking systems are not in place and the signage is misleading appears to me an even worse abrogation of Board responsibility.   The question is what will the Board do about this?
  10. How can the Board justify the proposed hike in price for Park campsites from £5 to £7 while claiming to be socially inclusive?
  11. How does the Board answer the claim that, by delegating power to staff to vary number of camping permits in zones as they think fit, they are giving staff arbitrary powers?  Why are there not procedures for this?  What notice do staff need to give campers and caravanners that permit numbers might change?  (This is important, someone wants to go fishing on south Loch Earn on a particular date: they book well in advance, can staff simply tell them “tough” we’ve decided to reduce the number of permits and you cannot come any more?;  they leave booking to last minute because weather forecast has been uncertain only to find they cannot go?)

 

I will look forward to reporting from the Board meeting tomorrow just how many of these questions are answered.  If they are not answered, the Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham, will have every justification – nay I would go further and say she has a obligation – to intervene as Mountaineering Scotland has called for and suspend the implementation process.

 

There are reasons for the current shambles of course, starting with the incompetence of members of the Park’s senior management team.  The Park’s new commercialisation and estates director, who was appointed to lead delivery of projects (such as new campsites, tender of the permit system etc), is no longer in post.   There is no reference to this in the Board Papers or why he went.   Was he  incompetent (there are several references in the papers to the Park’s commercialisation strategy being well behind target and failing to raise the income planned) or did he simply find it impossible to work with Gordon Watson the current Chief Executive?

 

The original budget for implementing the byelaws included £345k for the Loch Chon campsite, £100k for signs and £50k for the permit system (which is now overspent), a huge proportion of the Park’s budget.  None of these things was a good idea but it meant there was little money to spend on the infrastructure the National Park really needs, such as litter bins and toilets.   The financial reports show (no mention of this in the last Board paper on the camping strategy) that the Scottish Government has stepped in (which shows just how far the civil servants are behind this project) with further capital grants of £95k.

 

This Scottish Government funding  has enabled the Park to allocate £60k each to South Loch Earn and to Forest Drive to develop proposals for campsites there.   While this still hardly starts to tackle the infrastructure provision that is needed, it is a further waste of public funds when public budgets are being slashed all round.   Why the LLTNPA  don’t hire or even buy some portaloos, as happens in other National Parks, instead of paying vast amounts of money to force people to camp in certain places is beyond me.   That would however need an alternative approach to “Camping in the Park” the starting point for which should be respect for access rights and allowing people to decide where they want to camp rather than giving this right up to Park officials who are clearly not competent.

 

Extract from Scotland Contracts Portal on award of camping booking system

2 Contract Details

2.1

Title

Camping Booking System

2.2

Description of the contract

Supply of and hosting camping booking system or supply of camping booking system

2.3

Notice Coding and Classification

271600 Software

150 Glasgow & Strathclyde

2.4

Estimated Total Value

Lowest offer: 37000 Highest offer: 72000 GBP

3 Procedure

3.1

Type of Procedure

Single stage – Any candidate may submit a tender.

4 Award of Contract

4.1

Successful Bidders

4.1.1

Name and Address of successful supplier, contractor or service provider


Campstead Ltd

First Floor Unit 4, 212 – 218 Upper Newtownards Road,

Belfast

Bt4 2RW

UK

5 Other Information

5.1

Reference number attributed to the notice by the contracting authority

N/a

5.2

Date of Contract Award

01-12-2016

5.3

Number of tenders received

6

5.4

Other Information

(SC Ref:473971)

5.5

Additional Documentation

N/a

5.6

Publication date of this notice:

07-12-2016

December 10, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Keep Scotland Beautiful Environment Quality Audit 2015 published by LLTNPA November 2016 a year late. The instances of human fouling recorded over 464 visits came to 133 compared to 2778 instances of litter

Forgive my third post in a row on the camping byelaws but I think its time the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board was exposed to some public scrutiny before it takes decisions rather than afterwards.

 

I have vivid memories of the meeting which approved the byelaws in April 2015, the first I had attended.  There were only three members of the public present but the Park had called in its own police officer to watch over us.  The camping byelaws were decided in under 1/2 hour, which made me realise the whole process had been a charade and the decision had been taken beforehand in secret.  There was one eloquent speech though, from Stirlingshire Tory Councillor Martin Earl.

 

Cllr Earl described how he had been out recently on a community litter pick on the shores of Loch Venachar and had been disgusted by the levels of faecal waste and toilet paper.  His passion for the place was clear.   You could hardly fail to be moved and any tabloid present would no doubt have used crap as the clinching argument for the need to ban campers.   What Councillor Earl did not mention, and not a single other Board Member referred to was the campsite and public toilets planned for the north shore of Loch Venachar which had been timetabled in the Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan for delivery in 2014.

The 2012 plan for the campsite on Park owned land on the North Shore of Loch Venachar.

 

Note not just the toilet block but also the chemical disposal point and the number of parking places including two larger ones for motor homes.

If the Park had delivered on the Five Lochs Management Plan, I suspect most, if not all, of the faecal waste Cllr Earl complained about would not have been on the shores but quietly composting away below the new facilities.  However, what I did not know then, but the Board must have known, was that a revised planning application (see here) had been approved in 2014 for a smaller carpark without motor home spaces, no campsite and no toilets.  There appeared to be not a single Board Member who was able to make a link between the crap Martin Earl saw and the lack of facilities/change of plan.

Over the next year I tried to find out what was happening to the North Loch Venachar campsite through a number of FOI requests.  In May 2016 the LLTNPA was denying it had taken a decision about the campsite at North Loch Venachar EIR 2016-017 Response camping although it was quite clear from my visit last May that the new  car park  had been constructed and in such a way to preclude the installation of toilet facilities.

 

Roll on another five months to the LLTNPA  meeting this October and the Board, including Cllr Earl, unanimously approved the camping development strategy.  The included permit areas without any facilities along the north shore of Loch Venachar where the campsite and toilets had been planned.

The LLTNPA agreed permits for 17 tents and 5 “motorhomes” on the north shore of Loch Venachar. There will be no motorhomes allowed to stop off at the Park owned carparks despite places for motorhomes being planned there originally.  There is a separate permit area site for 5 “motorhomes” down the road – why just 5?  The LLTNPA either changed these plans in secret or allow their Chief Executive to do so without any accountability.

My question to Cllr Earl and the rest of the Board is how is the permit system going to do anything to change the crap on the shores of North Loch Venachar you were so concerned about  in April 2015?

