Month: March 2017

Former bunkhouse at Balmaha transformed into a private residence for Wayne Gardner Young. Planning permission for change of use was applied for in 2011 but has still not been agreed.

The planning application for social housing at Balmaha on a site designated as Ancient Woodland raises some major issue (see here) which I hope to return to before it is considered by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Planning Committee.  Meantime, in order to understand the application, it needs to be considered within the wider context of land-use at Balmaha.

 

Since the National Park came into existence in 2002 Balmaha has been transformed into an upmarket tourist accommodation village rather than a place for people to live or, indeed, somewhere that people with less money in their pockets can stay.    This is happening because of planning decisions by the National Park.

 

The site of the former Highland Way hotel

Luxury Lodge in construction November 2016

The former Highland Way hotel, situated across the road from the Oak Tree Inn, closed in 2006 and a planning application for a Bar Restaurant and 13 holiday cottages on the east part of the site was approved in 2008.  The McKever Group, which owned it,  went into administration in 2009 but only, as far as I have been able to ascertain, after demolishing it  – leaving a wrecked site.  Wayne Gardner Young, the entrepreneur who moved into the former bunkhouse (top photo) and who had had grand plans with the LLTNPA for the West Riverside site in Balloch then acquired the eastern part of the site for a bargain price (see here).

 

In 2011 Wayne Gardner Young joined forces with Sandy Fraser, the owner of the Oak Tree Inn, who owned the land to the west of Balmaha House (where there is still a 14 place bunkhouse, the last place in the village providing basic accommodation).   Sandy Fraser had previously had a planning application for a shop and bunkhouse on the western part of the site approved but this had lapsed in 2009.   Together they submitted a planning application for a single development including 24 chalets covering both parts of the site in 2011.  This then stalled, although this did not stop Wayne Gardner Young from building foundations for a number of buildings and erecting a luxury lodge in 2014, all without planning permission being approved.

The very high specification storage shed – or as the LLTNPA described it Lodge No 15

 

 

Mr Gardner Young then applied for retrospective planning permission (2014/0238/DET) for this building – photo above – describing it as a storage shed. There is a good explanation of all of this in the report to Planning Committee in 2016:

 

 

 

In 2016 Sandy Fraser and Wayne Gardner Young submitted a revised application for the site, which included a restaurant, smokehouse and micro brewery and  20 Lodges, four less than the previous application.

The Buchanan Community Council objected, for a number of reasons, including:

 

Its worth reading the Committee Report (see here) to see just what convoluted arguments the LLTNPA used  to try and show that the development was in accordance with its development plan (pages 14-25).   None of the negotiations that took place with Wayne Gardner Young and Sandy Fraser are published on the planning portal so its only conjecture what happened but it appears that LLTNPA officers did try (they had got the development slightly reduced in size and also agreement to create a public path going through it) before recommending approval.

 

I won’t dwell here on the failure by the LLTNPA to take enforcement action in this case.  Development in Balmaha increasingly appears to be a free for all and a significant percentage of all planning applications appear to be made retrospectively (there is a fantastic project to be had on the history of planning in the village since the creation of the National Park).    The key point  in relation to housing and use of space in the village is that the development includes 20 new holiday lodges and just two flats for staff accommodation above the restaurant.  The Committee Report failed totally to consider whether these were sufficient for all the new staff required for the business and the LLTNPA made no requirements for residential accommodation to be provided on site.  There are parallels with the even bigger Torpedo site development at Arrochar which was supposed to create 300 jobs (see here) also without adequate provision for new accommodation for workers to live in the village.   The situation in Balmaha has been made worse because the LLTNPA  made it a condition of the planning approval that none of the 20 tourist lodges could be occupied permanently, in other words none could be used to house staff or people working in other businesses.   A great lesson in how to create an instant housing shortage.

 

The decision at the Highland Way Hotel site though simply worsens what was already a severe housing shortage, to which at least two other tourist accommodation developments have made significant contributions.

 

The Oak Tree Inn

The Oak Tree Inn, which is run by Sandy Fraser’s family, does not just provide accommodation in the Inn – certain modifications to which had planning permission agreed retrospectively in 2010 – it also provides accommodation in a number of houses on the south side of the B837 which is currently advertised at between £80 (for a single room) and £165 a night.

Info on Oak Tree Inn associated businesses and accommodation from their website

 

It appears this accommodation is in effect an adjunct to the Inn and, while I cannot find any planning applications that cover this, perhaps planning permission was not required?   Whatever the case, another section of the village appears devoted to the provision of luxury holiday accommodation.

 

Balmaha Waterfront

 

The third large existing tourist development in Balmaha is called the Waterfront and provides another 11 Holiday Lodges as well as a function centre (on what used to be a garden centre there).  Planning permission for this was agreed back in 2004 on condition that the site was concealed behind new woodland planting.   The owners have recently in 2017, having apparently failed to deliver the conditions of that planning permission (the site is highly visible from the road), applied to have it varied.

 

The cumulative impact of “luxury” tourist accommodation in Balmaha

 

As well as the three developments described above, the LLTNPA in 2011 approved the development of 19 holiday chalets behind the National Park Visitor Centre subject to a legal agreement.  Had this gone ahead it would have altered the proportion of tourist to residential accommodation even further.   Local objectors to the proposal to build social housing on the designated Ancient Woodland Site believe this should be used to provide the  social housing.   The site is, however, not on the market and strangely it did not appear in the Local Development Plan unlike the Ancient Woodland Site.  Its not clear therefore what plans, if any, exist for it.  A case for a community buyout perhaps?

As a consequence of all these tourist developments, none of which appear to have made adequate provision for the workforce which services them, there is a housing crisis in Balmaha.  The LLTNPA half acknowledged this this back in 2014 in its charrette report for Balmaha (see here) which informed the local development plan:

The community at Balmaha are concerned about development of holiday accommodation and do not want to see an imbalance created between local inhabitants and transient visitors. There are strong and active tourism based businesses in Balmaha, and there is a feeling that there is potential to manage existing visitor numbers better whilst improving the visitor experience and generating more local income

 

This acknowledgement did not stop the LLTNPA approving the Highland Way site development, creating further imbalance,  but by then they knew Forest Enterprise and the Stirling Rural Housing Association were riding to the rescue with the woodland site.    Because of the local housing shortage its not surprising that there has been strong support from people who work within the area that they should be provided with somewhere to live locally.   Its these people who appear to have turned up to the Buchanan Community Council meeting earlier this year and got them to agree to support the proposal to build social houses on the ancient woodland site.  One wonders, if they had been given a choice of site, whether they would have still supported the proposal currently on the table?

 

What appears to be happening in Balmaha in terms of spatial planning is that the provision of social housing is being shunted to the fringes of the village, rather than being integrated with tourist accommodation and other housing.  Maybe rich visitors and residents prefer most of the workforce to remain out of sight?   The Park’s decision making process however has also benefitted the new lairds pockets.  Instead of having to make provision for housing the workforce they need to service their developments on their own land, which would incur significant costs, the public sector is doing this for them.    Another case of the “taxpayer” subsidising business.  This happens in towns too of course but, in a small place like Balmaha, which is geographically isolated it becomes much more obvious.

 

Balmaha – a tale of developing social segregation and exclusion

 

What’s happening in Balmaha is not just about segregation of workforce and visitor, its about the type of visitor the village caters for too.   Balmaha is a prime stopping off point for walkers on the West Highland Way, the natural end point to the first day for fitter walkers setting out from Milngavie.  Yet it has no campsite, and despite all the flat ground, and representations to the LLTNPA, there are NO plans for one.  Bunkhouse accommodation is now minimal.  To make matters worse, the camping byelaws have been extended on east Loch Lomond, making it even harder to camp.  LLTNPA Rangers now, not surprisingly, spend much time chasing campers away from the village.

 

Meantime Sandy Fraser has been one of the most vocal public supporters of the camping byelaws on east Loch Lomond (see here).  In that interview he claimed campers intimidated other visitors when actually, most campers did nothing of the sort and those that did could have been moved on or charged by the police.   A few more may have left litter but how did that compare with the eyesore on the land he owned in the centre of the village?   One law for the lairds, another for everyone else.

 

 

 

The entrance to the site Sandy Fraser owns tells another tale.  Park Rangers walked past this for years – its clearly against the Scottish Outdoor Access Code – but they and their bosses did nothing.

I don’t know if the caravans in the upper photo are still there – they might have been removed once work started on the development – but if anyone was still staying in them, they could now be committing a criminal offence under the camping byelaws.   I am not sure Sandy Fraser or others in the local community appreciated this when they agreed to remove their opposition to the repeal of the existing Loch Lomond byelaws at their meeting in January:  the old byelaws had allowed locals to put up tents and sleep in vehicles within the curtilage of their buildings.  Still, the Park Chief Executive, Gordon Watson is recorded in the minute of that meeting as saying the new byelaws were better and it appears people believed him.

 

The new version of the byelaws makes sleeping overnight in a vehicle – and a caravan is classified as a vehicle as I understand it – in a camping management zone a criminal offence unless its on a road or is done by the landowner, their immediate family or a tenant with a lease of a year or more.   Landowners can no longer allow people to sleep in vehicles or put up tents in their own gardens.   The gate sign appears to indicate Sandy Fraser thought there was no public right of passage here (a private road is only classed as a road under the Road Traffic Act 1984 if there there is a public right of passage along it).  So, anyone apart from Sandy Fraser and his family, or a long term tenant, staying in a caravan on this development site would be committing a criminal offence unless they been granted an exemption by the National Park.

 

One good thing perhaps about the camping byelaws?  They could highlight which tourism accommodation providers are not housing their workforce properly.  (They should be checking every caravan in the Park that appears to be being used for housing purposes and forcing them to apply for exemptions).The likelihood of the LLTNPA ever enforcing this though appears small – the byelaws would probably collapse

 

The whole story of the Highland Way Hotel and other tourist accommodation sites in Balmaha shows how little power the LLTNPA has over the new lairds.  Or perhaps its the other way round?  It maybe shows how much power the new lairds have over the Park Authority.

By Ross MacBeath

Camping Forest Drive Zone B – 19th March 2017

Nothing more than Viewpoints pretending to be camping pitches.

 

This Forestry Commission map above details the path (green dots) through what is now Permit Zone ‘B’. It doesn’t refer to any camping locations, but hosts three viewpoints. With the lack of any other viable places to camp in the Lochan Reoidhte section of Forest Drive, it appears the  LLTNPA has effectively re-designated these viewpoints as the 3 camping pitches it claims to have created in this zone. In point of fact view point 2 is outside the permit zone, so if you camped there you would be risking a criminal record and £500 fine.

 

 

Camping Spot 1

 

Forest Drive Zone B - Viewpoint 1 Previous viewpoint compacted hardcore platform won't take tent pegs.
Hardcore standing  picnic area available for camping?

 

At first glance, Viewpoint 1 appears suitable as a camp pitch however it is an extension to the path, formed as a raised platform with the same compacted hardcore surface covered over with moss where tent pegs are unable to penetrate over most of the site.  Unable to stake out and secure the tent to the ground disqualifies this as a viable camping pitch.

Not family or group friendly

 

Though the largest of the 3 spots, an area this size can barely fit the footprint of a pop up tent or a self standing 2 man tent.  For an experienced wild camper (in the real sense) walking through the uncampable terrain round about, this pitch might be manna from heaven, but these pitches are supposed to meet the demand for camping out of cars and this site is not family or group friendly nor does it offer privacy or solitude.  This may be a reasonable picnic site with it’s fire ring and log seating seen as a welcome bonus, but its very poor for camping.

 

View to the North over the enormity of the roundabout at start of Forest Drive View South West spoiled by debris and forest cutting in the foreground.

 

Its the only pitch in Zone B with some views, but the one looking north takes in the enormity of forest drive and it’s huge roundabout and the other is spoiled by forestry operation waste wood.  While we have all grown to expect the Forestry Commission just to leave everything they cut down that has no monetary value, It would be reasonable to expect when they are charging access they should at least make an effort to clear the site of debris and even more so now it’s designated a paid for camping pitch..

Camping Spot 2, it’s illegal to camp here, it’s outside the permit zone.

 

Camping spot 2 and Camping spot 3 in reality are no more than the end of hard core paths which at onetime offered views over the surrounding area.  Now the forest has grown around them and there are no views to be had.   Camping here would be the equivalent of camping in a cupboard.  The two areas shown are at the end of the paths where they level out. They are both narrow and the second one too small to hold anything larger than a kids tent. Like viewpoint 1,  due to the hardcore path tents cannot be pegged out disqualifying both areas as suitable for camping.

This area is outside the permit zone and it is illegal t camp here. Viewpoint is just too small to take a tent, it's on hard core and has no views.

There seems to be some disconnect from reality in the minds of National Park staff who are selecting these permit zones.  It’s highly unlikely that anyone would visit this site and every consider camping here as it exhibits none of the desirable qualities that the National Parks website promotes as typical park camping areas, “Loch Side Views” and “Sunsets over Water”, “Grassy Knolls in Woodland Settings” and what we might expect here , “Mature Trees with expansive Leafy Forest Floors” between.

The Park Authority should know the requirements for recreational camping

 

Recreational Camping pitches by definition require space around them to allow human occupancy for cooking, relaxing and just playing around by the tent.  The LLTNPA terms and conditions state that a 5 x 5 metre area is the maximum a visitor can occupy having purchased a permit.  Yet on Forest Drive campers  are expected somehow to enjoy a wonderful recreational camping experience in something between 2 and 5 square metres.

 

The Park Authority needs to stop using the footprint of the tent as the sizing criteria for a recreational pitch – claiming that any small gap in the brambles or heather counts as a camping place – and take on board that 5 x 5 metres of usable ground is the minimum required.

The designation of “Camping (Permit) Zone” to this area is a fantasy

 

As with so many of the other camping permit zones created by the LLTNPA, the Greater Area of Zone B just does not have any places suitable for pitching a tent

 

The maps provided by LLTNPA  misrepresent the situation on the ground. They show what appears to be a forest location with an open grassy space or flat ground to the north and east of the tracks and a wider area at the start of the zone nearer the gate.This all gives the impression of choice for a would be visitor but in reality there is not.

 

So as elsewhere the scale of the camping provision is greatly exaggerated misleading visitors into the false impression they have the ability to choose a pitch anywhere within the boundary of the Zones.

 

The so called camping zone is on a hill side and the entire area between the Forest Drive up to the almost parallel track through the forest is a slope too steep or too rough for camping. This photograph of the quarry that is now a designated Motor Home pitch – is this a place you would want to stop off in a campervan? – give a good idea of the slope steepness.

Going north beyond the forest track the ground levels out a little however the entire area is the remains of a previously harvested forest that nature has reclaimed. The video gives a view of the real situation in the entire zone including the forested areas.

 

The areas to the side of the track are overgrown, rough in places and unsuitable for pitching tents with views only in a couple of places.   In any cases these paths are promoted for day visitors and while camping right by such a path offers the camper no privacy it also intrudes on the experience of the day visitor who is forced to walk right by the tent.   The LLTNPA has claimed that shore camping prevents day visitors from visiting the loch shores when actually there is space on the loch shores for all, unlike here.

The Permit Booking system refers to limited parking being available for the 3 camping places in Zone B or the two further places across the drive in Zone C.     Apart from the site for a campervan at the end of Zone B (photo above) there is nowhere else to park.  Moreover the Park’s terms and conditions state you must not park on the verge so it’s a bit of a mystery where, if 5 groups ever camped here, where they are going to park.

No new camping provision, no new facilities, price hike 250%

Before the Camping Byelaws it cost £2 to access Forest Drive and was free to camp in Zone B and C if you were determined to do so.  It now costs £5 pounds to camp from your car, two and a half times more for no added value. This is a ridiculous considering their are no facilities,  there are no viable pitches nor any choice of places to pitch a tent.  This is not an attractive location in National Park terms and does no even guarantee your right to park within the permit zones.

The Park Authority have failed to provide the requisite number of pitches in Zone B

 

The LLTNPA’s attempt to take control and manage access in the National Park is a disaster.  It’s difficult to categorise  Forest Drive as failure, as that would imply that some remedy was possible.  The LLTNPA clearly understands nothing about camping – its staff really need to get out and do it – and have made no effort to provide any positive experience for campers.   This is despite inviting people, some of whom will have never camped before, to camp here.
It has without doubt been a conscious decision, fully underwritten by the LLTNPA board, to create a customer facing web presence and a network of signs that misdirects visitors and con Government Ministers and other stakeholders into believing that 300 “new” camping places have been delivered.   Clearly, they have not.

 

All this is being done with slight of hand, using those age old propaganda devices maps,  pamphlets and press releases (fantastically designed – who would ever think they were a pile of mince?) to mask their continuing breaches of trading standards, advertising standards, even on occasion, health and safety standards.  How is this ethical and how does it meet the standards for services that the public has a right to expect?  Why is Forestry Commission Scotland going along with this?

