Author: Nick Kempe

Caravan parked west Loch Lomond May 2017

Over the last month, a number of  examples have come to light about the LLTNPA’s inequitable application of the byelaws, the most notable being that Park staff have been told not to apply the byelaws to people in caravans (see here).    This post will look at the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Authority’s selective application of the camping byelaws which I believe is contrary to natural justice and human rights.

The LLTNPA’s continued attempt to enforce the camping byelaws against campervans

 

Regular readers will know that the byelaws make it an offence to sleep overnight in a vehicle unless this is on a road.  The legal definition of a vehicle includes both campervans and caravans (more on why the LLTNPA has decided to exempt caravans below) while the legal definition of a road includes their verges and private roads over which people have a right of passage.   This means campervans do not need permits in permit areas which are part of the road system, as is the case with the laybys on north Loch Earn.    The LLTNPA has obviously taken note as yesterday I spotted this notice (below) at Inveruglas which had not been there the week before.

 

The notice demonstrates how far senior management at the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Authority are out of control and making up the law as they go along.   The purpose of LLTNPA’s claim that there is “no public right of passage between 7pm and 7am” is clearly to try and stop campervan and motorhome owners claiming they do not need to a permit to stop off overnight here because it is part of the road system.    The LLTNPA however have NO legal power to suspend public rights of passage on a whim and are acting ultra vires.   They need to be held to account.  This sign in itself warrants a judicial review of the entire manner in which the LLTNPA has been implementing the byelaws.

 

Land within the camping management zones exempt from the byelaws

 

Land has also been exempted from the byelaws in an arbitrary manner.   In order to allow existing campsites within the camping management zones to continue to operate the LLTNPA and Scottish Government approved the following clause:

 

(10) These byelaws shall not apply to areas within Management Zones which have been exempted from the application of any provision of these byelaws by the Authority from time to time.

 

On 5th April I asked the LLTNPA what land they had exempted from the byelaws and, on 4th May,  received this response together with a template of an exemption letter they had sent to landowners.   The response shows the land exempt from the byelaws consists entirely of caravan/campsites confirming that the purpose of byelaw 10 was to allow formal campsites to continue to operate and the intention was not to allow camping and staying overnight in vehicles to continue elsewhere.

 

The list of exempted campsites makes interesting reading.  It fails to include at least two existing campsites:

 

 

The first is the Loch Lomond Holiday Park, between Inveruglas and Ardlui, on the west shore of Loch Lomond.   This is ironic because one of the main aims of the camping byelaws on the west shore of Loch Lomond appears to have been to try and force people to use formal campsites in order to benefit business.    Indeed the Loch Lomond Holiday Park obtained planning permission last summer for new motor home places to take advantage of the business bonanza promised by the camping byelaws – hence the sign (top right) in the photo.    Unfortunately, any motorhomer handing over their cash to Loch Lomond Holiday Park has been committing a criminal offence!

 

The second missing campsite is even more extraordinary,  the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority’s own campsite at Loch Chon.   Loch Chon, is a campsite, not a permit area.  The need for LLTNPA to exempt its own land is demonstrated by the fact that the other campsite it owns, the Cabin at Loch Lubnaig, is included in the list of sites it has exempted.    So,  people forking out £7 a night to stay at Loch Chon have been committing a criminal offence!   I trust that the LLTNPA will now issue a public apology and write to all people who have a booked a place at Loch Chon with a personal apology and providing assurances that they will not be prosecuted under the camping byelaws.

 

If you think that is bad,  the LLTNPA has also decided on a whim to exclude other land from application of the byelaws without any applications for examption at all.   Evidence for this is found in the excellent newsletter of the Buchanan Community Council, the Communicator (see here).   The May issue contained an update on the camping byelaws, the last sentence of which reads:

 

The Camping Bookings Team at the National Park have recently confirmed that as long as camping takes place within the curtilage of your home then it isn’t affected by the new Camping Management Byelaws.

The east Loch Lomond byelaws exempted land around buildings from their provisions in order to prevent local residents  from being criminalised for allowing people to camp or stop off overnight in campervans in their own gardens.   The provision was removed from the camping byelaws approved by Aileen McLeod, the hapless Scottish Government Minister responsible, and instead an exemption was introduced for landowners and their close relatives:

 

(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.

 

The point about this exemption is it only applies to particular people, not the land: the landowner themselves, their tenant or “connected persons” who are basically defined in the byelaws to mean the landowner’s spouse, parents or children.  Under the new byelaws therefore landowners have no power to authorise other people to camp or stay overnight in vehicles on their own land.   That means if you are resident in a camping management zone and invite people to camp in your own garden that those people would be committing a criminal offence.  YET the LLTNPA are now saying in effect no, allowing people to camp on your land will not make them criminals if this takes place within the curtilage of your property.  The LLTNPA staff have NO legal authority for doing this and again are acting ultra vires.

 

The reason why the LLTNPA is not enforcing the byelaws against caravans

 

While it is  right that the LLTNPA does not try to enforce the byelaws about caravans parked in laybys – as a caravan like a campervan is legally a vehicle and the byelaws allow people to stay overnight in vehicles on roads – any touring caravan parked off road is committing a criminal offence.

 

The issue for the National Park is that businesses house many of their employees in such caravans and, if the LLTNPA took legal action against the people occupying these caravans, there would be chaos.  Hence its decision not to apply the byelaws to caravans – perfectly sensible but it undermines the whole basis of the byelaws.  The fact though that the LLTNPA are still trying to enforce the byelaws against campervans by trying to claim there is no right of passage over certain roads exposes the byelaws as rotten to the core.

 

If the byelaws cannot be enforced equitably, they should be revoked

 

I have heard recently that the LLTNPA has now referred at least 5 cases to the Procurator Fiscal involving breach of the byelaws.   I do not know why these cases have been referred but, whatever the reasons, the PF should reject the referrals on the grounds that it would be totally unfair to take action against some people who have breached the byelaws but not others.   Justice requires the law to be enforced equitably and its clearly unjust that the LLTNPA is trying to enforce the byelaws against some people but not others.   As Martin Luther King said,   “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” .

 

Before people think I am condoning irresponsible behaviour, if the referrals to the PF include cases of antisocial behaviour, littering or damage  the PF should take action under the existing law which deal with these issues, not the camping byelaw.  If they don’t, if for example they concern people who have refused to apply for a permit or who have camped/stopped outwith a permit area they should just be dropped.

 

There is now abundant evidence that the byelaws are not being enforced on an equitable basis.   This comes as no surprise as they are fundamentally flawed, not just because of the way they have been worded (the definition of “road”, “vehicle” etc)  but because they are fundamentally misconceived.      The LLTNPA appears incapable of sorting this out, of admitting the terrible mess and inequity it has created, and as long as its allowed to remain unaccountable will continue to act ultra vires, as it has done with the latest signs, and bring the law into disrepute.

 

When is the Scottish Government going to act?  Or is a judicial review the only way to sort out this stain on Scotland’s reputation for fairness and equitable application of the law?

While working on Tuesday’s post, I was delighted to get a letter (see here) from the acting Chief Executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Charlotte Wright, who has confirmed my claims (see here) that there is NO masterplan at Cairngorm:

So, the acting Chief Executive of HIE now considers the word masterplan inaccurate when it was the  hie news release of 12th April, in which she was quoted, which introduced the term masterplan through its headline “Masterplan Agreed for CairnGorm Mountain”!   While I do appreciate Charlotte Wright might not have seen the HIE News Release which quoted, either it was a deliberate attempt to mislead the public, a lie in normal parlance, or HIE staff would appear to have no understanding of the difference between a “Business Plan” and a “Master Plan”.    Neither explanation inspires much confidence.

 

While the letter is in response to my FOI request, it contains another extraordinary claim:

The statement “we understand that CML have conducted a consultation with………….Scottish Natural Heritage”,  which to most people would imply that these meetings took place without HIE being involved, is totally disingenuous.    HIE staff appear to have been fully involved.   How do we know?  Through SNH’s FOI response to George Paton and myself which provided emails about the “consultation” meetings which included HIE staff members Keith Bryers and Susan Smith.   Here is an example:

Its worth reading the second main paragraph of the email to note the response to the criticism of the mess at Cairngorm last summer which was extensively covered on parkswatch – it may have been discussed but every little was then done about it!

The problems with lack of transparency and misrepresentation at HIE go very deep.   I had also asked HIE for the minute of the April HIE Board Meeting which approved the £4million loan to Natural Retreats but this is still not on their website.  How the £4m (see here) could be agreed by the Board when Charlotte Craig, the Acting Chief Executive, claims in her letter above that “the outcomes postulated in the Business Plan are not finalised or certain of certain”  is difficult to understand and I believe should be a matter of great public concern.   The failure of governance is even worse because the Board know Cairngorm Mountain must be trading at a large loss (see quote below) and should also be aware that Natural Assets Investment Ltd which owns them are effectively bankrupt, so then to approve a loan without an agreed business plan seems quite extraordinary.

 

The minutes of the February HIE meeting have now been published (unlike other public authorities there appear to be no Board Papers in the public realm)  and contain this reference to Cairngorm:

 

At Cairngorm, HIE staff were continuing to work very closely with operating company Natural Retreats, which was suffering from a complete lack of any significant snowfall to date during the 2016/17 winter season. Building local engagement through stakeholder relations remained a key area of focus. A revised masterplan for Cairngorm Mountain Ltd was expected to be presented to the HIE Board in June.

 

Ignore the misrepresentations to the Board – what local engagement to build stakeholder relations has taken place?  – companies don’t have masterplans, only business plans.  A masterplan would be for Cairngorm, not Cairngorm Mountain Ltd.  Perhaps this is an error in the minute but unless there is after all a masterplan, it looks like the business plan was due to be completed in June but for some reason was approved by HIE, incomplete, in April.   If this is the case HIE need to explain why.

 

Keen readers, who read all of Charlotte Craig’s letter, will have noted that HIE are, in response to my FOI,  refusing to divulge the business plan for Cairngorm on the basis that it contains “commercial information that is not publicly available and the disclosure of which would harm the legitimate economic interests of Natural Retreats” and that there is “no public interest in Natural Retreats’ competitors being given access to confidential business information” .     I think this is totally wrong and will appeal.  The public interest is surely in knowing why the business plan is so good that  HIE are prepared to commit a further £4m of public money to Natural Retreats when Cairngorm Mountain Ltd, in the 9 months till December 2015 (see here for full analysis), made an operating loss of £1,219,606 and ended up with net liabilities of £1,316,645.  To make matters even more risky at the end of the same period its parent company, Natural Assets Investment Ltd, had net liabilities of £22,831,678.    Just what is the public justification for lending public money to a company that  only continues to function due to guarantees from its ultimate owner, the hedge fund manager, David Michael Gorton?

 

What needs to happen

 

  • The HIE Board need to get a handle on what staff are presenting to them about Natural Retreats and the plans at Cairngorm
  • Charlotte Craig, the Acting Chief Executive, needs to get a handle on what staff are doing and writing in her name.
  • HIE needs to explain why its lending £4m to a company that appears effectively bankrupt and whose business plan has not been finalised.
  • Audit Scotland should start asking some of these questions
Photomontage of Option 1 for proposed redevelopment of Ptarmigan.  As well as the raised viewing tower, note the glass viewing area added to  design

I understand that Natural Retreats were not happy last week that their proposals for Cairngorm were obtained through Freedom of Information (see here).   As John Hutchison pointed out on twitter in response to my post, the secrecy at Cairngorm rather undermines – or perhaps reinforces the need for! –  the current Scottish Government consultation onengaging with local communities on decisions about land (see here).     While the draft guidance states there is no need for additional consultation where statutory consultation is required, it appears Natural Retreats and HIE are planning to submit a bog standard planning application without any specific consultation with the local community, let alone with the recreational community or conservation organisations, as would be required if a proper masterplan was developed.    No change then to the way HIE has always operated at Cairngorm, plans are developed in secret and then presented as agreed.

 

More development, high up on Cairngorm, is totally inappropriate

 

Design Option 2 for the Ptarmigan

 

Before considering why HIE are pushing the development of the Ptarmigan, its worth stating clearly why the proposal is fundamentally flawed:

 

  • Its near the summit of Cairngorm, one of our finest and best known hills.  Its not the sort of place where a National Park, whose mission is to protect our finest landscapes, should be allowing further development.
  • HIE and Natural Retreats will doubtlessly argue that the increased visual impact created by their proposals will not be that significant, but the job of the National Park should be to see that existing impacts are reduced, not increased.
  • In tourist terms, Cairngorm is covered in cloud for much of the time so why would anyone take a train up to near the summit to see…………….. nothing?   The concept is all wrong.  If you want to get people to take trains or gondolas up mountains, they need to finish somewhere with a view.  In Scotland, this means taking people half way up the hill where they might get a view most days of the year, like the Aonach Mor gondola, not onto the Cairngorm plateau.
  • Most tourists, however,  want more than a view, which after all you can see easily enough on film.  They want to experience the outdoors in some way, which means a walk.  Leaving aside the legal agreement, which prevents non-skiers from leaving the stop station, Cairngorm is not a good place for a walk most of the time – the weather is just too wild, though maybe Natural Retreats think will buy a ticket up the funicular so they can be blown about on a viewing platform.  Of course, Cairngorm in fine weather is wonderful, which is why so many people care about the place, but those days are far to few to support mass tourism developments high on the mountain

 

For these reasons further developments high on Cairngorm are objectionable in principle, something which conservation and recreational organisations have been trying to tell HIE for over twenty years.

