Month: January 2017

Shieling rope tow and track Saturday 21st January. Gaps between heather and holes in foreground almost certainly were caused by diggers scooping out vegetation for replanting under the rope tow contrary to the planning application.

In my two posts on the retrospective planning application for the Shieling Ski tow track last week (see here) and (here) I outlined why this was a test case for the National Park.  On Friday the Cairngorms National Park Authority planning committee unanimously approved the recommendation of its officers and the application (see here for news release) or (here) for article in the Press and Journal   It was the wrong decision and while a number of Board Members asked searching questions of what is going on at Cairngorm, the CNPA still appears to prefer to put its head in the sand rather than safeguard the area for the people who care about it, including skiers.  It could have been so different…………….

 

Parkspeak

 

Here is what Eleanor Mackintosh, Convener of the CNPA Planning Committee said:

 

“Both applications [the Shieling was one of two]  comply with our planning policies but it is frustrating that the applicants did not gain the correct planning consents before undertaking their developments. That said – I am happy to support the enterprising developments at Inshriach – I think it provides the area with a unique tourist accommodation offering for visitors.

“I am also pleased that the proposals we are giving planning permission for at Cairngorm Mountain include a long term restoration plan for a wider area of ground, including the creation of new montane woodland habitat. This careful approach to balancing the operation of the ski resort with sensitive long term management of the ski area’s natural habitats is one we look forward to seeing as an integral part of all future plans to enhance the offering on the mountain.”

The development may have complied with planning policies but it certainly did NOT comply with wider Park policies (including the Glenmore-Cairngorm Strategy recently approved by the Board and flood risk reduction).  Development planning is supposed to support those policies, it says so in the Park Plan.  It also demonstrates just how weak the Park’s Development Planning policies are:  the hill track clearly contravenes SNH Guidance on Hill Tracks but this carries NO weight with the CNPA.  Inevitably the gravel surface on the hill track will erode but the CNPA has nothing to say about this as it has no policy in this area.  At a time when CNPA staff are struggling to respond to the unlawful hill tracks in the Park and generally atrocious standard of construction, this is a major failing which needs to put right.  Any policy on hill tracks in National Parks should be far stronger than SNH’s guidance because that policy covers the country as a whole and the public has a right to expect more from protected areas.

 

While the montane planting is a small positive step in the right direction and was presumably negotiated behind closed doors (will it be HIE or Natural Retreats that pays for this?)  perhaps Eleanor Mackintosh could explain why the CNPA didn’t take the opportunity to ask Natural Retreats to repair all the other damage it has caused in the Shieling area which was not part of the planning application?

The slope above the Cas Gantry 21st January which Highland Council exempted from the need for planning permission. There is a drainage culvert under the stone to the left of the bottom of the V but its too small for the volume of water or became blocked, so the water overflowed causing the erosion in the centre of the photo. Another example of very poor design from Natural Retreats.
The track that has been created by vehicles driving across the heather by the Car Park t-bar rather than use the existing track up to the mid-station. Natural Retreats claimed that the Shieling Hill track was needed to reduce vehicles driving all over the ski area but, the evidence suggests, continues to allow staff to drive vehicles wherever they wish.

 

 

 

Perhaps too Eleanor Mackintosh could explain how the CNPA’s failure to take any action to stop the destruction at the Shieling three months after being told about it demonstrates a careful approach?

 

The problem appears to be that the CNPA simply accepts whatever land-managers say is necessary for operational purposes, even in cases such as at Cairngorm where those operators clearly haven’t told the whole truth.   An example came at the meeting where in response to questions to why the track was needed, I am told Natural Retreats staff said it was necessary to ensure vehicles avoided crossing the electric ring main.    That this was nonsense was shown by Natural Retreats own landscape plan

The dotted yellow line starting mid-left, which illustrates the ring main, actually goes under the new hill track!    Furthermore there is no issue with vehicles crossing the ring main, it simply needs to be run through a duct  (see here).  Unfortunately the CNPA seems incapable of challenging Natural Retreats on these false claims.

 

Neither does the CNPA seem capable or willing either to consider alternatives which might be more in keeping with the aims of the National Park.   I know of at least two alternatives that were put to the Park.  I sent one, after my last post on the Sheiling, Email to CNPA re hill track,  suggesting that vehicles could use the rope tow uptrack for occasional use.  The North East Mountain Trust quite separately suggested that if the hill track was really only for occasional use, it should be resown and planted with heather to stop the erosion.  One could debate the merits of either proposal – and I am sure they were not the only solutions –  but the point is the CNPA appears to have failed to consider alternatives before taking the decision.    As long as developers know the CNPA is not prepared to force them to consider alternatives, its quite predictable that the whole sorry business of unlawful developments followed by retrospective planning applications will continue.

 

Still, according to feedback I have had from the meeting (its not in the news release), Eleanor Mackintosh did agree to write to Natural Retreats expressing the Committee’s displeasure at the retrospective nature of the application.  This is the third time I am aware of that she  has written such letters in the recent past (other cases have been the Dinnet Hill Tracks and the extensive development at Badaguish).  It would be interesting to know if the CNPA can provide evidence that this has made any difference?  Ultimately its actions, not words, that count.

 

What is different this time though is that the CNPA also agreed to write to HIE as landowner.   This is significant and a step forward because HIE as landowner has failed to exert any control over Natural Retreats, its tenant, and indeed, as parkswatch revealed last week, had actually paid them for the illegal works (though it is now asking for £2000 back).     Whether HIE will get this back, is less certain.  As of at 11am on 31st January the accounts for the year to December 2015 for both Cairngorm Mountain Ltd  (due on the 24th January) – the company vehicle through which Natural Retreats operates Cairngorm – and Natural Assets Investment Ltd (due 17th January) which owns CML Ltd were marked overdue on the Companies House website.   Is this failure in financial governance acceptable to HIE?   The best explanation for all the destruction at Cairngorm continues to be that this is all about money and the only reason for the hilltrack at the Shieling is that having destroyed the ground cover it was the cheapest option available to HIE and Natural Retreats.   Unfortunately the CNPA is continuing to allow money to be put before the natural environment.

 

The planning problem

 

While the Planning Committee has told Natural Retreats it expects them not to make retrospective planning applications in future, this is unlikely in itself to do anything to stop the destruction at Cairngorm.   First, Highland Council has simply approved certain works on a de minimis basis despite the evidence of the destruction Natural Retreats is causing through such works.

The poor “restoration” of the new car park t-bar cabling agreed by Highland Council on a de minimis basis. Boulders have been dumped by the fence and the cable trench has not been properly filled in so a drainage line has been created.

 

Second, where Highland Council did require Planning Permission, for the West Wall Poma, the CNPA failed to call in the planning application and Highland Council, like the CNPA at the Shieling, have failed to enforce planning requirements.  Perhaps they expected the CNPA to take this up?

The vegetation on the slope above the top of the new West Wall poma return station has been destroyed, the Ptarmigan beyond.   Whatever work was done here does not appear to have been part of the planning consent for the West Wall poma and the re-seeding pellets show the “restoration” has taken far too late in the year. Photo taken Saturday 21st January.

Third, Natural Retreats continues to drive vehicles and shift boulders and vegetation all over the hill – there is extensive evidence for this.

 

The way forward

 

Any long-term solution to the problems at Cairngorm will require a proactive National Park, a new landowner to replace HIE and an operator at Cairngorm which is accountable to the local community, recreational and conservation interests.  Meantime though, here are some things the CNPA could do to start tackling the problems at Cairngorm:

  1.  In their letter to Natural Retreats the CNPA should also ask them to produce an inventory of all the damage across the mountain with a view to developing proper plans – as were eventually submitted for the retrospective application for how to restore it – which should be subject to public consultation.  There is no need that the only consultation that ever takes place is when planning permission is required.
  2. The CNPA should also ask Natural Retreats to produce a  policy and proper procedures on how to protect the environment at Cairngorm (everything from use of vehicles to restoration of ground) as requested by Murray Ferguson in an email last year.  This too should be subject to public consultation.  Both could form part of the masterplan for Cairngorm which Natural Retreats has committed to producing this year as part of the Glenmore-Cairngorm Strategy.
  3. The CNPA in their letter to HIE should ask them publicly to commit to the points in points 1 and 2 above and, assuming they wish to continue their lease with Natural Retreats, amend it to incorporate these points.
  4. The CNPA should also write to Highland Council asking them to agree a joint approach to planning at Cairngorm which should involve no further works being agreed on a de minimis basis or emergency basis (which avoids the need for planning permission) and a rapid response to any reported breaches of planning requirements.    They should also agree what resource/expertise they need to oversee any future ground works at Cairngorm and who is in the best position to do this.

The protest about plans for new social housing being proposed at Balmaha has received a fair amount of media coverage (see also http://www.glasgowlive.co.uk/news/glasgow-news/housing-plan-destroy-ruin-west-12509029).  While there has been some excellent follow-up in the Herald’s letter pages, there are a number of twists to the story which illustrate the hyprocrisy going on in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park at present.

 

The alleged threat to the West Highland Way is, if taken to refer to the main route,  complete nonsense: the main route taken by the Way traverses up and behind Conic Hill and if you stick to it you won’t see much of Balmaha.  This is not an accident.  At the time the Way was created the then Duke of Montrose did not want to see walkers spoiling the view from his house and only agreed to the West Highland Way crossing his land if it was kept well out of sight of the settlements below. Nimbyism has been around for a long time.    A large amount of money was spent upgrading the Conic Hill section of the Way a couple of years ago but it still runs behind the hill.  There is not even a sign to tell West Highland Way walkers about one of the best views in Scotland and as a result many pass by without realising what they are missing.   I am not sure though that for people who do go to the top of Conic Hill this development will spoil the view any more than the large modern houses on the south side of the road to the village.  (There is though a variant of the Way, which most people would regard as vastly inferior to the path over Conic Hill,  that follows the road from Milton of Buchanan to Balmaha which passes the site – so it is true to say the Way will be affected)

While media reports and letters indicate the plan is for 22 houses, the Local Development Plan which was finally approved just a few weeks ago shows just 15 houses on the site (see below).

 

What’s more the local Development Plan is very vague about other developments in the village claiming no boundary has been marked in order to maintain its “dispersed development pattern”.  The Community Council has reason to be very sceptical about this ever since last June the Planning Committee approved an application in the centre of the village for a new tourist development by Sandy Fraser, owner of the Oak Tree Inn and Wayne Gardner, for 20 holiday lodges.   The last development plan stated that  “support will only be given to small-scale improvements to existing tourism and visitor facilities in Balmaha” although prior to this the Planning Committee had agreed to 13 holiday chalets (more on this in a future post).  So much for dispersed development and so much for consistent applications of plans on the part of the Loch Lomond National Park Authority.

 

The biggest hyprocrisy about this proposed development is the LLTNPA’s approach to Ancient Woodland Inventory Sites.   If you look at the map below of “Designated Nature Conservation areas”, the site where the housing will be located is clearly  part of the ancient woodland inventory.   The interesting thing about these sites is they include any remnants of ancient woodland and may, as Arthur Honan stated in his letter above, have been used as farmland.    The LLTNPA in its development plan was clearly quite happy that such a site should be completely destroyed.

The map above is an extract from a suite of maps sent to the Minister of the Environment as part of the case the Park made for the camping byelaws.  By including Ancient Woodland Inventory sites in its list of designated Nature Conservation Areas the LLTNPA made it appear as if camping was taking place in areas particularly important for nature conservation.    In fact AWI are not designated or protected like other sites.   The pink boundary shows the proposed extension of the east Loch Lomond Management zone which the Minister subsequently approved  – remove the AWI sites from it and it suddenly starts looking a lot less sensitive.

 

In fact, in the Trossachs West Management zone map (see below) the predominant  designation is the AWI sites – and as confirmation of the high regard the LLTNPA holds for these sites its been busy destroying part of that woodland by Loch Chon to create camping places on a hillside where no-one camps http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/12/02/parkspeak-camping-destruction-started-loch-chon/ .    Balmaha and Loch Chon show the LLTNPA is quite happy to see AWI sites developed, so isn’t it about time they told Ministers who justified the camping byelaws in large part because of the need to protect sensitive sites?   Wild camping of course has far less lasting impact than either of these developments will .   More double-thinking on what goes on in our National Parks.

Postscript – correction

In the first version of this post I claimed the West Highland Way went nowhere near this site.   My apologies, this was wrong, and I have corrected the error.   The main route is nowhere near the site but a variant, which is marked on maps as the West Highland Way, passed by it.

Extract from Convener’s notes for the secret Board Briefing session on 8th December 2014 which forms part of the latest batch of information provided by the LLTNPA – for commentary on this see below

At 16.42 yesterday, just five hours after my last post which explained how I was still waiting for the further information from the secret Board Briefing sessions which the Information Commissioner had told the Park to send to me on 11the January, it arrived!     Funnily enough, there was a similar delay in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority releasing the slides from the secret Board Briefing sessions back in November but again a few hours after I had made this public in a post, bingo (see here)!   

 

I did get a letter from Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive, though, headed  Compliance with Decision Notice 209-2016 Response – you need to read to the last line to find the apology the Information Commissioner asked the LLTNPA to make.   Most of the letter is the Park’s explanation for why it did not declare it held this information at the first time of asking.  I am sceptical about this.  In my last post I commented that it defied belief that Gordon Watson, who was in charge of the development of the byelaws, and then, as Chief Executive, must have been involved in the attempt to claim that written information about the secret Board Briefing sessions was exempt from Freedom of Information laws, did not know there was more information available.   The information I received yesterday provided direct evidence to substantiate my scepticism –  among the new information is a lengthy cover paper prepared for  the Secret Board Briefing Sessions on 15th September 2014 (see here) and the author is………..Gordon Watson!

 

The short extract above on Declarations of Interest provides more evidence of just how warped LLTNPA Board Meetings became during the development of the camping byelaws (see here for full convenor briefing).   First, the Convener, Linda McKay, even for a non-public Board Meeting which the Park claims is not minuted (they refused me minutes under FOI on the basis there were none), is provided with a script which she reads out – quite extraordinary!.  Second, note how Linda McKay has been provided in bold with the exact words she should use in her own declaration of interest.   Now I thought declarations of interest are meant to be the responsibility of individual Board Members.  It seems though in the LLTNPA staff provide a script to every Board Member telling them what they should say.  One wonders why Board Members have so little understanding of the Code of Conduct for Ethical Standards in Public Life that they need to be told what to declare?     Third, its worth asking why there was such an emphasis on declarations of interest when according to the Park no minutes were taken of any of these Board Briefing sessions and these meetings never took any decisions?   It cannot too be right that on the one hand the Park recognised that discussions could lead to conflicts of interest but then never recorded whether these took place.  There have been fundamental failures in governance in the way the camping byelaws were developed and in which the LLTNPA has been operating.