Looking from An Camas Mor to Lairig Ghru – photo credit Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group

By Save the Cairngorms Campaign

In 2014, the CNPA gave planning approval for what is, in effect, a new town of 1500 houses in the National Park. The site on the east side of the River Spey opposite Aviemore, is owned by John Grant of Rothiemurchus and is land of high conservation and landscape value.  This development would double the population of Aviemore which is currently around 2800.

An Camas Mor from Craigellachie National Nature Reserve. Photo montage Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Outline of site from the Cairngorms National Park Authority Committee Report which led to the approval of the original planning application

The An Camas Mor proposal is nothing if not controversial. All the more reason you would think for the developers (An Camas Mor Limited Liability Partnership) behind the project to ensure that the planning conditions attached to the permission in principle (PIP) granted in March 2014 are complied with.

 

The very nature of the PIP is that it was subject to conditions requiring the applicant to submit various details for approval by the CNPA within three years of the permission. As only the principle of development is established by a PIP, the details requiring further approval are comprehensive and fundamental, dealing with issues such as phasing, layout, design, access, landscape and ecology.

 

Yet, three years after the PIP was granted, none of the details subject to the conditions have been approved. Only one such application was made to the CNPA but had to be withdrawn because it was so inadequate. As a result the PIP has now lapsed and can no longer be implemented because the further applications required by the conditions have not been made within the statutory time period.

 

The spokesperson for the An Camas Mor LLP claimed to have been working hard on the proposal yet the developer had submitted none of the detailed plans required until the very last moment before planning permission lapsed.

Time limits on planning permissions are imposed for good reason; to ensure that development is progressed promptly whilst the planning policies under which it was granted are still relevant. Permissions not implemented in good time lapse and are then incapable of being implemented. This is to prevent development from being started some years later when planning policy may have changed.

 

This is the case with An Camas Mor. The current Cairngorms National Park Local Development Plan was adopted in March 2015. The PIP was granted by reference to planning policies in the previous local plan that is now out of date and superseded.

 

Therefore, if the An Camas Mor development is to be pursued a new planning application for permission in principle will need to be made, and determined by CNPA in accordance with the up to date planning policies of the current local plan. At least that is what planning law, policy and common sense would suggest.

 

Instead, the developers are trying a more expedient route, known as a Section 42 Application, to vary one of the conditions of the PIP in an attempt to gain a new permission with new time limits. Even though this type of application should not be used to vary a permission that can no longer be implemented, and has a dubious legal basis in these circumstances, the CNPA has registered it as a valid application under reference 2017/0086/DET (see here).

 

What an impartial observer might find even more surprising is that this back door route to getting the developer out of a hole of its own making seems to be based on the advice of CNPA officers. Yet the condition of the PIP that the developer now seeks to remove via its Section 42 Application is perhaps the most fundamental of all; the condition that requires a full review of the impact of the first 630 dwellings before further development can commence.

 

This full review was deemed essential by CNPA officers and its planning committee at every stage of the lengthy consideration of the proposal, but the CNPA may now be about to abandon this critical check on a development that remains highly controversial and for which the developers have been unable to provide any details worthy of approval.

An Camus Mor is home to many interesting species including the Northern February Red Stonefly (Brachyptera putata) – UK Priority species, Nationally Notable species, Scottish Biodiversity List species (endemic UK species, i.e. not found elsewhere in the world so British populations are of international importance, with its stronghold in the Scottish Highlands)  Photo Credit Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group.

Due to its particularly sensitive location and likely impacts, the An Camas Mor new town was only granted planning permission in principle subject not only to the full review at an early stage but also regular monitoring and appropriate phasing thereafter. Perhaps even more fundamentally, such an apparently incongruous development only gained planning permission at all because it promised to be an exemplar of a new, sustainable and self-contained community that would provide appropriate housing, employment, services and amenity for local people. How else could a new town in Scotland’s flagship National Park possibly be considered, let alone justified?

 

If the developers cannot even ensure that timeous applications are made for detailed approval in accordance with conditions, what chance is there of any development ever taking shape as promised with the necessary environmental protection and enhancement?

 

The CNPA has a statutory duty to act as a planning authority in the public interest and to ensure that the An Camas Mor development either fulfils its promised objectives entirely or does not happen at all. That is why the CNPA imposed the conditions it did on the PIP and why it should stand by those conditions and reject any attempt to weaken them.

 

The Section 42 Application should be refused. The only option now for the developers, if they intend to proceed at all, is to submit a new application for permission in principle to be considered on its merits.

 

Representations on the Section 42 Application ( 2017/0086/DET), which can be viewed on the CNPA’s website, must be made by 13 April 2017. The PIP is also on the CNPA website under reference 09/0155/CP.

Pinewood Mason Bee (Osmia uncinata) – UK Priority species, UK Red List Vulnerable species, Scottish Biodiversity List species (a pinewood specialist which is restricted to northern Scotland within Britain) photo credit Tim Ransom, Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group

 https://www.flickr.com/photos/bscg/albums/72157625013635352

Addendum

The Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group has produced a photo album of the An Camas Mor site with over 4500 photos, mostly of stunning insect species.  It illustrates the fantastic animal life that is out there for people to enjoy and implicitly raises the question, should our National Parks really be developing new towns?   Highly recommended  (see here). 

Slide presented to Stakeholder Forum November 2016 – the clear priority for the Park is to enforce the byelaws, but how?

Back in November I submitted an FOI request to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority intended to enforce the proposed camping byelaws:

 

“all information relating to any intention to prosecute whether internal, discussions or communications with the police, procurator fiscal, Forestry commissioner anyone else who might be involved in enforcing the byelaws.”

 

The Park  refused my request (see here), stating that it  was too general but committed to producing an enforcement policy and, on 24th March, I received an email to say that it had been published  (see here).

 

What is the status of the Enforcement Policy?

 

The first thing to note about the Enforcement Policy is that it has not been considered or approved by any public meeting of the LLTNPA Board.  In my view its the National Park Board that should decide policy, not staff – though its possible the Enforcement Policy was considered at a secret Board Briefing session earlier this year.   This contrasts with the LLTNPA’s litter enforcement policy – which is referred to in this new policy – which was considered at a Board Meeting, in June 2016.   However, even in that case Board Members were only asked to NOTE the contents of the policy, not to APPROVE it:

 

This is yet another governance failure.   Can anyone in the LLTNPA explain why, when the Board was asked to endorse the approach to signage about the byelaws in December 2016,  they have not been asked to endorse or approve the enforcement policy?   It appears the main decision-making power left with the Board now is to approve financial expenditure and formal plans, all other decisions are left to staff.    This is wrong and way below the governance standards of local authorities.

So what does the Enforcement Policy tell us?

 

I had hoped the Enforcement Policy would say how the LLTNPA proposes to deal with certain situations which I believe make the byelaws all but unenforceable:

 

  • the thousands of visitors who will camp, light fires, put up shelters, try to sleep overnight in their campervans off a road who are completely unaware that they are committing a criminal offence
  • local residents, apart from the landowners and immediate family who are exempt from the provision, who put up tents and bivouacs  in gardens within the management zones or occupy a form of shelter overnight
  • people who know they are contravening the byelaws but do so for safety reasons (eg cycle and canoe tourers who stop because of exhaustion or bad weather)
  • and, on the definitions front, what activities relating to lighting of fires are seen by the LLTNPA as likely to cause damage?

 

The Enforcement Policy does not answer any of these questions.  Perhaps the answers are contained in the procedures referred to at the end of the policy (which I have now requested under FOI):

 

 

 

What the enforcement policy shows is the LLTNPA is sitting astride two horses which are about to gallop off in opposite directions.   The dilemma for the LLTNPA is they would really like everyone to just accept the byelaws, and not to have to refer anyone to the Procurator Fiscal, but at the same time as soon as it becomes known the Park is not enforcing the byelaws people will simply ignore them.   For this reason, while the Enforcement Policy says a number of sensible things about the need to engage visitors, it also states:
 
“the Park Authority will always reserve the right to proceed straight to legal sanction should the Park Authority consider that, in the circumstances, this is the most appropriate course of action.”
 
What are these circumstances?   The LLTNPA refuses to say.
 
The dilemma for the Park is illustrated by the action taken by David Lintern and friends,  which David covered in a fine piece on Walk Highland (see here) – essential reading for anyone who cares about access rights.    I fully support David’s deliberate testing of the camping byelaws – unjust laws are just that and deserve no respect – and no-one breaching the byelaws who is camping according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code should be prosecuted.   So, have the LLTNPA referred David to the Procurator Fiscal?    If they have, I predict a storm of protest.  The risk for the Park is that a very public prosecution of someone for challenging the byelaws will show up how unjust they are, treating  responsible camping without the Park’s permission as a more serious offence than dropping litter or using a mobile phone when driving.
 
If on the other hand the LLTNPA haven’t referred David to the PF,  its going to be very difficult for them to take action against anyone else who deliberately breaches the byelaws in future as a precedent has been set.
 
As the LLTNPA Enforcement Policy says:
 
 While the enforcement policy highlights the need for consistency, it says nothing about how this will work, i.e in what circumstances the LLTNPA will actually refer people to the PF.  Its just yet more parkspeak.    So, any camper who faces prosecution, should just ask the Park what has happened in similar cases.
 
The explanation for this lack of clarity is I believe contained in the policy:
The byelaws need our implicit consent to succeed.   What that means is the LLTNPA needs wild campers to know what areas are covered by the camping management zones and apply for permits in advance.  If the LLTNPA was clear about when it was going to try and criminalise people, it would be easy for people to get round the byelaws.  However, if people don’t respect the rules the Park is trying to create and don’t give their consent to them,  if people simply turn up and camp responsibly (whether inside or outside a management zone or permit area) what is the Park going to do?   Their enforcement policy can’t tell us but I am not sure there is that much they can do anyway.
 
A primary reason is most people won’t know about the byelaws.   The LLTNPA could put up more signs, spelling out what activities are banned, and then prosecute people who ignore these signs.   This may yet happen – there are indications that a second phase of signage is planned to add to that approved by the Board.
Sign from Secret Board Briefing session 19th September 2016. The no camping sign on right was not included in the suite of signs approved by the Board in October 2016.
The LLTNPA has however already spent  £100k on signs that tell the public very little and the cost of installing a no camping sign in every possible camping place along the loch shores is likely to be prohibitive.
Slide from secret Board Meeting September 2016.

 

The “Threshold” signs are those at the entrance to the management zones.  No wonder staff were not keen when Board Members suggested there should be signs telling people that they were leaving the camping management zone – that might have cost another £60k.  It appears that if the Park was to install small “no camping” signs it would cost £500 apiece – there must be at least 200 good places to camp outwith the camping permit areas so that’s another £100k.   Not good use of public money, but without signs it will be almost impossible to enforce the byelaws because most people won’t know and if referred to the PF can use this as a defence.  It won’t look good if a visitor stopping off to camp overnight in a car is prosecuted – in fact I suspect the PF will regard this as a waste of Court time.  The LLTNPA has ducked this issue, in fact its head is in the sand, about how it can ensure everyone stopping off knows about the camping byelaws.

No camping sign mock-up presented to Secret Board Meeting September 2016.    This glossy mock-up illustrates the Park is all about style, not substance.

The problems are illustrated by the proposed no camping signage which was never put to the public Board Meeting in October.   Imagine approaching this layby with a campervan.  The sign says nothing about sleeping overnight in campervans being a potential breach of the byelaws.   Its hard though to see how any sign could accurately convey the legal position.   Legally, roads are exempt from the provisions of the byelaws and the legal definition of a road includes its verge.  So,  if you pull off this road onto the flat verge between the two signs, or behind the one on the left, that’s quite legal.  However,  if you could drive the campervan down towards the loch shore, as soon as you left the verge if you slept in that position overnight that would be an offence.    The LLTNPA is never going to be able to convey that message by signage and the byelaws are as a consequence unenforceable for campervans.  Interestingly the enforcement policy says NOTHING about the different enforcement approaches Rangers might take depending on whether someone is camping, in a campervan or has put up a tent in the garden of a house they are renting.

 
The enforcement policy describes two general approaches to people breaching the byelaws, which it describes as the Preventative Approach and the Escalated Approach.  The first is mainly about informing people:
What’s interesting about this is that the Park classes the effect of negative behaviour on the environment as being the same as contravening the byelaws.  In fact the byelaws do almost nothing to tackle “negative behaviour” – that is a myth put out by the LLTNPA – as this is already fully covered by other laws. All the byelaws do is ban people who are camping responsibly.  The Park however wants to try and persuade responsible campers that by the very act of camping they are being irresponsible.  This won’t work.   It requires people to abandon all their critical faculties and specifically to accept that the LLTNPA is a better judge of where to camp than you are.   All the evidence shows the Park is totally incompetent to manage camping and nothing they say should be trusted (see here) or (here).
 
The second approach will be taken to people who breach the byelaws, whether inadvertently or deliberately:
The important words here is that the Park is in these cases going to try and stop people doing what they were doing.  So, if you inadvertently camp in a management zone, the Park Rangers are going first of all to ask you to leave – what they call a voluntary resolution of the breach.    It appears therefore that as long as a camper is generally co-operative with Rangers,  in other words agrees to move their tent or apply for a permit, there is little chance of them being referred by the Park for prosecution.
 
However, the enforcement policy does not cover what happens in specific circumstances, such as:
 
  • the camper is exhausted or ill or otherwise in a position which makes it unsafe to move
  • what happens if this is a repeat breach of the byelaws, in other words the person camped previously, agreed to move on, but has returned to camp on another occasion

The second point is crucial.  Under the byelaws the LLTNPA has the right to take the name and address of people breaching the byelaws.  It has not said what it will do with this information (this is something else which should have been decided by the Board), how long it will store it or whether it will record other information such as whether the camper has been informed about the nature and extent of the camping byelaws and the implications of breaking them again).    One way to find out if you provide this information is to submit a  Subject Access Request under Data Protection legislation to find out what information is being held about you.

(to be continued)

View over An Camus Mor, the site that Rothiemurchus estate wishes to develop into a 1500 place new town opposite Aviemore Photo Credit Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group

Chris Townsend’s post on Friday  on the destruction of trees at Loch an Eilein is well worth a read  (see here).    Chris highlights  the hyprocrisy of some of the people responsible for managing our natural environments, who on  the one hand lecture visitors about the damage they do  (which is  tiny in the scheme of things),  but then blithely ignore the extensive damage caused by land owners and managers.  The Rothiemurchus estate sign featured in his post is a classic:   after the swathe of destruction created by “foresters” chopping down trees, and destroying the ground cove,r the visitor is asked to stay on maintained paths to care for the area (contrary to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code) while the sign also claims, “If this area is not disturbed or trampled, heather and blaeberry will grow back and wildlife will move into this area”.   The clear message is visitors are a problem for wildlife but forest operations aren’t.

 

Rothiemurchus Estate, whose staff tried to stir up hatred against campers because of a fire which burned one granny pine (see here),  is now lopping down pine trees that have regenerated naturally.   One could also add that its the same Rothiemurchus Estate which is behind the An Camus Mor development (photo above) and is trying to circumvent the planning permission which recently lapsed (post coming soon).    The same double-think of course pervades the approach of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park which judges any impact associated with camping as unacceptable (and the reason why it needs to be banned) but ignores the far greater problems that pervade the National Park.   The Cairngorms National Park Authority by contrast appears to have had no say in what is happening at Loch an Eilein and indeed the estate refused to participate in the Glenmore Plan, leaving a gaping hole in that strategy.

 

So, why is the tree felling being allowed to happen at Loch an Eileen?

 

In April 2014 the Forestry Commission bought a great swathe of the Rothiemurchus Estate from John Grant joining up the publically owned land at Invereshie and Inshriach with the Glenmore Forest Park.

Map from FCS Rothiemurchus sale papers obtained by Rob Edwards by FOI

This was done without consultation and cost £7.4m, the largest single investment that Government has ever been made in our National Parks, although the main benefit appears to have been to the private landowner rather than to conservation or public enjoyment of the Park.  The shores around Loch an Eileen and where the tree felling has been taking place were however excluded from the sale.