 

Why do HIE and Natural Retreats want to develop the Ptarmigan?

 

While its not clear at present why the earlier plans to develop the Day Lodge were dropped, the current proposals suggest this is all about the funicular.   The risk of developing the Day Lodge into a visitor and conference centre is that on those wet and cloudy days, people would not have bothered to buy a ticket up the funicular.

 

The funicular was supposed to increase the number of summer visitors to Cairngorm but Natural Retreats figures (from last year) say it all:  “210,000 annual visitors (120,000 in winter and 90,000 in summer) with vast potential to increase”.    The aim of the new Ptarmigan development appears to be to try and attract more summer visitors to Cairngorm.:

Extract from slide obtained through FOI “Cairngorm Mountain Resort Development Plans”

 

The initial plan was to increase visitor numbers through the creation of three mountain bike trails down from the funicular top station, as mooted in press.   However, it appears the other public agencies made it clear they would not relax the legal agreement preventing people from leaving the top station.  This is not surprising. One could hardly justify mountain bikers  leaving the stop station while pedestrians were stuck inside.

Advice from SNH obtained through FOI

Once the mountain biking proposal was dropped, the only option was to try and think of ways of turning the Ptarmigan into a tourist attraction which visitors would want to visit even though they were unlikely to see anything and would not be allowed out for a walk.   Hence the proposals for viewing towers in the top two photomontages and for a wrap around viewing platform added on to the existing building (purple area below):

This and following slides all from documents entitled “Cairngorms Mountain Resort Development Plans” obtained through FOI

And, in order to give people an “authentic” taste of the outdoors, a board walk out over the top of the funicular tunnel was proposed:

 

Inside, the idea is first to provide a visitor attraction:

 

 

Then, a much larger cafe so people have somewhere to go and spend money after viewing the exhibitions.

 

And finally, to encourage people arriving at Cairngorm to buy the ticket up the funicular, a partial facelift for the funicular entrance and funicular itself are proposed:

 

Why the proposals are misguided and what needs to happen

Whatever you think of the designs – and the firms that have developed them, 365 and 442, have some very skilled people – the problem is they are for a development in the wrong place:

 

  • Adding glass covered walkways and viewing towers to a visitor facility is a good idea but not appropriate for Cairngorm
  • The proposals for the exhibition may be interesting, but the place for a visitor centre is lower down the mountain, where people can go out afterwards and experience some of what has been shown as in Coire cas.
  • The blingy funicular upgrade might be a great idea for Blackpool but not Cairngorm

 

The basic problem is that HIE are still hooked on trying to increase funicular numbers in summer, still trying to make their asset pay.  They don’t appear to understand most people who visit the National Park in summer want to be outside.  Why would such people ever want to take the funicular when they have the whole of Glenmore to experience?   A visitor centre might be a good option for a wet day but a visitor centre up the top of a mountain on a wet day will be a disappointing experience.

 

Maybe HIE has conducted proper visitor surveys providing evidence that lots of people visiting Glenmore would pay to visit such a facility and this has informed their decision to lend £4 to Natural Retreats – but somehow I doubt it (I will ask).   Consultation is not HIE’s forte.

 

A little early engagement with all interests (and not just public authorities) – as recommended by the Scottish Government – would prevent HIE adding to the financial disaster of the funicular, for which it of course was responsible.

 

Meantime, there is no sign of any proper plan being developed for Cairngorm.  HIE was tasked under the Glenmore and Cairngorm Strategy with producing a Cairngorm Estate Management Plan – there is still no sign of this or the proposed Montane Woodland Project on Cairngorm and in my view both should have been agreed BEFORE any development proposals.    The Cairngorms National Park Authority also asked Natural Retreats to produce a set of standards to guide their operations on the mountain and there has been no sign of this either.

 

Its time for the Cairngorms National Park Authority to start speaking up for Cairngorm and a first step would be to ask Natural Retreats and HIE to start consulting on all the other proposed plans before any development proposals are considered.  If they are also feeling brave, they could  point out to HIE and Natural Retreats that the priority for sustaining the local economy is maintaining winter visitor numbers, not summer visitors.

Thanks to the reader who submitted this to Parkswatch

The chaos at Luss (see here) on the first weekend in May, was experienced at several other visitor hotspots in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, but most notably and predictably at Balmaha.  The LLTNPA has an opportunity to reflect on what happened when its Planning Committee considers draft Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) for Buchanan South  (see here) at its meeting today.  The SPG is also very relevant to the controversial proposed housing development in the Balmaha Plantation (see here).   This post considers whether the new SPG will help address the issues at Balmaha in a way fitting for a National Park.

 

There are strict rules on what can be included in Supplementary Planning Guidance, which can only expand on, not change Development Plans.

What the LLTNPA Development Plan, approved by the Scottish Government earlier this year,  proposed for Balmaha (see above)  was however extremely vague.   It allowed considerable scope therefore for the Supplementary Planning Guidance to draw on the Park’s policies, and explain how these would be applied to the area.

SPG map

In the event the SPG only covers three of the policies set out in the Development Plan, Housing, Economic Development and Visitor Experience.   The reason for this is not explained but the SPG  does not cover over policy areas which are very relevant to Balmaha such as Transport and Natural Environment, the village being bordered  by the Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve and the Highland Boundary fault.

 

Visitors and visitor management at Balmaha

 

While Balmaha is not readily accessible, it is the easiest place to get to on the east shores of Loch Lomond and, with Conic Hill providing one of the best viewpoints in Scotland for a hill of its size and with the West Highland Way providing a walk along the loch shore, its not surprising the village is a popular tourist destination.    With a poor bus service most people arrive by car.  With just a hundred odd places in the carpark, and the road north of the village designated a clearway, its hardly surprising that cars overwhelm the village on sunny weekends and bank holidays.

The Park has recognised this in its new draft National Park Partnership Plan (above), which rightly states the “the road network can become very busy at peak times” but then in usual fashion partly blames this on visitors “problems can be exacerbated by illegal and irresponsible parking of vehicles”.  Actually, this “problem”  is what the LLTNPA was set up to address and its challenge I would suggest (its not easy) is the provision of infrastructure to support visitors, including alternative means of transport to get to popular places like Balmaha.

 

The Supplementary Planning Guidance, disappointingly, says almost nothing about this.

SPG diagram

 

There is a reference to improving water transport (light blue arrow) and the Sustrans cycle path (dark blue arrow) but nothing on how the issue of too many cars for too few car parking places with no alternatives will be addressed.  For once I agree with Gordon Watson, the LLTNPA Chief Executive, who stated to the Stirling Observer that “additional overflow” car parking places are  required.  Such provision used to be available.  A farmer opened up a field to provide for parking but was given no support to manage this – people set up tents to stay the weekend – so stopped doing so.   This is the obvious solution, one that is used successfully in England’s National Parks, and one that should be revived, but there is no mention of this in the SPG.   I suspect this is because it would require resources from the LLTNPA (such as its Rangers helping to manage traffic rather than spending time chasing away innocent campers).

 

The lack of join up with the East Loch Lomond Visitor Management Plan 2014-19 – which the SPG interestingly refers to as “draft” even though it is published – is glaring.  That plan recognised the pattern of visitor pressure and committed to:

 

Establish a multi-agency peak period management regime that puts in place procedures for staff across organisations
 
 That commitment appears to have been abandoned.  Why?  And who decided this?
 
Meantime, the transport policies in the approved National Park Development Plan would appear not to be worth the paper they are written on:
 
 “Land will be safeguarded for, and support will be given to, the transport infrastructure proposals identified within Town or Village proposals maps”
 
 and:
 
 “Modal change from private car to more sustainable transport modes within settlements including the provision of integrated new or improved transport infrastructure,”

The SPG contains no hint of this vision, or of the aspiration of  past plans, yet alone how land might be used to achieve this.   Another opportunity to make things happen, make things better, lost.   It should not be difficult.  On the continent many places, not just National Parks, use school transport at weekends and holidays to provide public transport to rural areas for visitors.   Balmaha and east Loch Lomond is an obvious place to start given the road is not a through route.

 

The SPG contains almost nothing outdoor recreation in its broadest sense, the reason most people visit Balmaha in the first place – what the Park calls “Visitor Experience”.    This is illustrated by the Balmaha strategic principles diagram  (above) which includes nothing about how, once people have parked their cars in the car park, they leave the village.   The green lines on the diagram indicate views to the Loch should be maintained but nothing about how people might access the loch shore and the National Nature Reserve, which is supposed to be a place people can enjoy nature.  There is no obvious way to access this at present.  The thinking of the LLTNPA appears to have gone backwards since the proposal, several years ago, to create a path along the loch shore south of the village (abandoned I understand because the ground is very boggy).   To the north, the West Highland Way to Rowardennan offers brilliant walking but with no way to get back unless you are prepared to retrace your steps or go the full way and try your luck with a waterbus.    A hop on hop off shuttle bus would open up the West Highland Way for far more people to enjoy.

 

There is also nothing about the lack of camping provision, the major issue being backpackers along the West Highland Way have nowhere to stop off at the natural stopping off point of Balmaha because of the camping management zone.   This is the National Park’s welcome to walkers who come from all over the world.  The LLTNPA in response to comments on the draft Development Plan saying a campsite was needed at Balmaha, indicated that there was nothing in the Plan to prevent this:  the failure of the LLTNPA even to mention the need for a campsite in the SPG tells you I think that the LLTNPA has no intention ever of trying to make this happen.  There is an obvious place for this:  the former playing field, marked development site, within the pink circle in the diagram above and adjacent to where the West Highland Way enters the car park.

 

Developments in Balmaha

 

The focus of the Supplementary Guidance is on the LLTNPA’s Housing and Economic Development Policies which I believe confuses rather than clarifies matters:

 

New development within Balmaha should reinforce its existing development pattern and be of appropriate (generally small) scale.

 

What the LLTNPA means by “small-scale” however is not the same as what most people would understand by the term:

 

All new development should be of appropriate scale. It will be site dependant but generaIly groupings of 3-8 dwellings should be the most easy to set comfortably in more open landscape. Small groupings should be based on existing development patterns where one (generally larger) property faces onto the road, with other smaller properties behind. If there is a need for larger development (i.e. more than 5 houses) it should be divided by robust landscaping and areas of open land to reduce the impact of development

 

The Strategic Principles diagram above includes some grey lines on either side of the road (the dark blue line with arrows), increasing in density as they approach the centre of the village.    This looks like the LLTNPA is proposing to allow ribbon development either side of the road even though this was not part of the Development Plan.   This would explain why, unlike other settlements, the LLTNPA has not demarcated the village boundary.   It also could explain why the people who I understand are the two main landowners, the Duke of Montrose and Sandy Fraser of the Oak Tree Inn, responded so positively to the draft Supplementary Guidance (see here) about opportunities for development.

 

The clarifications in the Supplementary Planning Guidance that the LLTNPA will  allow more new build at Balmaha raises questions about why the Balmaha Plantation site (which is still waiting to go to Committee) ever needed to be earmarked for affordable housing.   LLTNPA’s recently approved policy on Housing in small rural developments is that  “Development on these sites should provide for 100% affordable housing”, so by allowing more housing at Balmaha, the need for affordable homes could be met without destroying what appears to be an area of ancient woodland.   Except that, in Balmaha the SPG now qualifies that Park Policy: “Some open market housing will be supported where this is demonstrated as necessary to help fund the provision of affordable housing on site.”    I expect the landowners will claim they can afford to construct very little affordable housing and that therefore the Balmaha Plantation site is still needed while very little affordable housing will be provided along the ribbon development.   The effect of the SPG therefore will be to reinforce the current trends towards social segregation of people and housing in Balmaha.

 

Setting aside the question of how else to provide affordable housing, the Balmaha plantation proposal still appears to be a glaring anomaly within the context of the Development Plan and SPG.    The SPG fails to refer to the LLTNPA’s Natural Environment policies – a chance to explain the claim, made by some, that the plantation is not really an Ancient Woodland site.  It also fails to explain how the size and density of the Balmaha Plantation proposal fits with the definition of the type of small scale development the SPG wishes to see in the area, 16 rather than 3-8 units, with density decreasing as you move away from the village centre.

 

What needs to happen

 

The LLTNPA needs to start joining up its various plans and to start implementing actions it proposed to do in the past but has since, without explanation, abandoned.

 

The LLTNPA needs to revive the east Loch Lomond Visitor Management Group (which did not meet last year) but make this both representative  (recreational organisations were not included) and accountable (it is not clear who signed off or agreed the last plan and the LLTNPA failed to provide any resources to make it happen).

 

The LLTNPA needs to start implementing its development plan policies on a consistent basis, rather than changing them so soon after they were adopted.   If the LLTNPA won’t abide by its own planning policies, there is no reason why anyone else should.

Thanks to Nick Halls for these photos and for information which has informed the commentary.

Southern entrance to torpedo station site 15th May               Photo Credit Nick Halls

The area around the former southern entrance to the torpedo station remains in a very poor condition with concrete barriers now replacing the plastic barriers across the broken entrance gates.

 

The gates, which were installed to prevent vehicular access to the former torpedo station following an amenity notice issued by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority  (see here) and were then broken open (see here), appear to have had very little impact.

Close up of left side of gate, there is litter everywhere and this is the side of the public road. Photo Credit Nick Halls
Photo Credit Nick Halls

Inside the gate is even worse.  There has been a fire, whether this was an attempt to burn off rubbish or burn down the gate is unclear.

Photo Credit Nick Halls

And there is yet more fly tipping down the bank.