 

Its worth noting too that this extract refers to two further sets of scripts which have NOT been provided under FOI: the script from Sandra Dalziel on her role and the scripts for individual Board Members telling them what they should declare.   Maybe all electronic records relating to them have been destroyed but I suspect if the Information Commissioner had the powers they could find them somewhere on the LLTNPA’s IT system.  There is good reason to believe that the Park has still not provided all the written information that relates to these meetings;  still there is plenty more to comment on meantime.

Slide from the Secret Board Briefing Session of September 2014.  This provides evidence of the Park’s failure to create new camping provision as planned.  In the two years since these pretty pictures were produced  the Park has, within the proposed management zones:  unveiled plans for just 20 places for campervans (and removed campervan bays which were planned for carparks as at Loch Venachar); started constructing one new 20-40 pitch campsite at Loch Chon,a place very few people visit; created not a single new 5-10 pitch campsite but instead is going to charge people for permits to camp in places with no new facilities; and agreed not a single seasonal campsite (which are commonplace in the English National Parks).

Regular readers will not be surprised to hear that the Information Commissioner wrote to me on 11th January (see here) to say that they had ascertained that the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park holds more  information about its secret Board “Briefing” sessions which it failed to declare.    The Information Commissioner had previously required the Park to make public all but one of the slides (example above) presented to the Board (see here).   The slides, the Park had claimed, were the only information it held from the Secret Board discussions which developed the byelaws.   The Information Commissioner has now told the Park to make the additional information public and asked them to apologise to me by the end of the month.    I have not yet had either the information or the apology.

 

The Information Commissioner’s letter is worded very carefully but is revealing about the LLTNPA’s disregard for the truth and due process.  The Information Commissioner’s  staff, who I cannot praise highly enough, have tried to find out why the Park failed to declare to them this information.  That information should have been provided as part of my appeal into the Park’s refusal to disclose any information from the 10 Secret Board Briefing Sessions.  The way the process is supposed to work is that if a public body wishes to withhold information, the Information Commissioner’s staff look at that information, and then decide whether or not it should be in the public realm.  The whole process is dependant on the public body being honest enough to declare the information it holds in the first place.

 

In the case of the LLTNPA, it clearly wasn’t honest and open with the Commissioner.  The main reason I believe the Information Commissioner has been able to investigate this further was not the obvious gaps in the information provided (why was there information for some meetings but not others?)  (see here) but  because I provided them with a written agenda and briefing  from the Secret Board Briefing session in April 2015 (see here).   This set out for the Board what interests the Convener of the National Park, Linda McKay, should declare at the public Board Meeting later in the day which “approved” the camping byelaws.  It had been obtained by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards as part of their investigation into Board Members failure to declare ownership of property within the proposed camping management zones and subsequent fiddling of the minute of that meeting.   The LLTNPA however never gave it to the Information Commissioner.

 

Moreover, the reason the LLTNPA has given for not providing this further information about the Board “Briefing” Sessions to the Information Commissioner is laughable.   The LLTNPA apparently tried to claim that they intepreted my request too narrowly – I had asked for ALL written information relating to those briefing sessions – and that they “wrongly assumed all information and documentation” relating to my request was held at a central location.    Now it defies belief that the current Chief Executive, Gordon Watson, was not fully aware of the information request which concerned the operation of his Board.   Moreover, Gordon Watson previously had  lead responsibility for the development of the byelaws and it also defies belief that he did not attend most or all of those Briefing Sessions.  He therefore must know what written information had been produced for and about those meetings, even if he could not remember all the details. He could therefore have told  staff where to find it.  He clearly didn’t and the question that needs to be answered is why not?    The case provides yet another example of the cover-up and conspiracy that lies behind the camping byelaws.

 

What needs to happen

 

Unfortunately the Information Commissioner does not have the powers to deal with situations like this, where it appears that senior staff in public authorities are undermining the intentions behind our freedom of information laws – which were increasing the transparency about how public bodies operate and take decisions.   It appears to me therefore that there is a very strong case for the Information Commissioner to be given further powers to conduct widescale investigations into public authorities in cases such as this and to be able to order improvements.

 

While I cannot see the Park investigating their own serious failures while Linda McKay remains convener, there will be a new convener from 1st March, James Stuart, who has hinted he considers there is a need for a change of course.  A good start would be to get the Board to change the way it  operates:

  • End the practice of secret Board Briefing Sessions and replace these with public Board Meetings
  • Record and broadcast all Board Meetings as per the Scottish Parliament
  • Publish papers for Board Meetings at least a week beforehand (not three days) and publish agendas at least two weeks in advance to enable the public to know what will be discussed
  • Issue draft minutes of all meetings within two weeks of them taking place so the public know what decisions have been made

 

The Officers Report for the Cairngorms National Park Planning Authority meeting on Friday which will consider the hill track at Cairngorm is as interesting for what it leaves out as for what it includes.  This is over and above the policy omissions and enforcement failures considered in yesterday’s post.

 

On the positive side, there appears to have been a lot of bargaining behind the scenes, which has resulted in plans to improve the whole area, beyond the current application.

The brown areas are previous plantings, the green is additional planting proposed for 2017-18

 

 

 

The planting will not just hide some of the infrastructure, it should also – though there is no mention of this in the Report – compensate for some of the increased water run-off that has been created by the development.  There are some other positive things in the plan, including works around both ends of the ski tow to improve landscaping;  the work at the bottom will be done by hand.    All of this is good.  It should however have all been included in the original planning application, which was sketchy at the very least.   Its clear to me that the public pressure has helped (or is it pushed) CNPA staff to take more interest in the development.  A lesson here for the CNPA.  Well thought out plans properly enforced would avoid lots of problems and public criticism.

 

On the negative side though the Report, and accompanying documentation supplied by Natural Retreats, fails to explain a number of factors which are relevant to determining the application and indeed to the wider landscape improvement plan:

 

  • The implications of the new track failing to meet the design standards set out in SNH’s Guidance on “Constructed Tracks in the Scottish Uplands” is not considered nor is there any consideration of alternatives
  • There is no attempt to describe the extent of the area where works took place in breach of the planning permission (the application was for a strip of ground 30m broad).   This is important because without a description of what has been done, the CNPA is not in a position to stipulate what remedial measures are required.
  • Related to this, there is NO description of the impacts of the works on the hydrology of the area.

 

I will address each of these in turn based on the evidence I saw on my latest walk around on Saturday.   While I am not a trained path worker, ecologist or hydrologist I believe there is more than enough evidence to show that these issues need to be considered by properly qualified and independent professionals.

 

Location and design of the hill track

There has been a lot of nonsense talked about the hill track being needed for construction purposes.  This diagram from Appendix A to the Committee Report shows that this couldn’t have been the case.  The elevation of the new track is HIGHER than the previous sheiling tow uptrack which sat between two bulldozed banks (section GG).  In other words the hill track could only have been created AFTER the slope had been smoothed out (which was agreed in the original planning application).   This explains why there is NO evidence of any temporary construction track.   There wasn’t any. Natural Retreats appears to have confused the original ski uptrack with the new hilltrack in order to make the latter appear more acceptable by implying this had already been agreed on a temporary basis.

The most likely explanation for why Natural Retreats created the hill track is still that they did not have sufficient vegetation to replace that they had destroyed in the course of reprofiling the slope.  The track filled the gap.  The question that has still not been answered is where all the fine material that has been used to surface the new track has come from?  While on Saturday, there was good evidence of how this material gets washed away (see photo above) it was not until I received the photo below taken by Alan Brattey on Monday that I fully appreciated how quickly this happens.

There was no sign of the hole, centre right, when I walked down the track two days before.  Two days of freeze thaw and another section of track had been destroyed.

 

Part of the problem is that the track is too steep, contrary to SNH guidance.   Natural Retreats has appears to accept this in its comment that the track “is constrained to existing ground levels” – in other words its fundamentally flawed!

Natural Retreats has also accepted that the track washes away:

Natural Retreats solution is drainage bars which it says works well.   If CNPA officers had walked around Cairngorm at the weekend they would have seen every single steel drainage channel choked with eroded material

Choked steel drainage channel by Cas Gantry
Choked drainage channel below Ptarmigan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CNPA officers should have questioned the efficacy of steel drainage channels and its interesting why they have not advocated the use of natural materials, as in photo above.  Are the granite blocks any less effective in terms of drainage?   They are far more in keeping with the natural environment.

 

The problem which remains though is that the surface materials are too fine and will wash away whatever drainage is installed.  The track, as oriented, is simply not sustainable and the Planning Committee needs to consider alternatives.

Any alternative should consider that there will now be a new uptrack created by the rope tow.  Its  hard to see the heather planted along the line of the rope tow surviving (all the other uptracks lose their heather, with the car park t-bar below the Shieling almost completely bare of heather).   So, if planning permission is granted to the hill track there will be double the visual impact in the long-term, something the CNPA has apparently not considered.       If vehicle access is really needed occasionally, its strange that the uptrack, which is now totally smooth apart from the top section, was not considered as the means to do this.

 

Damage to surrounding ground and vegetation

In order to “restore” the damage caused by the works on the Sheiling slope, Natural Retreats scooped up vegetation from outside the area granted planning permission.

 

Photo Credit George Paton

I had not realised till Saturday that this appears to have been from a far wider area than that immediately adjacent to the shieling slope.

Hole scooped above track to Fiacaill dump
Another hole above track to Fiacaill dump

The whole of the bank above the track to the Fiacaill dump is full of holes where vegetation has been removed – the most likely explanation appears to be that this was used to replace the vegetation at the Shieling which had not been properly stored.

Area of ground above the unlawful works to create a new bank belong the shieling tow. This ground was not reprofiled and the most likely explanation for the bare ground and re-seeding is that Natural Retreats took vegetation from here for use on the Shieling tow.

 

The CNPA Committee Report makes no attempt to other describe or assess the impact of this destruction.  If it had done so, it would help put the remedial measures I described at the beginning of this post in context, as they do not address all of the damage that has been done or assess what impact this might have in the long-term.   A proper vegetation assessment should have been undertaken before any decision is made.

 

Drainage

While the CNPA Committee Report includes comments from their ecologist, this says nothing about either the damage outside the area granted planning permission or strangely about hydrology.   What is clear from my walk around is that there has been extensive work to alter the drainage of the shieling ski slopes and surrounding area.    I am not necessarily against such works – I recognise that ski slopes and bogs are not really compatible – but the point is that there should have been a proper assessment of the impact of such works and any mitigation measures BEFORE any work was undertaken.   This is because water run-off from drainage not only changes the local ecology, it increases the likelihood of flooding downstream – in this case of Aviemore – which is one of the Big 9 issues the CNPA is supposed to be trying to tackle.

 

Why a proper assessment is needed is illustrated by these photos.  Natural Retreats included the photo above in their plans showing what they had done.   The photo below shows how the area in the distance looked on Saturday.  The sandbags are proof that something is not working.

 

Section of poorly finished culvert crossing ski slope

In fact there are sandbags in several places on the slope – an illustration of problems that the CNPA has simply not considered – and also a significant number of culverts across and along the edge of the ski slopes.

 

Now, I am not sure when these were created but the only culverts referred to in the planning application were to channel the Allt Choire Cas, which runs across the bottom of the Sheiling Ski slopes, underground instead of the old wooden bridges.

New? and poorly finished culvert at bottom of Shieling slope on left.  There are at least three culverts, none of which have been properly covered, running under the southern of the two shieling slopes (right photo).

 

 

The seeding indicates that this culvert on right side of left shieling slope is new.   The drainage line to the left of fence is not mentioned in the Committee Report or accompanying papers.
Besides the culverts there are also drainage ditches across the slope

 

So where is the environmental impact assessment of all this drainage work?  What are the implications?   We simply don’t know.  I don’t think that is good enough.

 

The way forward

The CNPA needs to work out how access could managed to this site without agreeing to a track which is going to constantly erode, what damage there has been to vegetation outwith the site granted planning permission together with what remedial measures are required and also also ensure there is a proper assessment of the likely impact of the drainage works and how this might be mitigated

 

I previously called for an independent ecological assessment of the area and options to repair the damage that has been done.    In my view this is still needed and the CNPA is not in a position to take a properly informed decision about this planning application.   It needs to do so, not just for the landscape and wildlife, but the people who enjoy Cairngorm, not least the people who ski there.

Lower Coire Cas Saturday 21st January. The Shieling Hill track, the line of green in the centre, is to be discussed by the CNPA planning committee but the swathe of destruction in the foreground, has not been subjected to any planning controls.

The retrospective planning application for the unlawful hill track at Cairngorm (see here) and (here) will be considered by the Cairngorms National Park Authority Planning Committee on Friday (see here for all papers).     In contrast to the initial planning application to replace the lift at the Shieling, which  consisted of just five documents (see here), the retrospective application consists of an incredible 83 documents.   This is a consequence of the public protests at the way Natural Retreats has been managing Cairngorm, which have included a significant number of objects to the application, which in turn has forced Natural Retreats to produce further plans .  Whatever happens on Friday, the protests have forced Natural Retreats to undertake a series of remedial measures and improvements on the site.  The scandal is that without the public protest, none of this would ever have happened.   This post considers the failures of our public authorities to safeguard Cairngorm the future of which is central to the future of the National Park..

 

The policy context

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has a number of policy documents and plans which should have informed how it responded to the planning application which are NOT referred to in the officers report to the Planning Committee (see here).  This wrong  because the Local Development Plan, approved in 2015, explicitly states in paragraph 1.20 that:

 

“The National Park Partnership Plan provides policy priorities and programmes of work to deliver the vision and long term outcomes. The Local Development Plan helps to deliver them by implementing those policies”

 

So, its quite clear in policy terms that the planning section should be helping to deliver the CNPA’s wider objectives.  I will highlight here two pollcies/strategies which are very relevant to the current planning application.