 

Rothiemurchus receives ongoing public subsidy for managing the Rothiemurchus Estate so, after the sale of upper Rothiemurchus to FCS, a new Forest Plan was required to cover the remaining parts of the estate.  It was produced in 2016 (see here) and provides the framework under which woodland is managed on the estate.   It is this plan which has been used as the justification for the tree felling around Loch an Eilein    

 

This work will remove areas of trees to enable the forest to regenerate naturally, thin out the remainder to give them room to grow as well as removing some of the non-native species.  (https://rothiemurchus.net/wp-content/uploads/Tree-cutting-at-Loch-an-Eilein.pdf)
Comment  The trees here, as Chris pointed out in his post, had regenerated naturally – in fact the Forest Plan states that this natural regeneration took place after a large fire in the 1920s.   After the ground was burned, pine trees reseeded but then shaded out further new saplings – that has resulted in the even age of the pine trees, which result in pole forests of tall straight stemmed trees.  So, the foresters want to remove trees that have regenerated naturally to allow trees to……… regenerate naturally and give the remaining Scots Pine “room to grow” – or in other words to assume the look we would like them to have.
What this highlights is just how reluctant our public authorities are to allow natural processes to determine what happens in an area – natural processes might result in something that doesn’t fit with our ideas of what is natural.
Extract from Rothiemurchus Forest Plan – note the commitment to structural diversity and a “more even spread of age classes”.
In the case of the Caledonian Forest, the latest orthodoxy appears to be that naturally the Caledonian pine forest would have had diverse age structures – beautiful granny pines (and they are beautiful) surrounded by trees of varying ages.   The evidence at Rothiemurchus suggests otherwise but lets not allow that stop the “managers of the natural”, who intervene in order to create something which appears more natural.  In doing so they are blind to the destruction described by Chris Townsend.
Now I am not against woodland management in general – and indeed believe our National Parks should be demonstrating how to manage woodlands more sustainably.  Nor am I totally against the idea that because of its limited extent the Caledonian Forest, and species within it, are potentially vulnerable.   However, all but a small part of the Loch an Eileen forest felling is taking place within the Cairngorms Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation (the other side of the Loch, on the north west shore is not so protected).  The SAC is supposed to be the designation offering greatest protection to the Caledonian Forest.  The public interest question is whether our most protected areas should be managed areas, where humans intervene and cut short natural processes in order to secure certain defined objectives, or whether we should allow nature to take its own course – what I would regard as re-wilding?
An alternative means to ensure we have trees of varying ages is NOT to chop down existing ones but to expand the extent of the forest at its fringes through natural regeneration – but that would mean tackling intensive moorland management by private landowners, including Rothiemurchus, which elsewhere on the estate undertakes muirburn which of course prevents the Caledonian Forest expanding through natural regeneration.

The recreational perspective

 

Its time that the people responsible for managing “conservation” in our National Parks started to take far more account of the recreational perspective.   I believe Chris Townsend’s gut reaction, informed by knowledge of what is natural, was right – the destruction of natural woodland at Loch an Eilein within a protected area should not be allowed.  Instead of trying to improve what is there, why not celebrate it as an area where natural processes have predominated for almost a 100 years even if this has resulted in the “wrong-shaped” trees?

By Ross MacBeath
View from 1 of 3 existing pitches in Zone B. This overlooks roundabout at entrance to forest drive Zones B and C.
Entrance to Forest Drive Zones B and C

Forest Drive

In order to stop people from camping by the loch shores and to meet their commitment to Scottish Ministers to deliver 300 “new” camping pitches, the LLTNPA had to find somewhere else for people to camp – so they leaned on Forestry Commission Scotland to use their land and have “created” no less than 76 permit places (just four of which are for campervans) along Forest Drive north of Aberfoyle.   In the past, the camping here has been mainly by Loch Drunkie, which has a few places close to the loch side which are good for camping, and the south shore of Loch Achray.   I went to have a look at the “new” areas and this post focuses on “Zone C”  so readers can understand the implications of what the LLTNPA is doing to campers.

Forest Drive Camping Zone C

The National Parks new maps of Zone ‘C’ indicate large expanses of open ground in a woodland locations with what looks like ample opportunity to choose a camping place by the waters edge or in among the trees.

 

Arriving just after 4 PM I  found locked gates, a now common occurrence in part of a park wide policy of denying access to visitors outside office hours.  Worse, it seems the code for exit is only granted if payment has been made through their permit booking system, effectively making access to our National Park on a pay as you go basis. Information on the Three Lochs Forest Drive page  states that “The drive is open to vehicles from Easter to October, daily from 9am”  The byelaws however started on of 1st March so this means there is a denial of access to 72 camping and 4 motorhome places until the 16th of April this year. Surely not!   Or maybe the LLTNPA just  need more time to get some camping provision in place at Forest Drive.

 

Access to Forest Drive and other gated facilities is in disarray

 

The Three Lochs Forest Drive page tells us access will be available until 4 pm and the exit gate locked at 5 pm after which a code is required to exit.  Other locations have different opening and closing times and the T&Cs for Loch Chon contradicts itself.  Confusion reigns and the National Park and Forestry Commission need to get their act together because at the moment it is the visiting public that is suffering through wasted journeys and uncertainties.  It is unacceptable to lock out visitors after encouraging them them  to drive for an hour and a half gain access to forest drive only to be turned away by a locked gate. Quite clearly visitors are being excluded from this area of the National Park at a time when access is most desirable, in the evening after work or as in this case, Sunday afternoon.

 

Camping Zone C

A Camping Zone without camping pitches

Camping Zone C is a short distance along a wider than expected compacted hard core road, not what the the term “Forest Drive” conjures up, more of a  superhighway.  The vista beyond the boundary sign, though beautiful, was clearly not the camping ground expected. The description on the LLTNPA  booking site warns of some “uneven terrain in places” but nothing like this.  In point of fact the entire zone is uneven in the extreme, except for a path that’s not indicated on their map. It’s is not an area one would choose to enter or cross if it could be avoided never mind to search out and use a camping pitch. A clear case of false advertising and  LLTNPA will find themselves challenged legally about this and many similar misrepresentations that comprise their  so called “camping provision”.

 

North West corner of permit zone 'C' with first perimeter post back right.
First view of Camping Zone C – a shocking place to camp

This entire zone is unsuitable for recreational camping

 

Not seeing anything that resembles a camping place from the road, I walked around the perimeter marked out by a line of yellow topped wooden posts.  This gives a view from the perimeter in to the Camping Zone and I hoped I would be able to identify potential camping places along the way. You can view progress by clicking on the grid below and scroll/ click through the gallery to view each image in turn.

.

Zone C view from North perimeter towards loch View from First perimeter marker pole towards South East View west to secon perimeter post View to centre of Zone C sowing nature of wooded area. Looing back to post 2 showing density of wooded are on north perimeter View west to the west end of loch South westerly boundary post, view alomg loch side toward east Loch shore line prone to flooding. Continuation of shore line towards the east showing slope and rough gound. Shoreline further towards east, very rough and slope down to lochside First sight of Pitch 1 from perimeter walk round Boggy area to the west of Pitch 1 Boggy area to the west of pitch 1, showing water depth.

No natural pitches and the two created are not suitable as they stand

 

In the absence of any natural pitches big enough to take a tent, the National Park Authority have been forced into a botched attempt to create them to meet their requirements to deliver at least two pitches in permit zone C. Form a visitor perspective, you would expect to have a choice of at least 6 to 10 prime locations in a zone of this size

The two pitches are concentrated is a small area beside the path and it's true extents are shown in green.
Camping Zone C showing location of two pitches in green

The National Park Authorities Camping Permit Conditions state:

  • “Avoid pitching your tent on ground that is already trampled or has dying vegetation cover. Pitch on durable surfaces, such as gravel, and grasses.
  • Choose a safe place to pitch your tent.  Your choice of where to pitch your tent is at your own risk.”

Zone C – camping pitch 1

 

Pitch 1 is a semi natural pitch on at a loch side location. The pitch is bounded by the loch to the south, a bog to the west and a slope to all other aspects.  The area is constrained and was too small for a tent.

A small loch side area on a gentle slope, has been enlarged by cutting back heather to accomodate small tent with hazards.

Ground work in the form of cutting away a heather patch has been required to increase the area to allow pitching a small tent.  The works have been botched insofar as they have not removed the heather roots so regrowth will occur this season but more importantly, in cutting back the heather, the Park Authority have left sharp heather stalks which will hole any tent floor pitched upon it, not to mention the possibility of stabbing injuries to humans. The site slopes to the loch and is waterlogged.

Sharp spikes left after heather cut back to enlarge pitch - puncture hazard Heather spikes causing hazard

The water level is 2 inches below the camping surface making it wet and the shore line is soft and in danger of collapsing under human loads at the edge.  The loch is deep at this location and this poses a threat especially to children. The lack of level space to manoeuvre around any camping pitch is a issue.  This pitch is just not suitable for recreational camping except perhaps for the smallest of tents in dry weather and if  ground cover issues were resolved.  However this camping pitch breaches advice in the Camping Permit Conditions insofar as it does not constitute a safe area to camp.

Zone C – Camping pitch 2

 

It’s hard to understand who would believe the mere strimming of an area in this location would result in a serviceable camping pitch.  The Park Authority have chosen an area beside the existing path down towards the loch shore view point just off the main track.

Branch off path to pitch 2

They have cut a the heather back to form line through the dense vegetation which its easy to walk past.  It is not a path with a hard surface nor is it a typical worn path only a gap in the vegetation, it’s highlighted above with flash.

Pitch 2 - Heather cut back leaving 4 - 6 inch spikes in the middle of pitch

On reaching the end in this short ‘path’ there is a second area that has been trimmed back to reduce the height of vegetation in the mass of moss, heather and thick grasses that blanket the zone. It remains 6 – 8 inches thick and is not a suitable surface for pitching a tent and securing tent pegs to the ground is problematic. As before, the cut heather stalks have been left 4 to 6 inches long which would cause injury to any person and tent using this site.  The site is small and there is nowhere to erect a seat , use a stove  or lie down to relax.

Heather spikes pitch 2 Thick vegetation covering on pitch 2 - unsuitable for pitching tent or recreational camping

Cooking, even with a stove would pose a real fire risk and without firm ground as as stated in their own Camping Permit Conditions, recreational camping cannot take place.

Tick and Midge Haven

The nature of the vegetation cover interspaced with standing water makes this Zone an ideal breading ground for midges and ticks, the dense vegetation provides an insulated layer at root level that allows insect eggs, larvae, pupae, nymphs, or adults to overwinter in all but the severest conditions thus guaranteeing large insect populations in the summer months.  Not a place you would want to spend time.

Spectacularly failed, even when doing nothing.

 

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority and their board are responsible for misleading the public and other agencies on a massive scale.  It is clear they have failed to provide equivalent camping pitches for those camping out of cars.  The very campers they have banned from all their management zones. Its hard to imagine camping of any type being viable anywhere in Zone C.

 

Besides double counting existing pitches as new provision (Loch Lubnaig and Sallochy to meet their target of 300 new places) the LLTNPA are trying to muddy the waters by renaming out of car camping style as a wild camping experience both at Loch Chon and elsewhere.  They are doing this so they can justify the poor provision at Loch Chon, their failure to provide new facilities and for doing absolutely nothing to ensure there are viable places to camp in the locations they have decided to allow camping by permit.    We can see this from the images for zone C and the many other camping zones that are devoid of any places which it is feasible let alone good to camp.

 

It’s time for the Scottish Government to scrap these byelaws, the LLTNPA have spectacularly failed to meet their commitments and are not competent to manage camping.

By Phil Swainson

General view of Badaguish (taken 17/3/17). You can see mounds of material, left background, sitting on the new, additional car park given retrospective planning permission. The still unplanted area in the foreground was meant to have been planted with trees a year ago.

As stated at the end of my last post on Badaguish in Glenmore (see here), Speyside Trust has made yet another planning application, this time to convert a toilet block into a site base for staff.  Like many previous applications, it is full of false or misleading statements, and as pointed out in my previous post, a very basic mistake.

 

 

But first we must ask why the Cairngorms National Park Planning Authority has not called this application in.  In their response to Highland Council they state:

 

“The decision of the Cairngorms National Park Authority is that the above planning application does not raise any planning issues of general significance to the park aims and as such No Call-in is necessary in this case.”

At the same time the CNPA has called in the planning application to extend the temporary planning permission for ten wigwams for another three years and this is being considered by the Planning Committee on Friday  (see here).

 

The proposed toilet conversion is in fact part of a major development of a six hectare site which goes against all previous local plans.

Because Badaguish  is close to the Special Protection Area for birds, one of the concerns about increasing numbers of people is potential disturbance to capercaillie and Badaguish has been required to put in arrangements to manage access as a condition of previous planning consents. This sign went up long after required by planning conditions and is not helpfully situated – few people are likely to walk through the clear fell.

If agreed the toilet conversion would become a permanent residence in an area with a presumption against such a building. I feel we can see the decision not to call in this application as an abdication of responsibility on the part of the CNPA.  So nothing new then.

The press cutting says it all.  In their supporting statement Badaguish says that the Care Inspectorate:

 

“have advised that an additional resident on-site Warden is now an essential requirement to ensure 24 hour cover to support visitors to the centre.”

I  e-mailed the Care Inspectorate asking if they had, and the response was:

 

“Thank you for your email. I have queried this with relevant colleagues who have advised that no such recommendation was made to the service from the Care Inspectorate.”

 

One has to ask if the Care Inspectorate or any of our public authorities will take this up with the Speyside Trust?

 

In the past when commenting on the Speyside Trust and its planning and funding applications I have used phrases such as “misleading”, “untruthful” or “inaccurate” as descriptors of claims made by the Speyside Trust.    On this occasion, it goes further than that.  Highland Council, as planning authority should take note and reject the proposal.  What a precedent it would set if Highland Council agreed a planning application which is based on what appears to be a lie?

 

The basic problem at Badaguish is that the planning authorities and the public cannot rely on any of  the information provided by Speyside Trust without external verification and the development of the site has been  based on fundamentally unsound foundations.

 

Under access rights, Badaguish has no more right to tell people to keep off mountain bike courses than they would a golf course.   The land though is still to the best of my knowledge owned by the Forestry Commission and therefore not private.

By Ross MacBeath

 

For the last year parkswatch has been covering the development of the con at Loch Chon, the campsite the Loch Lomond and Trossachs LTNPA has created in a place few people go, in order to meet its promise to the Scottish Government to provide new camping facilties in the National Park (see here), (here)(here) and (here) for example.  So, what is the truth in the LLTNPA’s claim that this unwanted campsite was up and running on 1st March?

Toilet flushing and the lack thereof.

Sunday 19th March 2017: there was still no water to the toilet blocks even after the recent assurances by the National Park in the press and at their 13th of March Board meeting.

Click image to view video!

The Park’s claim that the campsite is fully operational is no more than a blatant attempt to hide the facts and misdirect ministers overseeing the terms for implementation of the Byelaws.  The Park Authority claim a contingency is in place, which I believe means the Park Rangers may have to manually flush with a bucket of water before they leave at 5 pm.  In any case all of the toilet cisterns were empty and two of the toilets had been fouled.  Human excrement will collect overnight in the toilet bowls, a disgusting sight and health risk to bedraggled visitors to this site.  The lack of hand washing within the toilet block forces visitors to use the drinking water taps providing cross contamination and a further risk to public health.

 

The National Park Authority claims there has only been an interruption in water for a few days is untrue.  This is the 3rd consecutive week of on site checks that show no water at all on the 5th and 12th March, and then on the 19th March there was drinking water from the outside taps but still no toilets or wash hand basins. It is time the Authority took care of it’s responsibilities to public health and closed this site until these issues are remedied.  The contrast between the Park’s attitude at Milarrochy, where it is closing the slipway allegedly for health and safety reasons and this campsite is striking.

 

Camping Pitches

 

No additional works have been carried out on pitches apart from a trimming to pitch one where the grasses have been shortened and a central stake removed. This has made no material difference to it’s serviceability as a camping pitch and around 22 remain unsuitable.

 

Disabled camping pitches are a disgrace

 

The National Parks recent statement that disabled facilities within the park are to be a focus of future developments fail at the first hurdle. Printing a blue sign on the map does not make a camping pitch suitable for disabled use. There are two designated pitches and both fail to come up to basic standards. They have been selected for their proximity to parking and toilet facilities and are positioned on a level area of the site and in that respect they comply with requirements providing the rise of the path can be negotiated by wheelchairs.

Click image to view video! – Disabled Pitch 8

Disabled Pitch 8 is sited on a natural water course which tends to flood in wet weather.  This leaves a portion of the pitch in standing water, and the remainder, though level and relatively even, is a former briar patch with brambles covering the site andwith evidence of bracken having been cut back to the ground surface without removing the roots.

 

Further down towards the Loch is Disabled pitch 9. This is a drier area and ground cover is formed by tussock grasses giving an uneven pitch surface, though not the worst example, it is unsuitable for pitching a tent especially at £ 7.00 per night.

Pitch 9 – Disabled Pitch

Visitor lock outs and lock ins.

 

The gates to the Loch Chon campsite are being locked on a daily basis in what has become standard practice and denies access by visitors to campsites and many camping zones. The on site ranger explained this now happens at 5PM not the 4 PM we experienced on the 12th of March.  The ranger went on to explain that toilets would remain locked if there were no Loch Chon Gates Closed no access for drop in campsers.campsite bookings.  I expect it also follows if there are no campsite bookings, the Park Authority will  fail to honour it’s commitment to the Strathard Community to provide staff at the site 7 days a week well into the evening. Leaving day visitors and others to their own devices.

 

This is all very confusing, and makes a mockery of  the Park’s own terns and conditions for using campsites and permits, which clearly state that access to the campsites and camping zones will be available until 6 pm. How they ever expect someone to leave work at 5pm on a Friday and arrive before their Rangers lock up at 6pm will remain a mystery to all but the fools who write their terms and conditions.  The whole policy is in disarray, sites close at different times, Forest Drive gates close a 4 PM, campsites at 4 pm, 5pm or 6 pm.   No one appears to be managing this but what is clear, it will be visitors who are out of pocket making wasted journeys and not getting access.