 

Now the Park has said in its paper to the Board on Monday that it will issue information about the Scottish Outdoor Access Code along with the permits.  It didn’t need permits to do this.  One might wonder too what likelihood there will be of people reading this information as they pay to camp through their mobile phones.   Back when I was President of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland Mike Dales and the Access and Conservation Committee produced a leaflet called “How to go in the Great Outdoors” which is still years later the advice recommended by  SOAC.   The LLTNPA rangers could have been giving this out to campers for years – though this would have meant acknowledging the expertise of recreational organisations something they have consistently refused to do – along with a friendly word.  Even better, the Rangers could have taken a stock of plastic trowels with them for sale for a fiver to encourage everyone to bury their waste.     The permit system will not change any of the historical failure of the Park to educate people.   When a ranger finds a pile of crap and toilet paper in a permit area, trying to find out who did it will be rather like trying to find out which wean stuck the chewing gum to the teacher’s chair……………..

 

Putting the problem into perspective

 

There are now two important pieces of evidence which put the problem into perspective.  The first is the Keep Scotland Beautiful Litter Audit.   This was focussed on sites popular for camping and suggests (see table at top above) that people leaving crap in the open is a less prevalent practice than one might have thought from Councillor Earl’s speech (it of course biodegrades quite quickly) and from the number of campers recorded at these sites.    It appears that lots of campers are doing the right thing and burying their waste.   The second equally important piece of evidence is a recent scientific study of water pollution along the West Highland Way – Recreation impact water quality West Highland Way.  It found no evidence of pollution.  That doesn’t mean we should get complacent but it puts the problem in perspective.   

It would be wrong though to suggest that campers are the only source or even main source of crap in the Park.  I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago going up to do a winter climb on the Cobbler. Near the top of the zig zags my climbing partner needed a crap and headed off into the woods with his ice axe.  I stopped and noticed several pieces of toilet paper below the path – I went to have a look and almost ten people had crapped there.   Mike came back and said there was a similar amount of crap on the other side of the path.   Shocking?   No, a fact of life.

 

 

Despite the Cobbler car park being very well used there are no toilets.   After a drive of an hour or more in the morning its not surprising many people need to relieve themselves so what happens is they go up the path, come to a more densely wooded area and think this is a good place to go and they do.  Now before anyone blames hill walkers, this is just the same for day visitors.   While the Park asked KBS to record crap in the popular areas, you can find crap anywhere (just look in the bushes at the back of laybys) and the KBS audit found crap on two occasions by the turning for the Balmaha pier.   The simple fact is that most people have at least one bowel movement every 24 hours, its quite predictable therefore that many people will need to have a crap when people visit the Park – indeed in the days when the LLTPNA still conducted proper Visitor Surveys these all showed the main complaint about the National Park was a lack of public conveniences.  The LLTNPA has never acted on this.

 

The issue that the Park needs to address is not just campers crap, but that any visitor to the outdoors may need to have a crap.   I would suggest the central challenge is how install adequate toilet facilities for all visitors in the Park.   The byelaws and permit system is a complete irrelevance when it comes to this.  Anyone who drives north or south through  Crianlarich and Tyndrum will know that the toilets there are a godsave.   They are basic, not in good condition but very well used.  By contrast the LLTNPA has more modern facilties at places that would be equally good for stopping off (Balmaha, Firkin Point and Rowardennan) but these are locked for much of the time.  Useless!

What needs to happen

  • All existing toilets operated by the National Park should be opened 24 hours a day 365 days of the year (eg Rowardennan, Firkin Point) and those that can only be accessed through other facilities which close (eg Balmaha, Inveruglas) should be redesigned so they can be accessed from outdoors
  • The LLTNPA should develop a plan to install toilets at ALL the popular carparks in the National Park over the next five years (e.g Arrochar) and expand capacity where needed (e.g Luss)
  • The LLTNPA should ensure that a number of these toilets have waste disposal points for campervans/motorhomes and these are well advertised (as per the original plans for Loch Venachar)
  • In the most popular camping areas, the LLTNPA should install temporary portaloos over the summer months
  • Elsewhere,it should encourage all wild campers to carry lightweight plastic trowels and bury their waste

 

 

December 9, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments
The road sign that the LLTNPA has designed, apparently in conjunction with Transport Scotland, to mark the boundary of the proposed camping management zones

 

After yesterday’s post I have been reflecting on the proposed signage that the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board is being asked to approve on Monday.

 

The message given by the sign above is that there is a zone where camping is managed.   Nothing else.  So if you drive by in a campervan or in your vehicle planning to pull off the road and sleep in your vehicle you have been given no indication that if you do so you will commit a criminal offence and £500 fine to boot.  None of the other signage in the  Board paper says anything to indicate that campervans,  sleeping in a vehicle, bivouacing or staying overnight in any form of shelter (eg an upturned canoe) will be banned and if undertake any of these activities outside permitted areas in the zone you will become a criminal.      This is very very wrong.   People need to know where they stand.   I met someone last year who driving down from Skye pulled into the Falls of Falloch carpark for a sleep – he had no idea the byelaws banned him from doing so.  He still won’t if this signage goes ahead and that I think is a major legal and civil liberties issue.

 

The sign also says nothing about the extent of the camping management zone.  So, if you are a camper entering one of the zones in your car it would be reasonable to assume that camping is banned everywhere.  Parkspeak claimed the zones were only 3.7% of the area of the Park, a claim which is now under 4%, but there is no mention of that here.  The impression you get is that camping is managed everywhere and if you are aware is banned except in permitted places the message will be get through this zone as fast as you can – a disaster for tourism.   Communities like Arrochar are already suffering, with a number of shops closing in the last year and unable to gain from the many walkers and climbers who visit.   These messages will make it worse.

Note the bare ground behind the sign on the right. The Park claim they need to manage camping to protect the ground – the sign is a nice own goal!

There are signs that tell you where you can camp.  Nothing though to tell you where you can stay overnight in a campervan, neither for the grand total of 20 places where campervans will be permitted to stay, nor for the Transport Scotland or Council laybys where it may still be legal to stop off overnight in vehicles.

 

Nothing in this message for campervans or people thinking of staying overnight in their vehicles who will also face £500 zones.  Nothing to tell them they might need to find out more.

 

 

What these signs tell me is the camping byelaws, which were totallly incoherent, are already collapsing.  Without signage,  any attempt to enforce the byelaws against people who stay in vehicles will fail and is open to legal challenge.

 

You might ask, but what about the byelaws on east Loch Lomond where these issues haven’t arisen.   Well the reason they have no arisen is there is a clearway order along the road to Rowardennnan which prevents any vehicle stopping at any time.   It was this that stopped the problems caused by roadside campers coming out to party not the byelaws.