 

In September 2016  the CNPA Board approved the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy  (see here).    A number of commitments from that strategy should have affected how the current planning application has been dealt with:

 

  • “The purpose of the Partnership is to collaborate in the strategic management of these landholdings in order to deliver:  An exceptionally high quality natural environment”    Comment: the Committee Report fails to explain how the destruction and poor restoration work in Coire Cas contributes to that purpose?
  • “Ensure enhancements within the ski area are implemented to high quality standards appropriate to the sensitive environment”   Comment: so does the CNPA Planning Committee really believe the works associated with the Shieling Ski tow have been of an acceptable quality?
  • “1. Management interventions will improve the natural environment, landscape and visitor experience and retain the sense of wildness and space found in the area”.  Comment: Natural Retreats has used claims that removal of the old bulldozed uplift track and bulldozing of the bank below the Sheiling have improved the landscape to justify everything it has done.  Both claims are questionable.   Yes, the old uptrack was highly artificial, but so is the smooth slope that has replaced it with hardly a sign of the many boulders which used to cover this glacial landscape.
    How has burying boulders, posts and peat made the landscape more natural?   The Method Statement said Natural Retreats would recycle, not bury wood.   Photo Credit Alan Brattey


  • “Natural Retreats and partners to develop and deliver masterplan for Cairngorm Mountain”  Comment: how can the Planning Committee decide on agreeing to this track if there is no masterplan?   Agreeing to the track will set a precedent for new tracks alongside every ski lift at Cairngorm.  Is that really what the CNPA want?   Its clearly not needed as skiing operations have been managed for over 50 years with a more limited track network.   

 

The second policy relevant to the current planning application is flood prevention and management.  Again, there is no mention of this in the Committee Report despite it being one of the 9 Big Issues in the draft Partnership Plan.  That document explicitly says hill tracks can lead to increased flooding and also:

 

One of the most important factors with respect to managing flood risk is the maintenance and enhancement of vegetation cover, which may disrupt overland flow and reduce through flow.

 

There is also no reference to the Spey Catchment Initiative which states “the ability to manage land, particularly in the uplands, in a way that attenuates rates of runoff will be crucial to this process” (of flood prevention).

 

Officers have not only ignored their own policies, they have also made the following extraordinary statement in the Committee Report:

 

47.   In terms of objections raised regarding the need for the track, Local Development Plan policy supports in principle the extension and diversification of existing operations. Objectors have raised the issue of no need being demonstrated for the retention of the track. In this regard it is generally considered, in the context of a track within an existing long established ski resort that the party best placed to determine the operational needs of their business are the applicants. In any case, the need for the track is not required to be demonstrated as it is not a requirement of policy. The role of the Planning Authority is to consider the land use impacts and merits of the proposal, assessed against policy.

 

The implications of this are that not only should the CNPA abdicate any role on Cairngorm, as Natural Retreats as operator are deemed best placed to decided operational requirements, but also that every landowner in the National Park would be given free rein to install new hill tracks wherever they want.   It puts operational management before the natural environment.  This is totally wrong.  Cairngorm is part of a National Scenic Area and the statement is contrary to CNPA’s statutory objectives as a  National Park.

 

The failure of the Cairngorms National Park Authority to take appropriate enforcement action

This photo clearly shows that no vegetation was being stored by Natural Retreats as required (in their latest submission to the planning committee Natural Retreats again asserted that all vegetation was stored for re-use despite all the evidence to the contrary).

The photo above was one of five that Alan Brattey sent to the CNPA on 4th September 2015 along with the following email:

The email was passed to Planning Enforcement and when after four weeks Alan had heard nothing more he emailed planning enforcement on 5th October to try and find out what was happening.  He eventually received a reply on 29th October which indicated that a member of staff had visited the site and thought there was no problem (I have all the emails).   Alan then contacted the Head of Planning Gavin Miles and, on 8th December, the CNPA told Natural Retreats to stop the works immediately – three whole months after they had been notified of the problem.     Despite knowing what was going on, CNPA staff allowed Natural Retreats to ignore planning requirements until it was too late and all the damage had been done.  One could speculate whether this was a result of lack of skills and knowledge of the staff concerned (planning staff in our National Parks would appear to need more training on issues such as good track design, management of vegetation, flood risk etc) or a management decision not to challenge Highlands and Islands Enterprise on anything that goes on at Cairngorm, but whatever the case, lessons could be learned.  The CNPA has a planning enforcement charter and extensive enforcement powers 160722PlanningEnforcementCharterFINALAPPROVED and it would have taken nothing for staff to have told Natural Retreats to suspend all work until they had clarifed what was going on and reached agreement on a way forward.   They did not do so.  There is of course no mention of these failures in the Committee Report.

 

The failure goes further than that though.  This is part of what Gavin Miles wrote to Alan Brattey in December:

Waiting to the Spring was is fair enough but, over a year later, there is no evidence that the Park has undertaken a proper re-assessment of what Natural Retreats had actually done.  The Committee Reports confines its considerations to the hill track and bank and provides NO assessment of the wider destruction and the impact that this has had.

 

The role of HIE in the Sheiling Hill track

 

I  received a helpful email from HIE earlier this week which helps explain their role in the replacement of the Shieling ski tow.

 

First, the new Shieling ski tow, like the other ski lift infrastructure belongs to HIE but they decided to get Natural Retreats to install it because:

 

It is no exaggeration to say that Cairngorm is an exceptionally challenging environment, where contractors need to be highly flexible and ready to work carefully and quickly, often amid rapidly changing weather and ground conditions. Exceptionally, therefore, HIE agreed that it was appropriate for our tenant to manage the works to improve these HIE-owned assets, since they are in control of the assets, hold the health & safety responsibilities across the whole site and have the necessary specialised staff on site

 

The reason for this explanation is I suspect that under the procurement rules and their own procedures, HIE should have put the works at Cairngorm out to public tender (because of the estimated cost of £83k) instead of handing this to Natural Retreats.  HIE are concerned they might be legally challenged on this, hence the first sentence.    What should be quite clear to HIE now in view of what happened – works undertaken at the wrong time of year and without any regard being given to the Method Statement – that Natural Retreats do NOT have the “necessary specialised staff on site” to undertaken such works properly.    All work that is paid for in future  by HIE to upgrade or maintain its own assets therefore should go out to public tender.

 

As explained in my previous reply, CML were reimbursed by HIE for payments made against evidenced invoices paid by CML, with HIE checking the progress of the works.  There is an overall project budget and estimates for each item are made within that. We have flexibility in how we manage the works and have not set a specific limit to spend as the scale of works is relatively small.  I would stress, however, that works are discussed in advance and monitored carefully.

 

What this confirms is that HIE knew about the destruction but did nothing.    What’s more, they paid Natural Retreats for works done in contravention of the planning approval:

 

“The estimate for groundworks was £83,000 excluding VAT. The final figure paid for groundworks was in fact £77,453 excluding VAT (correcting the figure of £78,353 excluding VAT given in the earlier FoI response).

I can confirm that CML will be repaying HIE for the value of the works undertaken to alter the bank without planning consent, which is £2,000.”

 

I am delighted that HIE has now, after I brought this to their attention, realised that they should not have paid for unlawful works and for the first sentence in the following statement:

 

HIE indeed requires those carrying out works it is funding to observe and abide by planning regulations, and we regret that this did not happen in this particular instance. To be clear, the creation of the track on the line of the old tow track was part of the works covered by the Planning Permission and was included in the method statement; the track was required to undertake the project. It is the proposed permanence of this track (rather than its reinstatement as authorised in the planning consent) that is now at issue and is included in the retrospective planning application.

 

The second part of this statement though appears wrong.  The Construction Method statement 2014_0251_DET-METHOD_STATEMENT-100105315  is vague and contains no drawings but its quite clear from the photo above that NO temporary track was put in in order to undertake the works as HIE suggests.  The track referred to in the application appears to be the old ski uptrack which of course did need to be restored and which appears to have been used by the diggers to access the site.  So, its not true to calim that “it is the proposed permanance of this track that is now at issue”.

 

HIE appears to still be on the defensive.  If they really cared about Cairngorm they could use this clause in their lease to take action against Natural Retreats.

 

 

 

 

All HIE have done so far is reclaim the £2000 they had paid out for unlawful works.

 

What needs to happen

 

The Planning Committee on Friday needs to ask some much broader questions than those covered in the Committee Report.   I have suggested here this should include:

 

  • How the planning applications supports the wider policy and plans for the National Park
  • The failure of CNPA to take appropriate enforcement action and the lessons which could be learned from this
  • HIE’s role, as a public authority, in supporting the National Park to achieve its objectives.

 

In my next post I will demonstrate there is ample evidence on the ground to show why the current application should be rejected.

The former torpedo range by Arrochar is just one big rubbish dump – is the LLTNPA ever going to do something about this?

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park has been nominated by BBC Countryfile presenter as National Park of the year (see here)  There are four other nominees, South Downs, Peak District, Snowdonia and Yorkshire Dales.  The LLTNPA was quick to get in on the act, issuing its own press release and then arranging for this motion to be lodged in the Scottish Parliament: 

 

Motion Number: S5M-03569
Lodged By: Dean Lockhart
Date Lodged: 22/01/2017

Title: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

Motion Text:

That the Parliament congratulates everyone at Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park on it being shortlisted for the title of National Park of the Year 2017; notes that it is the only Scottish park in the final of the competition, which is run by the BBC Countryfile magazine; understands that the competition, which is in its sixth year aims to celebrate the importance of the British countryside and its people, nature reserves and heritage attractions; notes that the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs park covers over 720 square miles and includes 21 Munros, two forest parks and the Great Trossachs Forest, which was recently been named the UK’s latest and largest national nature reserve; understands that the park is renowned, not only for its undoubted beauty, but also as a living, working landscape that offers a home to unique wildlife as well as providing a range of activities for visitors and locals alike, and wishes all of the nominees, and the rest of the UK’s national parks, continued success.

 

This interest in National Parks in the Scottish Parliament is a positive thing.  However, both the motion and the Countryfile nomination confuse the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, the place, with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority,  the body responsible for  running it.   They are quite distinct.

 

While National Parks, as places, change a little each year, this is not  enough to explain why a National Park should be nominated one year rather than the next.  If thought, the Award, is supposed to be about the performance of National Park Authorities, there is no information provided by the BBC to enable people to compare how each of the National Park Authorities nominated for the award are doing.  The result is people will vote for the place they like, rather than what any National Park Authority is doing.   This will suit the LLTNPA, which does not like its performance to be scrutinised, and will be hoping that everyone in Scotland will vote for it simply because its a nomination from Scotland.

 

Before rushing headlong into supporting this piece of marketing, I hope our MSPs will consider the  LLTNPA’s performance in 2016.  The LLTNPA has a large communications team of, I believe, 8 staff to sing its own praises, so here I will only list some of the things they try to avoid mentioning:

 

  • In April the Standards Commission found against Board Member Owen McKee, the planning convener who traded in Scotgold Shares after the Cononish goldmine was approved.  Unfortunately the Standards Commissions did not have the powers to investigate how the Board covered this up.
  • The destruction of landforms and landscape in Glen Falloch, on an industrial scale, in order to construct new hydro schemes reached its apogee.  With staff having previously reversed the decision of Board Members that all the access tracks should be removed, these tracks now form permanent scars on the landscape.  The LLTNPA has failed to enforce its own standards for hydro schemes, including landscaping, colour of material used and width and design of access tracks.
  • The LLTNPA conducted a community planning consultation in Balloch – called a charrette, funded by the Scottish Government – without telling the local community that a company called Flamingo Land had been appointed to develop the large Riverside site and that as the National Park Authority it had been on the selection panel for that developer.
  • The secret and unaccountable Board Briefing sessions LLTNPA continued throughout the year –
  • The LLTNPA’s promise that it would provide new camping places if the camping byelaws were agreed collapsed.  The Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan, which included specific plans for campsites, along with the Stakeholder Group which contributed to it,  appears to have been abandoned entirely.    It has been replaced by a series of vague promises that the Park is continuing to work to develop new campsites in the proposed camping management zones.
  • Instead the LLTNPA committed to spending £345k on a new 26 place campsite at Loch Chon, which is inaccessible to anyone without a car, and where there is little demand.  The campsite was totally overspecified, which explains the cost, and the only justification for spending this money was so the LLTNPA could satisfy a promise to the Minister that they would develop new camping places before the camping byelaws commenced.
  • The LLTNPA developed a new permit system to control camping in the management zones which had not been subject to public consultation and then failed to consult its own Local Access Forum, a statutory consultee, on the implications for access rights.   Freedom of Information requests demonstrated that the LLTNPA’s decision to “create” 300 places where people could camp, was not based on any evidence about the impact of campers.
  • The Scottish Information Commissioner forced the LLTNPA to make public all but one of the slides that had been presented at the Secret Board Meetings which decided the camping byelaws and was investigating the failure of the LLTNPA to declare all the information it held about these meetings at year end.
  • The LLTNPA diverted a considerable proportion of its resources into a single issue, how to ban campers, and consequently failed to progress many far more important matters.  This was epitomised by the non-appearance of the new Park Partnership Plan (the Cairngorms National Park draft plan was consulted on over the summer) which is due to be signed off by Ministers in 2017
  • One year late, the LLTNPA published the Keep Scotland Beautiful litter audit.  During the course of Board Meetings it emerged that once again the LLTNPA had again failed to take any meaningful initiatives with its local authority partners on how to address litter problems in the National Park.  The litter strategy, promised in the Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan, is now several years overdue.
  • The LLTNPA planning committee refused to delay consideration of a planning application for housing next door to their HQ in Balloch until after the community planning event and instead approved the housing plans.

 

This is not intended as a balanced appraisal, for that one would need to add some positives and then look at how the overall scorecard squared with the performance of the other National Parks nominated by John Craven.  However, information like this needs to be put into the public arena if we are to have any chance of our current National Parks improving and meeting the objectives for which they were created.     Our MSPs, instead of accepting the marketing hype issued by the LLTNPA,  should start scrutinising what it is actually doing.

Signs at Loch Long carpark close to start of path to Cobbler – the Council FOI confirms that the Council has passed an order banning overnight stays and camping at this car park

Following my piece on the rights of people to stay overnight in vehicles within the proposed camping management zones so long as their vehicle is on a public road, its verge or a layby provided by the Roads Authority (see here),   I have had a speedy response from Argyll and Bute Council to my information request, which is much appreciated:

 

  1. The roads under Argyll and Bute Councils (ABC) control (as the Roads Authority) can be found at the following link https://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/sites/default/files/public_list_of_roads_-_argyll_bute_council_area.pdf.
  2. Within the extent of the proposed by-law as defined on the plan provided, there are no clearways or planned clearways on ABC controlled roads.
  3. There are no provisions that prohibit overnight camping within laybys on ABC controlled roads within the plan provided. 
  4. There are three ABC controlled off-street car parks within the proposed camping management zone.  These are Luss Car Park, Luss and Glen Loin Car Parks 1 & 2, Arrochar.  The Orders for all three car parks prohibit overnight camping.