 

Clydebank Developments, who as far as I am aware are still owners of the torpedo site, have now  had 9 months to clear up the site since the LLTNPA issued the amenity notice last year.   The problem is that no-one is monitoring the site, the developer appears to have no presence, there are now far fewer police based in rural areas and the LLTNPA has devoted all its energy to chasing innocent campers rather than fly tippers who cause far greater problems.  There is clearly no proper enforcement taking place.  The local community and National Park deserve better.

 

It was good to see the head of Loch Long, which suffers from a massive litter problem – the worst in the National park – in pristine condition 10 days earlier.  What a contrast to the torpedo site just down the road.   Local community pressure to address the marine litter problems has clearly had a positive effect.  They have been involved in clearing the litter themselves and received grant funding, which has recently finished, to pay for the litter to be removed.    The problem is there are no adequate long term budgets to address the issue and, as the March meeting of the Arrochar and Tarbert Community Council noted, while Argyll and Bute allocation of £200k to clear up litter from beaches is very welcome, the Council’s coastline is as long as France!

Photo taken 5/5/17                                                                          Nick Kempe

Another small step forward is that the LLTNPA has recognised there is a marine litter problem in its new draft Partnership Plan – the word “marine” failed to appear in the last plan at all!  This is what the new draft plan has to say about it:

 

The volume of marine litter affecting communities on Loch Long is a long-standing issue which requires innovative thinking to resolve. (P28).

“Innovative thinking” is another example of parkspeak, whose real meaning is that the LLTNPA is not proposing to spend any resources on the marine litter problem which blights the National Park over the five years of the new Partnership Plan.

 

While it would be great to be able to address the causes marine litter in the Clyde,   which would require much greater enforcement action than happens at present (yes, that word enforcement again),  when litter is washed up at the head of Loch Long it needs someone to pick it up, just like it needs someone to pick up the litter at the torpedo site or at Luss (see here) or Balmaha on busy weekends.   The problem is the LLTNPA is so obsessed with the litter left by a few irresponsible campers, it cannot see the litter problem as a whole despite all the evidence on the ground.

 

What needs to happen

 

  • The LLTNPA needs to develop a proper litter strategy, as it promised to do several years ago and has never delivered – there is no mention of this commitment in the new Partnership Plan.  Without a co-ordinated plan, its target, to see a reduction of litter in the National Park over the next five years, is meaningless and will never be met.
  • The LLTNPA also needs to start telling the truth.  In the new Partnership Plan the LLTNPA claims “Much public investment has already been targeted in raising the quality of visitor facilities in the  busiest areas improving car parks, toilets, information points, litter facilities, viewpoints and campsites”.   Yes, its spent money on carparks, viewpoints and campsites – whether this has been well spent is a separate issue – but litter facilities and toilets??   So what is the gap between what is needed and what is provided?  The Partnership Plan is completely silent.   The LLTNPA continues to avoid the real issues facing the National Park.
Photomontage of option 1 for Ptarmigan contained in undated Cairngorm Mountain; Pre-planning feasibility document

After Highlands and Enterprise announced a masterplan had been agreed for Cairngorm, without actually releasing any details of its proposals (see here), I asked for these under Freedom of Information.  I was refused (see here) and on 24th April I submitted a formal review request as required under Freedom of Information procedures.  Meantime, a number of other FOI requests were submitted to other Public Authorities about what information they held about the proposals for Cairngorm and the first response was from Scottish Natural Heritage (well done SNH!).  Along with the response letter  were  over 20 MB of documents.

 

The information SNH has provided shows that HIE’s claim that “the CML Master Plan is commercially sensitive and cannot be published at this time” is complete rubbish.  There is NO commercially sensitive information in the document but HIE’s usual modus operandi is secrecy.  It appears HIE’s  main concern is to keep consultation about the proposals it has developed with Natural Retreats as limited as possible and to try and stitch up a deal with other public agencies before any consultation takes place.     This is wrong.

 

Its still not possible from the FOI material to tell exactly what is being proposed at Cairngorm and, I am pretty certain, SNH and the other public authorities don’t know either.  This is evidenced by an extract from a letter from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to Highland Council dated 17th March 2017:

 

The revised masterplan mentioned in the SEPA letter appears to refer to a brochure produced by Natural Retreats (one of several)  which contains this photomontage, again undated:

Spot the difference with the earlier version below:

Yes, the label to the green line has been removed but not the line itself!

 

HIE in their press release on 12th April announcing the “agreed masterplan” for Cairngorm, focused entirely on the Ptarmigan and Dry ski slope and made no mention of a funicular tunnel boardwalk, the shieling garage extension or changes to the car park contained in the “revised masterplan”. Its not clear therefore whether these are now being proposed or not.

Location of mountain boardwalk as contained within earlier version of the “masterplan”

What does appear to have happened though is that proposals to develop mountain bike trails across Cairngorm have been dropped, for the time-being at least:

 

Having debriefed after the meetings we have decided to drop any plans for Mountain Biking
from this masterplan which leaves our current plans focussing on the artificial ski slope and
improvements to the Ptarmigan (email from Natural Retreats 26th October 2016)

 

Diagrams of what was being considered did appear in earlier versions of the “Masterplan brochures” produced by Natural Retreats:

 

The pre-planning feasibility document is focussed on the two new developments announced by HIE, an extension to the Ptarmigan and a dry ski slope, which suggests it is the most up to date document about what is being proposed.  It also contains a statement which suggests that HIE and Natural Retreats are no longer proposing any proper masterplan as such:

 

Now normally a masterplan would require an Environment Impact Assessment – Flamingo Land is producing one for Balloch (see here)  – so no EIA, no masterplan.    HOWEVER, the screening response referred to is NOT on the Highland Council Planning portal although there is a decision letter dated 24th February 2016 screening opinion coire cas,  which contains this statement (the capitals are as per the letter) which is very clear:

 

Screening Opinion

It is considered that Environmental Impact Assessment IS required for the development described in the letter and information accompanying your screening request.

 

I hope that the Cairngorms National Park Authority will support this and insist a proper Environmental Impact Assessment is submitted before any planning applications are considered but also that a plan is produced for the whole mountain.  What needs to be avoided is a situation where Natural Retreats and HIE come back with additional proposals, such as mountain bike trails, at a later date.  There needs to be a comprehensive plan for Cairngorm.

 

One thing the material does show is that whatever is actually being proposed,  the “project” its well behind schedule:

 

 

I will cover the proposed new developments – which are to be financed through a £4m loan from HIE in detail in a future post.  Meantime here is a photomontage of the design and location of the proposed dry ski slopes (there is also a green option).   Comments welcome!

Cairngorm Mountain: pre-planning feasibility document
The flat headland opposite Ledard House, at the start of the southern path to Ben Venue.  Proposed campsite was to be located right of photo

That campsites can become “political” issues is demonstrated in Strathard where Fergus Wood, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board Member, lost his Council seat on 4th May (see here).  On 11th May he withdrew his planning application for a new campsite by the shores of Loch Ard on Ledard Farm (see here).

 

The Interests of Board Members of the LLTNPA

 

The day before I received a very interesting letter from the LLTNPA EIR 2017-039 Response Ledard farm refusing to disclose correspondence between the National Park and Fergus Wood about this application.   The reasons cited for this are “commercial confidentiality” and data protection:

 

Correspondence in relation to pre-planning requests for advice typically includes personal information and information that in its nature relates to commercial interests of an individual or business. The provision of a pre-application advice service helps in the delivery of an effective planning system, and it is important that such advice is provided confidentially. The practice of providing confidential pre-application advice to all planning applicants as required is common place across Scottish planning authorities and prospective planning applicants engage in the pre-application advice process with a reasonable and legitimate expectation of confidentiality
.

Note how the LLTNPA avoids saying whether the application contains personal information or commercial interests in this case.   In fact, if there was personal information such as phone numbers on correspondence, normal practice is simply to redact this.  Moreover, the fact there are commercial interests behind most planning applications is not the same as saying this is “commercial” information which might be exempt under our Freedom of Information laws.   While the public may not expect every piece of correspondence they have with the National Park or other public authorities to be publicly available, Fergus Wood is not an ordinary member  of the public but a Board Member.  What should be important in terms of ethical standards in public life is there is complete transparency where Board Members make planning applications.  Indeed the Scottish Government and Cosla has issued guidance on this http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0044/00444959.pdf.  

Procedures should be conducted in a consistent and transparent manner to avoid
suspicions that councillors may have prejudiced their positions

 

While this statement was written about councillors taking the decision, rather than making an application, the principle should apply to both.  Its quite clear the LLTNPA does not understand this at all:

 

“This individual would have had no expectation that correspondence regarding a proposed business development would be released into the public domain.”

 

The problem is there has been no transparency, Fergus Wood managed to fail to declare he was a Board Member when making the application, failed to engage with people (including neighbours who objected to the application) and he paid for this locally.   Local people do not like the way this case has been handled.    I am pretty certain the Park’s response to the information request will only make them even more suspicious should Fergus Wood submit a new application once he has stepped down from the LLTNPA Board.

While the Plan for the campsite was in name Mrs F Wood, the application was in both names, and the Code of Conduct for the National Park requires members to be transparent about the interests of their spouses/partners

 

 

Context for the objections to the Ledard Farm campsite planning application

 

There is a shortage of campsites in the National Park and, as been stated in previous posts, its positive that Fergus Wood, as a Board Member, has been prepared to cater for campers, if not in his backyard at least in view of his front garden.

Ledard Farm, home of Fergus Wood, just across the B829 from the proposed campsite

The unprecedented number objections to this planning application can, I believe, be accounted for by the camping byelaws.  The Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs, who rightly have long been arguing the need for new campsites across the National Park, in their letter of support for this application said they did so because it would make “a positive contribution to the Your Park Initiative”.   The problem in Strathard, however, is “Your Park”, the contorted “vision” the LLTNPA has for camping.

 

As partial compensation for the camping ban across most of the lochshores in the National Park, the LLTNPA needed to show it was doing something.  It therefore promised 300 new places to Scottish Ministers but to help meet this promised  decided with Forestry Commission Scotland to develop a campsite on Loch Chon, a little further west along Strathard, where very few people had previous camped.  The local community made representations about people being encouraged into the area without suitable infrastructure (the narrow road, supervision of the campsite etc) which the LLTNPA in its usual way said would all be addressed.    What’s become clear in the last couple of  months is that most of the re-assurances the LLTNPA made about that development are meaningless:  the Park has failed to adhere to its own planning conditions and just a couple of weeks ago I found out that the warden appointed to supervise the site had left and a Ranger was driving in each day, a one hour trip, to manage the campsite (and presumably provide the bottled water which was needed because the water supply had failed – as predicted (see here).

 

So, the context to the large number of planning objections to the Ledard Farm campsite was that local people were worried that large numbers of irresponsible campers – and the LLTNPA has spent the last three years selling a myth to local communities that campers account for all the ills in the National Park – would all end up around Kinlochard at the Loch Chon and Ledard farm campsites.  These places being where people could still camp in the National Park and far more attractive for camping than the “permit zones” on Forest Drive (see here).   Had Fergus Wood taken up local concerns about the Loch Chon proposal, and used these to inform his own proposals, he might have avoided the backlash.   Like other Board Members, however, it appears he had become complacent because all the complaints to the Scottish Government had fallen on deaf ears and he therefore believed the National Park could continue to bulldoze through whatever it liked.   He had forgotten about democracy, the unfair consequence of which in this case is only that the Tory Councillor and LLTNPA Board Member Martin Earl, who like Fergus Wood endorsed the ill-thought out Loch Chon campsite, appears to have benefitted at the SNP’s expense.

 

Merits of the objections to the Ledard Farm campsite

 

Despite this context, very few of the objections to the Ledard campsite application (see here) appeared based on NIMBYISM and most in my view were well argued.  Here are some of the main points made:

 

  • People referred to the Development plan context (which was also ignored at Loch Chon) stating that the size of the development was too large for the area
  • People pointed out that the development was on a flood plain – contrary to National Park policy
  • People argued that because of the open landscape character of the lochshore it would be much more appropriate to site a campsite on the north side of the A827.
  • People were concerned about an influx of campervans along a narrow road (a concern that is now probably unwarranted as its become clearer the LLTNPA will be unable to enforce the camping byelaws against campervans and there is little risks therefore of large numbers being driven into Strathard).
  • People were concerned about increased light pollution at night (the LLTNPA keeps promoting dark skies)

 

What the objections add up to is that this was a tourist development in the wrong place – I have to say that I tend to agree.  While in many ways the planning application was positive (provision for staff to stay on site)  it was still a development and would have introduced a high profile building close to the lochshore in a open situation:

 

 

 

There are plenty of better places for campsites in Strathard and if, as is rumoured, Fergus Wood intends to re-submit a planning application for a campsite once he has stood down from the LLTNPA Board, location will be all important.   I would hope that both recreational and local interests would welcome a campsite in the right place.

 

A wider plan for the area

 

While Fergus Wood’s proposed campsite has created massive controversy, on the other side on Ben Venue, the LLTNPA  consented on 3rd May to a small new campsite at Trossachs Pier, at the east end of Loch Katrine, just outside the camping management zone (see here for planning application).    There were just two representations against the proposal demonstrating that local communities are not against all developments, but this one is small and located in woodland.  It includes water and electric hook ups and an effluent disposal point for campervans in the car park, upgrade of public toilets to include shower/wet room, 8 low cost camping pitches and 8 camping pods.