 

The Board on Monday really does need to start thinking about this instead of following the lead of its leader, LInda McKay.  The Scottish Government meantime should make it clear that any breach of the byelaws will not result in criminal offences unless the person is committing another criminal offence.   That would give time to come up with an alternative plan that puts people’s rights rather than NIMBY prejudice back at the centre of what the National Park does.

December 8, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Not a single one of the illustrated signs says anything about campervans or staying overnight in management zones though both will become criminal offences

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyone who cares about access rights in Scotland should read the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park paper which reveals how it hopes to implement the camping byelaws next March.

and the signage make the consequences clear, £500 fines.  It doesn’t however say when the byelaws apply.

Its for the Board meeting next Monday and provides some explanation – not enough – of how the permit system will work, how it will be enforced and how the Park intends to hike camping charges up to £7 a night.  There are three other papers that go with it, an illustration of the signage (see here) and papers on what powers will be delegated to staff (see here) and (and here).   These raise more questions than they answer.  This suggests either incompetence or that  the important decisions are still being made at the secret monthly “briefing sessions” of the LLTNPA Board out of the public eye.

The implications for access rights

 

The first sentence in this paragraph is the most important in the whole paper.  Scotland was meant to have the best access rights in the world but now the National Park has a unique power to limit one aspect of that right, the right to camp.  It is now devoting a completely disproportionate amount of its resources to stamping out camping.  A recent stakeholder revealed 30 full-time and 30 part-time rangers will be deployed to enforce the byelaws with £500 fines for those who try to camp without permits or outwith permit areas.    The permit system has never been subject to any consultation:  it was not part of the Your Park consultation and there is no mention in the paper of any consultation with the Local Access Forum, a statutory consultee.

 

The paper proposes a £3 a night charge for permits.   The justification for this is as follows:

The key point here is that the Park is going to use the charge to ensure “the areas are used responsibly”.  Just think of the implications for access rights.  Litter is dropped irresponsibly across the country from every Munro top to every road layby and all the verges inbetween.  If charging  campers for permits to pay for cleaning up after the irresponsible few is justifiable, then so is charging day visitors (how about a pass to go down the road to Rowardennan or what cost a Munro?) and every other activity which comes under access rights. This, if it goes ahead, will set a precedent for Scotland that  undermines our access rights and the fundamental human right to freedom of movement. Byelaws were never intended for this purpose and its such a fundamental change to access rights it should have been debated in the Scottish Parliament.   Chillingly the LLTNPA says they are “currently unique in Scotland”  in their ability to issue permits and charge for access:  the Park e has a long-term agenda, its submission to the Land Reform Review Group advocated that camping should be banned from all roadsides in Scotland and Board Minutes record that it intends to extend camping byelaws to the Loch Lomond Islands next.

 

While the paper claims that it does not intend to commercialise access rights, this is actually exactly what it is proposing.   I don’t think any permit system is justifable in the National Park at present but if the Park is going to continue on this disastrous course there should be NO charges for permits because of the implications of doing this for the rest of Scotland.

 

Will permits prevent irresponsible behaviour?

 

The LLTNPA has never explained how permits will prevent irresponsible behaviour, which was one of the main justifications for the byelaws.   The only thing the paper adds to our understanding of its position on this is it says permits will be issued together with advice on how to camp responsibly.  The real issue though is what happens when a Ranger goes to a permit area and finds an abandoned tent, litter or a chopped down tree?   The paper is completely silent on this.  The first point to make here is that the permit scheme as proposed does not change anything in relation to irresponsible behaviour.  If someone is caught in the act, the Rangers will still have to call the police, and if not the problem of deciding who did what remains.   Nowhere in the paper though does it say what will happen to someone who is in breach of the permit conditions.    Now if nothing happens, ie the next day the person can simply apply for and obtain another permit as long as they pay for this, this confirms that the charge for a permit is simply a charge for access.  On the other hand, if the Park is proposing to ban people with records of irresponsible camping, there is not a single detail of how this would operate in the paper.  Any “blacklist” of campers would have considerable civil liberty implications and raise many questions, such as rights of appeal etc which the Board would need to consider in public.

 

I think the Board needs to clarify their position on permits and irresponsible behaviour and that if there will be no new sanctions against irresponsible behaviour it should state this clearly.  While there are already more than sufficient laws to address irresponsible behaviour, the new offence with £500 penalities and consequent criminal record will just apply to people who camp outwith permitted areas or without a permit.    There is a fundamental injustice here:  if you are caught littering you can be fined £100 under the Fixed Penalty Notice system which results in no criminal record.  If however all you have done is camp without a permit you are £500 worse off and a criminal to boot.  This is wrong and why the byelaws are fundamentally unjust.   The byelaws penalise people for being in a place at a particular time rather for anything they have done.  This is another reason why the Park’s proposals should have been scrutinised in the Scottish Parliament instead of being approved without any critical consideration by the  former Environment Minister, Aileen McLeod.

 

Arbitrary Authority

 

The delegation of powers paper – and Park signage – makes it clear the Park intends to enforce breaches of the byelaws.  The criminal offence consists of staying overnight in a camping management zone without a permit or outwith a formal campsite or lighting a fire.  This shows up Simon Jones, the Park’s Director of Conservation, claim made on the BBC (see here)I think its important Mhairi to say first of all its not a camping ban” for what it was……..Parkspeak.

 

However, its not quite as simple as that for two reasons.  First, the Park papers propose to give staff powers to vary the number of permits up or down.  The criteria for this is not given though its implied that permits could be reduced if the ground is worn.  (This is nonsense, the permit zones are quite large and without fixed places for camping people can simply choose another place that is not worn – in fact the way to deal with worn grass is simply to put a sign up, as happens in campsites, asking people not to camp on the spot to let it recover.  It is also hyprocritical given the destruction at Loch Chon (see here)– will the Director of Conservation now suspend camping at Loch Chon to allow the cleared pitches to revegetate?).   I suggest this simply gives staff arbitrary authority to vary numbers of campers.  The proposal should be rejected.

 

Second, at the Stakeholder Group meeting held last month the following was recorded:

So, the Park appears to be saying is that the byelaws won’t always apply.   This is fundamentally wrong.  If there were exceptions to the byelaws, for example, because of safety, these should have been stated in the drafting of the byelaws and clear procedures set out to determine when these circumstances might apply.   Imagine you are cycling down the A82 in March, there is a storm and you are soaked through and you put up your tent for your own safety.   Will you end up with a criminal record and £500 fine or not?   These matters should NOT be left to the discretion of Park staff because if they are, inevitably the people who will get charged are the people whose face doesn’t fit.  I don’t think there is any fix for this except for the Park making a commitment that it will charge no-one for breaching the byelaws unless they have also committed another criminal offence: so if you were camping without a permit and had left litter all around your tent you could be charged, but if you were camping according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, you would not.