 

What the response to questions 1,2 and 3 say is that there is no reason you should not stop overnight in your vehicle or caravan on any of the roads which are the responsibility of Argyll and Bute in the West Loch Lomond Management zone.     I believe the LLTNPA now needs to produce maps with all the Argyll and Bute roads marked, as the PDF list supplied by Argyll and Bute is too complicated to follow (the roads within the West Loch Lomond management zone are listed on pages 29 and 42-44) along with Transport Scotland’s roads and laybys so people know where they can stay lawfully overnight in vehicles without fear of prosecution under the byelaws.

The provision planned by the LLTNPA in the west Loch Lomond camping management zone

 

The LLTNPA has stated under FOI that it does not know how many places there are for campervans in existing campsites and, out of the 20 allowed for permits across all four management zones, there are only 9 on west Loch Lomond despite the dozens of campervans that stop off there.   Its proposed signage is also totally unclear (see here) and if  people don’t know where to stop,  the safest thing to do (in terms of avoiding any risk of prosecution) is to stop off in one of the villages.   What will predictably happen is that there will be an influx of campervans to villages which will add to the chaos which is already taking place at Luss (see here).

It does not require many predictive powers to forecast that people will ask why pay and go through the hassle of trying to obtain a permit to stop off at Inveruglas or Tarbert carparks (where the Park wants to install barriers) if you can simply go into Tarbert and park on the street?  While most responsible campervanners would prefer never to do tha,  if the Park carries on the way it is going, that predictably is what will happen.   One wonders if Simon Jones, Director Conservation and Gordon Watson, Chief Executive, explained these consequences of the byelaws to the local community councils who they visited once more towards the end of last year?    You only need to look at the map above, note the lack of campervan provision in Luss, and see the temptation of people to park up on the road verges round the village – its a nice place, off the main road and quiet – but it will simply add to the current chaos there.  One wonders too if the LLTNPA has consulted any of the Local Authorities about the potential consequences of the byelaws to them as the Roads Authority?

Slide from secret Board Meeting April 2015 before the meeting that approved the byelaws

One reading of this slide is that the agenda of the LLTNPA was to try force campervans into carparks in the villages in order to take financial advantage of them.   The question is have they asked local residents about this?  The main concerns of many residents was people camping around settlements, a problem which could have easily been avoided without any byelaws, if the LLTNPA had used the access legislation (rather than the National Parks legislation) to exempt village settlements from camping rights.    The LLTNPA has chosen instead to try and ban camping and campervanning outside the villages and consequences of road legislation is that this will force campervans into the villages.   The LLTNPA though does not have to worry about that though because its the Roads Authorities which need to pick up the pieces.

 

Taking Arrochar as an example, where there is no provision for campervans and where the LLTNPA as planning authority was responsible for the loss of the lovely campsite at Ardgarten (it granted planning permission for it to be converted in luxury lodges), no-one unless desperate (e.g their car has broken down) would want to spend the night on the main road, the A83, or its verge.  So where else could you stay?   The obvious place is the FCS carpark at Ardgarten where there is a toilet and it would have been very easy to create places for campervans – the FCS however is on a mission to stop all overnight camping in its carparks.   Apart from the village itself though, if you look at the Argyll and Bute list of roads, on page 43, however, you can see that Torpedo Range road (which leads to the pier in bottom left of the zone map below) is a designated public road and its also very little used.  This is in part because the old Torpedo Range is a complete and utter eyesore and no-one wants to bring attention to this!  (Yes you might ask, why on earth has the LLTNPA made such a fuss about campers when places like this blight the Park).    Still, if you have driven up in your car from London, Mick Fowler style, to do a route on the Cobbler the next day and you plan to sleep in your vehicle, knowing you can stop here quite lawfully would be helpful and might provide an incentive not to park up in the village.  There are many examples like this across the Park which will become clearer as the Roads Authorities make public what roads they manage and therefore where you can legally stay overnight in a vehicle.

 

If you did just pull off the main road onto any of the side roads in the village, unlike campers, there would be no need to worry whether you were still in the management zone or not because as long as you were on a public road the staying overnight would be quite legal.    Apply this analysis to all of the roads in the proposed management zones and you can see there are dozens of places you could stop off quite legally.

 

This is all fine if you need to stop overnight for safety reasons or you are just on your way somewhere else or have arrived after dark and are not bothered by the view.   However, it does not address the fundamental issue, which is that most people in campervans want nice places to pull  off the road.  A large percentage of the people who have campervans, are just like campers (indeed many are ex-campers) they want a view and to experience nature.     That’s what the National Park should be all about but unfortunately the LLTNPA has completely lost sight of this in its obsession of how to deal with a few irresponsible campers (and campervanners) and its failure to provide facilities.

This photo is of same section of restoration work of Beauly Denny line as was featured in Park champions but from below

The purpose of Parkswatch is to try and ensure that our National Parks live up to the aspirations that led to their creation.   The focus is on what is going wrong, trying to understand why this is happening and then suggesting what needs to happen.   In trying to do this, I and other contributors will not always get things right and being an open and critical forum are committed to correcting errors where they occur.

 

I am grateful to the person who, in response to the post on Park Champions,  has  pointed out to me that the Cairngorms National Park Authority were not the planning authority in this case and that the decision was taken by the Scottish Government.   I have also been informed that in relation to extremely poor restoration work, the CNPA  had a number of site meetings with the Developer to express its concerns but, as its not the planning authority in this case, it cannot require the Developer to put the damage right.   In other words its the Scottish Government that needs to be held to account for this.  I am pretty certain this is right and have contacted the Government to try and find out what they have done or are planning to ensure the terrible destruction along the Drumochter is restored properly.

 

 

Besides their objection to the Beauly Denny powerline going through the Drumochter, which was overruled by the Government Reporter, the CNPA has used its powers to reject subsequent planning applications by the Drumochter and Ben Alder estates to retain the tracks that were installed to construct the powerline (see here for Drumochter committee report).   Its worth quoting from that report says:

In other words, there was supposed to be restoration “to ensure the landscape is returned to its pre-works condition”.  The photos show that this clearly has not happened.

 

Indeed while planning permission may have been rejected by the CNPA to make tracks permanent, it appears that tracks are able to create de facto tracks by driving their vehicles along the area of “restored” ground as in the photo above.

 

Re-reading my comment in “Park Champions” I think it was still partially valid.  I accept that it appears the Scottish Government should be taking a lead on ensuring the ground that was destroyed in the construction of the Beauly Denny is properly restored (and it would have been good to have mentioned this), but there is still a question of whether the CNPA is happy with the quality of the work:

 

The photo above is to illustrate the excellent question to Grant Moir by Mark Stephen who observed that in travelling up the A9 corridor on entering the Cairngorms National Park you “are hit” with pylons and asked whether this gave the wrong message?   While Grant explained the CNPA had adopted a policy of no large wind turbines in the National Park, and that national priorities had overriden the objections of the CNPA to the Beauly Denny powerlines, he said nothing about whether the CNPA was happy with the quality of the work. 

The question this case raises is whether the CNPA should have more powers so the Government cannot simply allow breach of planning conditions to be ignored.    This is very relevant to the Drumochter and other parts of the Cairngorms National Park where the project to dual the A9 could have significant impacts on landscape and indeed access (a subject to which I will return).  The CNPA has been trying to influence that process and its vitally important that the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland ensure that the final plans are the best possible for the National Park.  The Beauly Denny may have been in the national interest, but the way its been finished has certainly not been according to the standards we should expect in a National Park.

Slide presented at secret Board Meeting in September 2014.   What do the dots mean?  Surely somebody in the Park must know?

After the Information Commissioner forced the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park to make public the slides that had been presented to the Board in the secret Board Briefing Sessions I asked follow up questions about three of those slides, including the one above.  The answer was unsatisfactory EIR 2016-062 Response, so I asked for a review of my request and yesterday received a response EIR REVIEW 2016-062.

 

The answers tell us a lot about the secretive way the Park operates and the conspiracy to undermine access rights:

  • The LLTNPA is simply refusing to tell me (or you the reader or the public) what the different coloured dots on the map of Loch Voil mean.   The FOI Act only requires the public authorities to provide written information, not to explain this information – a weakness in the law demonstrated by the slide above.  So, the slide is supposed to provide to the Board a detailed example of what the Park staff were proposing for Loch Voil  but the Park staff are now refusing to say what this was  (was this campsites, toilets, carparks, signs?).   The Park’s Chief Executive Gordon Watson must know what this means, along I would think with a whole number of Board Members who were at the session, but rather than just be open, it appears the LLTNPA would prefer to keep this secret.  What is there to hide?
  • Much more significant politically is that the Park has now stated quite clearly it has NO information on how it has worked out the number of camping permits.   So, the 300 number, which is the total number of camping places and permits the Park has agreed for the four management zone is totally made up.   Its obviously not based on any evidence of camping impacts or carrying capacity of the land.   It appears the number could have been 500 or 100 so why 300?.   My best guess is the Park has decided this number which would sound ok to Scottish Ministers and is the least it could get away with.  The public and Scottish Government need to realise there is no rationale for this, whether its the Park’s decision to allow just four camping permits along the Invertrossachs shore on Loch Venachar (which just so happens to be where their current Convenor, Linda McKay lives and which was a popular place for camping) or not a single permit along the A82 north of Inveruglas.
  • The response to the third question is interesting because although the Park has dropped any reference to peak weekends, it showed it never had an definition of what these were anyway.  I think its further evidence to show the LLTNPA has tried to create a new terminology to describe camping and campervanning and persuade people into supporting its proposals that is based on a whim, not fact.

 

 

Herald Monday 17th January

Trouble has been brewing in Luss for quite a time.  Local residents over the summer were swamped with visitors and one of the main issues has been cars circulating the narrow streets and parking outside resident’s houses.   Argyll and Bute, which is the Roads Authority, is now consulting on its proposals (see here) to manage the problem through introduction of a 20mph zone and spaces reserved for residents (for a fee).   The community council are objecting, saying that parking should be free for residents and visitors cars banned completely.   The Council’s response is that unless the road is de-listed – which could mean the community taking on the cost of its upkeep – it cannot ban the public.   The interesting question in this potentially intractable debate is where is the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority doing?    Readers will note there is not a mention of it in the article.

 

You might find this doubly strange if you had listened to BBC Out of Doors 10 days ago http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b087tgv4 and heard Gordon Watson, Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Chief Executive imply that the primary role of the National Park was visitor management.  Indeed, before Mr Watson came into post, the Park worked with Councils on traffic management and originally the east Loch Lomond byelaws were introduced  as part of a package of measures which included the creation of a clearway north from Balmaha.

 

Since Mr Watson has come into post however the LLTNPA appears to have abandoned working with Councils not just on litter   (see here) but cars.  When I have asked the LLTNPA about what’s happening to proposals to create more clearways in the Park, the response has been this is a matter for Councils.  Instead of trying to co-ordinate its approach with Argyll and Bute, the LLTNPA appears now just to be going off and doing its own thing.   So, its busy installing barriers and car park charging systems in its car parks without any consideration of the consequences for local residents.   Its not difficult to predict for example that the proposed photographic number plate charging system (see here) at the large public carpark in Tarbert will result in a significant proportion of visitors  parking their cars in the village.  This will cause no end of bother for local residents which  Argyll and Bute Council will then be left to try and sort out.

 

Indeed, it appears that the LLTNPA is currently either not co-operating with or blocking some of the potential solutions to the traffic problems in Luss.  Luss Estates offered land for a carpark on the edge of the village and this has gone nowhere.  I think we should be told why.   I have no wish for the National Park to be turned into one large  carpark, but any proper solutions, such as greatly improved public transport up the A82 also need Park involvement.  If as Gordon Watson claimed on Out of Doors, a key role of the National Park is visitor management  – which, he elaborated, should involve creation of facilities and infrastructure – why are they not playing this role at Luss?

 

There was more on National Parks on Out of Doors on Saturday http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b088flk5 including an interview with Robert Maund, former chair, and Ross Anderson current chair of the Scottish Campaign for National Parks from 36mins.  I am a member of the SCNP Executive Committee.

 

The interview focussed on the economic arguments for National Parks.   This is  because the current view of the Scottish Government is that further National Parks are unaffordable, as expressed recently in the Scottish Parliament by Roseanna Cunningham, Minister for the Environment:

 

19/12/16 SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

ORAL ANSWER

15 December 2016
Index Heading: Economy

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party):
To ask the Scottish Government what impact the establishment of a new
national park would have on tourism and conservation.

S5O-00487

Roseanna Cunningham:

While the Scottish Government recognises the important contribution our
existing National Parks make to tourism, conservation and the wider Scottish
economy, any new national parks would incur significant costs. At a time of
pressures on public finances, we do not believe that it is right to raise
expectations regarding the designation of new national parks. We will
therefore continue to focus our support on our existing Parks so that they
can continue their track record of success.


SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT

 

Now while the SCNP has produced a number of reports on National Parks, which illustrate the benefits they can bring (see here),  in my view those benefits ultimately are attributable to the power of the idea.  National Parks conjure up the idea of special places.   So, if you are visiting a country and want to see special places, there is fair chance you will choose a National Park.  If you have lots of National Parks, then you are a country really worth visiting.  Its not surprising they bring economic benefits

 

That same idea though has implications for the way the land is managed.   People don’t choose to go to National Parks because they want to visit a theme park – that’s why 33,000 odd people signed a petition against Flamingo Land within a few days – they understood, a gut response determined somewhere in the collective unconcious, but very real, that this is not what National Parks should be for.  Conversely, people instinctively understand that National Parks should be about wildlife and that there is something very wrong when our National Parks are unable to protect raptors and other species from persecution.

 

I set up Parkswatch because our National Parks weren’t living up to the idea, the ideal, and needed watching.  The reasons for this are complex, and worth analysing – indeed much of parkswatch is about why things are going so wrong in our National Parks – and Roseanna Cunningham’s claims that our two existing National Parks have “a track record of success” is in my view a long long way from the truth.      There are people I respect, who think our current National Parks have so tainted the ideal that they are opposed to any further National Parks in Scotland.   There are other people, who I also respect, who are loathe to criticise our two National Parks but who are trying to work behind the scenes to remedy their faults.   My own view, is different.  I don’t think there is anything inconsistent in using the power of the idea  to criticise our existing National Parks – and prevent the idea and ideal being eroded – and to argue that Scotland needs more National Parks.      That’s why I will be helping at the SCNP stall in the Scottish Parliament this week, putting the case for new National Parks, while continuing to criticise our existing ones.