 

The trustees of the SS Walter Scott (who include the chair of Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs, James Fraser, who like me is on the Committee of the Scottish Campaign for National Parks), who made the application, have developed the proposal from its initial concept in a short period of time and also raised the funds to build it.   This  puts the LLTNPA to shame and highlights their failure to deliver all the basic campsites they had promised to deliver in the Trossachs as part of the 5 Lochs Management Plan (which now effectively appears to have been dumped) (see here)

 

There is now the potential to develop a network of small campsites around Loch Katrine and Strathard which would enable people to make more use of the cycling and walking routes there.

Path which runs parallel to shores Loch Arklet between Inversnaid and Loch Katrine by Corriearklet

The path which was created to connect Inversnaid to Stronachlachar Pier, at the west end of Loch Katrine, is sadly unused and the camping byelaws (which takes in all the land between the path and the Loch despite the small numbers of people who ever camped here – its even more remote than Loch Chon)   make it useless for backpackers who don’t want to risk becoming criminals.  Meantime while Stronachlachar Pier is just outwith the camping management zone, campers are not welcome:

 

While this is yet another unlawful no camping sign in the National Park, the request is not unreasonable.   What is needed is a sign which directs people to a good camping spot locally.

 

If there was a small basic campsite at Stronlachar or Loch Arklet, this would create a network of  campsites in the west Trossachs (in addition to those at Trossachs Pier, Loch Chon and maybe in future Ledard Farm) which would allow lots of opportunities for short backpacking and cycle tours, for example at weekends.  In my view that is what the National Park should be about and I would hope that people in the local community would agree.

What needs to be done in Strathard?

 

The basic problem in Strathard is that the LLTNPA has tried to impose ill-thought out proposals which suit its agend but no-one else.  Fergus Wood has paid a price for that.   Strathard was never included in the 5 Lochs Management Plan but I believe what is needed first and foremost is a visitor management plan for the whole area.   Unfortunately, the LLTNPA instead of building on the  work for the rest of the Trossachs started by Grant Moir, now Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Kevin Findlater, former Chief Inspector with the police and others, has let that go and has nothing to replace it.   Visitor Infrastructure and management is therefore a shambles with all resources being diverted to policing the unenforceable camping byelaws.

 

The way forward therefore is the creation of a stakeholder group for Strathard – which in my view should be independent of the Park Authority who at present cannot be trusted on anything but be supported by it (in terms of staff time and resources) – whose mission should be to develop a plan for Strathard.   Such a group needs to consider the infrastructure and other issues identified by local residents as well as wider interests.

 

I would hope that such a plan included the following as starters:

  • proposals to develop a network of small campsites linking across the area (within which any proposal for a new campsite at Ledard farm could be judged)
  • the potential to introduce public transport at weekends and holidays (using school buses) to enable some increase in visitor numbers without encouraging more traffic
  • a reduction in the number of formal pitches at Loch Chon (which would be easy to achieve since many are already being overrun by vegetation) and abandonment of the current rules banning campervans from staying in the carpark or tents from pitching by the lochshore
Mid Glen Falloch, viewed from shoulder of An Caisteal.  The area It is now a mass of tracks, leading to hydro dams.  Foreground Allt Andoran, far right Eas Eonan and left background start of track up Allt a Chuillinn.  The hydro powerhouse is centre background, Derrydarroch to the right.

On 6th May, during the very dry spell, I went for another walk over An Caisteal and Ben a Chroin, almost a year to the day after a similar round The Glen Falloch hydro schemes (2) (with several visits in-between).   The walk provided yet more evidence of why Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority staff should never have approved these tracks (which in the original planning application consented to by the Scottish Government were to be removed) but also about the poor standards of restoration.    This is a disaster for a National Park whose 2012-17 Partnership Plan, which is supposed to guide everything it does,  starts with the statement that:

 

“we want the National Park to be an internationally-renowned landscape”.  

 

How does what the LLTNPA have allowed to happen in Glen Falloch contribute to that?    In the draft Partnership Plan 2018-23 which is now out for consultation (see here) it is telling that there is no evaluation of how successful the LLTNPA has been in achieving this aim.

The first Allt a Chuillinn intake centre, the other two intakes are beyond track you can see bottom left

Previously, I have stated that in my view the restoration of the ground in which the pipelines have been buried has generally successful and little  cause for concern with it often being quite difficult to make out the line of the pipelines.    While I believe that is still sometimes the case, the long dry spell has accentuated the differences in vegetation and its easy to see the landscape scars (above centre).   The land may take longer to recover than I had thought.

 

Allt Andoran Track 8th May 2016

Comparing the photo above (taken a year ago on a day with far less good visibility) with the first photo in the post taken a year later, you can see that the ground above the pipeline has recovered to an extent but has a long way to go.   The track itself, despite the vegetation down the middle, looks little different and forms a permanent landscape scar.

Close up of Eas Eonan track, showing poor restoration of the temporary access track that led to blue pipe over West Highland Line (centre left)

 

The Eas Eonan hydro track leads into an area of core wild land.  The new draft Park Plan states:

 

“The National Park provides opportunities for anyone to have their first experience of the ‘wild outdoors” 

 

There is nothing in the plan about how the National Park, through all the developments it has approved, has eroded that experience in the last five years.  Perhaps the  National Park Board and senior management team believe walking up a bulldozed track is a wild experience?    Its becoming harder and harder to have a wild experience in the National Park because of decisions made by the LLTNPA.  Removal of the tracks, as originally planned, would have preserved some of that.

Lower reaches of Coire Earb by the Upper Falloch, Beinn Odhar and Ben Dorain in background

Coire Earb is wild, and indeed falls within a core wild land area.   While there was an existing track by the upper reaches of the River Falloch, this ended 1 km before the new hydro dam and formerly was out of sight when you were descending the glen.   The decision by LLTNPA staff to allow the track to remain permanently has changed the experience totally.

The new section of track. The line of the pipeline is now more visible than it was a year ago.

Would not the hydro here have had far less impact on the landscape if the track has been removed as originally planned?

The Upper Glen Falloch hydro close up

May 2017
May 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The approval of the LLTNPA to the track extension to the hydro being retained has made it easier for the Glen Falloch Estate to drive vehicles off-road further up the glen.   A year ago (right) there was no evidence of vehicles being driven beyond the intake, now there are vehicle tracks beside it which are destroying the ground that was restored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vehicles are also being driven off the track with no regard for soil or vegetation.  The consequence is the track is in places likely to end up being 5-7m wide instead of the 2.5m (and 3m on steep hills and bends) which the LLTNPA recommends in its “award winning” good practice guidance which it has never enforced.

 

The reason for this is that the LLTNPA has basically allowed a new wide track to be created to construct the hydro scheme but then allowed the batters (see diagram below) to remain in place with minimum attempts to re-landscape the flat surface of the track (a little bit of soil and peat has just been added to the outside edge of the track).  The result is that its very easy for vehicles to drive off the track while in landscape terms the track is still effectively 5-7m broad in most places.

Photo showing how original attempt to cover former track surface is failing, with former surface of construction track being revealed as turf has been eroded by cattle.

The design of the track together with the erosion caused by vehicles and cattle have had the result that in most places there is actually now less peaty soil by the track than there was a year ago (see above).

 

The failure to re-landscape the former road surface so that the remaining track moulds into the contours of the land has also made it easy for the estate to create new parking or working areas which add considerably to the visual impact of the track.

 

The pre-existing track  which ended a little further up the hill, was widened for the hydro construction,  not by cutting a further batter but by importing aggregate (left) to use as fill.

There little  attempt (photo above) to shape the the fill so it merges into the contours of the land.  The result is a broad bench cutting across the hillside.  In landscape terms, the track here is in effect still 5-7m wide rather than the 2.5-3m recommended by the National Park.

The 3m mark on tape measure is just to the left of the small stone holding the tape measure in place.

Even on the better sections, the track is far wider than the LLTNPA requires.  I took my 3m tape which is here fully extended on a section of track which slopes gently downhill.  I think a 2.5m track would have been more than adequate here (and probably less as you can see from the vehicle marks) but the actual track is more like 3.5m wide.   What is the LLTNPA going to do to address this?  The wider the track of course, the more it will stand out from a distance.  There is no evidence of the central grass strips which grace the Allt Andoran track (top photo).

If there was any serious intention to narrow the upper Falloch construction track this double gate would have been removed – another illustration of just how wide this track is.

 

 

Readers who have driven up the Glen Falloch or walked there will know that the construction compound is still in place and, during my walk, there was some evidence that some further work had been undertaken to restore the destruction caused by the hydro scheme.

 

Where turf has been stored successfully, then used alongside the track and cattle have been kept off, the restoration does look better, although the protruding plastic culvert tells a tale

The restored sections however are few in comparison to those that still need attention and at this rate the track is going to take years to restore to anything like an acceptable state.  That is unacceptable in a National Park whose current Plan incidentally states (and rightly so):

The outstanding landscapes and special qualities of the Park should be protected and where possible enhanced

 

What needs to happen

 

The LLTNPA needs both to learn from the Glen Falloch disaster but also find ways to reduce the impact of what has happened.   This is not just about Glen Falloch, but the forty odd other hydro schemes in the National Park, many of which have similar impacts.  Here is my first go at a list of actions that are needed:

  1. Planning decisions that have significant landscape implications should no longer be delegated to staff but considered by the Planning Committee, as in the Cairngorms National Park Authority.
  2. The LLTNPA should commission an independent report into the Glen Falloch hydro schemes which should fully involve those who are concerned about the protection of Scotland’s landscape, which should look both at the mistakes that have been made and how they can be reversed.
  3. The new Partnership Plan needs to incorporate a meaningful landscape policy which, like the Cairngorms National Park Authority, indicates areas where there will be a presumption against development.  Unless the LLTNPA does this, the current destruction of landscape in the National Park will simply continue.
  4. The LLTNPA Board should engage with the Glen Falloch estate and develop a plan on how to remove the hydro tracks granted consent by staff.  Over the next ten years the estate will receive a huge income from the hydro schemes which could still be used, as originally intended, to remove the tracks.
  5. Where existing tracks were widened, the LLTNPA needs to ensure that all the restoration meets the standards set out in its good practice guidance.   Tracks which are broader than the maximum and unfinished culverts for example should not be tolerated.
  6. The LLTNPA should put in place measures to control the off-road use of vehicles, particularly in wild land.
  7. The LLTNPA Board and senior staff need to get out more and take a look at what is being done in their name.
The unauthorised tip/storage area at the former Fiacaill T-bar loading area in Coire Cas has grown in  size

Publicly, all has gone quiet at Cairngorm, though these photos taken last week during the dry weather tell a tale.

 

Coire Cas

Unauthorised tip at White Lady loading area
Yet more dumping and evidence of a lack of care

The promised clean up of Cairngorm does not appear to have lasted long.

Evidence of the basic lack of care by Natural Retreats, even of what is new, is not hard to find:

Buttons from new shieling rope tow, paid for by Highlands and Islands Enterprise for a cost of £82,243 left lying on the ground.

Judging by this work, the new Sunkid tow may not have been properly installed in the first place – who is paying for this, HIE or Natural Retreats who supervised the works?

About 1/3 way up the Shieling track, there is evidence of water seepage  despite the long dry spell.  In my critique of the Cairngorms National Park Committee Report which approved the retrospective planning application (see here) I raised concerns about the impact of the track on the drainage:

  • There is no attempt to describe the extent of the area where works took place in breach of the planning permission (the application was for a strip of ground 30m broad).   This is important because without a description of what has been done, the CNPA is not in a position to stipulate what remedial measures are required.
  • Related to this, there is NO description of the impacts of the works on the hydrology of the area.

It doesn’t take any expertise in hydrology to appreciate that the track has not been properly constructed – patches are soft and spongy – and will not be able to bear regular vehicle use.  Indeed the photo below shows how its continuing to erode even in a dry spell.

 

Meanwhile the CNPA’s agreement to grant planning permission to this track retrospectively has done nothing to stop Natural Retreats’ staff from driving vehicles all over the hillside causing yet more damage.

Still, on the plus side, Natural Retreats do appear to have started to repair the monoblock outside the Shieling:

You can judge the quality of the repair for yourself.

Treatment of staff

 

Meantime, this advert  appeared recently http://www.environmentjob.co.uk/adverts/64102-senior-ranger.   The Rangers were the people who have tried to repair all the damage caused by Natural Retreats at Cairngorm – I met one last year re-seeding a bulldozed area, trying his best to restore the damage caused around the Cas Gantry by the “de minimis” emergency works there. The advert describes the Senior Ranger “as an important cog in the operation of Cairngorm Mountain”.   “Cog” tells you something.

 

Natural Retreats are proposing to pay the lead person with the expertise to care for the environment at Cairngorm all of £22-24k………and its worth reading the job description for what they are expected to do, including working bank holidays and weekends for no extra pay apparently……….tells you something more about how little Natural Retreats value their staff and the environment.   While the average UK salary is now apparently £27k, wages in Scotland are lower and wages in the Cairngorms National Park lower still.

 

The contrast between what Natural Retreats pay their staff – and they have taken over the Ranger Service from HIE – and the wealth of David Michael Gorton, the man who basically owns and controls the Natural Retreats suite of companies (see here) is striking.   According to efinancial careers (see here):

 

In 2002, London Diversified [the Hedge Fund he set up] spun out on its own. Initially, it did well. In 2004, Gorton and two others are said to have shared a 55m payout and the business expanded to around 70 people.

 

Yes, you have read that right, and this was just 14 months after David Gorton and two others had setup the fund.  London Diversified was subsequently hit by the financial crisis – caused of course by the casino capitalism of the city of which it was part – and the assets it managed collapsed from $5 billion to $300m.   David Michael Gorton though would appear to remain a very rich man  being party in 2015 to a £12.5m divorce settlement (see here).