 

It is clear the National Park Authority are opening and closing campsites and camping zones to suit staffing availability and not the needs of the visiting public.  .

See Full Terms and Conditions here.

 

Terms and Conditions – unable to comply

 

Due to the fact the Park Authority has not provided the necessary facilities on site it is impossible at present for visitors to comply with their terms and conditions.   The Park insist, on penalty of a £200 fine, that litter, refuse and dog poo is deposited in the bins provided.  The bin area is still housing a Diesel Generator – quite why when they destroyed the ecology of the hillside opposite running a mains cable up to a a transformer on the grid system is not clear – but there has not been a bin in sight on my visits.
Having failed to provide the services advertised, toilets and proper camping pitches, the Park’s terms and conditions state the Park has no liability whatsoever for the state of the site and will only offer a refund if you can prove their negligence or responsibility for your loss. If you are considering pitching a tent on the pitches at Loch Chon, you have a high possibility of puncturing the ground sheet because of the state of the ground vegetation in the pitches provided, and it appears that the Park is trying to avoid having to pay compensation while at the same time threatening to fine people £500 if they camp off pitch.

How could this standard of construction and restoration be allowed in a National Park? Aggregate and tarmac dumped in foreground and there has been no attempt to restore vegetation to slopes in background (see Beauly Denny below)

Planning powers are the most important tool our National Park Authorities have to achieve their four statutory aims, conservation and enjoyment of the countryside and sustainable use of resources and development.   How they are used is crucial to the success of our National Parks and parkswatch has covered a number of planning failures and areas of concern.

 

While both our National Parks are required to have planning committees,  how they operate is very different.   The Cairngorms National Park planning committee comprises all Board Members but that in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park comprises a sub-group of Board Members (now increased to eleven).    Its in the agendas and papers for planning meetings that you see major differences:  the CNPA meetings tend to have quite lengthy agendas and papers, the LLTNPA much shorter ones.  It appears that in the LLTNPA far more decision making is delegated to staff and therefore takes place behind closed doors.  In the CNPA Board Members are far more involved – a good thing in terms of democracy – and how decisions are made is far more transparent (which is not to say it could not be improved e.g through following the Highland Council example of broadcasting all Planning Committee Meetings).

 

The CNPA’s more open approach is reflected in the papers for its planning meeting on Friday.

 

Response to People, Places and Planning

 

An illustration of the  difference in approach can be seen in the two National Park’s responses to the current Scottish Government consultation on “People, Places and Planning” which will be considered by their Committees in the next week.     The CNPA has presented a full response to Board Members to consider , the LLTNPA has reserved the response to what it describes as the “technical questions” to staff.

 

More significantly there are some welcome signs that staff in the CNPA have taken on board some of the criticisms levelled at them in terms of how the planning system operates.   So, they have raised the question of hill tracks:

 

“We also consider that the review should consider whether some development that can
be undertaken through prior notification or approval as agricultural and private roads
and ways should simply require planning permission. Many tracks on open moorland
and hills have some link to an agricultural purpose, even where the primary use is for
sporting activities. These tracks can be contentious, but the public may never know of
their approval nor have an opportunity to make representation on them. We suggest
that new tracks on open ground that are not in enclosed farmland should simply require
planning permission, irrespective of the purpose of the track.”

 

The response may be a bit wishy washy – there is plenty of evidence about the proliferation of hill tracks in the National Park – but here at last is a National Park giving a bit of a lead, saying that hill tracks should be removed from permitted development rights.  Absolutely!     What a difference to the LLTNPA who delegated powers to take decisions on hill tracks in Glen Falloch to staff (see here) with the consequent wrecking of the landscape in that glen.

 

The CNPA has also strongly supported increased enforcement and given examples – most welcome:

 

14. Should enforcement powers be strengthened by increasing penalties for noncompliance
with enforcement action?

Yes.
We also support an increase in planning fees for retrospective planning applications.
The CNPA has considered a number of retrospective planning applications as a result of
planning enforcement at relatively high profile locations including Cairngorm Mountain
and Badaguish. For some operators, a financial disincentive would help focus their
actions. It would also help resource the work that a planning authority does in
enforcement time and advice that leads to the retrospective application.

 

The LLTNPA response by contrast is typically disingenuous:
Enforcement is also flagged as an area where public confidence is low. An independent study commissioned by the Scottish Government in this area (Planning Enforcement in Scotland: research into the use of existing powers, barriers and scope for improvement, Dec 16) concluded that mistrust of the system is a problem. The study acknowledges that so much of the work currently undertaken to resolve breaches of planning control is undertaken through flexible, informal means – by co-operation and agreement – rather than punitive action and, as a consequence, the influence of the system can be challenging to record and report upon. These conclusions are consistent with the National Park experience. We are confident that our approach to enforcement is effective in the vast majority of cases but, by virtue of seeking to resolve informally (with formal action or prosecution always as a last resort), there are challenges in capturing the effectiveness of the system. This experience will be shared in the National Park response to the consultation and a review of the options to strengthen the tools at our disposal is supported.
It will be very interesting to see if the full LLTNPA response to the review (which will be obtained through FOI if necessary) comments on:
  • the near universal failure of hydro schemes in the National Park to abide by the LLTNPA’s best practice guidance (just look out for those Lomond blue pipes)
The LLTNPA’s guidance on renewables states that all pipes, where exposed, should match the natural colours of the landscape – this has clearly not been applied in Glen Falloch
  • the LLTNPA’s decision in response to my FOI on the Ardchullarie hydro scheme (see here)to remove all information on this scheme post-decision from the planning website – making it impossible for the public to know what the National Park is doing to enforce planning conditions

 

The Beauly Denny scheme

One of few examples at Drumochter where there is evidence of soils (in this case, peat, right foreground) being restored although the restoration is only partial

It was also welcome to see among the CNPA papers an update on the restoration of the ground affected by the construction of the Beauly Denny powerline and a commitment to report on this annually for the next four years Item10AABeaulyDennyupdate.     While its very positive that the CNPA are monitoring the vegetation regrowth, the fundamental issue is that if the work had been done properly, there would be no need to do this.  The problem is that the peat and surface vegetation was never removed and stored properly, the contractors have then mixed glacial materials with soils and changed the nature of the ground with the consequence that natural regeneration is likely to result different plant species suited to the new soils.

 

It was interesting to read that:

 

“One of the conditions of the consent provided a specific role for the CNPA as a member of an environmental liaison group. The group’s purpose was to provide advice on appropriate mitigation and construction procedures and associated restoration and habitat management measures. The other members of the group were the planning authorities, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), Historic Scotland and Forestry Commission.”

 

The basic problem for the CNPA (which has also been a problem for the LLTNPA in many of its hydro developments)  is that the appropriate construction procedures were not followed.   The lesson surely is that monitoring of construction conditions should not be left to an Ecological Clerk of Works employed by the contractor – who because their job depends on the contractor cannot speak out – but by someone who is engaged directly by the National Park.

 

Planning Service Improvements

 

The CNPA also includes a paper on planning service improvements over the next year Item9AAPlanningServicePriorities2017-18 which is fairly open about human resource issues which have impacted on the service and also that there are improvements they need to make (a contrast to the LLTNPA which can never admit to any mistake)

 

The last point about this is about enforcement:

 

Review the way we report monitoring and enforcement activity in public (to improve public understanding of the system, awareness of consented developments and of the prioritisation of cases.)

 

In my view, this misses the most important point.  The core problem is NOT members of the public failing to understand the system (something which is also promulgated by the LLTNPA – see above) –  its that the CNPA has not been taking enforcement action where its needed.    I know there are resource issues for all public authoriies but the point surely is that once landowners appreciate that our National Parks are no longer prepared to accept “crap” and are willing to take enforcement action, whatever the cost to the developer, the problems will stop and that will actually save CNPA staff lots of time spent uselessly try to persuade people to co-operate voluntarily.   The biggest improvement the CNPA planning service needs to make in the next year is to establish its own moral authority.

 

Anything though the CNPA can do to make their actions more transparent would be welcome (a basic step would be to include all minutes of meetings and correspondence with developers on the planning portal) and might help make landowners and developers realise the CNPA is serious and committed to ensure the Park’s statutory objectives are met.

 

 

Part of torpedo range dump, Ben Lomond far distance

Thanks to reader Fiona Mackinnon who sent me this link about crackdown on fly tipping at the former  torpedo range on Loch Long by Arrochar (see here).   While I welcome this belated attempt to tackle rubbish in the National Park (the torpedo site has been used as an unofficial dump for years) – a far greater problem, incidentally, than has ever been caused by campers – the way this is being done appears wrong and it will not deal with the real problem, the derelict site.

 

In August 2016, following the June Board Meeting where Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park staff told Board Members that the new Fixed Penalty Notices for litter could not be used to tackle flytipping, but that other powers were available to do this, an amenity notice was served on the owners of the former torpedo site (see here).  This gave the owners, Clydebank Developments Ltd, 4 weeks to remove all the flytipping, level the piles of rubble on the site (but NOT the ruined buildings) and implement a road closure to the standard required by Argyll and Bute Council.  The required actions do not appear to have taken place within the required timescales.

Torpedo range road, a public road, which had now been blocked off to vehicles.

 

I was not aware of this road closure when I suggested in a post that the torpedo range road was one of the places in the National Park camping management zones where people could legally stop off and sleep overnight in campervans (see here).    However, I can find nothing on the Argyll and Bute website (see here) to indicate that, as Roads Authority, they have agreed this a road closure  although, back in 2013, they did agree for temporary traffic restrictions on the road  to enable the proposed development of the site to take place (see here).  It appears therefore that the road closure may be unlawful.

Much of the fly tipping on the site is likely to have been done by local people a consequence of the charges imposed by Argyll and Bute Council for bulk uplifts of domestic waste (£59.70 for ten minutes collection)

I have not re-visited the site since the gates went up to see if the flytipping has in fact been removed and the piles of rubble levelled.

 

Even if the Amenity Order is properly implemented, the site will remain strewn with materials from the demolition that has taken place and the upright buildings will remain.   The torpedo range closed in 1986  (for an excellent history compiled by the Ardlui, Arrochar and Tearbert Heritage Group (see here)).   Demolition on the site, which included housing for the workforce, did not start until over 20 years later in 2007 but soon after it commenced a major fire occurred and site clearance never re-started.  The site has been a dump and eyesore ever since.

 

The major responsibility for this planning blight lies with the Royal Navy which operated the site.   Instead of restoring the site once the torpedo testing stopped, it abandoned it and then eventually sold it to a private developer.   I cannot find the date for this but in effect this handed over the responsibility for the site clearance from the Government to private business.   The Royal Navy that spends £billions on weapons, was not prepared to find the relatively small sums needed to restore this site – what does this say about how much it cares about the environment?

 

This failure by the state to restore the land itself but instead transfer it to the private sector to do so, in my view inevitably resulted in a large-scale development proposal.   It was the only way to pay for the clear-up of the derelict site.  The National Park was basically handed a big bomb:  either agree the development or accept responsibility for the site being blighted for evermore.   There are strong parallels with the situation at Balloch where Scottish Enterprise, having owned the Riverside site for many years, expect Flamingo Land to restore any polluted land there as part of the development of the site and the LLTNPA has gone along with this.    Anyway, back in 2013 the LLTNPA  granted planning permission for a 130 bed hotel, 36 holiday lets, 16 houses and a chandlery.  This was only part of the development.  The other part, which was the responsibility of Marine Scotland to approve, was for a 245 place marina.

The site plan which was granted planning permission

 

Work was due to have started three years ago but never did and the planning permission lapsed last year.   This did not prevent the LLTNPA including the site once again in its Development Plan, which was approved last year,  as a major tourist development (V.E1).

This was a major opportunity to undertake a re-think for the whole site and to consider a use which would be appropriate for a National Park – an opportunity missed.

 

The original site proposal approved by the LLTNPA illustrates to me what is going wrong in the National Park:

 

  • The idea that large-scale private business investment will be the saviour of places and people.  Once again its failed to deliver.
  • The focus on the luxury market – the 130 bed hotel was seen as being the core attraction – no doubt linked to the yachting community who tend to have lots of money – rather than the people who actually enjoy the area at present.
  • The failure to consider the housing implications of job creation.   The Developers promised 300 new jobs in all, 260 on site, but no consideration was given to where all these people would live.   House prices in Arrochar are expensive and opportunities to rent almost non-existent.  Most of the workforce therefore would probably have had to commute in from Balloch, or further afield, spending a significant proportion of their low wages (and of their lives) on travel to work.   If there was a case for this development, there needed to be a plan to house the workforce:  instead, a requirement of the LLTNPA’s planning approval was that the holiday accommodation on site could not be turned into permanent accommodation
  • The 500 car parking places and heliport which tells a story about unsustainable travel.

 

The development proposal was all about money (from saving the Royal Navy from picking up the restoration tab to someone becoming rich).  It appears to me to have been parachuted onto the shore of Loch Long Arrochar without any consideration of the people who live there (how many would work in the development if it had taken place?),  the people who now visit and most importantly the place – and as a place it it should be very special, for the thousands who live within the Clyde conurbation and who enjoy the wonderful combination of hill and loch, as well as for visitors from further afield.

View from the Cobbler to Clyde Estuary November 20

 

 

The problem at present is that, despite good work on hill paths, the potential of Arrochar is not being realised:

 

  • basic tourist facilities, suited to the people who visit at present, are almost non-existent.  The consequence is the local community gets very little benefit from the hundreds of people who go hill walking in Arrochar
  • the creation of a camping management zone and the conversion of the campsite at Ardgarten into luxury holiday lodges epitomises this.   If people cannot stay locally, they won’t spend money, and its the campers who will visit pubs and cafes.
  • there are obvious opportunities to make more of the nearby public transport links, so people could hill walk or come camping, after taking the train or bus to Tarbert……………..
  • there is still far too much plantation forestry, which makes for a poor walking experience on low ground, and has had an adverse impact on wildlife
  • the place has an interesting history – as the torpedo range illustrates – so why not make something of this?

 

What should the LLTNPA do?

 

Its time the LLTNPA should develop a new vision for Arrochar, that should be fitting for a National Park and built around public investment in the area:

  • So why not compulsorily purchase the old torpedo range and call on the Royal Navy to do the right thing and restore the land it has blighted?
  • A community development trust could then provide a much needed campsite and some basic holiday accommodation (eg wigwams) on the site as well as transport links from Tarbert.
  • The proposal, in the original plans, for a path linking the site to Arrochar should be retained
  • Forest Enterprise should be called on to take out the conifer forests as it is doing on the east shore of Loch Lomond with a view to enabling native woodland (atlantic oakwoods) to develop
The lower part of the track on Carn Leth Choin (foreground and upper right)  which Highland Council treated as a permitted development not requiring planning permission

Following my post questioning what the Cairngorms National Park Authority was doing about the unlawful hill track leading onto Carn Leth Choin in upper Glen Banchor, west of Newtonmore (see here), I wrote to the Cairngorms National Park Authority.  On 8th March (I have been in Norway in-between) I received this response from Murray Ferguson:

 

“Concerns about the track at Carn Leth Choin, Cluny Estate were brought to CNPA’s attention in 2014 and the CNPA raised the issue with Highland Council and Scottish Natural Heritage who had both been involved at earlier stages. Highland Council had previously determined that a lower section of the track was permitted development for agricultural purposes and so no further action could be taken.  It appears that there was some confusion between SNH and the CNPA/Highland Council at the time over further part of the track and what had been authorised and only in 2015 did all the bodies come to understand the issues properly.  A site visit was undertaken with SNH and Highland Council in October 2015.

Following the site visit, SNH undertook to pursue the previous owner of the estate on the grounds that the track was a breach of The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. The case was subsequently investigated by Police Scotland’s Wildlife Crime team and CNPA were advised to hold off our own investigations while the criminal investigations were undertaken. Police Scotland concluded that there was insufficient evidence to pursue prosecution.

This was reported to the CNPA in June 2016 and we re-opened our investigation in July 2016.The CNPA are currently in dialogue with the estate’s representatives and Scottish Natural Heritage about restoration of ground and mitigation of impacts and a meeting is taking place soon that our Head of Planning will attend. If action is not taken voluntarily by the estate in the next few months then the CNPA will move to take formal action.”

 

I believe this response is extremely welcome.  It helps explain the background and makes it very clear that the CNPA is taking this issue seriously (and I would have to say is quite a contrast to the way in which the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park responds to concerns which I have raised with them about hill tracks).  I believe though its worth considering some of the detail and the implications.