Campervans

 

The paper makes further meaningless noises about extending provision for campervans  and mobile homes (the paper just refers to mobile homes) without saying there are just 20 places across the four management zones (I will come back to this in another post).   In fact its failure to consider campervans in any meaningful way is yet another example of how poorly thought out these proposals are.  Not a single example of the road signs mentions campervans.  From the example above how would anyone know that staying overnight in a vehicle or indeed lighting a fire would be an offence.

 

There is a reason for this though and that is that while the Park wants to stamp out overnight stays, legally it cannot prevent vehicles stopping overnight either on the road or in certain laybys.  Its likely therefore there will be places in the Management Zones where campervans will be able to stop legally.  Now, this won’t be sufficient and is likely to involve large laybys on the A82 and other trunk roads which are the worst places for stopping off, but the point is the Park is not being transparent about this.  People won’t know where they stand and the examples of signs given here are no help at all.

 

Charges for campsites – £7 for Loch Chon

This is what the Park said in their letter to the Minister in May 2015.  13 months later they want to increase the charge for campsite camping to £7 for Loch Chon and also their campsite at Loch Lubnaig.  The paper omits to tell the reader that the current charge at Loch Lubnaig is £5 (and there are more facilities there) and that Sallochy, which Chief Executive Gordon Watson used as a comparator for Loch Chon, also charges £5.    These are basic campsites.  The paper says other larger campsites charge more.  Well, Beinn Glas Farm at present charges £8 but for that you get free hot showers and a place to sit inside when its raining.

 

The Park staff are simply at it, or rather having to increase charges because of the totally unnecessary and extortionate costs they have incurred in developing campsites which don’t even have places for campervans.

 

 

And for your further edification, another example of Parkspeak

 

“The Respect your Park initiative was successful over the summer season”.

 

Respect your Park included campers and was addressed at issues such as visitors dropping litter.  If the claim was true, there would be no need for any byelaws.  Sadly, its nonsense.  The Park creaked this summer due to the failure of the Park to install basic facilities like litter bins and toilets.  Its not campers or even visitors which is the problem, its the National Park Authority which has failed to do what it was set up to do.

 

What needs to happen

 

The Board should:

  • reject the proposal for a £3 charge for camping permits
  • make a clear statement about whether the permits are intended to address irresponsible behaviour and if so how this might  work
  • reject the proposal that staff should be able to vary permit numbers and instead start a public consultation on the permit system
  • make a public commitment that no-one will be charged for breach of the byelaws unless they commit another criminal offence
  • reduce the proposed charge for campsite from £7 back to the £5 originally proposed

 

Unless the Board agrees this, Scottish Ministers should suspend the implementation of the byelaws for another year in order to consult on the implications for access rights.

 

I don’t normally ask readers to do things, although I have really appreciated letting me know about things they have taken up.   If you believe though as I do that access rights are fundamental to citizenship,  please consider contacting your MSP/s.  The only MSP I am aware of at present who has spoken out about the camping byelaws in Patrick Harvie.  You could ask them where they stand on the byelaws and that these matters are debated in the Scottish Parliament.   Please also spread the message in whatever way you can.

December 6, 2016 Nick Kempe 3 comments
cimg9118
Photo of Natural Retreats’ dump at former Fiacaill T-Bar loading area taken 4th December 2016 and sent to me after my post yesterday. Cuts in costs by Natural Retreats are making the management of the mountain environment even worse, though standards had been dropping well before they took over. The dump now appears a semi-permanent feature of Coire Cas but is it a sign of investment?

Ewan Kearney, Director and the public face of Natural Retreats/Natural Assets claimed in the Strathy article last week that:

 

“Natural Assets has invested £1.3m into CML [Cairngorm Mountain Ltd] at Cairngorm over the last two years.   In addition to this any profit generated through CML as a result of the operation is invested back into the business”. 

 

My last post, which showed Natural Assets cut what was spent at Cairngorm by over £400k in the first year it owned CML while increasing administrative expenses by over £300k  and thus sucking money out of the company, casts serious doubt on the second part of the statement.  Its common practice these days for companies to hide and move profits through internal administration charges – Amazon is a well known example.  If Ewan Kearney stands by what he has claimed, then it would be easy for him to prove it:  he could simply make public the management accounts (which give details of all transactions) for Cairngorm and agree that all internal transactions between CML and Natural Assets/Natural Retreats could be open for public scrutiny.  Moreover,  he could release data on types and levels of staffing at Cairngorm, such as appeared in the CML accounts to March 2014 before Natural Assets bought the company:

 

staff
It would be in the public interest to know how many staff are now employed at Cairngorm and what they do to understand the relationship between staffing and the collapse of standards at Cairngorm.

 

What about investment then?

 

The figures from the accounts indicate there has been little or no investment in operational costs, such as staff, so I think we can take it most of Kearney’s claimed £1.3m over two years has been into capital.  The CML accounts tell us how much investment there has been into assets and of what type.  What they do not say directly is whether this is enough.

 

First another proviso.   Investment means different things to different people and Mr Kearney’s claimed investment into CML could include the £231,239 it cost to purchase it.   Unfortunately we won’t know the truth for another year because Natural Assets has changed the accounting year and the new accounts for CML will just be for 9 months until December 2015, 18 months after they bought it.      You can however see some of what happened in the the first 10 months Natural Assets owned CML.

 

investment
While the net book value of CML was £615,562 or thereabouts prior to purchase Natural Assets were able to buy the company for £231,239 because of “negative goodwill” – see previous post.

Line 2 under the Note on Tangible Fixed assets shows “additions” in the year to March 2015 of £616,544.  Double that and you are not far off Ewan Kearney’s claim of £1.3m of investment over two years.

 

However, all is not as it appears.  Look at the line below, “disposals” and you can see that Natural Retreats sold plant and machinery originally valued at £844, 715 which after “depreciation” (3 lines below) was worth c£140k.   Now if the disposal sold for a sum anything like that, Natural Assets realised a gain which it could use to help buy the £616k of additions.  That would mean a net investment of say c£480k.  Moreover, the note at the bottom of this section on Tangible Assets makes it clear that recorded under the “additions” is the full value of items held under finance leases or hire purchases agreements.  The value of “assets” held in this way increased between March 2014 and March 2015 by over £150k.  Assume a three year hire purchase agreement and that knocks another £100k off what was actually invested, meaning the real investment was c£380k or only just above what was invested in the  previous year’s accounts before Natural Assets bought CML.

