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.
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!