 

Commentary

 

One of the problem with the preventing unlawful hill tracks, such as the one onto Carn Leth Choin, is that existing tracks have not been clearly mapped by planning authorities, including our National Parks.  This makes it very difficult for Planning Authorities to establish when extensions have taken place and whether they should have come under the Prior Notification rules which came into force in December 2014 (this has been a problem for the CNPA on Deeside where the Dinnet Estate claimed its track extensions were completed prior to the new rules).    In this case it has led to delays because its not been absolutely clear which section of track was agreed to by Highland Council as a permitted development.    The solution to this problem was demonstrated by Kincardine and Deeside Council over 20 years ago when they marked the end points of all hill tracks on their Local Plan maps – a precedent that our National Parks should now follow.

This section of track of the Carn Leth Choin track was treated by Highland Council as a permitted development but it sits within the Monadliath SSSI and was an “Operation Requiring Consent”.

 

 

Only the lowest section of the hill track is outwith the Monadliath SSSI

While it can be difficult for Planning Authorities to prove that a track is NOT for agricultural purposes and therefore not a permitted development, in this case I believe Highland Council Planning Department made a serious mistake.  Soon after crossing the Allt Madagain (top photo) the track enters the Monadliath Site of Special Scientific Interest and any track construction with this protected area was an “Operation Requiring Consent” from SNH:

 

The Operations Requiring Consent for the Monadliath SSSI that relate to tracks and vehicle use

Its not clear from the CNPA response if Highland Council planning department checked with SNH before agreeing to the lower part of the track as a permitted development as they are supposed to do for all developments within protected areas.    If they did do so, there are some obvious questions that need to be asked about why SNH agreed to this.  If Highland Council failed to do so that would have made it very difficult for SNH to take action subsequently.

The section of track which was allowed as a permitted development appears to terminate at this large borrow pit at over 650m up the hill. The construction has been undertaken with no regard for this being a SSSI

In my view this was a serious planning failure.  The lower section of track is too steep and is already eroding away.   The landscape scar can only get worse.  In this case this is not the fault of the CNPA as they can only “call-in” development that their constituent Councils and Planning Authorities have identified as requiring planning permission.

 

The fact that SNH referred the construction of the new section of track that leads to the summit of Carn Leth Choin to Police Scotland is significant.   Breach of the Operations Requiring Consent is a criminal offence and the evidence shows that this clearly happened in this case: the photos below show extraction of materials, road construction and use of vehicles all of which needed permission.    It would be in the public interest to know why Police Scotland decided not to prosecute in this case – it would have sent a clear signal to landowners all over Scotland of the consequences of ignoring the law governing protected areas.  Its difficult to avoid the suspicion that as with raptor persecution Police Scotland treat landowners differently to the rest of the population – as being above the law.

 

 

Taking what the CNPA has said at face value, there are serious challenges with restoring this track.   The material that forms the track needs to be returned to the “borrow pits” from which it was sourced.

I would suggest this material, which appears to have been simply dumped on existing vegetation (which was protected – its montane heath) cannot simply be removed by heavy machinery because that will simply further damage the ground underneath.  The final removal of aggregate and restoration of the ground surface both beneath the track and over the borrow pits once the material has been replaced there will need to be by hand.  That will require a skilled workforce which at present does not really exist because there has been no attempt to restore any hill tracks since NTS acquired Mar Lodge Estate and restored the Beinn a Bhuird track.
Any restoration will be very expensive but luckily the new owners, who were not responsible for constructing the track, do not lack a bob or two.  They can either afford to pay for the restoration themselves or pay whatever it needs to recover money from the previous owner – who made £3.7m on the Cluny Estate in the fourteen years he owned it.   For excellent background on the estate sale  see Andy Wightman’s blog

 

Qatar royal family buy Cluny Estate

Its time for the CNPA to be resolute and there are welcome signs that in this case they might be so.  They only need to tackle successfully one unlawful hill track in the National Park and all landowners will start to take note of the risks of failing to comply with the law.

Use of vehicles, which is an Operation Requiring Consent, extends beyond the end of the unlawful hill track
The toilets and ranger base (right) at Milarrochy

Following the announcement by Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority staff of their decision to close the slipway and  ranger base at Milarrochy  (see here), Peter Jack, Chair of the Loch Lomond Association wrote to James Stuart, new convener of the LLNPA, asking the Board to review the decision at their meeting last  Monday.   The response he received (see here) – which is published with his permission – is not from James Stuart, but Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive.   It illustrates a number of things which are going in our National Park including how decisions are made,  the Park’s understanding of access rights and the drive to commercialise much of what the LLTNPA does.

 

The rules governing Board Meetings

 

In October 2015 the LLTNPA Board revised its Standing Orders, the rules under which it operates Board-Standing-Orders-approved-20151026.   The revised Standing Orders further reduced the levels of transparency governing the Board, changing the time the public gets to see papers before meetings from seven to three days, the legal minimum, and more importantly say nothing about the operation of secret Board Meetings, described as “Briefing Sessions”, which outnumber the meetings which are held in public.  The Standing Orders  do, however, contain some provisions about how public LLTNPA Board Meetings should operate.

 

Gordon Watson’s main reason for refusing the request from the LLA was that “it is not within our procedures to add additional items as a result of external requests”.  This is true, but only to the extent that the Standing Orders do not cover the situation where an outside body asks the Board to discuss a matter.   There is actually NOTHING in the SOs to prevent an agenda item being added as a result of an external request such as that made by the LLA.   The key point is the Standing Orders (and more seriously the regulations that govern our National Parks)  do not set out what discussion and decisions need to be taken at public Board Meetings and what can be taken in secret.

 

In fact there is a great deal of flexibiliity about what could be discussed at Board Meetings, given the will.  Clause 37 of the SOs says its up to the Convener and Deputy Convener to determine the agenda, so most power lies with them, and there is nothing in the SOs to stop them adding an item to the agenda as a result of an external request.    Moreover, since the request was received five days before the meeting and final Board agendas now only need to appear three days before the meeting, the convener in this case could have added this item to the agenda and included the letter from the LLA, whic was self-explanatory, among the papers.     Alternatively, every Board Meeting includes a section on “Any Other Business”, and there was nothing to stop the Convener raising the letter from the LLA as part of this.  That the letter was NOT discussed therefore was not because of the Park’s rules but because Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive, did not want it discussed.

 

Moreover, Clause 24 of the SOs states “A Special Meeting may be called at any time by the Convener to discuss an urgent item of business”.   There are no notice periods set out for this so again the Convener could have held a special Board Meeting after the scheduled one to discuss the Milarrochy issue.  The problem I believe is the Board is not in control, its the senior staff management team who appear to be running  the show and it appears that the  Park Chief Executive,Gordon Watson, is simply being allowed to interpret the Park’s rules to suit staff and avoid having decisions scrutinised in public.

 

Public Safety,outdoor recreation and access rights

The old east Loch Lomond camping byelaws sign at Milarrochy – the LLTNPA’s attempts to control camping and access to water are linked (as is the control of car parking)

Now consider the implications of this statement from Gordon Watson’s letter:

 

“As the landowner the Park Authority is responsible for public safety on the beach and it is not considered appropriate to allow vehicles and trailers to use the beach unsupervised”.

 

The legal position of what responsibilities landowners have for public safety on their land is complicated (there are some well established duties such as fencing off mine workings)  BUT, and this is the key point, while landowners have a general duty of care, legally there is a general presumption that they are not responsible for what might happen between or to outdoor recreation users in the course of that recreation.   If they were, our access rights would be in tatters.  Imagine what would happen if any potential issue associated with vehicles and trailers taking boats to the water’s edge on rivers and lochs across Scotland was seen as the responsibility of the landowners – that could put an end  to every canoe business, and all recreational canoeing,  in Scotland.   So, this appears to be a very dangerous sweeping statement from Gordon Watson, who has never understood access rights, and appears inadvertently to be undermining the whole legal framework on which they were based.   Indeed, his statement is a hostage to fortune for the LLTNPA:   the first accident that happenson any land the Park owns and what keen personal injury  lawyer will not be quoting Mr Watson’s statement as part of their claim against the National Park?

 

If the LLTNPA has any sense it will retract that statement now, and could justify this on the basis that Mr Watson appears to be taking a different stance to that taken by the National Park over three years ago in the court case Michael Leonard v LLTNPA.   This concerned responsibility for an accident on the West Highland Way and which the LLTNPA won (see here).  (Something for which  they deserve credit)

 

This is not to say that the Park has no responsibilities for public safety at a slipway to which they had invited people to launch boats (as opposed to the beach as a whole).   There has however been no proper risk assessment and the Park’s own figures show there have been no accidents.   That’s not a surprise to me because boats are launched from trailers all over the country.   The Park’s basic attitude however appears to be that the public are basically irresponsible and constantly need supervision to avoid risks , whether this is camping or launching boats, and whatever they don’t have the resources to “police” they will ban.    There might be a case for supervising boat launching at Milarrochy – apart from the need for the LLTNPA to collect the fees – but the Park has not shown this is needed and should be consulting the LLA (who do take safety seriously) to determine whether this is needed.

 

Parkspeak and the outsourcing agenda

 

Mr Watson’s claim in the penultimate paragraph of his letter that the closure of the slipway could be an “interim position” pending finding a new operator for the site, begs the question, should the Park have not consulted on the future of the site before closing the slipway?   The rest of the paragraph is simply an attempt to sell the Park’s outsourcing and commercialisation agenda, most of which is discussed in closed session at official Board Meetings.   It appears that they have already decided to outsource Milarrochy, without any public consultation, and perhaps behind the scenes had already agreed to close the slipway which would be another reason why Gordon Watson would not have wanted this discussed at the public Board meeting.

 

What needs to happen

 

I believe that recreational organisations need to force the LLTNPA to discuss and engage with them on recreational issues much more openly because it appears the Park will not do this voluntarily.    One way to do this is included in Board Standing Orders – Clauses 33-36 allow for public deputations.   I hope the LLA consider asking for a deputation at the next Board Meeting to discuss Milarrochy (any deputation needs two weeks notice, the Convener then decides if it should go on the agenda and the Board Members at the meeting vote on whether to listen to it).  It would be interesting to see how the LLTNPA responds.

 

There are wider possibilities though – how about a deputation on the legal framework for access rights and how the Park could extract itself from the hole it is digging for itself in the way its trying to implement fundamentally flawed camping byelaws?

Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Suie Field camping permit area – all photos taken 14th March 2016 two weeks after the permit areas were “open for business” Photo credit Nick Halls

The LLTNPA is discouraging camping at designated sites.

Following the implementation of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority  Management Zones on 1st March and the requirement to purchase a permit for the use of designated sites or risk a criminal conviction I revisited two sites to refresh my recollection of the environmental condition of the areas.

 Suie Field

 

Photo credit Nick Halls
The Board in October agreed there should be permits for four tents at Suie Field        Photo Credit Nick Halls

Notices informing potential campers of the designated areas and requirement for a permit, are in place. However, nothing has been done to enhance the amenity of the area and it remains in a similar state in which I found it in the Autumn of 2016 – with un-cleared fire sites, litter stuck in the bushes and bramble under growth, and access obstructed by moribund damaged wire fences, strands of brambles, mud and debris.

Photo Credit Nick Halls

 

The remnants in the fire places seem to be from last season.

Photo Credit Nick Halls

The site and access to it has been left as unappealing as possible.

 

People responsible for much of the litter appeared to be day visitors using the nearby parking area and accessing the beach. There is evidence of undergrowth near the lay-by being used as a toilet, but surprisingly none very evident in the vicinity of the camping area.

 

The lay by is littered with bags thrown down on the shore and evidence of fly tipping. Much of it is food wrappings and drink cartons disposed of by people parking in the lay by, but there is also evidence of burning industrial rubbish (below).

Photo credit Nick Halls

Some of the litter on the beach might be wind-blown from the opposite shore, but the prevailing wind would suggest that far more litter ends up on the Eastern rather than on Western shore.

 

The litter in the photograph below was immediately next to the newly installed notice marking the southern limit of the camping zone.

Photo credit Nick Halls

No effort seems to have been made to make the area accessible or attractive or to enhance the quality of the environment in preparation for implementing charging for camping permits. Most visitors would wonder what they were paying for!

 

The zone identified on the notice as the camping site is mostly overgrown with brambles and scrub and is virtually inaccessible and very little of it is suitable for camping – yet with little effort and no detrimental impact on the environmental quality the whole area could be restored to rough permanent pasture and meadowland.

Photo credit Nick Halls

 

 

It is hard to avoid concluding that the LLTNP is deliberately trying to make camping at the site as unappealing as possible, and is doing nothing to facilitate camping with or without a permit.

 

It raises the suspicion that the NP is allowing the brambles and undergrowth to overtake the whole area thereby making camping impossible.

 

It is becoming blindingly obvious that the camping management arrangements are more to do with social exclusion than protection of the environment or making ‘non-campers’ feel safe. Nor are they anything to do with maintaining the amenity for other categories of visitors.

 

It appears to be discrimination against a category of visitors who behave no better or worse than any other group.

 

In fact, if the evidence of abuse of the environment in the National Park were to be presented fairly, campers, even irresponsible ones, would probably be shown to be relatively innocent of the worst and most widespread impacts, which appear to arise from activities of residents.

 

Cuilag

The LLTNPA also allocated four places for tents at Cuilag in October. Photo credit Nick Halls

I was depressed by Suie Field but Cuilag hammered the message home.

 

The carpark from which the access track leads is disgusting, with evidence of fly tipping of building and garden waste, and burning of industrial rubbish. It is a disgusting place, which could be made quite pleasant and welcoming.

Photo credit Nick Halls

There is building and garden waste tipped into the burn running alongside, which threatens to obstruct the flow of the burn.

Photo credit Nick Halls

Actual camping on the beach is practically impossible and likely to be pretty uncomfortable, but looks as if it is easy to erect temporary shelters to provide overhead cover while fishing – so it seems that fishermen are the group being discriminated against at this location. The beach is not particularly extensive or attractive and there was surprisingly little litter, although there are active fire sites, among the rocks on the beach, the impact of which are ephemeral compared with the fly tipping.

Photo credit Nick Halls

There is also a memorial to somebody’s parents, which suggests that the area is regarded as special by at least one family.

 

Along the beach, beyond the zone designated for camping with a permit, there was evidence of either extraction of gravel, or using beach material to reinforce the bank of the loch to protect the field above.

Photo credit Nick Halls

 

Further along a large oak tree has been felled and the branches used to reinforce the bank for what appeared to be a similar purpose.

 

In terms of environmental impact this activity by a land manager dwarfs any impact arising from camping, the felled tree probably represents more wood than all the campers using the western side of the loch have cut during the last decade.

 

What is becoming increasingly evident is that there is one rule for the residents of the National Park and a totally different one applied to visitors.

 

Anybody concerned about the urban populations right to access and seek enjoyment in a natural environment, or anybody concerned with equality, a fairer society or maintaining the quality of our joint environmental heritage should be hanging their heads in shame, that a public body should be permitted to introduce the arrangements that now apply to camping in a Scottish National Park. Also, any official with a true commitment to the conservation of the environment and encouraging understanding and respect for it, who colludes in this arrangement should be questioning their own integrity.

 

If this is representative of the future of Scottish society, whatever its constitutional future, it’s something about which we should all be very concerned.

Loch Chon campsite 5th March – unfinished.  The Board papers state  I was sent this photo as an attachment without a credit but my thanks to whoever took it. There are lots of people now using photos to prove the false statements and claims of the LLTNPA.

The camping byelaws dominate the lengthy agenda of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Board meeting on Monday.  There is information or decisions about the byelaws and camping plans under almost every agenda item (see here for papers) as well as a specific paper on Your Park.

 

The most important thing that should have been discussed by the Board however is completely missing and that is how they are going to enforce the byelaws.   In EIR REVIEW 2016-057 Response on 19th January the LLTNPA stated in writing it was going to develop an enforcement policy.  There is no need to read the whole letter, just this extract , particularly the final sentence:

The section in bold was my question to the LLTNPA, the rest is the response

 

  The LLTNPA Board needed to agree an enforcement policy and procedures for fixed penalty notices for litter and without one for the byelaws, I believe it will be very difficult for LLTNPA staff to take any enforcement action at all.

 

As predicted, the Your Park paper contains a recommendation to revoke the east Loch Lomond byelaws – nothing is said about how this will criminalise all except landowners and their closest relatives from putting up shelters or tents in their own gardens (see here) but it also contains an Appendix  from officers claiming progress in a number of areas Board_20170313_Agenda5_Appendix-1_Your-Park-Update.    This is an essential read for anyone who cares about truth.

 

The first substantive point reads:  Loch Chon campsite is on course for completion and handover by the contractor for operation by the National Park Authority in time for 1st March 2017.    The photo above proves this was not true and LLTNPA staff knew this was not the case before the papers went public – so either staff are deliberately misleading the Board or  papers were sent out to th Board well before the 1st March.   If that is the case, it would confirm the Board has a deliberate strategy of trying to reduce the likelihood of adverse publicity or representations to members before meeting.

 

The other amazing claim is that: “The website includes full descriptions of permit areas including photographs”   What the paper does not say is that the photos do not show what the permit areas are actually like (see here for Firkin Point and Inveruglas).  There’s lots more on social media and I would commend this video from Ramblers Scotland  https://twitter.com/ramblersscot/status/839416979282853888 not least because it  shows they are now starting to campaign against the byelaws, rather than simply oppose them.