 

It appears then that for Mr Kearney’s claim to be true Natural Assets must have invested c£920k in the succeeding financial year.   While we don’t have the accounts from March 2015-December 2015 we do know from a Freedom of Information Request, that was quoted in the Strathy article, that HIE has invested £601,286 into the assets CML operates since Natural Assets takes over.    (Thanks to George Paton for this cairngorm-hie-response-to-foi-on-cm-spend-17-august-2016  its well worth a read)  Now most of this expenditure to my knowledge appears to have taken place since March 2015 which raises the question of whether Ewan Kearney’s claimed investment of £1.3m over 2 years includes this support from HIE or not.   Now, as a result of my concerns about the unlawfully bulldozed track in Coire Cas (see here for example) and the extremely poor standard of work on the new Rope Tow.  I contacted HIE who said that Natural Retreats was responsible for the contractors, i.e had the contract with them.   This shows that HIE funded CML to do these works.  The key question therefore is whether Natural Retreats has included grant funding in their claimed investment of £1.3m at Cairngorm or whether the grant funding is on top of this.  Ewan Kearney and HIE should come clean now and release all the figures relating to capital investment.

 

While the answer will be interesting, whatever the case its clear the investment has not been  enough.  This is shown by the collapse of the Cas Gantry just over a year ago through lack of maintenance.

gp-gantry-works-in-snow
The initial works to “save” the Cas Gantry – Photo Credit George Paton

 

The FOI response shows HIE paid £73,377 to “fix” this.  Given the appalling standard of the work you wonder why HIE ever agreed to hand-over the money.  Indeed you could ask the same question about the installation of the Sunkid rope tow and associated works which HIE funded to the tune of £160, 596 or the replacement of the electrical cabling to the tows where they have  paid £315,641.  This expenditure has been the opposite of Best Value.  One wonders what else HIE is going to pay for and what else remains their responsibility (I have not been able to work this out from the lease yet).

 

I guess HIE saw these as trifling matters because the big prize in its view was redevelopment of the Day Lodge into a mountain conference centre which Natural Retreats claimed might cost £15m to complete http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-34651446.   This development was totally inappropriate for Cairngorm and has now collapsed.   Replacement of the Day Lodge was however so central to HIE that it was made a condition of the lease and therefore HIE could now, if they wanted, terminate this.  I think they should do so.

 

I believe the agenda of Natural Retreats is not about investing at Cairngorm but taking what money they can from it.   While the controlling interest of the Natural Assets/Retreats group of companies, is held by David Michael Gorton (http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/11/21/will-natural-retreats-bring-decently-paid-jobs-cairngorm/), who has sufficient funds to invest whatever was needed at Cairngorm and indeed a swathe of the Highlands, he has not chosen to do so so far.  His investment vehicle in holiday businesses, Natural Assets,  last year incurred losses of £5,734,703 and is £20,715,910 in deficit overall.   It has no money to invest and a bank would be mad to lend money to it.  What happens therefore entirely depends on the goodwill of Mr Gorton and whether he keeps taking money out of Natural Assets.    HIE should never have sold Cairngorm to such an organisation and should get out while it can.

 

These problems have arisen because HIE is still looking for the big fix at Cairngorm – the funicular was the previous attempt to do this.  What is needed is a totally different approach to development which respects the mountain environment while coming up with creative ways to enable people to enjoy it.    This needs to involve people with ideas, like the Save the Ciste Group, like montane shrub zone enthusiasts, the local community, recreational and conservation organisations.  I think this could happen if the lease with Natural Retreats was terminated, the land transferred from HIE to Forestry Commission Scotland and serious discussions started about creating a community consortium to manage Cairngorm.  It also needs a different form of finance but I think if HIE had funded a community organisation to the extent they have funded Natural Retreats there would have been much better outcomes for all who care about Cairngorm.

December 5, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

 

strathie-1This excellent article, about Natural Retreats’ failure to invest in Cairngorm and the possibility of a community run enterprise taking over the ski area, appeared in the Badenoch and Strathspey Advertiser last week.    While I have been in close communication with the Save the Ciste group, some of whose members have kept me informed of the destruction that has been going on at Cairngorm, and whose public meeting in Aviemore on their alternative proposals for Cairngorm prompted the article,  I had no idea they would get this coverage in the Strathie or that the finances of Natural Retreats would feature so centrally in it.

 

In response to the claims of the Save the Ciste Group (see end of post), Ewan Kearney, who is a Director and Chief Operating Officer of Cairngorm Mountain Ltd (CML), denied any lack of investment.  Mr Kearney is also a Director of Natural Assets Investment Ltd (NA) which owns CML and Natural Retreats UK Ltd  which provides “services” to the companies owned by Natural Assets, including CML.  Interestingly, the spokesperson for Highlands and Islands Enterprise avoided saying anything about what was actually being invested and simply said they are working with Natural Retreats on alternatives to the planned replacement of the Day Lodge which has now collapsed.  I take this as a tacit acknowledgement from HIE that Alan Brattey and the rest of the Save the Ciste group are right.  If, as Alan suggests, you take a look at the latest accounts for these three companies (cml-accounts-to-march-2015),  (natural-assets-investments-financials to March 2015) and  (nr-uk-ltd-accounts-dec-2015) you can get a good idea of where the money is going at Cairngorm and from this its not difficult to reach the conclusion that Natural Retreats are most unlikely to be the saviours of Cairngorm.

 

In summary, for people who dislike poring over financial information and wish to read no further:

  • Natural Retreats cut costs at Cairngorm in the first year they owned it by over £400k
  • At the same time administrative costs increased by over £300k sucking money out of Cairngorm into another company owned by the Natural Retreats group
  • Natural Retreats, owners of CML, have huge debts to a hedge fund manager which are rapidly increasing – on paper its a financial basket case

 

I hope though its worth reading on to understand how this is happening.  The general populace as well as our National Parks need to start using accounts to stop being conned.   While I am not an accountant and there are all sorts of difficulties in interpreting the limited information which is available in the financial statements for the various companies, including that the different companies involved have different financial years and there is extensive internal “trading” between the companies controlled by Natural Assets, there is still a lot of interesting information about what investment is actually taking place and where the money is going.  A further proviso on what I say next is that the last accounts available for CML are for the year April 2014 – March 2015 (the latest accounts are due by the end of January 2017 so more information will be available then) and since NA bought CML in March 2014 not all the financial transactions reflected in the accounts that are public can be attributed to them.