 

What I’d say to Roseanna Cunningham, if I get to meet her, is cost should not be the primary consideration when it comes to National Parks.    What should come first is protecting land and nature for people to enjoy and the real question is does the Scottish Government wish to do that?   Not cost.   Indeed I might quote Mike Reynolds, head of the National Park Service in the  USA, who talking about landownership near the beginning of the Out of Doors programme asked if private landowners didn’t work towards National Park objectives, why wouldn’t you nationalise the land?   This from neo-liberal America.   As long as the Scottish Government does not allow National Parks to do stupid things – such as the LLTNPA spending £345k on the Loch Lomond Campsite and deploying dozens of rangers in a quasi police force to stop innocent campers camping – National Parks will repay the investment.  The Scottish Government needs to think again, both about new National Parks and how our existing National Parks have failed to deliver their potential.

The plan of Scottish Enterprise and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is to develop the greenspace next to Loch Lomond Shores and at the head of the River Leven. Is this what National Parks are for?

I was as shocked as the 33,000 people who signed the public petition after Scottish Enterprise announced the appointment of Flamingo Land (see here).   To find out more about how this had  happened I submitted Freedom of Information requests to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority and Scottish Enterprise in September and then a follow up to SE in November.    While it has taken SE two months to respond to my last request Scottish Enterprise FOI response 170114, the information provided is very clear compared to that provided by the LLTNPA EIR 2016-051 Response.   In November I showed that the claims made by the LLTNPA about their involvement in the appointment of Flamingo Land were totally misleading  (see here).  Together, the two responses from Scottish Enterprise  show the LLTNPA’s claims are a travesty of the truth and what’s more that the LLTNPA has been involved in selecting a developer which scored less on the design objectives which it helped develop.

 

Here’s what Scottish Enterprise has said about LLTNPA involvement:

 

“Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority (LLTNPA) endorsed the ‘SE Design Principles’ set out in the scoring document and were fully engaged in developing the marketing strategy as well as being part of the process to award Flamingo Land preferred developer status at West Riverside”

“The design principles were set out fully within the original marketing brochure  and both this and the scoring document were endorsed by the LLTNPA.”

 

Contrast this with EIR 2016-051 Response where the LLTNPA failed to mention they had been involved in the marketing strategy or the scoring document and claimed their involvement had been about planning advice.

 

Correspondence and meetings with Scottish Enterprise
Scottish Enterprise sought informal pre planning application advice and met with a member of the Park Authority’s planning team in March 2015. Email correspondence to arrange this meeting is attached in Appendix A.

 

A totally different view to SE.    What is more, according to SE FOI response 161017, the marketing strategy  in which LLTNPA was involved  “divided West Riverside into five development areas and stated that Scottish Enterprise (SE) would fully consider any interest in individual plots 1 – 5 as well as whole site interests.”

 

The suggested uses for each of the five development areas which went beyond anything contained in the LLTNPA  Development Plan and included development of Drumkinnon Woods.     It appears therefore that LLTNPA staff have been closely involved in deciding how the site should be used and what uses would be acceptable BEFORE any consultation with the local community.   This raises further questions about the extent to which the LLTNPA manipulated the Balloch Charrette (see here), where the local community were not told about the appointment of Flamingo Land or, it now appears, the proposals that the LLTNPA staff had been engaged in scoping for each section of the West Riverside site.

 

There is reason to believe LLTNPA involvement goes further than this.   In EIR 2016-051 Response Appendix A the LLTNPA only made public emails which date from March 2015 though I had asked for  all written information about the development of the site without time limit.  Its hard to believe the Park hold NO information about their close engagement with SE on the marketing of the site or that none of this took place before 2015 or indeed that they hold no other information about communications with SW about the site apart from that .   The more probable explanation is the Park has decided to try and cover up the extent of their involvement in what should happen on the site.   Why?

 

The LLTNPA’s second claim was that:

 

“Scottish Enterprise invited the Park Authority’s Head of Visitor Experience to be involved in the process of reviewing the submissions for the West Riverside site. This involvement was in an advisory capacity in relation to tourism considerations and separate from, and without prejudice to, any consideration of planning issues. The decision regarding a preferred developer was for Scottish Enterprise as landowner to make.”

 

This is disproved by SE’s two responses.

 

All the proposals were scored by a panel comprising of representatives from SE, LLTNPA and SE’s Property Advisors (Bilfinger GVA) in accordance with the issued evaluation criteria and methodology outlined in the attached development brief.

 

Moreover, the Developer’s brief WR Interests – Dev Brief – Final  starts by saying:

 

Introduction
Scottish Enterprise, in partnership with Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, are promoting West Riverside and the undeveloped sites within Loch Lomond Shores for tourism and leisure-based developments

 

Being in partnership with SE and scoring the developer’s submission, as described by SE, is very different to “reviewing” the applications and acting in an advisory capacity.    What’s more LLTNPA were involved in a follow up meeting with Flamingo Land prior to the appointment being confirmed:

 

SE & LLTNPA had one meeting with Flamingo Land prior to progressing the award of preferred developer status. This meeting took place at the end of September 2015.

 

I believes this information confirms beyond doubt that LLTNPA were very involved in selecting the developer and therefore in selecting one set of proposals over another.

 

It gets worse than that however.  The submissions were scored according to certain evaluation criteria, which rightly included design objectives , which LLTNPA was involved in developing.

 

While four developers made submissions for this site two were very close:

Scoring of Flamingo Land bid (the information here and below  comes from the scoring matrix supplied by SE under FOI)

In fact Flamingo Land scored just ten points more than the other developer although the scores are made up very differently.

 

 

The scoring of the rival front-runner, who name has been withheld under FOI

 

 

 

The unsuccessful bid scored more than Flamingo Land on the design objectives, experience and track record but less on financial viability and funding strategy and deliverability.     What this tells us is – leaving aside the question of whether the design objectives which LLTNPA had been involved in developing were the right ones – that the LLTNPA has been involved in selecting a developer whose design proposals were  second best.   Now, if there had been huge differences with the other developer on deliverabiltiy or financial viability, this might have been justifiable but there weren’t.  The two developers were separated by just 10 points in all and the biggest difference between their scores  was on design, what should have mattered most to the LLTNPA.

 

There are further questions you could ask about this.   We now know from SE that “there was no provision for a score to be assigned for payment of the Scottish Living Wage”.  Wages rates could have affected the financial viability of the proposals.    Flamingo Land’s accounts suggest that while it is a profitable company it also appears currently to pay many staff rates at or around the UK statutory living wage, i.e below the Scottish Living Wage.  Now of course the other Developer might have been no different and there are many other factors which affect financial viability, but its also possible that the other Developer scored less on financial viability because it pays its staff more.   It would be very interesting to know therefore whether LLTNPA staff, before they endorsed the scoring matrix, made any representations about the need for better paid jobs in tourism in the National Park and how the scoring matrix supported their statutory duty to promote “sustainable economic development” in the Park.

 

The consequences of all this are huge and undermine  LLTNPA’s claim that their involvement has been “without prejudice” to the planning decision and indeed to their wider statutory objectives.  Supposing Flamingo Land submits planning proposals which accord with the submission the LLTNPA scored, I cannot see how the LLTNPA could possibly now refuse such an application – even if much better alternatives are obviously available – as to do so would open up the possibility of Flamingo Land suing the Park for all their development costs.   Their grounds for this would be that the LLTNPA had already endorsed what they were proposing, through approving their development bid,  and that as a consequence they had been led up the garden path.

 

The converse of this is that it was very much in the interests of Scottish Enterprise  to avoid a situation where they appointed a developer and agreed proposals which the LLTNPA then knocked back.     It was in their interests therefore to involve the LLTNPA as far as possible and it appears they have done this very successfully.    The LLTNPA  should have never allowed itself to get into this position and its hands are now very dirty.

 

What is happening and what needs to happen

 

Based on experience of how they worked the camping byelaws,  there appears a high likelihood that the LLTNPA are now working behind the scenes to win over selective stakeholders  to what has already been agreed with Scottish Enterprise before any planning application is made.   There has for example been a follow up consultation on how to develop the “cycling hub” proposal.   The LLTNPA  will then  try and present Flamingo Land’s proposals as the only option and one that has sufficient enough support for politicians to be wary of intervening.

 

I don’t think this should be allowed to happen anywhere, let along in the National Park.   Rather:

 

  • The LLTNPA ‘s Board should initiate a transparent review of its staff’s involvement in the  process that led to the selection of Flamingo Land as preferred developer for the Riverside site and the implications for it as planning authority
  • In order to re-establish public confidence the LLTNPA should commission a proper independent consultation –  not the biased charrette which failed to put it and SE’s plans on the table – on the type and intensity of  developments that would be appropriate for the West Riverside Site given its in a National Park.   Until this happens any further work on developing Flamingo Land’s proposals should be suspended.

 

The Fiacaill T-bar dump – photo credit Alan Brattey (all photos featured here by Alan date from 8th January 2017)

There is evidence that Natural Retreats have been undertaking some sort of tidy up at Cairngorm, which is welcome if not before time.   The Shieling Rope Tow fencing has been completed. The section of the Carpark T-Bar fencing that had been taken down to allow a machine to move out of the uptrack has been nailed back on after lying on the ground for 3 months.   Some of the spoil materials have been collected together and the place does look tidier.

 

Indeed Natural Retreats has claimed that some of the mess – such as that at the unofficial dump they created at the old Fiacaill T-bar base (photo above) would be cleared once the snows arrive.   This, they have claimed, is because snow would reduce the impact of vehicles transporting redundant materials out.    The trouble with this claim is not just that redundant materials such as the old chestnut fencing which is lying against the new snow fencing get buried as soon as it snows  – which may explain why many redundant materials have been lying around since before last winter – its that Natural Retreats have been causing damage to vegetation elsewhere.

 

The Car Park T-Bar

Car Park T bar uptrack vehicle damage – Photo Credit Alan Brattey 8/1/17

Parkswatch have previously featured vehicles driving by the Carpark T-bar uptrack and the impact of that is clearly evident.  The vegetation has been seriously damaged and the ground is now being eroded by water.

Highland Council approved the laying of new cable along the Car Park T-bar – which clearly needed to be done – without planning permission as they regarded the works as “de minimis.”   Its clear that the impact of vehicle use here – whether for follow up work on the cable laying or for other works – has not been “de minimis”.

Photo credit Alan Brattey 8/1/16

While the trench for the cabling by the Car Park lifties hut, which had been left open for something like six months (photo left) has now been filled in, the quality of the restoration has been extremely poor.  You can still see  a trench which will act as a drainage channel.   The natural vegetation here had all been highly modified by the high levels of use but in order to help the ground recover and prevent erosion the trench should have been filled in months ago. The most recent good practice guidance all suggests that where trenches are required restoration should take place as the work goes along in order to reduce impacts.    Maybe Natural Retreats has is a good explanation for the delay in this case?   If so I would be happy to post this on parkswatch.

The Coire Cas T-bar gantry works

The ground to the right of the gantry, looking uphill showing where the blue revegetation pellets and topsoil have been washed away       Photo Credit Alan Brattey 8/1/16

Highland Council agreed to emergency works on the Coire Cas Gantry in 2015 to make it safe for skiing and to “de minimis” groundworks and as a consequence waived the requirement for planning permission.  They were informed this last time last year of concerns which they dismissed (see  Letter re Coire Cas Gantry anonymised) and closed the case.   I am afraid the recent photos show there has been a dereliction of public duty.

View of the Coire Cas Gantry at the end of July showing the ground featured in the photos above and below – Nick Kempe

And this is how the lower slope adjacent to the gantry looks now

Photo Credit Alan Brattey 8/1/16
Photo credit Alan Brattey 8/1/16

The topsoil is clearly washing out.   This is partly a consequence of the steepness of this slope but also of a failure to store vegetation and re-seed the area in the Spring.   Its fairly predictable that there will be further significant erosion during the rest of the winter and that the slope will become unstable – will the Natural Retreats solution be simply to scoop up more material from elswhere and dump it on the slope?   Its time the CNPA talked to Highland Council and they agreed that all works should be required to meet certain standards and that this be enforced.  If the only way to do this is to require planning permission whenever that is applicable, then that’s what our public authorities should do.  All the evidence clearly shows that leaving Natural Retreats to supervise works continues to fail.

The Shieling Rope Tow area

Photo credit Alan Brattey 8/1/16

The places where Natural Retreats’ contractors scooped out vegetation with diggers – in order to “restore” the reprofiled Shieling rope tow slope – have now predictably filled up with water.  In flood prevention terms this may not be a bad thing, as all the other works Natural Retreats has done has had the effect of increasing water run-off, but it has changed the ecology of slope.   What’s more the efforts to try and minimise the impact of the funicular, by taking extreme care over grounds works, has simply been undone.  All this work appears to have been funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and I am currently in dialogue with them about exactly what they funded and what if any of the damage has been paid for by Natural Retreats.

Photo credit Alan Brattey 8/1/16

The unlawful track that Natural Retreats created by the Shieling rope tow is due to be considered by the CNPA planning committee at the end of January.   While the seeding has partially established grass along the track, the blue pellets and stones in the foreground indicate that the top of the slope has washed away again.  Its too steep and the drainage scoops are unlikely to solve the problem.   They are likely to be seriously eroded by the end of the winter.

Coire Cas circular path Photo Credit Alan Brattey 8/1/16

The cumulative impact of the destruction of vegetation and increase in water run-off caused by the Shieling Rope tow appears to be impacting on the path below it.   The path is now extemely soggy and you can see how lower down its starting to form a burn.    I trust that the CNPA consider these issues at Planning Committee and how this fits with the local area flood prevention plan.

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board meeting in December failed to consider or scrutinise the proposed on-line booking system for permits (see here) so I  submitted a number of Information Requests.  This post will consider the information I have obtained on the proposed electronic booking system for campsites and permits, including the cost  (see here) and how the booking system is likely to operate as set out in the specification in the final section of the tender document.    The way the booking system will operate has significant implications for access rights.

 

First, the costs.  The response provides further evidence (see here for car park charging example) of the complete incompetence of the LLTNPA when it comes to procurement of infrastructure.  The Park thought it could buy an all-singing and all-dancing electronic booking system for one year for between £10-£20k.  Anyone with a bit of basic common sense should have been able to tell them that the requirement in the tender document that the “Supplier must be able to provide a technical support hotline between 9am and 5pm, five (5) days a week between January and October” in itself would have cost more than this.  Or was the Park expecting the technical support to be farmed out to somewhere in Asia where people get paid peanuts?    Couple this with designing/adapting software, meeting Park staff, training etc and its not surprising therefore the lowest tender return was £37k and the highest £72k, i.e way over the Park’s estimates.