 

The paper also fails to report  whether all the permit areas have mobile coverage for online bookings, which Park staff had promised would be in place 1st March at the last Board Meeting and, if not, what arrangements for paying might be.

 

The paper is much briefer than previous Your Park papers, possiblly because if Park staff had said any more, they would simply have incriminated themselves further.    The Board though can’t sit by and pretend the launch of the byelaws has not been a disaster – remember the Minister delayed the implementation date by a year to let the Park plan properly.   What the Board should do is  correct the lies, untruths and omissions in the papers, consider who is responsible for this and take appropriate action – an early text for the new Convener’s integrity .

There is plenty else in the papers to suggest that that any action the Board takens should not just be an attempt to catch-up – and brush off all the failures as teething problems – but rather a rethink of where they are heading.

 

 

The most serious problem facing the National Park is the amount of resources it is now devoting to Your Park.  This is only partly shown in the budget for this year (which is also being considered at the Board Meeting).   The reason for this is that “The Your Park operational costs for 2017/18 have been allocated into the appropriate management areas so that they move into ‘business as usual’ operating costs. A summary of the Your Park costs is shown at section 8 below for information.”

 

In fact the Your Park operational costs only show additional staff costs of £156k – see second bullet below – not the salaries of existing staff who now work full time on Your Park.  That includes the bulk of the largest ranger service in Scotland, the parkspeak communications team, senior management time etc – i.e its a gross underestimate.

 

There needs to be completely transparency on this issue, of what its costing the Park to chase off innocent campers and campervaners and then compare this to the cost of putting in the infrastructure the National Park so desperately needs (such as provision and emptying of litter bins) and of extra policing to deal with the few anti-social campers.  There has never been any cost benefit analysis of the Your Park proposals – there should be, and its time Audit Scotland became involved.

 

The broader issue is that all this needless expenditure is diverting money from the conservation objectives of the National Park.  Among the other Board papers is the new draft Partnership Plan, which sets out what the National Park aims to do over the next five years (which I will consider in a future post).  While there are some positive conservation objectives, the National Park is almost entirely dependant on others to fund these because all its resources are being devoted to policing the camping byelaws.  It need to get back to being a National Park rather than a Camping Authority.

 

Among the other papers which deal with the camping byelaws are:

  • Matters Arising, which shows the LLTNPA has successfully twisted the arm of the Forestry Commission to increase its campsite charges at Sallochy from £5 to £7 to match those needed at Loch Chon and Loch Lubnaig which were vastly overspecified and needlessly expensive.   This paper also says that the LLTNPA is going to spend more money putting up signs telling people they are leaving a camping management zone – since most people are unlikely to know what this means, this appears a further waste of scarce resources.
  • The Operational Plan, which indicates  that the LLTNPA is going to record the number of byelaw infringements between March 2017 and March 2018.  NB the byelaws run to 30th September so what the Park is recording for the extra five months of the year I am uncertain – it does though rather highlight the absurdity that if you collect two twigs for a fire on 30th September, you risk getting a criminal record, but if you collect and burn enough wood for Guy Fawkes on 1st October you face no consequences under the byelaws.
  • The Risk Register which shows the National Park has identified the Your Park proposals as a major risk to its reputation.   After all the social media coverage in the last two weeks the Board, if its got any sense, should see that a change of course is the only way its going to be able to limit that damage.  The risk register though records any change of course resulting from new members coming onto the Board as a risk which needs to be managed!   In other words new Board Members need to be told to get behind the camping byelaws!   I suspect that until new members are appointed (which may happen as soon as the council elections in May) nothing will change.

(more…)

Milarrochy, on east Loch Lomond, has been used by people to launch boats for years. Its one reason why the shoreline around the bay is a shingle beach and devoid of grass – a sign of thousands of people enjoying themselves here.

 

Three years ago I knew nothing about boating on Loch Lomond and, if you had asked me about the Loch Lomond byelaws, – the ones that control boat users on the Loch – my response would have probably been along the lines of “anything which controls speedboats must be a good thing”.  That way of thinking, which I am afraid was born out of ignorance on my part, is exactly why we have ended up with camping byelaws.   The view of the general population and local communities in the face of relentless propaganda from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority could fairly be summed up as “anything that stops people abandoning tents or having a rave on the lochside must be a good thing”    What I appreciate  now is that such views, whether about boating or camping,  are not just held out of ignorance, they ignore the rights of other people.   We should never condemn the many because of the few, whether we are talking about campers or religion.

 

I have also learned in two years of campaigning against the camping byelaws that it has been boat users, whether motorised or not, as represented by the Loch Lomond Association,  who have been the strongest defenders of the right to camp in the National Park. So effective indeed has been their opposition, that the LLTNPA deliberately excluded the Loch Lomond islands from the camping byelaw consultation because of the trouble they knew this would create for them.

 

About six weeks ago the LLTNPA announced in a letter to registered motor boat users on Loch Lomond that they intended to close the slipway at Milarrochy from 1st April.  There had been no warning of this, no consultation and the “decision” was taken by LLTNPA staff, not the Board, allegedly on grounds of health and safety.    The nature of the “decision” and the way its been taken should be of concern to all recreational users of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park whether walkers, sailors, cyclists, fishermen and women, birdwatchers or anyone else who enjoys the National Park.  …………………..

 

The letter is full of the type of parkspeak which permeated the camping byelaw consultation “we want people to continue to enjoy this area” – “speak” for “its another ban” – “difficult decision” and “striking a balance”:

I therefore submitted an FOI request, along with a number of other people. about the basis of the decision and a week ago received this response EIR 2017-018 Response Milarrochy.

 

Analysis of LLTNPA response by Peter Jack

Peter Jack, chair of the Loch Lomond Association, who has attended every Board Meeting for the last two years as a member of the public, has undertaken an excellent analysis of the response which I am pleased to be able to feature here.  Its well worth reading, to understand just how the Park operates,  along with the Park’s “Health and safety” assessment which is pasted below it.

 

 

 

 

 

You can see the numbers of launches here Milarrochy March-Boat-launch-figures.   The LLTNPA Health and Safety assessment consists of four lines – note the assessment which the LLNPA claim to have undertaken is NOT on their website, the only information is that pasted below:

I have commented before on the arbitrary exercise of authority by the National Park, but if the LLNPA is allowed to take decisions on this basis, they could close down anything for health and safety reasons.  Note the lie, motorboats……….. must be dangerous for swimmers etc.   In fact, guess who lobbied the LLTNPA to take action to ensure inadequate health and safety measures at one of the mass swimming events in the lochs was addressed?  The LLA.  And its boating volunteers who provide the voluntary escorts at these “wild swims”.

 

The real reasons for the decision to close the Milarrochy slipway

 

This decision clearly has nothing to do with health and safety.  My initial view was that it was probably about releasing park rangers to police the camping byelaws.   In the last paragraph of their response the LLTNPA has used a spurious interpretation of my use of the word “policing” to avoid answering the question on whether rangers were to be redeployed to chase off campers and I have therefore refined my request..

 

However, I also think the motivation for stopping boat launches at Milarrochy could be to test out the strength of the LLA with a view to deciding when the LLTNPA should start trying to extend the camping byelaws to the Loch Lomond islands.  This decision was minuted at the Board Meeting in April 2015, which approved the camping byelaws, and also appears, heavily disguised, in the draft  National Park Partnership Plan which will be launched for consultation by the Board at their meeting on Monday: “The access and use of the Loch Lomond islands still requires attention to ensure their precious habitats can thrive alongside land and water based recreational activity.”    The words “still requires attention” is code for more camping bans.    Every reason therefore for other recreational groups to support the LLA in their efforts to get the Milarrochy “decision” reversed.

 

Today though, I also came across this in the Operational Plan for the Park for the new financial year under the Park’s commercialisation programme.  :

 

 

I believe the kiosk is to be the old Ranger base at Milarrochy – so this looks like part of the LLTNPA’s strategy to hand over as much of its property within the National Park as possible to commercial businesses in return for rent.  The same commercialisation policy is driving the incremental introduction of car parking charges  across the National Park.   I will comment on the Partnership Plan in due course, but part of what needs to be changed within that plan is the neo-liberal ethos that sees National Parks as having to make money.  Some things should be beyond price and that includes the right of people to launch boats onto the loch.

 

What needs to happen

 

The Board meeting on Monday needs to re-assert the need for decisions like this to be taken at Board level and overturn the decision of staff to shut the Milarrochy slipway.   A test of the new Convener, James Stuart’s, mettle.

 

The Strathy puts Natural Retreats under the spotlight again – and rightly so

 

. If you want to understand what is going wrong at Cairngorm (or indeed in National Parks or the wider economy), I believe you need some understanding of what is going on financially.   If there is going to be any recovery of democratic control in Scotland, whether in our National Parks or outside, we need to start taking an interest in how money is created and used.  I won’t apologise therefore for devoting this post to Natural Retreats’ accounts  (as someone who is not an accountant) but if you can’t bear the thought, the headlines are that in the 9 months to 31st December 2015  Cairngorm Mountain made a significant operating loss, its liabilities are greater than its assets and its only kept afloat by guarantee from the owner of its parent company which is itself over  £22,831,678 in the red.    The implications of this for snowsports and the Speyside economy are briefly considered at the end of this post.

 

The accounts for Cairngorm Mountain Ltd CML Accounts to Dec 2015 application-pdf (1) and its parent company, Natural Assets Investment Ltd NAIL accounts to 31 December 2015AA-1487635200-1 (1)– which market themselves under the name Natural Retreats – were both due in January and both were published late,  long after red warning signs had appeared on the Companies House website.     HIE appointed Natural Retreats promising they were going to invest at Cairngorm – nirvana from the city – but what the accounts show is that there has been very little investment since Natural Retreats took over.  Indeed, the accounts show appears no chance of this happening unless David Michael Gorton, the city financier who owns Natural Retreats, suddenly decides to splash out at Cairngorm.  I personally don’t believe the future of an area should depend on the decisions of one person – its not a good way to do things, even if its the way our economy is run at the moment – the 1% have enormous power and people need to appreciate this extends to our National Parks.

 

Extract CML accounts to 31st December 2015

The accounting period for both Cairngorm Mountain Ltd and Natural Assets Investment Ltd was changed from April – March to January to December in the calendar year 2015 so both sets of accounts are only for 9 months.   This needs to be kept in mind when comparing these accounts against those of the previous financial year to 31st March 2015 which was for 12 months.    Its not unexpected that turnover is down because Cairngorm normally brings in more money in the winter months, January – March, and would employ more staff at this time (the cost of sales line) and that period is not covered in these accounts.  What’s more, January – March 2016 was a good year for snowsports on Cairngorm – unlike this year – so the fact there is a much larger loss than the previous 12 month financial year is not surprising.  What you cannot tell from the accounts is how well Natural Retreats were managing to increase business outside the winter season, which was one of reasons for their appointment – how to increase the summer use and make the funicular financially viable.

 

What may be significant though is that administrative expenses appear proportionately much higher for this nine month period compared to the previous financial year.  If like for like – and they had gone up the previous year significantly –  one might have expected them to be c£760k but they are almost £920k.  This could be an indication that money is being siphoned out of Cairngorm: on the basis of these accounts HIE should be asking Natural Retreats why administrative expenses have increased so much, compared to expenditure on front-line staff, since they took over.

The additions line shows investment on the ground, in real things such as snow fencing.

Natural Retreats certainly didn’t incur these additional admin costs overseeing a significant investment programme.   Janette Janssen claimed in the Strathy (see above) that ”Natural Retreats is invested in CairnGorm Mountain and the surrounding community for the long term”.  What the accounts show is that  investment in assets at Cairngorm was only £351,849 compared to £616,514 the year before.   So investment actually dropped.

 

The replacement snow fencing around the Shieling ski tow, only completed after public pressure had forced Natural Retreats to submit a retrospective planning application for the unlawful track they had created by the tow

I would expect levels of investment to increase in the next accounts for 2016 because Natural Retreats started, after public criticism, to replace the old chestnut fencing which it is paying for.   This however followed the good ski season of 2016 and its reasonable to ask, given issues raised in the Strathy, whether Natural Retreats will be in a position to fund such work in future?   Not, I would suggest, unless they reduce their administrative expenses and keep staff – who did this work – instead of talking about redeploying staff (to far off places like Lewis and John O’Groats where Natural Retreats is also working with HIE).

Notes to accounts are often very informative

The notes on creditors shows the amounts owed to group undertakings, third line down, more than doubled – an indication that money is being taken out of Cairngorm – while the doubling of what was owed to trade creditors suggest other businesses on Speyside may be suffering through not being paid on time.  Whatever the precise interpretation, the amount of money owed by Cairngorm Mountain almost doubled and at the end of the financial year Cairngorm Mountain Ltd was basically bust, having greater liabilities than assets.

 

The position as expressed in the parent company, Natural Assets Investment Ltd’s,  accounts is far worse.  The accounts cover both the group as a whole (ie including Cairngorm Mountain Ltd) and the holding company itself.   The  bottom line of the extract below shows net liabilities have increased for the group by over £5m (left hand two columns) and for the company by over £3.25m).

 

 

Now look at turnover for the year (below).  Its tiny compared to the group liabilities, less in fact than the increase in liabilities in the period, so the financial position of NAIL is getting worse.  The group appears unable to generate sufficient income to pay off its liabilities.

The only reason the group has not gone bust is because almost all of the money owed is to David Michael Gorton £42,139,121 – yes over £42 million – and he has said he will support the group for another year (this guarantee is from the date of the accounts were signed, i.e February 2017, not from December 2015).  The same note to the accounts show he is also receiving lots of interest £2,351,590.

You might also note from this that the turnover of the Natural Assets Investment Ltd group is barely sufficient to pay the owner interest.    It would need record snow years at Cairngorms for probably the next ten years to change this situation – the way our climate is changing at present makes that appear highly unlikely.

 

So, how did HIE ever agree to sell Cairngorm Mountain Ltd to such a group?   In the tender process for Cairngorm HIE ruled out a local bid because it did not meet the pre-qualification criteria of £500,000 turnover for the previous three years.    I will come back to this again but, instead of considering a local company which had relatively small turnover but which was sound financially,  HIE sold CML to an untested holding company which, just three years later, appears to be a financial basket case.

 

What does this mean at Cairngorm?

 

A month or so ago, after I had discovered that HIE had paid for the unlawful works at Cairngorm and then asked Natural Retreats to pay £2000 back, I asked HIE who was going to pay for the new montane planting and the remedial work to the Shieling ski tow that was approved by the Cairngorms National Park Authority Planning Committee (see here).  I was pleased to be told by HIE that Natural Retreats will pay for this.     It will be interesting to see if this happens and how long it takes to complete the snow fencing and all the other remedial works and tidy up needed at Cairngorm.

 

The way Natural Retreats are running Cairngorm, they are totally dependent on public funds for all significant investments.   I don’t think there will be any significant investment from David Michael Gorton unless there is a guaranteed income and its hard to see how the original plans for new buildings can deliver this.    The introduction of parking charges look like the only alternative source of income and that will be met by public outcry.   So, what that means is HIE will spend more public money, money which then ends up benefitting a few individuals rather than the people of Speyside.

 

There must be a better way of managing and spending public money at Cairngorm.  In my view HIE should be planning to terminate its lease with Natural Retreats, before it completely implodes financially, and at the same time supporting the development of a community run organisation to operate Cairngorm alongside or with conservation and recreation interests.

The signs for the east Loch Lomond byelaws 2011 were still up on 1st March when the new camping byelaws came into effect

The east Loch Lomond camping byelaws 2011 should have been repealed before the new camping byelaws came into effect on 1st March. (In fact they should have been repealed completely, not replaced,  as they had only ever been agreed as a temporary measure (see here)).   However, the  Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority hit an unexpected snag when, despite the huge efforts they had made to woo local communities, Buchanan Community Council and a number of local residents objected to the old east Loch Lomond byelaws being revoked.    I understand that in the ensuing panic – after all the LLTNPA keeps claiming the byelaws are all about meeting the “needs” of local communities  – the matter went all the way up to the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment.  Hence why the signs for the 2011 byelaws, which should have been revoked before the new ones came into place, are still up.   Another shambles.

 

I expect that this will be addressed at the Board meeting due to take place on Monday 13th March at 2pm – there are still some decisions the LLTNPA has to be seen to make in public.  I also expect that the papers for that meeting which are due to be published this week – the  LLTNPA changed its rules so it no longer has to publish papers a week in advance, only three days –  will contain a recommendation to that effect.     It will be interesting to see if there is any debate with the change in Convener from Linda McKay to James Stuart.

 

While I don’t know the thinking behind the Buchanan Community Council rejection of the new byelaws, one reason might be that the new byelaws make it an offence to erect any form of shelter in a garden within the management zone unless you are the landowner, tenant or connected person.  This could not happen under the east Loch Lomond byelaws because the curtilage of houses, which includes gardens, and what were known as “privacy zones”, were excluded:

 

Exemptions
(12) These byelaws shall not apply to:
(a) areas within the Restricted Zone which are designated by the Authority as a formal or informal camping site (as such camping sites are designated from time-to-time by the
Authority);
(b) areas within the curtilage of any premises; or
(c) any privacy zone.