 

What is a constant  behind the labyrinthine financial relationships of Natural Assets and Natural Retreats is the ultimate controlling interest is David Michael Gorton, (see here),  a multi-millionaire hedge fund manager.

gorton
Extract from consolidated accounts of Natural Assets Ltd, who own Cairngorm Mountain, to December 2015. Note that despite taking almost £3m out of Natural Assets as interest the debt NA owes him has increased by over £2m.

 

David Michael Gorton has appointed the same four Directors to run the businesses in his Natural Assets/Natural Retreats group.   Ewan Kearney is the lead for Cairngorm.

natural-retreats-uk-ltd
This list of shared Directors from the accounts of Natural Assets Investment Ltd omits name of Timothy Dennis although he is listed at Companies House as a Director of Natural Assets Investment Ltd, Natural Retreats UK Ltd and CML. Note the large amount of internal trading, in both directions,  between NA and NR.  Over £2m one way and £1m the other.  There is similar internal trading of Services between Natural Retreats Uk Ltd and CML.   HMRC would probably have to put someone onto this full-time to find out what is really going on.

While Ewan Kearney claimed in the Strathie that in 2016 Natural Assets had £30m of assets he said nothing about their liabilities.   In March 2015 were over £45m and left a deficit at that time in the consolidated accounts for the Group of £17,764,703.    Take away the subsidiary companies and the liabilities for Natural Assets exceeded assets by £20,715,910. The only way that Natural Assets will be able to invest in Cairngorm is if David Gorton decides to make more money available.

 

I did not follow the sale of CML to Natural Assets but Highlands and Islands Enterprise sold it  for £231,239, a sum that could easily have been raised by a Community Enterprise (or even by crowdfunding).    There is some interesting information in the Natural Assets accounts to March 2015 about this.

purchase-cairngorm

If you look at the subtotal 7 lines down, of the total assets purchased from HIE you can see their book value was £614,954  but this was reduced by “negative goodwill”.  Now this is not about the value of the asset, which is calculated by depreciation of the original purchase cost, but about what use could be made of the asset (i.e the money that might be made from it).  If an asset is productive, goodwill will add to the book value but if the reverse, it will reduce it.  In agreeing the price it appears HIE accepted that there was a problem with the assets owned by CML which reduced their book value significantly.  We do not know why this is and it could be anything from CML had previously purchased the wrong type of equipment  to the likelihood of snowy winters enabling the new owners to make use of the asset.

 

This however was not the only thing  HIE did.  The CML the accounts show they also wrote off £516,068 of dividends that were due to them from CML at the beginning of the 14/15 financial year.

cml-dividends

Without this write-off from HIE (which is treated as interest payable in the profit and loss section of the accounts pasted below – see entry with note 3 by it) CML would have made a significant loss in the year they were taken over by NA.

cml-profitloss

 

While the accounts provide no details of the operation at Cairngorm they do show turnover (income), which dropped by £115k, cost of sales, administrative expensive and Directors fees.

 

Cost of sales means the cost of the workforce at Cairngorm and all the costs such as fuel and power required to run the operation. This reduced to £3,352,081 or c£260k less than the previous financial year.    So while Ewan Kearney is claiming there has been investment in Cairngorm actually in terms of operating expenses there have been cuts.  This I believe helps explain the further drop in standards and lack of care that has been taking place at Cairngorm since Natural Retreats took over.

 

The position though is worse than it appears from the accounts.   I have found out from HIE – and I appreciate their rapid response to my question on this – that CML now employ the ranger service previously funded by HIE to the tune of £55,658 and Natural Assets as the new owners have apparently maintained that level of service.     Their strategy appears to have been to  fund this extra commitment through paid guided walks (see here) but this was an additional cost which they can only have absorbed by a further £55,658 of saving/cuts.  In addition, the notes to the accounts (see note below) shows that CML undertook £116, 026 of work for Natural Retreats which appears to be included in cost of sales and indicates staff employed at Cairngorm are now doing work for other companies in the Natural Assets/Natural Retreats Group.   An indication that even less money is being spent on Cairngorm itself.  In total it appears that there were c£430k in cuts at what CML spent on operating at Cairngorm the year NA bought it.

 

At the same time the administrative expenses recorded in the CML accounts increased by over £300k.   There is no explanation of why this is.  However, while some administrative expenses (eg designs for the new day lodge which is now off the agenda etc) may have been externally purchased, a large proportion of this administrative expenditure was for  “services” purchased from Natural Retreats UK Ltd, with the same four Directors and  whose parent company is now located in the USA.   cml-control

 

 

The total services provided by Natural Retreats UK in the first part-year Natural Assets owned CML came to £483,046 management services plus £122,996 in other services – call it £600k or over half of all the administrative expenses.   Since the Directors of the two companies are the same they can quite legally set internal charges between the two companies at whatever rate they want.   One explanation for the increase in administrative expenses – strange that a company that was so quick to cut costs of sales did not also look at cutting administrative costs – is the Directors have set far higher charges than CML incurred previously for standard services such as bookkeeping.  If so, this has had the effect of moving money out of CML to Natural Retreats UK Ltd.

 

In support of this theory is that while the fees of the Directors at CML  decreased by just over £65k

directors

 

the fees paid to Kearney, Dennis, Wild and Spence at Natural Retreats UK in the year till December 2015 increased by over £73k.

 

directors-2

 

 

The apparent saving in Directors costs at Cairngorm appears to have been more than offset by  increases in fees elswhere within the Natural Assets/Natural Retreats group of companies.  And remember these same four directors may also be receiving salaries which do not appear in the accounts.  The public should be very sceptical about this representing good value.

 

Now I have little doubt that what Mr Gorton and the Directors he appoints to carry out his wishes do is all quite legal (the Directors will be employed partly because of their skills in moving money to pay as little tax as legally possible and to extract money out of companies).  It is not however good for Cairngorm Mountain, the economy of Speyside or our National Park.  The scandal here is that a public agency, HIE, ever decided to sell CML to a company like Natural Assets.

 

I will cover in a further post about what Natural Assets has actually invested in Cairngorm – Mr Kearney claims this has been £1.3m to date – and their relationship with HIE.