 

The disparity – gulf would be a more accurate term –  between Mr Gorton’s wealth and the low pay at Cairngorm is not accidental, its connected and a reflection of our neo-liberal capitalist times.   The rich have got richer at the expense of others.    In my view the primary purpose of the Natural Retreats suite of businesses  has nothing to do with caring for the environment or the people working at Cairngorm, its a vehicle for making money for its ultimate owner and one way that is done is by paying staff as little possible.

 

The other way is to invest as little money as possible in the environment and that is reflected in what you can still see on the ground at Cairngorm.

 

Coire na Ciste

 

The area by the former Coire na Ciste chair lift, where planning consent has now been granted to remove the abandoned buildings (and rightly so), is still a dump.

The Aonach Poma loading gantry – its been in this state for almost 7 years now

The historic neglect at Cairngorm of course is not Natural Retreats’ responsibility – its the responsibility of HIE.   There have been no planning applications to demolish or remove the other abandoned infrastructure in Coire na Ciste and, because the masterplan for Cairngorm is still secret (see here), its not clear whether there are any such plans.

Natural Retreats’ lease however covers the whole ski area, including Coire na Ciste, and while the delapidated buildings and infrastructure may be HIE’ responsibility, Natural Retreats does have responsibility for the general amenity of the area.

Collapsed snow fencing,  approaching West Wall poma upload area

Natural Retreats also has a specific responsibility for maintenance of snow fencing, though its not clear if anything has been agreed with HIE about removal and replacement of old snow fencing in Coire na Ciste.

Abandoned chairlift sheaves which have been on the ground since 2012

Again, while this has not been caused by Natural Retreats, their purchase of Cairngorm Mountain Ltd has not resulted in any improvements to the historic delapidation and rubbish in Coire na Ciste.

Windblown? pipe January 2017 Photo Credit Louis Mullen

 

 

 

However, judging by the age of this pipe, Natural Retreats appears to have added to it.   The Allt na Ciste, within the ski area, has collected all sorts of rubbish and needs a clean-up.

 

What needs to happen?

 

The secret masterplan at Cairngorm needs to be made public and there needs to be a full consultation by HIE and Natural Retreats about how to address the historic neglect at Cairngorm as a precondition to any plans for new developments.

Beauly Denny restoration across A9 from A889 just north of Dalwhinnie. Meall Chuaich left background.  Photo 1/5/17.

 

In my last post on the Beauly Denny restoration (see here), I referred to the apparent contradictory views on who is responsible for ensuring the land is properly restored to its original condition, a requirement of the planning consent for the powerline granted by the Scottish Government.   The  restoration of much of the ground in the Cairngorms National Park falls well short of what we should expect in a National Park (see photos).

 

A Scottish Government official had told me the Cairngorms National Park Authority is responsible for enforcing the planning condition while an officer of the CNPA had told the North East Trust that they thought the Scottish Government is responsible.     I am grateful to the reader who draw my attention to the Guidance from the Scottish Government Energy Consents and Deployment Unit (ECDU) on this topic (see here).

 

Ostensibly the Scottish Government official was right.  The Guidance states:

 

ECDU, in consultation with the relevant Planning Authority, SEPA and SNH, who will all be asked to provide regular reports to ECDU, will monitor the performance of applicants in complying with the above conditions. The discharge, compliance and enforcement of deemed planning conditions is overseen by the relevant planning authority.

 

While there are complexities to the legal position of which is the planning authority in this case, the CNPA not having full planning powers, in practice the CNPA rather than Highland Council has taken the lead on the Beauly Denny (to its credit) so I think it is clear it is responsible for enforcing the planning conditions.

 

The problem however is the Guidance makes it clear that the Scottish Government is responsible for monitoring compliance with the planning conditions.  Its difficult to see how legally CNPA could start taking enforcement action unless the Scottish Government accepted this was needed:  Scottish and Southern Electric as developer could probably block any enforcement action in court on the basis that there was no evidence that the Scottish Government as the  official monitoring body was concerned about the quality of the “restoration”.

 

So what is the position of the Scottish Government on the quality of the restoration?

 

Next pylon south from that in top photo showing poor “restoration” around the tower and along the track. From a distance some of the landscape impact is reduced because of the large areas of muirburn but is likely to become more prominent as summer progresses.

 

From what I have been able to ascertain from a Freedom of Information request to the CNPA, the Scottish Government is doing very little to monitor critically the performance of SSE.   While I might be wrong about this – I have not for example asked the SG yet for the information they hold on this – what appears to be happening is the SG are  meeting SSE without SNH and CNPA present.   Indeed CNPA were kept so far out the loop that in July 2015 the liaison process had to be explained to them by SSE 150729BDUpdateMeetingNote.

 

This is important because  the CNPA has been raising serious concerns about the standard of the restoration.   First, the then convener of the CNPA Duncan Bryden wrote to SSE outlining their serious concerns after a Board visit to the site 250615trackrestorationSSE:

 

Despite a long period of period of pre planning and preparation it does not appear to the CNPA that the methods used are commensurate with National Park sensitivities (including Natura 2000 designations), nor the high- profile nature of the works, immediately adjacent to and often highly visible from the A9, Highland main line, National Cycle Route 7  and surrounding Munros.  For example, the original vegetation and turfs have not been removed and stored in such a way as to facilitate regeneration and there has been significant soil compaction and mixing of soil horizons.

 

These concerns were reinforced by CNPA officers at the meeting in July when the asked some SSE some crucial questions:

 

Why, given that certain activities had been planned, had they not then been implemented? Why, given that this was always known to be a challenging and high profile site, and that work was going on at present were the plans for re-vegetation/restoration not at more advanced stage?

 

The response from SSE, which claims to a company with aspirations to being green and socially responsible, avoids the issues 250615trackrestorationSSE Mr D Bryden CNPA Response 26 August 2015:

The photographic evidence in my view contradicts the claim by SSE that “there have been isolated issues surrounding the separation and storage of soils” and that the whole project has been very successful.    The Scottish Government needs to test the corporate governance speak against what can be seen on the ground.

Travelling down the A9 on 1st May I took photos of almost every tower you can see from the road. The impact on soils and vegetation is not hard to see as with this pylon south of North Drumochter Lodge

 

While I have not yet been able to work out the numbers of all the pylons, in the monitoring produced in October 2016 SSE states that for almost all pylons on this section of line “Re-instatement of the soils is to an acceptable standard”.  The photos I believe show otherwise and that the CNPA was completely right to raise concerns.

 

What needs to happen

 

What’s not in the public realm at present (as far as I have been able to ascertain) is whether the  CNPA’s concerns have been submitted to the Scottish Government, and if so what the Scottish Government’s response has been.   What is needed is join up between the Scottish Government’s ECDU and the CNPA and SNH.  While a first step would be joint monitoring meetings, I think there also needs to be a joint approach to remedying what has gone wrong.

 

Meantime, at the end of April there was some good news about the impact of the Beauly Denny on the landscape in the National Park (see here).   The pylons between Aviemore and Kingussie, including those that blight the extension to the Speyside Way (see here), are being removed.  Although the CNPA did not manage to block the Beauly Denny they did achieve removal of these powerlines as a compensatory measure.   The challenge now for the CNPA (and for landscape campaigners)  is not to allow the Scottish Government to treat that welcome “compensatory improvement” as sufficient and the Beauly Denny as job done while burying their heads in the new soils that have been created at Drumochter.

Photo credit Luss Estates – from last weekend

Contributors to Parkswatch have, over the last 15 months, regularly highlighted the failures of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority to provide basic facilities for visitors.  We are not the only people who have been saying this of course but in an extremely welcome development, Luss Estates, who I understand have been trying to influence the LLTNPA behind the scenes, have gone public.   Their press release, about what went wrong at Luss over the weekend, is very powerful.

A link was also provided to a number of further photos (see here) which every politician in Scotland should take a look at and then start asking questions.

The problems, which were entirely predictable given the spell of fine weather we have been having,  did not just affect Luss but were evident in other hotspots in the National Park.   This point was well made in another welcome press statement from the Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs:

 

“Call to Get Back to Basics

The Friends of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs Chairman, James Fraser has made an urgent call for local public sector agencies to get back to basics to tackle litter, toilet and traffic management issues in a more effective way at popular lochside visitor hotspots such as Luss and Balmaha.
He said: ” Over the past weekend both locations were overrun with visitors and were unable to cope and it was evident public bodies such local authorities and the National Park Authority are not geared up to deal with the basics such as emptying overflowing litter bins and  resolving traffic management problems at busy times. The current arrangements are wholly  inadequate and urgently need to be addressed to ensure there is no repeat of the shambles which took place last weekend.”
He added:” I understand new arrangements are supposed to be in place for different parts of the area with Councils taking on more responsibilities for traffic management and parking from the police but it is evident from the chaos with road blockages and indiscriminate parking at the weekend the Councils are ill prepared and  have not staffed up at busy weekends to deal with the problems.”
A flood of complaints were lodged by visitors and local residents over the weekend and many were ashamed by the dreadful state of the areas which fell well short of what is expected in a National Park.”
What is great is the public are now also complaining, as you can see from this post on Walkhighland about litter at Inveruglas.  Its also well worth a read and it would be hard to beat the patronising attitudes in the LLTNPA response to the complaint:
“It is unfortunate that more education needs to be done with the users of the park in terms of how they deal with their waste when in such beautiful locations.”
This shows just why the LLTNPA is failing, everything is someone else’s problem.
 

Visitors to the National Park are being ripped off by our public authorities and getting nothing in return

Meanwhile, as Magnus points out the LLTNPA charged him £4 to park his car while he was out hillwalking,  fees to pay bureaucrats to patronise the public.
And its going to get worse – the LLTNPA is at present trying to lease the carpark at Balmaha from Stirling Council where it plans to install another Automated Number Plate Charging system (three were originally planned, one at Inveruglas) so it can charge visitors – again without them getting anything in return.
Photo Credit Fiona Taylor
Argyll and Bute Council are doing the same in Luss.  If you want to go for a hill walk in the Luss Hills, a healthy activity which the National Park should be encouraging, and and use the car park you are likely to end up paying £7 for the privilege.   No-one in the LLTNPA seems to care – they would prefer people to park on the kerb so that they can then patronise visitors for not showing enough consideration for “beautiful locations”.

The connection between the LLTNPA’s  failures to provide infrastructure for visitors  and the camping byelaws

Illegal tent snapped from passenger seat of car west Loch Lomond Saturday 6th May
Contrast the photo above with the photos in the Luss Press Release.   Yes, the photos above was from the car and its not possible to tell if the campers were adhering to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, but ask yourself what is the problem the LLTNPA should be tackling?
Should they be devoting a huge proportion of their human and financial resources to trying to chase campers away from the loch shores, whether or not they are camping according to SOAC, or should they be tackling the problems highlighted by Luss Estates and Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs?
What neither Luss Estates or FOLLAT have been prepared to say publicly as yet – and both supported the camping byelaws, albeit far from unconditionally – is that the camping byelaws account for many of the failures of the LLTNPA, including a failure to co-ordinate work with Local Authorities on everything from litter collection to car park charging.     While the evidence shows the byelaws are unravelling anyway – see yesterday’s post (see here) – as long as they continue to direct their resources towards managing what they are not fit to manage, the National Park will continue to disgrace Scotland.

What needs to happen

James Stuart, in his speech to become convener, hinted that the LLTNPA need to change focus.  He did not go far enough but his challenge now is to reverse the parrot like statements from the Park and the Scottish Government officials that the byelaws are here to stay, admit the LLTNPA has made a serious error which is preventing resources being spent where they are needed, and start engaging with organisations like Luss Estates, FOLLAT and the recreational organisations, as well as local communities,  to develop a new approach.

 

The new National Park plan is the obvious place to start.   The LLTNPA needs to “get back to basics” as FOLLAT puts it and stop pretending that they are some sort of business whose main purpose is to raise income for itself rather than cater for the needs of visitors.  Parkswatch will feature a number of posts on the new draft Partnership Plan in the next few weeks and would encourage all those who have complained to the LLTNPA, to respond to it in due course.

Caravan on South Loch Earn Road 14th April 2017

One of primary justifications the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority made for camping byelaws was that they were needed to address the problem of encampments on laybys by caravans and motorhomes over the summer.

Extracts from Your Park consultation on the camping byelaws

In their news release (see here) about the approval of the camping byelaws the LLTNPA included the following statement:

 

New seasonal camping management byelaws (which come into force in March 2017 and will apply 1 March – 30 September each year) to regulate camping, tackle antisocial behaviour and make it an offence to cause damage to the Park’s natural environment. They will also prevent inappropriate use of public laybys as encampments by caravans and campervans; (my emphasis).

 

This point was repeated, word for word, in the news release that followed the LLTNPA Board’s approval of their so-called  camping “strategy” last October which included provision for just 20 campervan permits.

 

Its fair to conclude from this that part of the purpose of the camping byelaws was to prevent campervans and caravans using laybys in the four camping management zones.   Now, a caravan, like a campervan, is classified as a type of vehicle under the Roads Traffic Act and, as I have previously pointed out on parkswatch, since its not an offence to sleep overnight in a vehicle on a road within the camping management zones,  the camping byelaws are in effect unenforceable as far as campervans are concerned (see here).   I had not considered the case of caravans but exactly the same considerations should apply.

 

I was surprised to discover therefore on my trip round Loch Earn on 15th April that the LLTNPA appeared to be treating caravans completely different to campervans and in effect had told their staff to tell people with caravans that the byelaws do not apply to them.