 

This matters for two reasons.  First, its not just the booking system but also the cost of new campsites (£345k for Loch Chon), the cost of signage (£100k for an inadequate set of signs), staff time,  in fact the whole Your Park “project” that the LLTNPA has failed to cost properly.   Some of this is due to the incompetence of staff but some also is due to a failure of the LLTNPA Board, despite all their secret meetings, to think through the financial implications of the camping byelaws.  This failure is something the Park’s Auditors and Audit Scotland should be investigating.   The second reason this matters is that there has been no cost/benefit analysis of the proposed byelaws.    One of the main original justifications of the camping byelaws on east Loch Lomond was that if the Park could prevent problems happening it would reduce costs.   In fact Ranger Patrols increased on east Loch Lomond, because of the need to chase away all those pesky West Highland Way backpackers, and I believe the new permit system will increase those costs even further.    The time required to check permits and see if campers are in the right place (see below) will be significant.   As I have said before, more and more of the LLTNPA resources are being diverted into policing the unpoliceable without any consideration of the alternatives.

 

Civil liberty implications of the booking system

 

The tender document shows  the LLTNPA, in order to operate the byelaws, is going to be collecting and keeping a wide range of personal information on people.  This contrasts to the current position where, under access rights, people can go to the countryside and not tell anyone who they are and where they intend to go.  In effect the Park is proposing to remove  civil liberties and the right to freedom of movement and replace this by an extensive surveillance system.

 

The core data the Park will be collecting on people, which in parkspeak is called “Customer information”  – if you are being forced to apply for a permit to camp in what sense are you a “customer”? – will include the following (with the ability to add additional fields):

 

a. Contact name: first, last, title;
b. Phone numbers: mobile, home, business, other;
c. Email address;
d. Mailing address;
e. Billing address for card transactions;
f. Preferred method of contact;

 

What’s not clear yet is what will happen if people are unable to fill in these basic fields (e.g you are homeless or have no email) or don’t want to give this information to the LLTNPA.    This though is just the start:

 

6. The system must capture the following information for each booking;
a. Customer name;
b. Date of arrival and departure;
c. Method of arrival; (car, cycle, foot, boat, other)
d. Vehicle registration number if arriving by car;
e. Amount paid and payment method (e.g. cheque, credit/debit card or cash)
f. Number of adults and children in group and ideally age ranges
g. Description of tent; ( make, colour)
h. Acknowledgement of site rules;

 

So what business of the Park is it to know HOW people  intend to travel to the campsite or permit area?   Why do they need this information, is it because the next thing the LLTNPA want to do is control how people travel to campsites and permit areas? (There’s reason to believe so, see below)  What’s going to happen if someone changes their mind and decides to travel by car instead of bike – will they have to make a new booking?   What’s going to happen if there is a group, a couple of whom have cars and  haven’t decided or change their mind at the last minute of which car they want to use?   Why should people tell the Park the make and colour of their tents and what happens if people have not decided what tents to take?

 

Its easy to see why the Park want to collect this information, they think it will make it easier to enforce the byelaws (“ah, I can see an green vango on pitch x, that looks like the right person is staying there, no need to check the permit”).  Unfortunately for the LLTNPA, people do not behave in the predictable ways the Park wants.  One of the beauties of access rights is there is no-one watching you or there to object if you change your plans.

 

The tender suggests that the LLTNPA is intending to keep ALL the data required by the booking system, including  personal information:

 

At the end of the contract, Supplier must make all data available to Park Authority in a format agreed with the Park Authority. 

What is more it makes it clear that:

 

Customer information may be used for byelaw enforcement purposes so the system needs to incorporate an appropriate form of verification of customer information.

So, not only will people have to provide far more information than they would making an online booking to a normal campsite (who rarely ask for number plates let alone colour and make of tent) they will have to prove this information is correct.  How?  Will people have to scan in a form of i.d?

 

What the Park has also failed to explain  is how all this information on campers will be used for enforcement purposes.   To give an example, Park Rangers visit a permit area one morning to find a signficant mess, indeed criminal damage has been caused  – the other campers in the area say it was not them but two people in a green vango nemesis who got up and left early.   Is the Park then going to search the database for all people who have previously registered a green vango nemesis tent when booking a permit and use this to try and catch the people?   We simply don’t know.  The scope for the Park to mis-use this data seems enormous and they have given no indication of why they should be trusted with it.

 

The further erosion of access rights

 

The tender specification  has a section called “Campsite and permit area information” which interestingly at present contains NO provision to book campervans and which has further implications for access rights:


c. Maximum number of vehicles allowed;

 

Vehicles are not covered by our access legislation but by the road traffic acts.  Indeed roads, verges and laybys are specifically exempt from the camping byelaws so there is nothing to stop people leaving their vehicles on the “road” by a campsite or permit zone as long as this is not prohibited under other legislation (see here).    The Park though appear to be planning to refuse permits once the “maximum number of vehicles allowed” have been booked which is no doubt why they are wanting to know how people intend to arrive at a permit area   In my view, this would be unlawful because even if a permit area has no formal parking places or what off-road car parking places there are  are fully booked, the Park have no power to stop a person travelling to the permit area by a vehicle and leaving it on the verge of the road (unless a clearway order is in place) or an official layby.


e. Pets allowed or not;

 

Similarly, the LLTNPA only have the right to limit pets – though why would they want to do so? – on formal campsites, not in permit areas.   There is no provision to ban or control dogs or other domestic animals that would count as pets in the byelaws and under the Scottish Outdoor Access Rights “Access rights apply to people walking dogs as long as their dogs are kept under proper control”.  Anything in the booking system therefore that suggests that people are not allowed to bring pets to a permit area would be in contravention of access rights and  again opens the LLTNPA to legal challenge.


h. Arrival time and instructions;
i. Departure time and instructions;

j. Specific clean up requirements;

 

Currently under access rights if a person arrives at their intended camping location early, it does not matter and if its bucketing  with rain they just put up their tent and that’s that.  Now, if a person turns up early they potentially commit an offence.    It will be interesting to see if the LLTNPA try to add anything to “instructions” beyond that contained in the camping provisions of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.  The field for “specific clean up requirements” suggests they intend try and do so.

 

What next?

 

I hope this analysis has shown that the implications of camping byelaws, as illustrated by outline of the camping booking system,  are far more complex than the LLTNPA has indicated to date and that they have failed to consider these implications properly.   Its not just the LLTNPA Board has failed to consider this properly, the Local Access Forum, a statutory consultee, has been given no opportunity to do so – amazingly, at their last meeting on 4th October, just weeks before the camping development strategy and permit system was to be considered by the Board, the Your Park section of their agenda consisted of a “verbal update”.     The LLTNPA has continued to disregard the role of the LAF as statutory consultee and I think its long past time that they were removed from the National Access Forum  and that the National Access Forum subjects the LLTNPA proposals to proper scrutiny and produces a report on their implications for access rights.   Much as I would like the Scottish Government to do the same, at present they seem blind to the implications for access rights though I have hopes that with public pressure,the Scottish Parliament will eventually wake up as to what is happening.

 

 

The summary report to the CNPA Partnership Plan provides a breakdown of how many responses there were to each question. It does not however show how the various interests responded to each question, where these were yes/no, or the issues raised – in this case grouse moor management (see below)

I was too caught in commenting in the Loch Lomond National Park Authority Board Meeting in December (see here) to attend on the Cairngorms National Park Board meeting which took place the Friday before.   Unfortunately, the way our National Parks operate – which is in the last century – its impossible to find out what happens at Board meetings, often until months later, unless you were there.  While the CNPA is more open than the LLTNPA there is still a serious democratic deficit.

 

The most important item on the agenda was a report on the Big 9 consultation, the major issues the CNPA had identified for consultation on the new Park Partnership Plan  (see here).   This is supposed to guide the work of all the public authorities and agencies that operate in the Cairngorms National Park for 2017-22.   Neither the summary of the responses  (see here)  or the Report  to Board Members (see here) made any recommendations about how the responses should inform the final plan but instead under “next steps” said that between December and February there would be “Discussions with partners and board on key issues/topics”.   I found this strange, that Park staff did not offer a single recommendation to Board Members on how they should respond to the representations made in the consultation.  Perhaps staff were waiting for a steer from the Board, and perhaps Board Members did this at the meeting?   But, if so, the vast majority of respondents to the consultation simply won’t know what that steer is until a minute appears.   This is because most respondents are not directly involved in the delivery of the Plan and therefore are not classed as partners.

 

Even of those who might be classed as partners, its not clear who will be consulted and who not.   Basically what is going to happen is that those with power in the National Park – who are not the same as those with an interest in the National Park whether visitors or residents – will be deciding behind closed doors how our National Park should be managed in the next five years.

 

How should the responses to the consultation be evaluated and weighed?

 

The consultation summary is 128 pages long and contains much interesting information, including many good ideas of what the CNPA could and should be doing.  I even recognised a couple of my own!   So, I am not doubting that the staff concerned have extracted and listed suggestions from the consultation – that they took the first steps in undertaking a professional job.   The problem I believe is the summary report is a compilation, without any proper  analysis which should inform how those responses might be treated.

 

While the responses to the consultation have been classified – the organisations who responded are listed at the end and I found that worth reading just to appreciate how many NGOs there are now representing hunting interests (over eight) – there is no commentary about what interests responded to which questions or how representative the people and organisations who responded might be.    It appears from reading the response summary, for example, that a large number of responses from individuals were about raptor persecution but there is no way of telling whether those people simply responded to the conservation questions and the extent to which this interest accounts for the lower level response rate to other questions.   An overall analysis of who responded to what questions would have helped show how many respondents were concerned with specific issues and how many with the Park as a whole.

 

As significant an issue is how responses should be weighted, the need for which is shown by how the report treats conflicting views such as over grouse moor management:

The above, from the covering Report to the Board could suggest there is a balance between these competing views and imply that the Park Board’s role is to find a way between the two.   The Summary Report, if you you analyse it, shows something rather different:

 

So,what was the number of people who did suggest changes to grouse moor management, both individuals and those represented by organisations and how does this compare to the numbers who thought current grouse moor management did meet conservation objectives?   The second paragraph says the majority of landowners/managers and “representatives from a range of other stakeholder groups” thought current grouse management basically meets conservation objectives.  You will see from the diagram at the top of this post that 11 (out of 14) landowners responded to the grouse moor management question.  So that’s maybe 7 or 8 landowners being weighed against how many members of the conservation organisations?   Ten of thousands at a rough guess.   Who were the representatives from other stakeholder groups who supported the landowner position and how many of them were organisations set up to represent landowner interests such as Scottish Land and Estates, which is classified under business interests, or the Scottish Countryside Alliance and Scottish Gamekeepers Association which are both listed under NGOs?     The failure of the CNPA to be more open about this suggests something else is going on and this is not an even playing field.

 

The CNPA needs to get off the fence

 

Deciding how to weight responses to consultations, let alone deciding how to respond to them, is a complex question but consultations are reduced to paper exercises if they become, as in this case, just a list of points made.     The CNPA needs to decide what weight its going to give to the thousands of people represented by conservation and recreational organisations compared to the landowner with the £ in their pocket and, just as fundamentally, find ways to include these interests as partners.

 

What the report also fails to do is relate responses to the Park’s statutory objectives – so does the CNPA agree with those landowners who claim current grouse moor management  is in accord with its conservation objectives or with those who are saying its not and why?    CNPA staff should have been presenting the evidence for this to allow the Board to take a view but instead says “further detailed consideration will be required”.  In other words this is going to take place behind closed doors and a final plan will appear at the Board Meeting in April just before it goes to the Minister.  The danger is the current approach of the CNPA, which is marked by a reluctance to do anything which might disturb the status quo in terms of landowning interests, will continue.

 

The CNPA also needs to be brave.   What was most interesting to me about the report – and it was one thing highlighted by the report to the Board – that transport connections to the National Park, and more particularly, public transport impact on many of the objectives in the Plan.  The inference is that there needs to be a radical new transport plan which would enable people without cars or who would prefer not to use them to get to the National Park.  This would mean significant public investment, in fact just the sort of investment that would create for a time better paid jobs in the Park.  Proposing this would also however be a challenge to the Government, which for example has plans to upgrade the A9 but not the train line from Perth or Inverness.    I suspect all we will see in the new plan is some minor proposals.

 

I believe that money, or rather lack of it, will account for much of the shortfall between aspiration for the National Park, which may be shared by some Board Members, and what appears in the plan in April.  The consultation paper gave no indication of what resources the CNPA or its partners would commit to delivering the plan and there was still no indication of this in December.   This is entirely the fault of public authorities because under neoliberalism they simply don’t know what their budget will be from one year to the next.   It makes five year plans almost pointless.    So, I would like to suggest a new type of Partnership Plan, one that sets what the Park would ideally like to achieve over 5 years and and resources that it and its partners needed.   This and the Park’s performance targets would then be adjusted each year to reflect what resources were actually available.

The Beauly Denny – aside from the visual impact of the powerlines, is ground “restoration” like that in the foreground acceptable, let alone in a National Park?

The entire edition of Out of Doors on Saturday was devoted to National Parks, in the USA and Scotland http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b087tgv4#play.   This gave critical coverage of our National Parks, in which the presenters Euan McIlraith and Mark Stephen were, in their inimitable style, raising questions about what National Parks should be for.  This is to be welcomed.   There are interviews with Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Chief Executive,  Gordon Watson, at 7mins 50 secs, a discussion on east Loch Lomond from 1 hour, 5 mins and 50 secs and an interview with Grant Moir, Cairngorms National Park Authority Chief Executive, at 23 minutes.

 

The photo above is to illustrate the excellent question to Grant Moir by Mark Stephen who observed that in travelling up the A9 corridor on entering the Cairngorms National Park you “are hit” with pylons and asked whether this gave the wrong message?   While Grant explained the CNPA had adopted a policy of no large wind turbines in the National Park, and that national priorities had overriden the objections of the CNPA to the Beauly Denny powerlines, he said nothing about whether the CNPA was happy with the quality of the work.    The standards of ground restoration in the Drumochter appear all to similar to those in Glen Bruar (see here) and (here).   A question for another programme maybe?

Our National Parks in context

 

The programme raised questions about what is perhaps the primary reason why our National Parks struggle so much at present, landownership. The contrast was made between Scotland, where much of the land in our National Parks is privately owned, and other countries where most land in National Parks is in public ownership.   The programme did point out that in the USA rights of access are very different to Scotland and therefore part of the need there for public ownership is to enable public access.   It also described the very interesting case of Point Reyes National Park in California, where in order to save land from development, it was purchased from farmers and then leased back to them.   While suggesting this might be a model for Scotland, it did not explore the implications – too “political”  for the BBC – indeed while a comment on Facebook that our National Parks are managed for landowners was read out it was accompanied by the comment “oh that’s rather political”.