 

What needs to happen

 

  • The siphoning of money out of Cairngorm, as illustrated by the CML accounts, is not in the public interest and needs to be stopped.   Nothing good is going to happen at Cairngorm while a company which is interested only in making money runs it.
  • The simplest way of doing this is to terminate the lease with Natural Retreats at Cairngorm.  There are a number of grounds for doing so.
  • HIE, which is responsible for the knock down sale of CML to Natural Assets should be replaced as landowner of the Cairngorm Mountain Estate as part of the Government review into its future

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December 2, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

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Several readers alerted me to the piece on Good Morning Scotland yesterday about the camping byelaws and the campsite at Loch Chon.     I don’t think I’ve seen any better demonstration of the hyprocrisy of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority than the video version.   I am not sure this was intentional, because little of this comes across in the audio version and there is no critical reporting.  In the video in three minutes you can see directly that the evidence the Park keeps recycling to justify the camping ban is rubbish and that it is destroying far more natural habitat than campers, including the irresponsible ones, ever did. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-38169667

 

The ironies are multiple:

  • Loch Chon is described as “Scotland’s first purpose-built wild campsite”  – I suspect the juxtaposition of “wild” with “purpose built”  was fed to the Reporter, Kevin Keene, by LLTNPA staff but most people would regard “purpose-built” and “wild” as contradictory. And this is the same National Park which claimed “Our bye law proposals will not restrict true wild camping outside the zones – over 95% of the National Park’s areas is still available for true wild camping”.  In the Park’s view then “wild camping” could never take place close to the road and they were never planning to ban it.  Just a few weeks ago in the Board Paper that approved the camping “strategy” this was described as a semi-formal campsite but Parkspeak has moved on and now, we have “wild” campsites by the road.
  • Except of course, as the video clip makes clear, the diggers are in and large quantities of aggregrate are being dumped onto textiles to create a new path that was never needed.
  • Near the beginning of the clip a ranger speaks “the ground around is damaged by fires, repeated fires in lots of in different locations, there’s damage to vegetation by camping, there’s [slight pause] there is not much litter at this time of year, November“.     As the Ranger says all this she is gesturing all around but………at what?   All you can see behind her is green grass with no sign of damage from either tents or fires (though there is a tree stump).  Struggling to find litter to point to, there is a slight loss of words (or maybe cut before before moving to a new location) before the Ranger continues “but there is still a pedal bin that someone has used as a fire pit”.    Campers cannot win, light a fire on the ground and you are causing damage, light a fire in a receptacle to protect the ground and you are still to blame.   Now maybe there was more damage than was shown in the video,  but I think the photo at the beginning of this post which I took early this year is a reasonable indication of how much “damage” is caused by fires and tents.   While saying all of this the Ranger appears totally unaware of the diggers that are working just behind her – how does that compare in terms of damage and what does she think will be the impact of the new shipping container toilet blocks?    I suspect though her Chief Executive was also just behind her and she probably had little choice about what she said.
  • As for Gordon Watson, Chief Executive and chief hyprocrite, he is introduced walking by the newly constructed path and then slightly away from it towards what will be a camping pitch saying “so we will have a bark path to an area cleared of grass”.  The fact is the LLTNPA is clearing more vegetation at Loch Chon than is damaged by campers lighting fires in the whole of the National Park. The LLTNPA though would prefer to see order, the suburban order of constructed paths to fixed pitches, instead of anything wild, whether this is wild nature or wild humans.     The reporter, Kevin Keane, unfortunately did not question Gordon Watson about this.
  • Instead Gordon Watson was given time to express the Park’s latest attempt to justify the byelaws  “many of these places are no go zones for people wanting to take access so we want to provide the opportunity for people to enjoy these areas again”.  The LLTNPA has never provided any evidence of no-go zones, apart possibly from encampments of caravans that may have blocked certain laybys, particularly on the north shore of Loch Earn,  which could be addressed, had there ever been the will, through Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.
  • Gordon Watson then repeats the claim to try and ram it home referring to “behaviours that are putting off people taking access”.   As he said this, his face I thought told a story, and I wondered if he was regretting including the graphic below from the Your Park consultation which shows lots of day visitors go to the same places as day visitors (unless there are seven people to to tent!).  The LLTNPA is simply trying to imply there are divisions between people where there are none;  most people who camp are also day visitors.

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  •  Its hard too to fit Gordon Watson’s claim with Kevin Keane’s introductory comment at the beginning of the piece about “increasing numbers of people are turning the picturesque into the grotesque”.   Within the context of Loch Chon, where there are very few campers (see here), this is all claimed without any hint of irony.  No mention either is made of the failure to make any provision for campervans and that the west Trossachs management zone will become campervan free.

 

Now I don’t blame the Reporter for failing to pick up these points in a three minute piece or for not being more sceptical about what the Park staff said.   Now the slides have been released from the secret board briefing sessions there is very good evidence of how the LLTNPA has tried to manipulate the media and the population but it is easy to fall for what they say.  The LLTNPA devote considerable effort to spin as illustrated by the slide below.

 

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Slide from April 2015 just before the meeting which approved the byelaws

“We asked, we listened” – the LLTNPA never listened.  The slides from the secret Board Briefing in September 2014 shows they had decided to ban camping BEFORE  the charade of the Your Park consultation was launched in October but it was very important appeared to do so, hence the media strategy.

 

Look at box two and you can see that the claims of Gordon Watson on Good Morning Scotland are are an iteration of the theme that the LLTNPA “want to encourage everyone to make the most of the outdoors“……………..but now added to this is “if it wasn’t for those pesky campers and caravanners who are driving everyone else away”.

 

The LLTNPA’s media presentation of camping issues appears to have changed from there being ‘too many campers have an unsustainable impact on the natural environment’, for which there is no evidence,  to “campers stop other people enjoying the natural environment”.    I think this is because the LLTNPA need to try and convince people that campers are driving others from the loch shores in order to justify the fact that they wish wish to turn vast swathes of the loch shores into camper/van free zones without neither campsites nor permits.  The environmental argument is complete nonsense, as the BBC film clip shows, shows they are playing the people card.

 

December 1, 2016 Nick Kempe 3 comments

dinnetIn 2013 the Cairngorms National Park Authority was informed about the extension and expansion of hill tracks on the Dinnet Estate owned by former CNPA Board Member Marcus Humphrey.  These works had been undertaken without planning permission by Findrack Investments Ltd who lease the shooting (both deer and grouse as far as I am aware) from the estate.  Three years later the CNPA managed to persuade Findrack Investments to submit a retrospective planning application for the upgrade of 7.5km of what were claimed to be existing tracks (as illustrated in the map above).   These were subject to a very thorough report with accompanying photos to the Planning Committee in July 2015.  This estimated that there are 38km of track in all on the estate, claimed that 22km are in acceptable condition but recommended that 16km required planning permission.  The report only dealt with the upgrade of the three tracks in the diagram not with the other 8.5km of track for which no retrospective planning application has yet been received.  It appears these 8.5km are likely to be sections of new track although this is not clear from the report.  This suggests there has  been NO progress on dealing with the new tracks despite negotiations going back to 2013.