 

The evidence from Loch Earn

 

When I met up with fellow campaigner Dave Morris on the south Loch Earn Rd on 14th April (see here) there was a caravan parked on the verge of the road (top photo) and, after spending a couple of happy minutes pushing one of their children who was swinging from a rope (cut off far right of photo!), we went over and asked the occupants if they knew about the camping byelaws and had had any hassle from Park Rangers.    They told us that they had been coming to Ardvorlich for years but we were slightly surprised when they said that estate staff had informed  them the byelaws did not affect them.  Both Dave and I thought this must have been some local arrangement due to the good offices of the Ardvorlich estate.

One of the laybys with caravans on North Loch Earn

We only realised what was going on when, after visiting a number of the laybys on the north side of Loch Earn which had caravans parked in them, we spoke to a family in the last caravan in permit zone D who were about to have their tea.

After telling us that the camping byelaws did not apply to caravans they also told us that the campervan parked next door to them had to get a permit, while their son, who was camping in a tent by the loch shore, had also been forced to buy a permit.  They seemed as bemused as us by how the LLTNPA was applying the byelaws but very happy with their good fortune..

 

Last week Nick Halls, during a visit to the Loch Chon campsite,  spoke to a Ranger who said to him “that the people who park their caravans in lay-bys and then occupy the space throughout the summer, could not be required to pay for a permit because the management zones can not include stopping on a highway”.    Official confirmation of my view, that the byelaws are unenforceable against people staying overnight in vehicles.   So why then are the LLTNPA still insisting that campervans apply for permits when they accept the same byelaws cannot be used control caravans?

 

Such discrimination is obviously wrong – though the absence of  moral scruples on the part of the LLTNPA will not surprise regular readers –  but the reason this farce is continuing is that if the LLTNPA were to admit publicly that the byelaws could not be used to control either caravans or campervans, they would lose all credibility not just with the public but with Scottish Ministers.

 

Misinformation, incompetence and squandering of public resources

 

Judging by how the byelaws are being applied on North Loch Earn, it will not be long before they unravel completely.

 

The first layby is described as Permit Zone A and is for tents only (see tents  symbol left).  Why the Park has made no provisions for campervans, when it now appears to be allowing caravans to stay here for free (we saw one) is something that Gordon Watson, the Park Chief Executive, should be asked to explain before a Committee of the Scottish Parliament.

 

The second layby, Zone B, is a permit zone for campervans (photo right).   We came across a man standing outside a campervan who had flown across from Germany, hired the vehicle, arrived at the layby, seen the sign and had tried to book online only to find no permits were available.  The layby was almost empty and he did not know what to do.  What type of tourist message is this?  We told him that in our view as the layby forms part of the road network he could stay there overnight – but trying to explain rights to a foreigner, even when their English is excellent is not that easy and we left him wondering what to do.  If he had driven into either the layby before (Zone A) or after (Zone C) (photo below) he would have never known he needed a permit because the signs say nothing about campervans.  It would be hard to invent such a shambles or a more disastrous message for tourism in Scotland.

 

What is not clear at present is what action the Park is taking against campervanners who try to spend the night on roads outwith the two official permit areas on Loch Earn, zones B and D, or what would happen if a campervan staying in a permit zone, insisted that like the caravans they should be able to stay there without a permit for free.

 

The wording on the signage, which cost the LLTNPA according to its figures £100,000, is wrong.  Its not true that people in campervans require a permit if they wish to sleep overnight in a vehicle in a permit area in the camping management zone.  There is no need to take my word for this.  If caravans, are exempt from the byelaws, because they are vehicles (so long as they are on a road) so should campervans, whether they stop off within a permit zone or outside it.   Any campervan owner who has paid for a permit should try asking the LLTPNA for their money back.

 

The bigger problem though is the information on the National Park website for campervans (see here).  The introductory part of the information sheet has not been changed DESPITE Rangers being told the byelaws cannot be applied to caravans:

 

On 1st March 2017 new byelaws are being introduced to manage the environmental impact of camping on some of the busiest lochshores in the National Park. These byelaws will affect those wanting to stay on and around some lochshores during the summer season in the National Park, whether they are in a tent, motorhome, campervan or caravan.

 

The Q and A information goes on to say:

 

Some of these permit areas allow for motorhomes and campervans to stop off overnight in the Camping Management Zones with a motorhome permit.

 

The clear implication is you can only stop off in a campervan in a permit area – this is wrong and totally hyprocritical of the LLTNPA who are not applying this to caravans. The LLTNPA is clearly trying to direct campervans to formal campsites and permit areas:

 

  1. Where can I go in Camping Management Zones with a motorhome or campervan?

Certain sites within the Camping Management Zones are well suited to providing places for visitors in motorhomes to stop overnight. There are both campsite locations and permit areas within the Trossachs North and West Loch Lomond Camping Management Zones, with suitable off-road locations to accommodate motorhomes. (See map below.)

There are plenty of places within the National Park to stop and rest on your journey.  These are unaffected by the new camping byelaws.

 

Only the last sentence hints at the truth – note it uses the words “you can stop and rest”, though this includes sleeping overnight, because if it explained where the plenty of places were that you could sleep overnight in a campervan, no-one would book a permit.

 

So what is the explanation for this farce?

 

It appears the LLTNPA senior management they failed to consider the implications of people being allowed to sleep in vehicles overnight – a basic safety requirement – and thought they could still ban caravans and campervans.    However, at a late stage, perhaps even after the byelaws commenced – and after these issues were raised on parkswatch?   – the LLTNPA appear to have decided that they could not apply the byelaws to caravans, hence the instruction to staff.  The LLTNPA have consistently refused to provide any information about enforcement about the byelaws, saying to do so would prejudice their operation.  That is clearly nonsense and the LLTNPA now needs to explain publicly why it has abandoned trying to enforce the byelaws against caravans but is still suggesting to campervans that they need to apply for permits like campers.

 

My fear though is that the LLTNPA is  desperately trying to retrieve the ban on caravans and campervans by getting Transport Scotland to ban vehicles from stopping off overnight in laybys on trunk roads and possibly by turning all the main roads in the camping management zones into clearways.    The only way Transport Scotland could do this however is if they could prove that overnight stops were creating safety issues while any new clearways would, as on east Loch Lomond, also impact on the ability of day visitors to stop off.    Transport Scotland should resist any pressure from the LLTNPA – its not their job to sort out the shambles the LLTNPA has created.

 

The LLTNPA also needs to apologise to local communities – NOW!

 

The main reason why so many community councils supported the byelaws is they were told by the LLTNPA that these were necessary to stop caravans being parked for the whole summer in laybys: the worst area for this was the north Loch Earn Rd.   Here are some examples:

 

Response 399) BLS Community Council.  “there seems to be a misconception, amongst a minority of visitors, that they can bring a caravan to the lochside and leave it parked up for the whole ‘fishing season’.  This ruins the opportunity for other genuine visitors………”

Response 460) East Strathearn Community Council “We absolutely support any measures that will discourage any semi-permanent occupation of our loch shores”.

Response 394) Crieff Community Council  “we are aware of the problems and difficulties caused at St Fillans and the adjacent area of Loch Earn by rogue campers and caravaners, anti-social behaviour and rowdyism, and drink related problems and litter” and “ask if the proposed changes will tackle the particular and regular problems of caravans being left in lay-bys and authorised parking places for weeks at a time”.

395) St Fillan’s Community Council.  Referred to a meeting August 2014 90 people re anti-social behaviour, litter and obstruction of lay-bys:   “something needed to be done to address the problems”   “With this in mind the Community Council………………………..supports the proposals of the National Park”.

 

A number of us told the LLTNPA at the time that byelaws were not needed to address encampment by caravans because this was covered by Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.   Guess what signs appear at the start of each layby on north Loch Earn?

 

Note the absence of LLTNPA livery and that the signs, while claiming to be a joint initiative, were clearly put up by Drummond Estates

So when it the LLTNPA going to come clean on this with local communities and admit it was wrong?

 

As those of us who were involved in negotiating access rights have always said, the camping byelaws were never necessary as there are alternative solutions to all the problems they claim to address.   What we could never have predicted is the resources  that a NIMBY National Park Authority would devote  to conning local people and the Minister that byelaws were the answer to problems or the resources that they are now wasting on trying to enforce the unenforceable.   The LLTNPA should stop trying to enforce the byelaws now, before the situation unravels further, and instead invest resources where they are needed such as public toilets, litter bins and litter collection.

The results of the Local Government elections last Thursday are likely to lead to a significant change in the composition of both National Park Boards over the next few months which provides an opportunity for all who care about how our National Parks operate at present.    The headline is that eight of the thirteen current nominees from Councils appointed by the Scottish Government to sit on the National Park Boards either lost their seats or failed to be re-elected last week and their term of office on the National Park Board is due to finish soon.

 

Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park

  • Hazell Wood (Lab) West Dunbartonshire Council – lost seat
  • James Robb (SLD) Argyll and Bute – lost seat
  • Fergus Wood (SNP) Stirling – lost seat to Tory
  • Bob Ellis (SNP) Perth and Kinross – did not stand
  • Martin Earl (Con) Stirling – re-elected
  • George Freeman (Ind) Argyll and Bute – re-elected

Cairngorms National Park

  • Jeanette Gaul (SNP) Angus – lost seat to Tory
  • Fiona Murdoch  Moray – did not stand
  • Kate Howie (SNP) Perth and Kinross – did not stand
  • Gregor Rimmell (SLD) Highland – lost seat
  • Bill Lobban (Ind) Highland – re-elected
  • Peter Argyle (SLD) Aberdeenshire – re-elected
  • John Latham (SLD) Aberdeenshire – re-elected

 

Two individual results will stand out to regular readers of Parkswatch.

 

Re-election of Bill Lobban

Bill Lobban was re-elected to the Speyside Ward of Highland Council at the first count (along with a Tory) with 1,189 votes.   It appears that local electors have not agreed with the Cairngorms National Park Authority that local councillors allegiance should be to the National Park Board rather than their local electors or their own Council (see here).   I hope that strengthens the ability of more Board Members to speak out like Bill on important matters and forces the CNPA to re-think their current doctrine of corporate responsibility which means they require Councillors to agree with decisions even when their own Council has adopted a diametrically opposed viewpoint.

 

Whether they will do so is less certain.  On 18th May the CNPA is running corporate social  media training which “includes ‘rules’ for how to use your personal social media accounts as a CNPA employee / Board Member”.    The trend in our National Parks, as with other public bodies, is that it is being made ever harder for Board Members to speak out or disagree.   The Board needs members like Bill Lobban who are prepared to speak out and I hope Highland Council will nominate him again and the Minister will appoint him.

 

Fergus Wood

 

Fergus Wood, the former SNP Councillor for Strathard, received, 776 votes, significantly less than his colleague Evelyn Tweed who received 1090 votes and far less than the Tory Martin Earl on 2027 votes.  Earl’s fellow Tory, who gained 662 first round votes, benefitted from the STV system and replaced Fergus Wood.

 

While there has been a general swing to the Tories,  I believe much of the explanation for Cllr Wood’s defeat appears to lie in his proposals for a new campsite at Strathard (see here).  There have been a large number of local objections to the proposal (see here) which basically argue that this is not the right location for a campsite.  Many are not against camping, and indeed a number of objections suggest the campsite would be better located closer to Mr Wood’s own house to preserve the open fields by the lochshore.

However, I believe the perception locally is that Strathard, which was formerly very quiet, is being made to pay for the camping byelaws and the shortfall in the places where people can now legally camp in the National Park through the creation of an excessive number of campsite places: both the Park’s Loch Chon campsite and now the Fergus Wood campsite.  Added to that there appear to be concerns Fergus Wood may be putting his private interests before those of the community.  He appears to have paid the price for those perceptions.   It will be interesting to see whether Martin Earl, the Tory Councillor who is not on the planning committee, now speaks out against the National Park consensus if officers fail to listen to what the local community are saying – as they did over Loch Chon.

 

The overall picture

 

While legally Councils are not bound to nominate elected members to the Minister to sit on the National Park Boards (they can nominate members of Community Councils or local residents), it appears unlikely they would nominate someone is not a Councillor (sitting on the Board provides a significant income to councillors who are generally underpaid for the work they do).    Hence, there is likely to be a clearout in the next few months.

 

While the Tories generally gained in all the Councils concerned – mainly at the expense of the SNP -and within the Council Wards that cover the National Park, whether the political make-up of the National Park Boards change will depend both on power deals in local councils and on whether the Minister, Roseanna Cunningham then accepts their nominations.    This could involve some interesting political twists.  Generally the Tories have been far strong advocates of National Parks than the SNP (see here) but they are much closer to landed interests which wield so much power within our National Parks.

 

The  clearout of existing Board Members provides an opportunity to reform the way our National Parks currently operate such as:

 

  • putting an end to secret Board meetings in the LLTNPA
  • recording all Board Meetings as webcasts to enable more members of the public to find out what is going on in our National Parks and in the case of the LLTNPA returning all past minutes of meetings to the National Park website
  • refocusing the work of the Board Audit Committees so that these tackle fundamental issues of governance (such as failures in planning enforcement and failures to declare interests)
  • holding chief executives to account e.g ending the practice of complaints against the Chief Executive being investigated by staff managed by them
  • ensuring that there is proper consultation and engagement with recreational interests and visitors to the National Park, instead current practices which favour landowners and business interests

 

Local Councils, before nominating anyone to serve on our National Park Boards, should first ensure that those people publicly commit to improving the way our National Parks operate.  It would be a bonus if they also nominated people who were prepared to speak out on matters such as raptor persecution, the recreational importance of our National Park and sustainable economic development (instead of the current large scale developments driven by business interests).