 

Why not though nationalise all the hunting rights in our National Parks and then only lease back hunting rights to owners who were prepared to meet targets for deer culling and change the way grouse moors are managed?     The programme also gave lots of other ideas that could be considered for our National Parks such as the way the US parks manage “visitor density”.  Instead of making it up as they go along, as is happening in the LLTNPA, they could be learning from abroad.   Neither interview with our National Park Chief Executives gave any suggestion that this was on their radar.  If we want proper National Parks they need to be far less insular.

The usual parkspeak

 

Gordon Watson has got away with misleading statements to the media ever since he became LLTNPA Chief Executive and repeatedly claimed that the east Loch Lomond byelaws were responsible for an 81% reduction of irresponsible there when the police statistics were for a wider area.    In a recent interview  on Good Morning Scotland he claimed that the Loch Chon campsite was all about providing facilities for lochside camping when its quite clear that the campsite has been specifically designed to stop people camping by the lochshores (see here).   The best example on Out of Doors was his statement that the “measures we are taking are purely about heavily used areas”.  How then Mr Watson can you explain why you extended the camping byelaws to areas which are not so heavily used, as shown by the maps that were presented to the secret Board Meetings in September and October 2013 (see here) or why the LLTNPA are now building a large campsite at Loch Chon, where currently very few people camp?      Gordon Watson also ducked a number of key questions including why the LLTNPA is trying to get FCS to raise its camping prices at Sallochy from £5 to match the £7 it wants to charge to pay for its development at Loch Chon.

 

“No National Park is anything without the people who visit them” (Mark Stephen)

 

While the presenters did not pick up on the detail of Gordon Watson’s claims – another was “it has to be realised that access can be damaging to the local environment and communities” (where is the evidence for this?)what they did very effectively was to describe what its like on east Loch Lomond nowadays:

 

“We drove up from Drymen, just about every space where conceivably you could park, had a sign saying “no parking””.

“You know you are in a National Park by the number of signs saying no”

 

They then  effectively mocked the current rules for managing visitors at Sallochy where they pointed out there are NO signs everywhere, no parking, no camping, no alcohol, no fires right next to signs that say but you can camp here, you can have a fire if you pay etc.   They point out this is “very draconian”.   Its worth a listen.  Then, when Mark Stephen put to Gordon Watson there are lots of no signs, after first trying to dispute this he came up with the extraordinary statement that “some signs are put up by landowners that shouldn’t be there”.  And whose job is it to ensure that there are signs that shouldn’t be there are taken down – the National Park Authority?!   I enjoyed some of Gordon Watson’s other comments too, on wear and tear caused by visitors, including there is a “lot of human waste, however much you dig it in”.   Gordon Watson keeps repeating this stuff when it appear to have been his decision to stop the programme of toilet installation planned for the Five Lochs Area.     The mockery of the presenters was completely justified.

 

Knowing the LLTNPA  I suspect what they will now do is submit a complaint to the BBC – I learned recently that when the Guardian ran a piece by Patrick Barkham against the byelaws the Park’s bloated media team submitted  a complaint – so I hope readers interested in the byelaws will listen to the programme and let the BBC know what you think.  You can also, if you believe any of Gordon Watson’s statements are misleading, submit a formal complaint to the LLTNPA.

 

A couple of other things that struck me from the programme

  • The first clip with Gordon Watson was about what National Parks are for.  His answer was primarily visitor management and then he referred to development and promoting tourism related businesses.  What is interesting is that conservation was not mentioned.  I think that is an accurate reflection of where the LLTNPA is – conservation, which is supposed to take precedence over other National Park aims, is only considered in relation to visitor impacts which are minor compared say to all the hydro tracks that have been created in the National Park
  • Grant Moir was much better at putting development planning – the question he was asked about – into the wider context of the statutory aims of the National Park.  However, what struck me was how accepting of the rules he is so he explained clearly that most housing in the National Park is being delivered by housing developers who have bought up land and that a quarter of this is for affordable housing because “that is the standard”.   But hang on Grant, I wanted to say, your own Park plan clearly shows wages in the CNPA are well below the Scottish national average (which is low enough as it is) so how on earth will abiding by this standard address the need for affordable housing in the CNPA?
This slide from the secret Board Meeting of 6th September 2013 shows two interesting things. The first is that the LLTNPA was originally considering banning camping and campervaning along roads throughout the whole of the National Park – a proposal it had put to and which had been rejected by the Land Reform Review Group earlier in 2013. The second is that this would have resulted in camping being banned in 11.2% of the National Park.

In early December the Park released to me slides which were presented at secret Board “Briefing Sessions” held on 6th September (see here) and 28th October 2013 (see here).   These provide further evidence for how the Park developed its fatally flawed camping byelaws were developed and should be studied by everyone who cares or is involved in access rights in Scotland.   The slides are an education in how not to approach access issues.

 

Before considering the slides from these two meetings, its worth considering why it has taken the Park over a year to make them public since I first asked for all written information about the Board’s involvement in the development of the byelaw proposals.   First, the Park failed to tell me about these two meetings when I first asked for a list of all meetings which had considered the Your Park proposals.  The Park’s subsequent excuse for this was that I had asked for information relating to the Your Park proposals and it was only after these meetings that the Your Park terminology – parkspeak – was developed!  You only need to take one look at the slides to realise the Park was wanting to ban camping from September 2013.  Second, while after the LLTNPA had released a list of all topics discussed at  secret Board “Briefing Sessions” since 2010  (see here), it was clear these two meetings had considered camping, staff claimed they held no written infomation pertaining to these meetings.   I challenged this in November, after evidence emerged that the Park had withheld information from the Information Commissioner (more on this in due course when the Commissioner has finished their investigations), and, low and behold,  the LLTNPA suddenly found it did have written information on these two meetings after all!   I am still not convinced they have released all of it – Page 11 of Appendix A for example is a blank slide  – and have written to the Park asking them to explain anomalies.    What all of this shows is that the LLTNPA’s claim to operate in an open and transparent manner is complete rubbish.  I believe there there needs to be a systematic external review of how the LLTNPA operates and how it has subverted basic principles of good governance.

 

Back to the slides………………..!

6th September 2013

This was the second slide presented to the Board on “Camping Management – new approaches”.   Shocked, so you might be, but most campers do not behave anything like this.  Abandoned tents, as the latest Keep Scotland Beautiful Litter Audit shows (see here),  are a rare occurrence compared to the total numbers camping.  My best estimate from this data, and its the best estimate there is given the Park has never made any attempt to assess this, is that tents are abandoned in c1% of camping trips.  And in most cases of abandoned tents the mess is not anything like what is pictured.   What is important about this slide therefore is that senior Park staff  set the Board off on the wrong course, they presented the litter problem as being inextricably linked to campers.  The slide was a complete misrepresentation of the truth.  The Board appear to have been convinced ever since that if  only they can manage camping all the Park’s litter problems would disappear.   This was the wrong starting point.  The result has been the LLTNPA Board, in all its secret Briefing Sessions FOI 2015-021 Response Appendix A – meetings that discussed ban, has never considered the numbers of responsible campers and campervaners or their rights.    There is nothing either in any of the slides presented to the Board in all the Briefing Sessions that took place that shows they ever considered the framework for access rights agreed by the Scottish Parliament (e.g. the role of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and the existing criminal law) and how this could be applied to visitor management in the National Park.  That should have been the starting point for any discussion.  Having started in the wrong place, the Board have been on the wrong course ever since.

6th September 2013 – note how the slide presents camping numbers under the heading “camping pressures”.  This conflates two entirely different things because its possible to have large numbers without pressure and small numbers that have considerable impacts.

This slide contains far more useful information than anything that was presented in the Your Park consultation.    I thought it strange that the Park had never presented an analysis of the data it held for the Your Park consultation and that I had to obtain the Ranger Patrol records (on which this map must have been based) through a Freedom of Information request.  Those records disproved many of the Park’s claims.   What this slide shows is that the Park had actually conducted an analysis of the data it held but then appears to have decided to suppress that information.   I think there were three reasons for doing this.  First, the slide undermines the Park’s claims, which continue to be parroted by the LLTNPA Chief Executive Gordon Watson, that the byelaws were needed because of the sheer number of campers.  The slide show that there were relatively few areas where camping was high.   Second, if you compare this slide with the camping management zones approved by the Scottish Government (left) it shows graphically that the actual camping management zones cover many areas where there is very little camping.  The reason for this is explained by the slide at the top of this post on Options – the intention of the Park has always been to stop roadside camping and campervaning whether or not there was any evidence of problems or alternative solutions.  That I believe remains the LLTNPA’s ultimate aim which is why the current byelaws encompass as many roads as the LLTNPA thought they could get away with.   Third, the slide shows that the LLTNPA  has always known the Loch Lomond Islands were one of the most popular areas for camping – and therefore under its own warped understanding that equates numbers with pressure – should have been a priority for it to tackle.  It knew though that if the walking community and the boating community joined forces, it would lose the argument for byelaws, so it decided to introduce byelaws in stages.   The LLTNPA Board Minutes from April 2015 record that the islands will be next.  More evidence of how manipulative this National Park Authority is.

 

This slide shows that in their first debates there was some attempt by the LLTNPA to put camping into the wider context of visitor pressures.  This should have been the starting point for a discussion on how best to allocate resources for visitor management as a whole, not just camping, but footpaths (Arrochar Hills and West Highland Way), litter facilities, parking places etc.   Unfortunately, and we don’t know why, the LLTNPA quickly abandoned any attempt to look at visitor management in the round and focussed purely on camping.

 

This slide clearly shows the LLTNPA were considering byelaws from September 2013 as the main solution to visitor management.  Yet the public paper on Visitor Management presented to the Board Meeting of December 2013 gave almost no indication of this – it talked of a broad range of measures – while LLTNPA staff, when they met recreational organisations in late summer 2014, never made any reference to byelaws and were still claiming a broad sweep of management proposals.   The Park therefore spent almost a year preparing to consult on its plan to introduce camping byelaws while deliberately keeping the recreational organisations – including its own Local Access Forum, a statutory consultee – and the wider public in the dark.

The title slide for the secret Board “Briefing Session” in October 2014 is interesting because it shows while the focus of the Board was on camping management, they were considering byelaws that could be applied to all visitors, not just campers.    This potentially could have resulted in an even more drastic curtailment of access rights.  I think this arose from the LLTNPA submission to the Land Reform Review Group where they had proposed the introduction of Fixed Penalty Notices for any breaches of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, a draconian measure which had been rejected by the Scottish Parliament as being unworkable.

This slide provide further evidence that the second meeting did at least consider camping within a wider context before deciding to focus simply on camping.  It also shows that the LLTNPA had done work on campervans at an early stage and clearly knew the numbers – note the symbols for carvan/motorhome pressures –  which makes its current failure to provide for campervans even more telling (just 20 places across all the management zones (see here).

This shows is that right from the start the Park was considering how it could enforce a ban on camping and campervans before there had been any public debate on whether this was an appropriate way forward.

This slide shows that the Park had from an early stage anticipated many of the objections that would be made during the Your Park consultation process.  Instead of engaging on these issues, which might have resulted in alternatives solutions (e.g fishing permits could have been used to reduce the impacts from fishermen camping), the Park decided to go ahead with its own preferred solution – to ban camping – which it settled on in a remarkably short period of time.  All the subsequent “consultation” was focussed on “persuading” people and organisations to agree with its own point view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This slide provides more evidence of how the LLTNPA had decided what it wanted to happen right from the start and mapped out the process by which camping and campervanning would be banned.  While the process has taken two years longer than planned, the important point is that the Park had decided what to do and how before this was considered by any public Board Meeting.  This is not how National Parks or any public bodies are meant to operate.  Decision making is supposed to be in public, in fact my understanding this is a legal requirement.  It clearly wasn’t observed and is another reason why the Scottish Government should reject the byelaws.  By approving them the former Minister, Aileen Mcleod, in effect undermined basic standards of good governance in public authorities.  Its not something her successor, Roseanna Cunningham, should accept.

The Insh Marshes absorbs huge volumes of flood water but what does the new Speyside River Catchment Plan propose to do to contain predicted increases in rainfall due to global warming?

The new River Spey catchment management plan was published in  November (see here)  and announced by the Cairngorms National Park Authority in December.  The first plan was in 2003 (see here), the year the CNPA was created, and a review of progress conducted in 2015 was published earlier in 2016 (see here).  Its yet another plan which should affect what happens in our National Park (half the Spey catchment is within the CNPA boundary), but does it?  Conversely, has the National Park made a difference to what’s in the plan?

 

While the introduction to the new Plan claims that “that considerable progress has been made in many areas” since 2003, the Review report indicates otherwise: 

 

The Review Report, besides indicating that progress over the last 12 years has been slow, shows a striking division between where progress has been good and where it has been more limited.  The Review reports significant progress on preventing pollution of the Spey and its tributaries (eg discharges from distilleries, run off of agricultural chemicals) and flood warning systems, both of which are the responsibility of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.  By contrast it shows relatively little progress on issues of sustainable land management and conservation of species associated with river habitats (where the CNPA arguably has lead responsibility).   Indeed,  the conservation related actions where best  progress appears to have been made relate to species protected under European legislation (e.g lamprey), where SNH has been targetting its efforts, rather than landscape scale conservation (which is what the CNPA has identified as one of the 9 Big Issues facing the National Park).

 

While it would be easy to read too much into indicators of progress, which can contain many subjective judgements, there is nothing in the Review Report that indicates the National Park has made much of a difference so far.   It would need further research comparing progress on the Spey with rivers outwith National Park boundaries to establish this more objectively but I think this should be of concern to both the CNPA and the public.

 

Unfortunately, I am not sure the new plan will make any difference.  This is partly because of it has no teeth. The introduction states this clearly:  the plan, which “has been developed by the Spey Catchment Initiative Steering Group (SCISG) in no way overrides, takes precedence over, or prioritises any organisation’s or individual’s remit.”   In other words it does not bind any of the partners to do anything.  Its also due to the belief (contained in the quote from the Review above), that everything can be achieved by “co-operation, collaboration and partnership working”.  Unfortunately, what this has led to is a lowest common denominator approach where the plan only contains objectives that the various partners can agree on, rather than what should happen in a National Park.   There are several good illustrations of this.