 

Under the new byelaws, the exemption for gardens and privacy zones (which broadly could be taken as meaning the area close to houses where people are advertised not to camp without asking first under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code) have been removed and replaced by an exemption which relates to the landowner, tenant or “connected” person:

 

(12) These byelaws shall not apply to any: landowner; tenant; or connected person authorised by the relevant landowner or tenant using land within a Management Zone owned or leased by such landowner or tenant for any of the activities listed in these byelaws.

 

This has draconian consequences consequences for people putting up shelters in gardens and wider implications for property rights.

 

Landowners can still put up a tent or indeed any other form of shelter in their garden or elsewhere in their property for their own use, i.e just for themselves.  The problem is the only people that can lawfully stay in such a tent or shelter are tenants and “connected persons”,  who are defined in the byelaws as  very close relatives:

 

(a) “connected person” means (i) in the case of a landowner or a tenant who is an individual,
the landowner’s or the tenant’s parents, spouse or children; and (ii) in the case of a landowner or a tenant which is a body corporate or unincorporated body, any individual
who has the power to control the affairs of that body, by whatever means;

What this means is if the landowner is away and their partner – whose name  is not on the title deeds – or children decide to put up a tent in what would normally be regarded as  their own garden but have forgotten  to ask the “head of the household” to authorise this, they are committing a criminal offence.   Remember, this is not just about tents, its any shelter, so in these circumstances erecting a children’s pop-up shelter in a garden  would be a criminal offence.

 

What’s even worse, not even the landowner is empowered to ask round their neighbour’s children to spend a night with their own children in a tent in their own garden.    This is not only draconian, but almost certainly a fundamental breach of the human right to be able to enjoy your own property (which is quite compatible with access rights which allows other people to enjoy land outside the curtilage of buildings).

 

There are further significant implications for human rights – and common sense – from the way tenants, who have similar rights to landowners under the byelaws, have been defined as meaning someone who has leased land for a year or more:

 

(i) “tenant” means the tenant of any land within a Management Zone leased or let to such
tenant under a lease of one year or more;

 

I think the reason for this definition was to prevent landowners – not all of whom were against the byelaws – from granting fishermen a temporary lease to occupy an area of land as part of their fishing permit.  In other words, the LLTNPA Board has been so against camping that it did not even want camping to continue under the supervision of landowners – which actually would have offered a solution to the problems associated with irresponsible fishermen without any need to bring in byelaws.

 

The consequences though are again draconian.  Rent a holiday property – perhaps one of the chalets being put up by Sandy Fraser, a strong supporter of the byelaws, in Balmaha – and allow your child to put up a pop up tent outside while playing and you have committed a criminal offence.   What sort of society does the LLTNPA want to create?    The LLTNPA will protest of course that this is not what they intended, but its the LLTNPA and the Scottish Government which have drafted the byelaws.   They are responsible for this authoritarian measure which affects far more than access  rights.

 

Its not difficult to think of other scenarios which are equally disturbing.    Imagine a soaked  and bedraggled walker coming by your house, you cannot now even play the good samaritan and say “just pitch your tent by my house” without making them liable to criminal prosecution.    There is something morally repugnant about the LLTNPA’s whole way of thinking – in fact as I have said before, in the desperation to ban camping, they have lost their moral compass.

 

Its worth adding that the change of wording in the byelaws, so that the exemptions now apply to landowners, tenants and connected persons rather than the curtilage of property also impacts on other activities covered  by the byelaws.     So, for example, a landowner invites friends to stay on their property in a campervan – it would be an offence for those people to sleep in the campervan outside the house unless the campervan is parked on the drive to the house and this counts as a “private” road (as all roads are exempt from the byelaws).

 

The LLTNPA has promised it will produce an enforcement policy – it will be interesting to see whether this is among the Board Papers for the meeting next week and how it proposes to deal  with scenarios like the ones outlined above.   In my view, and I am sure most lawyers would agree with this, you cannot have a criminal  law whose application fundamentally depends on discretion.  The problem for the LLTNPA is if their enforcement policy states that the byelaws shouldn’t be applied to tents in private gardens and their rangers should just simply ignore breaches such as this, they will be undermining their own law and I think open to legal challenge.

 

What the changes to the wording of the camping byelaws illustrate is this is a National Park Authority which is out of control and no regard for anyone’s rights, whether recreationists or occupiers of property.  Buchanan Community Council were right to object and the implications of the byelaws for local people and visitors needs much more publicity.

 

 

Trap intended for stoat probably baited with part of a mountain hare just outside southern boundary Cairngorms National Park February 2017

In what I believe is a very positive development Onekind has launched a campaign to protect mountain hares in the Cairngorms National Park (see here).  I think they are right to focus on the National Park – if we cannot protect wildlife in our National Parks then we are unlikely to protect wildlife anywhere except for places in conservation ownership – and Mountain Hares are a good species to start with since they are not fully protected (there is an open and close season) unlike raptors which in theory are (though in practice the laws to protect raptors have made little difference which is why there is also a compelling case to license all hunting in our National Parks).

 

In choosing this campaign, Onekind I suspect, has picked up that the general public feel very strongly our National Parks should be different from other places and part of that means wildlife should be protected there.   This is reflected in Raptor Persecution Scotland/UK’s 7th Birthday blog – congratulations to them, they are doing a fantastic job of exposing how Raptor Persecution is being allowed to continue.   The RPS post listed the ten most popular posts of the last year.  What struck me is that two of their most popular posts had “Cairngorms National Park” in the title and three others covered ground within the National Park:

  1. Natural England issues licence to kill buzzards to protect pheasants (here)
  2. National Trust pulls grouse shooting lease in Peak District National Park (here)
  3. Queen’s Balmoral Estate accused of mountain hare massacre (here)
  4. Faking it (here)
  5. More mountain hares slaughtered in the Angus Glens (here)
  6. More mountain hares massacred in the Cairngorms National Park (here)
  7. The illegal killing of birds of prey in the Cairngorms National Park (here)
  8. Chris Packham has a message for Marks & Spencer (here)
  9. Mass raptor poisoning in Wales: location revealed (here)
  10. Catastrophic decline of breeding hen harriers on grouse moors in NE Scotland (here)

 

I have commented previously about National Parks,  the power of the idea.   It  makes sense for animal welfare and conservation organisations to use it and I also welcome the fact that, in raising awareness about what is going on in our National Parks, animal welfare and conservation organisations are increasingly working more closely together.

 

In response to Raptor Persecution Scotland’s post on the Onekind campaign (see here) there were two very interesting comments (and I hope the authors and RPS don’t mind me quoting them).

Solway Ladder Trap used to trap corvids (crows, magpies,jackdaws) on side -out of use – Dalnamein. When uptright crows drop through the ladder – running across middle of trap – and cannot get out due to the shape of the trap’s roof

Protected areas and wildlife

 

Here’s the comment from Alistair Clunas:

 

Many respondents on this blog expect wildlife to be specially protected in our National Parks. This is not the case.

All National Parks in the UK are Category V Protected Landscape/Seascape. A protected area managed mainly for landscape/seascape protection and recreation.
http://www.nationalparks.gov.uk/students/whatisanationalpark/nationalparksareprotectedareas/iucncategories

This means that protection of ecosystems and wildlife is not, as it should be, a function of the national park. The Scottish Government when it set up the national park system should have created Category II Nation Parks where areas are managed mainly for ecosystem protection and recreation. At the very least a core area in Cairngorms National Park should have been designated as such.

 

I agree with Alistair that wildlife is not specially protected in our National Parks but the important thing is the public EXPECT wildlife to be protected in our National Parks.    While I believe that having Category ii National Parks would help, as Alistair suggests, I don’t think this is  essential to protect wildlife far better than we are doing at present.  Our current National Parks could do this if they had the will.   The first aim in law of both our National Parks is to “(a) conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area” and what’s more where there is conflict with the other three aims, “the authority must give greater weight to the aim set out in section 1(a)”.   Note it says  NOT “should” but “must” – conservation must come first.

 

A large part of the problem in my view is that our National Parks have simply not done what they should be doing, they have not put conservation first.  Its not even that they have put their fourth aim ” (d) to promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities” first.  Its that they have interpreted this to mean that they should put  landed, business and financial interests first.   The onekind campaign is an opportunity to put a small part of this right.

 

Having said that, I agree with Alistair, that we should be creating  core areas within our National Parks where natural processes and wildlife come first or, as Ron Greer described it, we should create “wildlife refugium”  (see here).   While this idea has been knocked sideways in the Cairngorms, it has never formed part of the thinking in the Lomond and Trossachs National Park – it should do, there are some great areas of wild land where natural processes could be allowed to hold sway.

 

What about other species than mountain hare and raptors?

 

The second comment was from Iain Gibson:

 

It’s time to consider the position regarding the entire principle of controlling predators, which is falsely justified simply by tagging them with the label “vermin” or “pest.” I see no reason why foxes should not be protected. It’s only because of country lore and tradition that we continue to persecute them. Personally I would like to see a society in which all wildlife is protected by law, and guns removed from the equation, but this appears to be unrealistic at present due to the fanaticism of our own version of the gun lobby, which insists farmers can’t cope without the ability to kill so-called “vermin.” It is true however that some do, including a few hill sheep farmers who manage to survive without having to control foxes. Surely our understanding of nature and ecology has reached a sufficiently advanced stage to realise that vermin control is unnecessary except where a serious threat to human health is involved. So long as conservationists continue to make exceptions for Red Foxes and Carrion Crows, ignoring scientific evidence, gamekeepers can accuse us of hypocrisy. I suspect few readers of RPUK are aware that crows have been taking a hammering since the rise of the Countryside Alliance, in effect because ignorant farmers, gamekeepers and wildly right-wing “country sports” supporters are taking out their frustration against enlightened people, aka “townies.”

Stoat trap, Dalnaspidal, within the National Park. There appears to be no difference between the number of traps on the part of this estate that is within the National Park and that outside the National Park.

 

 

 

Iain, I think is spot on.   The level of trapping of “vermin” such as weasels and stoats  in the Cairngorms National Park (see here for Dinnet example) is as much a disgrace as the slaughter of Mountain Hares.   This is not just a Cairngorms issue.   Last year I was talking to a keeper in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park who told me he had lost count of the number of foxes he had killed.    It made me think afterwards about how many foxes I had ever seen in the LLTNP.  In hundred  of visits, I have probably seen less than five foxes, while in Glasgow, where I run the streets most days, I see them 3-4 times a week.

So, both of our National Parks need to address wildlife persecution, not just hares but other species, and what better place to start than in their new five year partnership plans which have to be agreed this year?        Mountain Hares should be just the starting point for a much wider vision of the wildlife potential of our National Parks.

 

The Firkin A camping permit area as it looked on Thursday 2nd March – would any right minded camper want to try and camp in this area in this condition? Would it even be possible?
The signs are much smaller than appeared in this mock-up presented to the Board in December

On Thursday, I went climbing near Glen Coe and on the way up and back down the A82 checked out a few things about the west Loch Lomond camping management zone.   I almost missed the sign announcing the start of the zone,  just before Luss, despite looking out for it.  A large proportion of drivers will miss it, let alone  – yet another piece of road clutter – and for those who do manage to read it what does “camping management zone” mean?

 

There’s certainly no information to tell you about the byelaws when you arrive at Firkin Point, one of the Park’s permit areas just south of Tarbert, which came into operation on 1st March.  I had thought one of the few sensible decisions made by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board since the Your Park consultation has been to open up use of the car park and toilets at Firkin Point for campervans and campers.  Up till now the facilities have been locked for much of the year.   Its not the sort of place I, or I suspect most people, would go for for a weekend but fine for an overnight stop being off the main road.

I was surprised to see  the sign saying the gates will be locked each night is still up and the clock still points to 4.30pm.   How I wondered do campers get in and out?  I discovered when I returned that night to check that the gates weren’t locked – its just no-one had bothered to change the sign.

 

In the car parking area there were no obvious signs about the camping byelaws or telling you where you are “allowed” to camp or park your motorhomes.    The first sign I saw was beyond the car parking area and a very pretty sign it is too.  It points to three areas where you might camp and shows that all the car park spaces are included in the “motorhome” permit area.

The sign clearly says you will be committing an offence if you fail to comply with the camping management byelaws but, apart from saying you need  a permit to camp in the marked areas, fails completely to explain what the byelaws cover.   So, if you are cycling along the cycle path here, you might just think “stuff that” I will just cycle on a bit further to where I don’t need a permit to camp!  Or what is there to tell you that if you collect some dead wood from around the permit area you will be committing a criminal offence?

 

While the camping in the park logo implies that motorhomes might need a permit here, there is nothing to say that this is ONLY required if you are sleeping overnight in a motorhome.  So, pull in here in the day in a  campervan and you might wrongly think you have to leave, because you don’t have a permit. Alternatively,  you might go to the trouble of trying to apply for a permit on-line, and then if you realise permits appear to be just for overnight stays, ringing the National Park number to make doubly sure.

 

A further issue for campervans/motorhomes is that according to the Park Board paper (see chart below) there were just four places for campervans here when there are over  twenty parking spaces.  What is the rationale for this?

 

Taken together what a disastrous message for Scottish tourism.  The LLTNPA has undertaken no assessment of the likely impact of the camping byelaws on tourism (I’ve asked).

Zone B is sloping – the photo is deceptive – as you can see if you compare the height of the two benches.

 

The sign for Firkin permit zone B below the car park.  Each of the camping permit areas at Firkin have been called zones and have their own sign in the Park livery, essential apparently so that Rangers can be employed ensuring you are camping in the area you have booked.  No wonder the signage costed so much.   The Park has apparently allocated two tents to this site but only the corner in the far centre right is flat enough to sleep comfortably in a tent.

Firkin A “zone” is a much larger area which at present seems to allow for three permits.  Though the Park is taking bookings, i.e money from the public, it is in a totally unsuitable state for camping (see top photo and photo below).

 

A nice path – which was there previously – circumvents zone A but the whole site is overrun with scrub and rush.  Who would pay for this?   Anyone booking this I think would be justified in seeking full compensation for a wasted journey from the National Park.  I wonder whether the Park has considered the liability issues now that it is charging for access?   Demand money and you take on new responsibilities and the Park has obviously not undertaken its side of the bargain   It won’t take much for the LLTNPA to be forking out far more in compensation claims than they ever receive from permits.

 

This was the best area I could see for camping in Zone A.   Bumpy and sloping.  Hopeless.  While I am sure the Park could, through managing the vegetation,  create places where it was possible to camp on this site they have not bothered.  What does this mean for the Park’s claim to the Minister that it would have 300 “new” camping places in place by 1st March?  A permit place was never a real camping place which would compensate for the loss of a 1000 places in the Park over the last few years anyway, but the Park appears not to have even checked whether it was possible to camp in the ground it had allocated before 1st March.

 

This google map of Firkin Point from the LLTNPA website has no motorhome symbols on the road coming off the A82 where the Park will allow four campervans/motorhomes to stop.  Instead there is a motorhome symbol to the far right.  This is one A, the one featured in the photos above!.  I can just see vehicles trying to drive uphill through that vegetation!   The LLTNPA’s communication team clearly does not know what it is doing and equally  clearly does not speak to staff implementing the byelaws or vice versa.

 

I  did not visit the permit area on the beach and did not get photos.  I wish I had as I am pretty certain it would have been underwater – its described as a narrow beach and the loch is high – more opportunities I think for compensation claims.   The permit booking system, which the Park has already spent huge amounts of money on, will now I think have to be amended to provide reports on ground conditions not to say daily reports from Rangers to ensure the information is right.   I am not against job creation but this is not I would spend scarce resources.

 

Its the facilities on site though which is what caused me to think this might make this an ok place to camp – a small compensation for all the lost camping places.  I returned Thursday night to check to see if toilets were open and realised I need not have bothered from this sign on the door.  Locked day and night to the end of March.  I checked afterwards and if you read the fine print when going to book a permit it does indicate the toilets are closed for a large part of the year and also that there is no water.  How does this fit though with the LLTNPA claim that Firkin Point a permit area with services!.

Figures presented to the LLTNPA Board. In December the Board did agree Park staff were given delegated authority to vary these so what the figures now allowed at Firkin Point might be is unclear.

For every person coming staying overnight in Firkin Point permit area before the end of March, its quite predictable they will need to have a crap and drink.  I would be more worried drinking from the burn near Firkin than most other areas of the National Park yet the LLTNPA has not even fitted an outside tap for people to use.   To rub salt into the wound, if you didn’t hear him,  Gordon Watson, at the end of the Jeremy Vine show on Wednesday defended the permit system  because “people want a facility with running water”!   (Its at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08fw4cg#play and well worth listening to for the comprehensive criticism directed at the LLTNPA from 1hr 48mins 40 sec).  The Park’s Chief Executive has no shame.