Letter to Strathy 15th March 2001 courtesy of Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group

My apologies to readers that in my post on Curr Wood (see here) which highlighted the importance of the wood to the pine hoverfly, I had missed an article from the Strathy the previous week making this very point and providing some of the history to the site  Strathy 17.4.20 Curr Wood felling concern.   Taken together the articles  raise some serious questions about how species which have been agreed by government as priorities for conservation are being protected in the Cairngorms National Park.

 

Controversy about the management of Curr Wood, which is situated just south of Dulnain Bridge on Speyside, dates back at least 15 years (see letter from Adam Watson above), i.e before the CNPA was created in 2003.   The importance of Curr Wood to wildlife appears linked historically to a sparse  felling regime which has allowed Scots pines to grow older and larger than elsewhere and left much of the ground undisturbed.  Curr Wood hosts the largest population of the twinflower in the UK and is the last remaining refuge of pine hoverfly.  Both are priority species under the UK and Scotland’s Biodiversity Action Plan, although strangely the site itself has not been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).   The site therefore, although of obvious importance to conservation, is not protected as such.

 

Pine hoverfly larvae have very specific habitat requirements.  They develop in rotten pine stumps, usually in association with the pine butt-rot fungus, which are 40 cm in diameter – this is thought because smaller stumps do not provide a sufficient area for the larvae to develop.  After about 8 years, rotten stumps dry out and the hoverfly needs to move on. http://www.snh.gov.uk/docs/A1849928.pdf    What this means is if smaller trees are chopped down too early , the stumps are no use for the pine hoverfly, while if too many are chopped at the same time, there is nowhere for them to move on to.   Pine hoverfly are still l found in Curr Wood precisely because the felling has been so selective.   Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) in their statement to the Strathy last week, claiming to have protected pine hoverfly by putting machine exclusion zones in place, appear to have missed the point – for the pine hoverfly its the felling regime that matters.  What FCS has not explained is the likely longer term impact of the felling license on the remaining population of pine hoverfly, and in particular, the likelihood that the pine hoverfly will colonise the areas being felled in future.    If we want to save the pine hoverfly, restricting it to one area of one wood looks a high risk strategy.

 

Both the pine hoverfly and twinflower are  also listed in the Cairngorms Nature Action Plan as being priority species for the National Park.  This was confirmed in the new draft Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan, to which FCS is a party.   One of the priorities of that plan is “Safeguarding species for which the Cairngorms National Park is particularly important” – which includes the pine hoverfly.    It is legitimate therefore to ask how FCS thought it good enough, after sending a formal consultation to CNPA and RSPB about Curr Wood, to proceed with the felling license when they received no reply.    Did no-one in FCS think of picking up the phone to ask the views of others on the “mitigation measures” it had decided?   This is a failure in Partnership working by public agencies – just what the Partnership Plan is supposed to prevent.

 

Ten years ago (see SNH document above) there was a serious attempt to conserve the pine hoverfly and indeed to re-introduce it to areas such as Rothiemurch, which included the appointment of a dedicated member of staff.   These re-introduction attempts appear to have failed and the pine hoverfly appears to have disappeared from its other refuge, Anagach Wood, so is now confined to Curr Wood.  Even more reason one might have thought for FCS to have worked in partnership with all the parties, including the pine hoverfly Biodiversity Action Plan Steering group, to work out a joint approach for Curr Wood.   That doesn’t seem to have happened so far.  Its time therefore for the CNPA to take a lead here, in terms of partnership working, and to call on FCS to work with other parties, including local people.   One might have hoped that, 14 years after the National Park was created, agencies would be working together more effectively.

 

The unstated issue and challenge behind all of this is land-ownership.   There is something wrong when private landowners can still more or less do what they want on sites vital for conservation in our National Park without considering the wider good.   While the failure to designate the site as a SSSI has no doubt contributed to this, there have been at least four different owners since 2001:   Seafield Estate sold the wood to BSW timber 2001 who sold to Henry Becker in  2002 who then sold on to Billy Martin.   That is not a good way to manage a prime wildlife site which needs a consistent approach.  Instead, Curr Wood has been subject to different owners with different objectives.   More evidence of the need for a new approach to landownership in our National Parks.

 

One option would be for FCS to buy Curr Wood – after all it did stump up £7.4m to buy up part of Rothiemurchus, so why not other woodland of conservation importance in the National Park?

 

The strongest advocates for this site though, as with other areas of woodland on Speyside, appear to be the  people who live near it.    The CNPA in its Partnership Plan included some positive commitments to empowering local communities without saying how it might do this.  So why not engage with the local community about the future of Curr Wood?     While resources to buy the wood might be an issue, why not think ahead?   How about the CNPA  sponsoring a common good fund for the Cairngorms which could assist communities to buy up land in the National Park?    As with the Victorian common good funds, people might even bequeath money for the benefit of the National Park and the people who live in it and enjoy it.

 

A wider perspective on why the CNPA needs to intervene in Curr Wood is given today in an excellent piece by their Chief Executive, Grant Moir, in the Scotsman (see here).   Nature is good for people, so why are we destroying it?    And, Curr Wood even includes a core path!

Slide from the secret Board Members Briefing Session in January 2015 obtained under FOI.  This meeting took place just  prior to the special Board Meeting which approved the revised Cononish goldmine planning application – why?

Scotgold Resources Ltd are holding two “consultation” events at Tyndrum Village Hall on 10th and 24th May between 10.30 – 20.30 on new proposals for the Cononish goldmine.  Their proposals are set out in a scoping report which is now on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Park Authority Planning Portal (see here).     The Report does not contain a clear description of how the new proposals differ from those already granted planning permission or the rationale for the changes.

 

The core of the proposal however appears to be that instead of a large proportion of the waste being returned to the mine (underground waste facility in map above) and the eventual restoration of the tailings facility (within orange line  above), Scotgold is now proposing that all the waste from the mine be left outside.

 

Proposal from scoping report

 

The consequence of this, which you can see by comparing the two maps, is that the waste from the mining operation will now cover a far larger area of ground.  Instead of the orange area in the first map, about half the ground within the boundary to the mining operation contained within the red line would be covered in mine waste.     In order to make this acceptable Scotland are proposing that the waste be shaped to look like hummocky moraine (outlined in blue).

Slide from Secret Board Briefing Session January 2015

To give an idea of the potential landscape impact, its worth considering the photomontage of the temporary tailings facility in the original proposal (above).   Under the new proposal it appears waste will cover over three times the area of ground.

 

The proposal to create artifical moraine out of mine waste

 

Extract from scoping report

While the proposal to create artificial moraine appears clever, it would be a major alteration of the landscape formed by glaciers.   There is an extremely fine hummocky moraine field at the head of the Cononish Glen around Dalrigh but none below the Eas Anie, the fine waterfall just above the mine entrance – that’s not an accident.  Hummocky moraine would never have developed here, its too close to the steep sides of Beinn Chuirn.  What Scotgold is proposing therefore is totally artificial and out of place in this landscape.   Its inappropriate for a National Park created to protect the landscape.

View up River Cononish to Ben Lui. While the gold mine entrance is just out of the picture, middle right, you can see how the ground on the slopes above the farm sheds is smooth (also shown top photo).

There is nothing in Scotgold’s scoping report to say how they intend to construct moraine out of mine waste.  Moraine normally comprise blocky till set within a matrix of grit and sand which holds the landform together and has done so successfully for thousands of years.   Scotgold have said nothing about whether the mine waste would contain the right mix of material to construct artificial moraine let alone how they would do this.   Nor have they said what will happen when the Allt Eas Anie, which flows through the middle of the proposed artificial moraine field, changes course as it will at some point and starts to erode into the side of the moraine mounds.   Will the whole thing collapse or will both burn and mound be held together with concrete?

 

In the original planning consent for the mine the LLTPNA made a number of requirements in respect to waste from the mine, including:

 

“removal of all materials within the TMF [tailings management facility] and recirculation pond  (which were not won from within the TMF) which shall be returned to the underground mine in the first instance until it reaches capacity, and the remainder used to re-grade the mine platform/processing building area; and the landscaping and re-vegetation of the track from the farm to mine platform)”

REASON: To minimise the adverse landscape and visual impact and ensure that the site is restored to a satisfactory standard in this sensitive area of the National Park.”

 

In my view they should stick with those conditions and uphold the original reasons for that decision.

 

What cost our landscape?

 

Whether the LLTNPA will do so however is another matter.

 

The new proposals appear to be all about money or, more accurately, saving Scotgold money in order to make a profit for their investors (who would appear no longer to include Owen McKee, the former LLTNPA Convener of the Planning Committee (see here) at the time the original planning application was approved).  Scotgold have been running a trial, following the alteration granted to the original planning permission in January 2015 which allowed them to store waste in bags, and my guess is that from that trial they have quickly discovered that there is not enough gold in the ore to pay for their original waste storage proposals or full restoration of the land (or for the jobs that that restoration would create).   It would be much cheaper simply to leave the waste on site, hence the present proposal.

 

Its dressed up of course with a few sops to the public:

The risk is the LLTNPA will use these sops as an excuse to approve the new proposal when a planning application is submitted.     What drove LLTNPA approval of the goldmine was the promise of jobs – the lure of gold – and this is reflected in the planning permission granted for the current trial:

 

 

The question for the LLTNPA – to which I will return – is whether the creation of a few temporary jobs justifies this destruction of the landscape and whether the proposals meets the LLTNPA’s legal obligation to promote sustainable economic development.

 

The need for transparent decision making

 

The list of secret LLTNPA Board Meetings since 2010 FOI 2016-002 Appendix A list topics at Board Briefing sessions shows that the number of such meetings puts those of the Scottish Police Authority which has recently been forced to go public into the shade.  Three considered the Cononish application:   13/12/10; 20/06/11 and 19/01/15.   Just why, in the case of the January 2015 meeting, Board Members had to be briefed prior to considering the application in public, should I believe be a matter of major public concern.  While the slides, some of which are included in this post, appear quite neutral – unlike some of the Your Park slides – the real issue is what was discussed.  We will never know as no minutes are kept of these sessions.

 

If Board Members are not capable of understanding the papers put to the public meeting, there are questions about their fitness to serve on the Board.  If the briefing was not for that purpose,  the only other explanation appears to be that the Board was in effect deciding what should happen in advance, in secret.  That is wrong.  The new LLTNPA Convener, James Stuart, really does need to stop this practice and make a public declaration that it will no longer consider planning applications in secret.  If he fails to do that, the Scottish Government should step in and require the LLTNPA to do so.

 

The other problem with the LLTNPA’s failures in terms of transparency is illustrated by the Owen McKee case.   Owen McKee had traded in Scotgold shares after consent had been given into the goldmine going ahead.   The LLTNPA conducted a sham investigation into what happened (see here for example) which concluded that the basis of that planning decision had not been undermined by Owen McKee’s actions.   The unanswered question is the degree to which Owen McKee, as Planning Convener, influenced other members to reverse their previous decision to refuse the goldmine application as inappropriate for a National Park because he hoped personally to profit from this at some time in the future.   Its quite possible of course that Owen McKee never thought of buying Scotgold shares until after the planning consent had been granted although its probably impossible to answer this question now.   The LLTNPA however never even asked the question which suggests that there were other agendas present.  If so, those may still be relevant to how the new proposal is determined.

 

The public should be very sceptical about the whole planning process.  As a start the LLTNPA should make public on its website all the information from the secret meetings which considered the Cononish application – the slides published above are not on the Park’s website – and the monthly monitoring reports which Scotgold has been required to provide since the current “trial” started.

By a happy coincidence, just as Dave Morris’ fine letter about how investment in the outdoors can benefit landscapes, people and the local economy appeared in the Herald, I received EIR 2017-037 Response Chemical Disposal points from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.   From the sublime to the ridiculous – but its an indication of just how far the LLTNPA are failing to provide basic infrastructure for visitors compared to Councils who have far fewer resources.

 

If you apply for a campervan permit you have to agree to the LLTNPA’s permit terms and conditions MHome-permit-Ts-and-Cs-07.03.17.    This includes the following clause:
“Toilet waste cassettes or grey water tanks must not be emptied within the permit area other than at authorised disposal points”.
I think its fair to say anyone reading this might expect there to be a number of chemical disposal points in the National Park – hence my information request – but it turns out there is just ONE, at Loch Lubnaig, and the LLTNPA does not even know if there are any others which might be available for use by campervans.     I’d describe this as a disgrace.
I have been out and about in the National Park a number of times recently and what is blindingly obvious is the large number of campervans staying in the camping management zones, lots of people out enjoying our countryside.   The fact that the LLTNPA has created just 20 permit places for campervans across its four camping management zones is I think totally now totally irrelevant, its basically being ignored, but what does matter is there is nowhere for all those people to dispose of their waste.

 

The LLTNPA has so far completely failed to install the basic infrastructure that is needed to support people in campervans.  On West Loch Lomond, it has missed an obvious opportunity as all three of the campervan permit areas on West Loch Lomond already have public toilets (even if these are shut for much of the time year) with the infrastructure for disposal of sewerage already in place. .
At Inveruglas there are toilets at the back of the cafe which currently can only be accessed when the cafe is open.  This means they are shut for much of the year and during the evenings.
The toilets are located at the back of the building by the far window. It should not be difficult to add an external chemical disposal point outside and even better, the LLTNPA could create an external entrance allowing campers and other visitors to access the toilets when the cafe is closed.