 

Moorland and river catchment planning

 

The first is that there are just two mentions of moorland in the entire Plan  despite moorland covering half the  catchment area.  The Plan contains quite a bit on the impact of farming,  both on water quality (agricultural pollution) and flooding (flood plains provide most of best agricultural land) but nothing on moorland.   This contrasts with the original 2003 Plan which at least contained a section on moorland which explains (part of) its importance to river catchment planning:

 

7.5 Moorland Management
The uplands are of crucial importance, forming the headwaters of tributary burns in large parts of the catchment. The uplands therefore require careful management to ensure that the implications for water quality from land-use activities, and any changes in land management, are fully addressed. Grazing animals such as cattle, sheep and deer play an important part in the rural economy of the catchment. Grazing animals also help to shape the landscape and contribute to biological diversity. However, over-grazing and trampling, especially in the more fragile upland areas, is known to exacerbate the problems of erosion, with resultant impact on habitat quality of watercourses. Other moorland management activities, such as muirburn, can also exacerbate the problems of erosion if not carried out properly. The effects of past moorland drainage schemes (moor gripping) can lead to more rapid run-off with resultant increased sediment load in some tributaries. This may have a consequential adverse impact on some salmon spawning tributaries. It may therefore be beneficial in places to assess the extent of this problem and consider blocking off moorland drains to reduce the level and rate of run-off.

 

So, why does the 2016 Plan say NOTHING explicitly about what needs to done on moorland?   A possible explanation is that estates have refused to co-operate and, since the whole Plan depends on co-operation, moorland has been simply left out.   Meantime the role of moorland in promoting flooding downstream has become much better known and was even referred to in the draft CNPA Partnership Plan, though no concrete actions were proposed there.  Its now well established that both muirburn and bulldozed hill tracks promote water run-off, the opposite of what is required, but in the Plan there is not even a suggestion these issues need to be tackled though there is one vague action point “Manage land, particularly in the uplands, in a way that attenuates rates of runoff (thereby reducing the severity of floods and droughts)”.    This is not just a missed opportunity, its scandalous.  The Plan though does contain a section of community planting of trees to try and reduce the impacts of flooding downstream.  This is misguided effort.  The main focus to reduce the flow of water run-off from the hills needs to be upstream and therefore either involve landowners, or, should they not co-operate, involve compulsory measures that change how the land is managed.

 

The Catchment Plan and the draft CNPA Partnership Plan

 

The second, and related issue, is that the Catchment Plan makes no reference to the draft CNPA Partnership Plan although this was published early summer 2016.  This is strange because one of the Big 9 issues the CNPA identified in that Plan was flood management and one of the proposed actions in that paper to reduce flooding was “Reduced speed of water run-off from uplands” – which would imply changes to moorland management.     Ironically the draft Partnership Plan identifies Catchment Plans – such as the new one for the Spey – as one of the key delivery mechanisms for any actions agreed in the new Partnership Plan actions and claims “Catchment Initiatives have been very successful as a delivery mechanism, engaging with stakeholders and communities.”     So how is the Catchment Plan going to deliver the objectives of the Partnership Plan when there is no join up between the two plans?

 

I am coming to the conclusion that the multiplicity of plans in the National Park has simply become a mechanism to ensure no-one in the National Park actually takes responsibility for what happens.  

 

Beavers

 

The Catchment Plan was finalised about the same time as Roseanna Cunningham announced she had approved the re-introduction of beavers to Scotland, so I was interested to see what it had  to say about beavers:

 

Support and manage beaver reintroduction or colonisation should it occur.
Should beavers be reintroduced to the Spey, monitor numbers and their impacts on farmland and woodland

 

Absolutely nothing about the positive role beavers could play in flood prevention or tourism or the fact the Speyside has previously been identified by research undertaken by the National Park (see here) as one of the places most suitable for their re-introduction.  No vision!   Just sit back and see if the re-introduction of beavers occurs.   Now, I am pretty certain this is not what front-line staff working on nature conservation and flood prevention in the National Park would want, and I think the explanation is that staff have been told “don’t put anything about beavers in the plan” because it could upset the farming lobby.    What does this say about the conservation objectives of the National Park?

 

If this was a proper partnership plan, rather than a lowest common denominator one, it would be proposing dates for beaver re-introduction and ways that farmers could be compensated for any losses.

 

River catchment management and outdoor recreation

 

While the Plan touches on outdoor recreation, there is no explicit reference to the struggle that is going on at present between riparian landowners and outdoor recreation interests, whether this is landowners keeping walkers from the Spey (see here) or blocking off launching points for kayaks  downstream of the National Park.    Reading the plan you would simply not know there were major outdoor recreation issues or about the failures of the current mechanism of the Spey Users Group to resolve conflicts.

 

River catchment and hydro schemes

The Catchment Plan mentions how the older hydro schemes (e.g the Spey dam) have affected water flow and fish movements while also explicitly encouraging community hydro schemes, such as that at Kingussie.  It does this without any discussion about where hydro schemes might be appropriate and where not.   Since small hydro schemes are the developments most likely to have an impact on how water flows through the Spey catchment, this omission is surprising.

 

Its also surprising though because the CNPA has produced guidance on landscape sensitivity and this includes a section on small hydro schemes http://cairngorms.co.uk/park-authority/planning/landscape-sensitivity/?small-hydro.    This is an area where the CNPA is far in advance of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park which does not give any geographical indications or where hydro is more likely to be acceptable.  Yet having indicated for the whole of the Spey catchment areas where hydro might be more or less acceptable, there is no mention of this in the Spey Catchment Plan.    Another failure to join up different plans and policies.

 

What needs to happen?

 

The Spey Catchment Plan has too many serious omissions for the CNPA to be able to use it as a delivery mechanism for the new Park Partnership Plan.  Either the Catchment Plan needs to be re-written and quickily, which I cannot see happening, or the CNPA in putting forward its Partnership Plan for Ministers needs to include clear plans and actions for the following, based on what I have outlined above:

  • a clear plan for moorland restoration which will reduce the rate of water run-off from the hills (this could include both peatland restoration and reforestation)
  • a clear statement of the role of hill tracks in promoting water run off and a commitment to remove unlawful tracks and restore the ground
  • a commitment to re-introduce beavers to the Spey catchment within the next two years
  • a clear statement that the interests of riparian owners will no longer be treated as taking precedence over recreational interests and a commitment to resolve conflicts between the two
  • a clear statement of where hydro schemes would not be appropriate, either on grounds of landscape sensitivity or ecology or outdoor recreation

 

 

How will campervaners know whether laybys such as this are exempt from the camping byelaws because they are part of the road network? Note that where laybys are exempt the byelaws will provide no remedy against encampments – like the caravan in the background – but then encampements are already covered by S61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

There are several  significant difference between the east Loch Lomond byelaws, which were approved in 2011, and the new camping byelaws proposed for 2017.  These  include the creation of a new criminal offence of causing damage by collecting wood or lighting fires (fine of £500) and restrictions on the right of landowners to allow camping in their own gardens.   The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority failed to consult on the implications of any of the proposed changes but, if it had, it might have realised that what it is proposing is completely unenforceable, however much resource it devoted into turning its ranger service into a quasi police force.   I will consider here the case of campervans and people sleeping overnight in vehicles.

 

The Your Park consultation failed completely to consider campervaners, the focus such as it was, was on campers.  There was nothing on numbers of campervans and the increasing importance of campervaners to tourism.  There was nothing on the impacts of campervans and how they might be managed, most notably the need for chemical disposal points.    In a sense none of this was surprising because the Park has not for a number of years been interested in what new infrastructure is needed to support camping and campervaning, rather it has just wanted to ban it.(see here for example)   Proof of this lack of interest is contained both in the “Camping Development Strategy” approved by the Board in October 2016, which makes provision for just 20 permits for campervans across the four proposed camping management zones, and in this FOI response sent to me by a reader in early December:

 

4. How many places will be available for motorhomes to stop-off in the Camping Management Zones?

There are a number of formal campsites that offer opportunities for motorhome stays. As the majority of these are in private ownership it is difficult to give a figure regarding availability. The best way to ascertain this information would be to contact the respective campsite for their most up to date availability. A list of formal campsites and contact details within the NP can be found on our website. Another source of information regarding this would be Visit Scotland.

What this tells us is the  LLTNPA does not even know the number of motorhome/campervan places which are available in the camping management zones.   How can the Park’s senior management claim to be planning what future provision is needed when they don’t even know what existing provision there is (almost four years after starting to plan the camping ban)?

 

Moreover, the FOI response to the next question from the parkswatch reader makes clear that this is all quite deliberate, the LLTNPA basically wants to stop campervans/motorhomes stopping off in the four management zones:

 

5. I assume the wild-camping permits are applicable to motorhomes for staying overnight in car parks within the Camping Management Zones. Is this correct?

No, overnight stops will only be permitted within Camping Management Zones if they are in permit areas that have been designated for motorhomes.

 

Parkswatch has previously commented on the stupidity of this way of thinking, how the Park can be creating a new and oversized campsite at Loch Chon which includes not a single place for campervans  and how the Park has ripped up the 5 Lochs Management Plan zone which included not just places for campervans but facilities such as chemical disposal points.   The adverse impact on people’s enjoyment of the National Park, not to mention tourism revenues , if this stupidity (what else can you call a complete absense of planning) went ahead would be immense.

 

The unenforceability of the campervan/vehicle overnight ban

 

Luckily I believe that the campervan/vehicle ban will be almost completely unenforceable as long as people staying in campervans and vehicles overnight stick to their legal rights.  This is because the Park’s claim, in the FOI above, that “overnight stops will only be permitted within Camping Management zones if they are in permit areas that have been designated for motorhomes” is quite simply wrong.

 

The reason for this is a new provision in the proposed byelaws which was NOT included in the east Loch Lomond byelaws  and which exempts public roads.    In effect this means you can stop off overnight in a vehicle anywhere which is part of the public road network, including laybys:

 

“(7) No person shall sleep overnight in a stationary vehicle within a Management Zone unless:
(a) …………………………………………………………….. or
(b) the vehicle is on a public road and such activity is not prohibited by the relevant roads
authority.”

 

The public road is defined as follows:

 

(d) “public road” means: (i) a road or any part thereof which a roads authority has a duty to
maintain; (ii) a layby bounded partly by the outer edge of any such road; or (iii) any public
car park provided by or on behalf of a roads authority;

 

In November I asked Transport Scotland for a complete list of laybys which are part of the trunk road network within the Camping Management zones and received the following list before Xmas LL&T National Park Lay-Bys.    Unfortunately it is not in a user friendly format, containing eastings/northings rather than grid references and also listing a number of laybys outwith the Management zones but there are at least 20 laybys in the camping management zones where it will still be legal for campervans to stop off overnight.

 

The reasons for Transport Scotland’s unpreparedness is clear from a series of emails they kindly supplied me with under FOI.   They cannot be held accountable for things they simply did not know.  For example, in June 2016 Transport Scotland was having to ask the LLTNPA for the timetable for the byelaw implementation 6. Redacted – FW_ LLTNPA – offical laybys with National Park Boundary  while in October 2016 they had still not been told where the boundaries of the Management zones were 2. Redacted – RE_ A82 Lay-bys – incredible!   The LLTNPA appears incapable of working effectively with any of its supposed partners!   What the June emails show is that Carlo Emidio, the lead for infrastructure development  – who has since left the Park “by mutual agreement” – appears to have grasped the importance of Transport Scotland laybys being exempt from the byelaws because he was asking for a full list.     He had been handed a massive can of worms and I am not surprised he was unable to sort this out.

 

The importance of this is if it will still be quite legal still for people to stop off in Transport Scotland laybys to stay in vehicles overnight, drivers need to know where these laybys are.  The problem is that the LLTNPA has NO plans to signpost  laybys which are part of the road network and therefore exempt from the byelaws (see here) and as my FOI shows neither does Transport Scotland:

 

Whether Transport Scotland intends to place signage by any laybys/car parks within the camping management zones which are exempt from the byelaws and where Transport Scotland as Roads Authority has not prohibited over night stops explaining that people can sleep there overnight in their vehicles? 

We do not have any plans to place signage within any trunk road laybys.  However this may need to be looked at again following the aforementioned review.

 

Its a fundamental requirement of law that people need to know where they stand.  However in the Camping Management Zones there are no plans to signpost to drivers and campervaners to laybys which are exempt from the camping byelaws and where it will be legal to stop overnight and as a result everyone risks incurring  a £500 fine.  This is wrong.

 

The lack of certainty extends far further than Transport Scotland laybys however.   There are the laybys run by the other roads authorities, the three Councils which manage roads and parking areas within the proposed camping management zones.   There is also the question of road verges.  The legal definition of a road includes its verge which means anyone stopping off and sleeping in a vehicle overnight on a road verge should be exempt from the camping byelaws.  What counts as a road verge, and therefore part of the road network, however, is a complex legal question which is normally decided on a case by case basis.   So how will people who pull a few feet off the road to stop overnight know they are on the road network or not?  People simply won’t know.  This is wrong.

 

The only way the LLTNPA can fairly enforce the byelaws is if they put up signage along the whole of the road network indicating the extent of the road network (which they do not have the money to do and would cost a fortune) or, as on east Loch Lomond, the roads authority decided to create a clearway.     The response of anyone stopping off overnight in a vehicle in a camping management zone if confronted by a Park Ranger therefore should simply be to challenge them to prove that where they are stopped is NOT part of the roads network.  Transport Scotland has told me they do not have maps showing the exempt laybys and I am sure the Park won’t have this either.

 

Now, my guess is the LLTNPA, if they have realised the extent of these problems, are hoping that Transport Scotland will bring in new rules to prevent overnight stops in their laybys.  This however cannot be done quickly and requires consultation.   It should be resisted for safety reasons.  People on long drives or in poor weather  need to be able to stop off and sleep and there has to be provision for this – indeed that’s why we have laybys.  The trunk roads through the National Park camping management zones are totally different to the B-road from Balmaha to Rowardennan covered by a clearway.   The LLTNPA should have realised this long ago but instead has misled Scottish Ministers – that’s reason enough for Roseanna Cunningham to suspend implementation of the byelaws until this mess has been sorted out.

 

What the campervan/vehicle exemption also shows is that the byelaws should have been rejected on health and safety grounds.  The reasons the road network is exempt as I understand it is for basic safety reasons.  But if cars need to be able to stop off the road, overnight if necessary, why not also cyclists?   I have raised this issue with Transport Scotland.   Imagine you are travelling along the A82 in a storm, there is lots of spray and flooding.   If you are a car driver its quite legal for you to pull off the road and sleep until the storm is over and its safe to continue.  If you are a cyclist though (the argument also applies to canoeists and walkers) you have no vehicle to stop in.  It will therefore be illegal for you to stop and put up your tent though this would be the safe thing for you to do.  This is wrong and yet another reason for the Ministers to suspend the implementation of the byelaws.