 

The LLTNPA Board paper in December included this statement:

5.11. The permit charge must be affordable. It should also make a contribution towards the costs of managing the permit scheme. Costs include the service provided by the Park to keep locations in good condition.

 

So what sort of service is the Park providing at Firkin Point and what does the permit area there say about the LLTNPA’s current claims to welcome campers?

Just in case you think Firkin Point is an isolated example, here is the sign for the permit area at Inveruglas, just a little further north – the camping area is to the left.

The camping area along the shore.  I could not see a single place suitable for camping

The view from the campervan permit area, the camping area just beyond.

 

What needs to be done?

 

The LLTNPA leadership has been incompetent and Park is obviously in chaos – despite being given an extra year by the Minister to prepare for the byelaws it clearly isn’t prepared and the senior staff team has clearly failed to deliver what it said it would.    I am some sympathy with the new convener though, because you cannot deliver the undeliverable and somehow a change of direction needs to be found, which effectively leads to the byelaws being dropped.

 

Senior Park staff though have already tried to excuse their  failure at the December Board paper and prolong the chaos:

 

The 2017 season provides an opportunity to learn from the experience of running campsites and permit areas within the new Camping Management Zones. Plans set out in the Camping Development Strategy will form the basis of provision for this preliminary season

 

Its now only a preliminary season, the idea being to allow the LLTNPA to dismiss all evidence of its incompetence and the incoherence of the byelaws as teething problems.  They will no doubt during the next six months sort some of them out.  This will probably include the state of the proposed  camping areas and even improvement of some facilities.  I don’t think though they will be able to sort out the signage issues.   1000s of people come to the National Park, have no idea what a camping management zone is, won’t know when they are leaving and don’t know what the offences are.  The byelaws are simply unenforceable and that’s without the complications of the exemptions for people sleeping overnight campervans on the road network.

 

The biggest issue of all that is not going to go away is that of civil liberties and big brother.  The beauty of access rights is its up to you to choose where to camp, and if a place if underwater, boggy or overgrown you will simply look somewhere else.   You are also responsible for your choices.   The LLTNPA wants to take away that choice, it thinks it knows best where people can “wild camp”.     It can’t ever do this, not just because conditions vary but also  because people who camp responsibly are all different:  some like being around others, some want to be far away, some to be on the loch shores, others away from them, some close to a car, some far away.    I am confident that in the end this attempt to remove people’s rights to decide for themselves how best to enjoy the outdoors will fail because its morally repugnant and completely unnecessary.  All the problems associated with irresponsible campers could have already been addressed under the existing criminal law.

 

How long is it going to take before our politicians wake up and realise that have been misled and agreed to what is a terrible mistake?

General View over part of Badaguish site Feb 2017 showing rubbish, incomplete tree planting that was required as a condition of planning consent and which has largely failed, part of a bike track and some accommodation pods and lodges.     Is this the standard of development we should expect in the National Park?

On Friday 19th August 2016, after a site visit, Cairngorms National Park Authority Planning Committee passed the latest, and certainly not the last, of a series of highly controversial planning applications by the Speyside Trust, which manages a large site at Badaguish, in the heart of Glenmore Forest.  The applications are controversial because the Speyside Trust has frequently breached planning regulations, because the applications are riddled with inaccuracies and false statements, and because the area around Badaguish is a breeding site for Capercaillie, a bird needing special protection.  There is a European Conservation Site (SPA), some 200 metres from the Badaguish boundary.

A further photo (taken Feb 27 2017) showing the car park without required edging of logs and with material still piled up as it was at the time of the 2016 site visit by the CNPA Board. Innappropriate gorse plantings can be seen on the bank and a lodge in the background.

One of the conditions attached to the CNPA’s planning permission in August 2016 read as follows:

 

Within 6 months of the date of this permission the parking area shall be edged with logs to define its boundaries and thereafter kept free for the parking of vehicles, unless otherwise agreed in writing with the CNPA acting as Planning Authority.
Reason: To ensure that the development fits into the landscape setting and future landscaping approved for this site in accordance with Policy 5: Landscape of the Cairngorms National Park Local Development Plan 2015.

 

The six months is now up and yet again nothing has happened.

 

CNPA Planning Officers have regularly, since September 2011, had some of the more blatant inaccuracies and untruths pointed out to them, by telephone, by e mail, and by personal visits to their offices by myself and members of the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group.  So far, they have chosen to ignore these warnings which I believe is a total abdication of their responsibilities to their office, the public and the environment.

 

To demonstrate one of the more obvious and crucial pieces of false information, I will consider documents submitted to planning about capacity at the site.  The charts Capacity and Flows and Loads were submitted by the Speyside Trust to support the original application, 2011/0206/DET, submitted in June 2011.

Note how capacity is presented as having reduced since 1996

 

 

On the Flows and Loads chart it is stated, in block capitals, “THIS SHOWS THAT THE NEW PROPOSALS ARE OFFSET BY THE EXISTING SCHEME THAT IS TO BE REMOVED.”  This strongly suggests the applicant is stating that there will be no increase in the capacity of the site. Assuming so, this document, and the capacity chart giving a history of site capacity, appear designed to deceive.  The potential number of people camping has always been the same.  The licence, issued by the Highland Council is for 100 tents and 10 caravans.   How many people is that?  Over 200, yet Speyside Trust claims there will be just 100 campers.   However, the numbers of fixed beds have increased enormously since 1996.

 

My comparison chart Flows and Loads compared with Capacity chart shows the anomalies.

 

Basically, in 1996 there were about 50 beds on site, mainly bunkhouse style.  When all the proposed new beds are in place, it will be something over 300 despite 2 buildings no longer having bunks in them.  And why give figures for lodge occupancy in 1996, when the lodges were not even built? The first 4 lodges were built in 2001 and a further 4 in 2007.

 

CNPA officers’ responses to my clarification of the information has been mixed.  There was no response at all in 2011.  In September 2013 I was astounded to hear  “We have to believe what an applicant tells us” from senior planning officers at a meeting in the CNPA offices in Grantown.  The latest, and surely most pathetic, is in an e mail I received.   A senior planning official from CNPA stated:

 

Based on information provided with planning applications and recent planning consents, the Badaguish site has planning permission for developments with a bed provision of 221 and a camp site of unspecified capacity.  The figure of 262 was one claimed for the site in 1996 when the accommodation on site was significantly different. The CNPA can’t verify whether that figure of 262 is accurate or not. The planning permissions granted in the past few years don’t limit the number of people who may visit the site.  However, whether the 1996 figure was accurate or not does not affect the planning permissions that have been granted.

 

So the senior CNPA planner is unable to verify the facts.  Perhaps he could ask – the number of Highland Council, the Planning Authority in 1996, is in the phone book.  And he seems to believe that the current bed capacity is 221, when in fact it is over 300.  And if he could be bothered to read the site camping licence, he would discover that the campsite is not, in one respect, “of unspecified capacity”.  This huge increase in bed capacity was never discussed at planning meetings, and goes against all the local plans for the area for the last twenty years:

 

Note back in 1997 (4.14.1)  there was a “strong presumption against further development” while the Glenmore Strategy agreed last year looks like this:

No sign of any visitor infrastructure improvements being agreed for Badaguish, in fact it does not even feature on the map!

 

Here is another document in the 4 submitted, headed “The Proposal” from the supporting documents submitted in 2011.

 

 

I will explain some of the financial figures in my next post.  However, observant readers will note that one of the funding partners, with a donation of £40,000, is the CNPA.  What was the purpose of this grant and how does it fit with the planning applications?  I think we should be told.

 

What’s wrong about all of this is that the CNPA is allowing Badaguish to grow in size contrary to all plans and by default.  While expressing concern about failures of the Speyside Trust to abide by planning conditions, it will be interesting to see if it does anything about the latest breach.  Meantime the CNPA has just decided not to call in an application to convert a toilet block into a campsite warden’s office  (Ref 16/05426/FUL, on HC website), even though the wrong location has been highlighted on the location plan.  About 20-30 metres out!

Slide presented to secret Board Briefing sessions showing levels of “informal” camping in the National Park. The Park never included this information, based on data from Park patrol records, during the Your Park consultation as it undermined their claims that byelaws were needed because of the sheer volume of campers.

Today probably marks the most retrograde in the history of access to land in Scotland since the Trespass Scotland Act of 1865 as the camping byelaws come into force.  When even Radio 3, not renowned for covering the great outdoors, announces on its 7.30 news headlines that campers in one of Britain’s prime beauty spots will be guilty of a criminal offence with a fine up to £500, the wider public may start to realise what is happening:  that the right to peaceably enjoy the countryside is being removed by a National Park whose statutory purpose is to promote the right to enjoy the countryside.

 

As I am writing this there is a  debate on Radio Scotland about the new £200 penalties for using a mobile phone while driving a car – using a mobile can kill people but is a civil offence.  Camping according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and harming no-one in the best places to camp in the National Park is now a criminal offence with a fine of up to £500.      How is that right or just?

 

The URL for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park media release announcing the implementation of the byelaws (see here) says it all.   The Park welcomes campers………….by banning them!   The rest of the release is the usual parkspeak…………………………

 

Parkspeak

“Between March and September, people keen to camp or stay overnight in a motorhome or campervan at one of the many popular and picturesque lochshore locations throughout the Park, can do so by buying a camping permit or booking a pitch at a campsite.” 

Comment.  Not true.   A large proportion of the lochshores have no provision for camping at all and there are only 20 permits for campervans for all four management zones.

 

 

Parkspeak

““The camping management zones are focused around the national park’s busiest lochshore locations which attract very high numbers of campers year on year.”

Comment.  Lie.  The management zones includes lochs where there was very little camping, like Loch Arklet, and other areas, where again there is very little camping, as is clearly shown by the Park’s own data (above) presented to the LLTNPA Board in 2013 but then suppressed.

 

 

Parkspeak

“This volume, combined with the antisocial behaviour of a minority of campers over a number of years, has a significantly damaging effect on the environment and a negative impact on other visitors and local communities.”

Comment.  The Park’s evidence of significant damage to the environment consists of photographs such as the one below presented to yet another whole day secret Board meeting on 19/09/16:

Obtained through FOI

I am against litter, but to claim this is significant damage to the environment is, forgive the pun, rubbish.  There is a small patch of burnt grass and litter which could be cleared up in 10 minutes – that’s it.  Because of “damage” like this which is caused by about 1% of campers  the Park wants to remove camping rights from everyone else and turn them into criminals.   The police officer I met the other week by Loch Venachar House, home of Linda McKay, the Park Convener who retired yesterday – and note in the insert in the top slide the little red symbol at the east end of Loch Venachar denoting high levels of camping just next door where she was building her new house (see here) – who had often camped there, put it to me that the few are spoiling it for the many.  When I asked him though, “what about the rights of the many”?, his comment was “right enough”.    

 

In fact the LLTNPA has never taken any objective view of damage at all as these  recent photos from north side of Loch Venachar show:

19/01/17 Milton of Callendar farm

Which is worse, the rubbish left by campers or that permanently dumped around Milton of Callendar farm just north of Loch Venachar?

Another view of the rubbish looking south to Loch Venachar, so how can the LLTNPA claim that a little burned patch of grass constitutes damage compared to all the ground damage done here?

How many trees have been cut down here along the road compared to those chopped by a very small minority of campers? I suspect on this small stretch of road more trees have been chopped by the roads department than are chopped by all rogue campers in the Park in a year.

 

 

All these photos are taken in the North Trossachs Management zone (see below) – so you can’t camp, not that you’d want to, in the field next door to all the rubbish dumped around the farm because of the risk that you might do damage to this fragile environment.  What  is the LLTNPA doing about the real damage that is taking place in the National Park?

 

 

The risk of this failure to look at damage objectively, and the failure of civil servants to scrutinise the LLTNPA’s arguments,  is that the same arguments will be used to justify camping bans or other restrictions on access rights right across across Scotland.

 

Parkspeak

Gordon Watson, Chief Executive of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, said: “Camping is one of the best ways to get out and enjoy the stunning surroundings we have in the National Park and there is every kind of camping experience on offer here.

“The new byelaws do not change that. Whether you’re an experienced camper, coming on your own or with your friends and family, there is still a wide choice of places to camp in the National Park. To support this we have opened a new campsite in the Trossachs at Loch Chon and are promoting some excellent locations to ‘wild camp’ with a permit.

Comment.  This is laughable.  How does introducing bye laws that will criminalise people for camping responsibly not change people’s ability to enjoy the Park?   The facts are up to 850 tents have been recorded on popular weekends and the Park is now intending to reduce this to around 300 places:  of these 300 places a number are in campsites and yet more around Forest Drive, one of the least popular places for camping in the Park.  Freedom of access has been replaced by Big Brother telling people where they can camp.

 

Parkspeak

“Most laybys are regulated by roads authorities and are not affected by the new camping management byelaws. A small number of laybys within the Camping Management Zones are regulated by the National Park camping management byelaws.  These will be clearly marked with signage about the byelaws. Anyone can stop and rest in these laybys during the day but you cannot sleep overnight in your vehicle. Where there are places for motorhomes to stay overnight, there will be specific signs making this clear. Permits for staying overnight in these spaces should be booked online in advance at here.”

Comment.  Park staff and civil servants changed the wording of the byelaws to remove the reference to laybys from the definition of what counts as a road and to include private roads (see here).   This is important because its NOT an offence to sleep overnight in a vehicle if you are on a road within a camping management zone and since the legal definition of a road includes the verge it means campervans can stop off alongside roads throughout the camping management zones and, on quiet roads without parking restrictions, on the road itself.    While it is positive the LLTNPA has confirmed people will be able to stop overnight in roads authority laybys, the statement that people cannot stop in a small number of other laybys and these will be signposted raises a number of serious issues:

  • First, what is the legal basis of the Park’s belief that certain laybys do not count as part of the roads network?   What in law is the distinction between an informal and formal layby, and how can the Park justify treating them differently in terms of the current wording of the byelaws?    It is very hard to envisage any informal layby that would not be counted as being part of the road verge and therefore exempt from the byelaw provisions which allow people to sleep overnight in a vehicle on a road.
  • Second, since laybys were originally included in the definition of road but are now excluded, even if one accepted the Park was right in their interpretation and laybys are not included in the normal legal definition of a road, what this would mean is that unelected officials have in effect  changed the meaning of the byelaws or made a “material change”.  This is unlawful.  Its the LLTNPA Board and the Minister who have the right to take such decisions, not officials.   The Minister approved the byelaws subject to minor changes in drafting by officials or “points of detail”, not fundamental changes in their scope (see here).
  • Third, the LLTNPA Board, when it approved a signage plan at its December Board meeting, did not agree to any  signage being placed at stopping off places – something I criticised because people would not know where it was legal to stop.  There has been no Board meeting since.  Either another decision has been taken by the Board in secret or officials have again usurped the rights of the Board to take such decisions.

 

On account of this, if the Park tries to put up any signs along roadsides that suggest it is illegal to stop off and spend the night in a vehicle, I think they will be open to legal challenge.

 

Parkspeak

“Given the dramatic transformation seen on east Loch Lomond since bylaws were introduced there in 2011, we are confident we will see improvements with more responsible behaviour and less damage to the environment.”

 

Comment   The changes on east Loch Lomond have followed a package of measures including focussed policing.   The LLTNPA is intending to apply just one of those measures, a camping ban, to the rest of the National Park.  The situations are however totally different.   For example, the road to Rowardennan is a dead-end and is a clearway where it is very hard to stop off in contrast to major through roads like the A82 which have 100s of stopping off points.   The LLTNPA has totally failed to consider the implications of this, leaving aside the fact that Fiona Logan, the then Chief Executive, said back in 2011 that if the situation on east Loch Lomond improved they would remove the byelaws there   The fact the byelaws have not been removed on east Loch Lomond – and there is no evidence they continue to be needed – tells you this is all about NIMBYISM.

 

 

Parkspeak

“Our rangers will continue welcoming people and educating them on all the aspects of the park. This will include providing information to make sure all visitors can camp responsibly.

“Our experience on east Loch Lomond is that most people want to do the right thing to help look after such a special place. This is not about looking to catch people out who might be camping in the wrong place, as taking formal action would always be a last resort, but helping them understand where and how they can camp responsibly.

Comment    If most people are responsible, as the Park suggests, there is no need for camping byelaws.  Banning people does nothing to help understanding and the bit about “helping them understand where and how they can camp responsibly” is patronising drivel.  If the Park can explain why responsible camping is not possible on the north shore of Loch Arklet, where all camping is banned, and can provide an explanation of just what it is about permit areas that means camping can be done there, and only there, responsibly perhaps they could explain this to the public?   Had they been called to the Scottish Parliament to justify their proposals I am confident they would have collapsed.

 

What next?

The campaign against these unjust laws has, I believe, only just started and unless the National Park changes direction, its likely to sink along with these byelaws.  The first thing that Scottish Ministers need to do is ensure that no-one is prosecuted under the byelaws if they have been behaving according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.