 

I went for a walk round the Dinnet estate in September (see here) and (here) and have been meaning to blog about the tracks ever since.  I have been prompted to do so by the November meeting of the CNPA planning committee (see below).

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The start of track 1 at Glenfenzie, parallel to the A939. On my OS MAP dating from 1996 this first section, the green track and several hundred metres beyond is marked as footpath. The original track came in from the A939 up the hill. Its not possible to tell from the CNPA report when the post 1996 section of track was created.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A closer view of track 1 from the start of the constructed section. The material for the track has simply been dumped on the moorland
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The “borrow” pit for the works on track 1 has created a large scar on the landscape as well as destroying a patch of regenerating juniper.  For some reason this borrow pit does not feature in the CNPA photos of track 1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Other tracks which have been created by vehicle use rather than construction, such as this one up to grouse butts from near the start of track 2, are not included in the Report presumably because they don’t require planning permission.

The Planning Committee in July agreed to grant retrospective planning permission to the remedial works proposed by Findrack Investments subject to their meeting 5 further conditions within 3 months.  Part of the Minute is interesting:

 

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The concern for the capacity of the CNPA was expressed by Board Members. Gavin refers to Gavin Miles, head of planning – one might have thought senior staff would be making the case for what resources are actually needed but apparently not in these neo-liberal times. Point 29 is interesting because of what it says about partnership working with landowners.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two days before the deadline set by the Planning Committee, Findrack submitted a set of proposals to the CNPA which were judged inadequate.  At the Planning Committee in November officers submitted a further report stating that if the conditions were not met within the week, enforcement action.  It is not clear from the planning portal, where the latest information on the application dates back to 14th July, what the currrent position is..

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The northern fork of track 2 leads up to a line of grouse butts. Again on my OS map the track is shown as stopping before the horizon and it is not clear when the extension was created.

 

 

 

 

 

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The eastern fork of track 2. The bank has been re-engineered and is too steep so vegetation is unlikely to recover and the track is also too steep.
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Same section of track looking back.
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Gullying on track 2.

The section of track 2  in the three photos above appears to have deteriorated significantly since the photos which were taken by the CNPA enforcement officer.

 

The photos above, combined with those taken by Park staff,  show that the CNPA needs to act and sort this out.    While I did not walk the third section of track in the map above, track 6, I suspect the biggest issues are yet to be consider by the CNPA in public.

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This new section of track, right up to near the summit of Cairn Mona Gowan, and associated “borrow” pit has caused enormous destruction and in my view needs to be removed and the ground restored.

 

 

So, why hasn’t the CNPA acted earlier?

 

While the July Committee report is thorough and in many ways a good piece of work it shows the shortcomings of the current approach to planning in the National Park.   There are worrying statements in the report such as:

 

  • “a compromise could be reached to focus on the most significant issues”  – should our National Parks be compromising on the landscape?
  • “tracks are a feature of these landscapes” from the landscape adviser which suggests they think the battle has been lost.

 

Most of the justifications for the remedial works are also based less on landscape grounds than the need to prevent soil and other materials eroded from the track impacting on the River Dee and Muir of Dinnet Special Areas of Conservation.  The Access Officer reports that the development “would have a minor impact on outdoor access”:  well, the one pair of walkers we met on this section of track agreed that they had destroyed walking experience.

 

Its as though the staff employed by the National Park have lost the will to fight for the reasons why it was set up, to protect the landscape and natural environment.

 

And part of the reason for that, I believe, is that CNPA staff are expected to work in partnership with people who simply aren’t prepared to do so and are also part of our governing elite.

 

Findrack investments, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and Partnership working

 

Findrack investments, which lease the shooting on Dinnet and who made the retrospective planning application, appear to be a private investment company run by two people, Vikram Lall and Andrew Salvesen.   They are not short of a bob or two, according to their latest accounts Findrack Investment have almost £33.5 million invested in various shares and securities, while Lall and Salvesen are also directors of Findrack Hostels which own Euro Hostels, which many readers may have heard of, and has c£15m of assets.    I think we can take it that these two gentleman could afford to pay for all the works outlined in the retrospective planning application and to remove all unlawful tracks if they wanted to or, failing them, if the CNPA forced them to do that.

 

Lall was previously a merchant banker and has been director of many companies, including charitable ones.    Andrew Salvesen was a Director of Aggreko, which constructs and hires power generators, 1997-2009, and has been one of Scotland’s most “successful” companies.  He has been  a Director of Countryside Alliance Insurance Services (the CA represent the hunting and fishing lobby in England) and has been a Director of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust from 2013 having previously been a Director  2008 to 2012.   Its the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust which agreed the need with SNH to suspend mass hare culls  and is also working with SNH to develop a methodology to count hares (which is apparently required before the Minister will take any action – see previous post).

 

Now, I am not sure if the CNPA are aware who the Directors of Findrack Investments are but, given the destruction they have caused in the National Park and the way they have failed to co-operate with CNPA staff on the Dinnet hill tracks, I think its a fairly safe conclusion that there is little chance of them working in partnership to improve wildlife diversity on our moorlands.  Indeed, Dinnet is not part of the east Cairngorms Moorland Partnership which the draft Partnership Plan promoted as being the key vehicle by which it would develop conservation in partnership with landowners.  This leaves a great hole in the middle of that partnership.   The conclusion really should be quite simple,  where partnership is not working, regulation and enforcement is needed and the CNPA now needs to devote the resources necessary to remove the unlawful new tracks from Dinnet and ensure the pre-existing ones are brought up to the right standard, not just the worst cases as suggested in the report, but any work that did not meet the required standards.

 

More broadly, the CNPA might usefully consider what Andrew Salvesen’s directorship of the GWCT and apparent inability to work in partnership might have on the likelihood of the GWCT partnership with SNH delivering any meaningful evidence on hare numbers.   This is the evidence they say is needed before they can do anything to stop the mass culling of mountain hares.   It may be just coincidence  but on our walk through the hills on the Glen Fenzie half of the estate we saw not a single mountain hare until after we had entered the SSSI on the flanks of Morven.   While I’d be very happy if anyone can provide photos that show otherwise, what wildlife exists on Dinnet is totally connected with the hill tracks.    The tracks are used by keepers to check traps, look out for raptors and feed grouse.   There are lots of grouse and not much else.    Half the purpose of these tracks is to destroy wildlife that is seen as a threat to shooting interests – I think of them now as persecution tracks as well as scars on the landscape – so removing the tracks that have no planning permission would be good for both the landscape and wildlife and consequently would be good for walkers too.