Last week I went to check the site and the toilets could easily be made available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year through a few basic alterations to the building (which the LLTNPA owns).

Having gone out of its way to attract more visitors to the site through the Scottish Scenic Routes Initiative, the aim of which was “to enhance the visitor experience of Scotland’s landscape: by creating innovatively designed viewpoints in selected locations in areas of outstanding scenery;” the LLTNPA has done nothing  to enhance visitor facilities.    Instead its wanting to raise the amount of income it gets from the site by introducing an Automated Number Plate Recognition system (see here).   The LLTNPA spent over £8k installing the current parking ticket machines at Inveruglas (see here) – that amount of money would have gone a long way to adding, or might have even paid for, a new chemical disposal point and 24 hour entrance to the toilets.
The LLTNPA’s priorities are all wrong.   It need to devote its resources to providing for people instead of trying to control them and making money out of this.      There is some excellent advice available on how to do this for campervans – http://www.all-the-aires.com/aire_construction.shtml – and a good starting point for the LLTNPA Board at its next public meeting would be to discuss how to develop such facilities in the National Park.

The current state of the camping and campervan permit area at Inveruglas

Motorhome permit place – you can see the sign on the right behind the mound of gravel

Meanwhile, the permit places at Inveruglas share uncanny similarities with those at Forest Drive albeit in a different environment.   Is this what the LLTNPA calls a quality visitor experience?   For anyone unwise enough to book for a campervan permit, I would ask for my money back.

 

Most of the camping permit area which lies behind the campervan in the first photo looks like this – completely unfit for camping.

The LLTNPA have, however, just like at Forest Drive, strimmed an area (below) which back in March (see here) was covered in brambles.

 

Its unclear if the LLTNPA expect people to pitch tents between the trees or whether this is their attempt to improve the amenity of the site for anyone camping in the foreground.   I walked all over the site and there was space at most for two tents.  The LLTNPA has totally failed to provide the number of camping places it said it would, but far more important the way its selected and is managing those places tells you that as a body its totally unfit to manage campers or indeed any other type of visitors.

 

What needs to be done

 

The Scottish Government need to appoint someone to the LLTNPA Board who has an understanding of the basic needs of visitors and is committed to providing these.   It should also ask all current Board Members and members of their senior management team to go out and spend a night in a tent in a permit zone and report on the experience and then publish this.  It would make interesting reading.

 

The Scottish Government also need to tell the LLTNPA Board that they need to stop wasting money on policing the unenforceable and start investing that money in basic visitor infrastructure which is worthy of a National Park.

On 27th April, the same day the above article appeared in the Strathie about felling at Curr Wood, on Speyside, SNH’s latest post on Scotland’s Nature popped into my inbox https://scotlandsnature.wordpress.com/2017/04/27/time-to-celebrate-bugs-in-the-cairngorms-national-park/.   And guess what bug featured?     One so rare that …………….it only occurs at a single location in the National Park, Curr Wood………….shome mistake surely!

 

Cairngorms Nature

One example is the pine hoverfly. Due to intensification of forest management over the decades this is now an endangered species, so rare in fact that it is restricted to a single location in the Cairngorms National Park. It depends on the deadwood cycle – the process of trees (in this case big old granny pines) falling over or succumbing to fungal disease and decaying. The pine hoverfly’s larvae live in wet role holes created by this process – a very specific niche. Natural occurrences of these “rot holes” are nowadays few and far between because most pines in forestry are felled before they get to be old, knarled granny pines. To help save the pine hoverfly from extinction, a range of organisations in the park have been making artificial holes in tree stumps to give the pine hoverfly a home. It is hoped that in the future numbers of the hoverfly will increase to levels that allow it can survive on its own, and with more pine forest in the park being managed less intensively, natural rot holes should become common again.

Thank goodness our public authorities don’t always co-ordinate what they put out to the media.   The cracks between them are most revealing.  And for a broader view of what is going wrong with the approach to tree “management” in the National Park, the same issue of the Strathie contained this very interesting letter from Basil Dunlop which appears to re-inforces previous points made on parkswatch about Loch an Eileen (see here).

Cairngorms Nature Big Weekend 12th – 14th May

The place of nature in the Cairngorms National Park is highly contested and full of contradictions and this is evident in the events being organised for the Big Nature Weekend (see here).   There are some great events on and, due to the current attempts to criminalise people who enjoy the countryside in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, I particularly liked this one at Invercauld:

Description

Camp fire capers – explore around the wonderful Invercauld Estate, collect sticks and other things from nature and learn how to light a small fire without matches. It’s not the easiest thing to do but a great skill to learn and a fab party piece. There will also be marshmallows for everyone to toast! Suitable for kids 3 years + (with a well behaved adult!)

 

Collecting wood for lighting fires is now of course a criminal offence in the LLNPA camping management zones, incurring a fine of £500 and a criminal record.    So what’s being promoted in the Cairngorms National Park Authority is a criminal offence in the LLTNPA!     This just shows how completely out of touch the LLTNPA are.

On May 1st though the CNPA put out a Cairngorms Nature email which highlighted events that were taking place on five estates under the heading  “Behind the Scenes” which just so happens to be the same heading used Natural Retreats on their blog to explain what they are doing at Cairngorm!

Behind the Scenes

Part of the Cairngorms Nature Big Weekend is about offering opportunities that are not normally available to the public.

Landscape management is vital to the long term future of the Cairngorms National Park, it is a challenging task which is all about balance.  The weekend will offer a number of opportunities to join the people who look after our landscapes on a day to day basis and get an exclusive ‘behind the scenes’ tour of a working estate.

There are events happening in Strathspey, Phoines Estate, Corgarff, Glenmuick and Balmoral.  Please click on the relevant area above to find out more and book a place.

The claim that landscape management is vital to the long term future of the Cairngorms National Park is highly ideological.  What about the wild land/rewilding view?   This explains that the reason why so much of the National Park is degraded in conservation terms is precisely because there is too much management: muirburn, proliferation of bulldozed tracks.  Indeed one could cite the felling and replanting at Curr Wood.

 

The CNPA would, I guess, respond by saying “its all about balance” – to which the question needs to be asked, balance between what?    Unfortunately while promoting these events at the Big Nature Weekend there appear to be no events being promoted by RSPB, SNH or NTS which might demonstrate some alternative ways of managing the land.

 

Click on Corgarff and you will find the event is on the Allargue Estate, which is described as conservation-minded – this is the estate where all the vehicles were parked that took place in aninfamous mountain hare massacre featured on Raptor Persecution Scotland (see here).    The event is called “A Question of Balance – Wildlife and Land Management”.   It makes you want to cry.

 

What needs to happen

 

The CNPA needs to stop promoting estates which do not adhere to the standards for conservation we should expect in National Parks.  Now maybe the Allargue Estate has made a commitment to stop culling mountain hares.  If so, I would applaud that but if not, the CNPA should not be promoting it.

 

The new Cairngorms Partnership Plan provides an opportunity for the CNPA to  ask all estates within the CNPA that have not already done so to submit an estate management plan and for those who have them, to revise their current  plans.   Such plans should contain transparent statements on what wildlife is killed by estates, either for “sport” or “protection of wildlife”, on practices such as muirburn and how the estate is going to play its part in meeting  the conservation objectives set out in the Partnership Plan.

Most people want to conserve the countryside but is what Ralia Estate means by “conserving the countryside” compatible with a National Park? (see below)

 

On Wednesday evening I went to have another look at the northern section of the access track which had been created for the construction of the Beauly Denny powerline and which was due to be restored last year (see here).  Its situated on the east side of the A9 behind the tree shelter belt and opposite the southern turn off to Dalwhinnie.

The north end of the track, which is blighted by a so-far unrestored large turning area

That post resulted in the North East Mountain Trust, who had been concerned about the original planning application, taking the matter up with the Cairngorms National Park Authority.   It transpires that the Estate had been involved in lengthy discussions with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency about the details of how they were going to restore the track, missed the deadline and the CNPA has now extended it until the end of 2017.    There was provision for this under the conditions attached to the planning consent which lasts until February 2018.    Unfortunately there are still no details of this on the CNPA planning portal (see here) where the last available document is dated July 2015.  If you are a member of the public, therefore,  not only does it appear that the estate has failed to restore the track within the deadline but also that the National Park has done nothing about this.   The CNPA is letting itself down and, I believe, making planning enforcement much harder for itself because of this lack of transparency.

 

 

The CNPA did though state to NEMT  that, should the Estate fail to restore the track as per the planning permission it granted by the Park Authority, once the CNPA planning permission lapses the ground would  need to be completely restored, as per the Section 37 Electricity Act consent for the Beauly-Denny.  They said the Scottish Government would be responsible for enforcing this. (I am unclear how this can be reconciled with earlier advice I received from the Scottish Government that  “In relation to the enforcement of conditions on planning consent, this is primarily the responsibility of the relevant planning authority, i.e. the planning authority within whose area the development is taking place”).   If it comes to that, four years will have been lost in which this land could have been restored properly to the benefit of both landscape and wildlife.     Funny how delays in our planning system are always portrayed as being the fault of planning authorities when in fact by far the biggest delays and created by developers/landowners.

Tower 125 just beyond the end of the track. There is a patch, just behind the tower, where vegetation is recovering, unlike the scar in the middle distance

Meantime, the Scottish Government is even less transparent – one rule for local government, another for national government – and removes planning applications it approves from the public realm.  There is therefore no convenient means for the public to find out how the restoration of the Beauly Denny is going.  I resorted to a FOI request to the CNPA about what information they held and was – again very helpfully – provided with information about the restoration of land under the 76 towers and approx 28km of track that are within the National Park boundary.

Extract from SSE monitoring report October 2016. The Drumochter track is 25a and the FT reference is short for the Fort Augustus to Tummel section and followed by the number on the tower.

According to SSE most of the restoration for which it is still responsible is going well – or rather is “of an acceptable standard”.  I think the photos show otherwise, as does a report the CNPA’s peatland officer in 2015  (see here) – well done him and the CNPA.     What the papers, which I will come back to in further posts, show is that SSE is just hoping all the destruction which it caused will regenerate naturally, whereas the CNPA and SNH are concerned whether this is going to happen.    The problem is the CNPA appears to have very little power to make SSE do anything – although if it went public with its concerns that I think would make a significant difference.

Photo of ground north of tower 125. Stones have been mixed with soil and insufficient turf retained to resurface the whole. To make matters worse clumps of turf have simply been dumped on along with stones on the surface.

So why has Ralia estate taken over the burden of restoring the land from SSE?

 

 

The amount of work – and therefore cost – in meeting the approved design plans for the track are considerable.   The 4.7 km of track needs to be reduced from its current width of 5-7m to 3m.

So much aggregate has been imported to construct the track that even where turves have been properly stored, re-landscaping will be a real challenge.   The planning permission granted by the CNPA specifies that excess materials will be removed, which would make landscaping considerably easier – a great requirement but will the estate do it?

 

The job will not be made any easier because so much of the temporary construction work was so poor.   If this track is to be halved in width, so will the drainage pipes.

Bizarrely, among all the protuding pipes, there was one example of a culvert which had been properly finished – at both ends too!   Unfortunately, the track here was even wider than normal, 7m rather than 5m, and at least one of the finished culverts will need be ripped out if the track is to be reduced in width to 3m.    If this work was done by SSE, one wonders why?  If by the Estate, that would suggest they are intending to keep the track at its current width, contrary to planning requirements.

The reason why the estate wanted to retain the track though quickly became apparent.  It makes it much easier for the gamekeepers to manage animal traps or, from their viewpoint, “to conserve the countryside”.   This was the first time I had seen a live bird in a Larsen trap in 100s of visits to the hills (not a coincidence, they are usually tucked away like this) and I found it quite distressing but then I see crows as beautiful creatures, one of the most intelligent of all birds, and not pests.   The crow was hopping up and down and beating its wings against the side of the trap – that’s what’s meant to happen, it attracts other crows wishing to defend their territory.    All my instincts were to free it but that, I recalled somewhere, is a criminal offence.

The ostensible purpose of Larsen traps is that the flapping crow (or other corvid) attracts others which are then lured into one of the two traps.    In Scotland only hens’ eggs or bread are allowed as  bait (as here).  The theory and use of these traps from the landowner viewpoint is set out in guidance from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (see here).     The trap in the photos appeared to meet all animal welfare requirements about provision of water, food and a perch for roosting at night.   While Scotland has stricter requirements than England on the use of these traps, under General License under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, it seems to me there is question about whether this General License should extend to National Parks.

 

While the GWCT claim there is little evidence of raptors being caught in such traps and that live traps such as this allow protected birds to be released,  that claim needs to be taken with a pinch of salt given the level of persecution of raptors on grouse moors.  Why would estates ever report if hen harriers, say, were found in such traps?  Maybe I am unobservant, or always unfortunate in my timing, but while there were large numbers of grouse about (and some song thrush, pied wagtail and wheatear) there was not a sign of a hen harrier.

 

What was clear was that the estate was trapping anything else that might prey on grouse.   The tracks make maintenance of such traps easier for estate staff.

 

A  multi-catch cage trap was located slightly further away from the track – as recommended by GWCT – part of the reason being to avoid the public coming into them while in use and becoming distressed.  What is clear to me is the CNPA, by granting planning permission, for the retention of this track has made it much easier for estate staff to trap and kill anything that is perceived as a threat to red grouse.  The CNPA talks about the need for balance between competing interests, but in terms of species there is no balance.  Everything is about increasing numbers of red grouse.

Ralia estate: Grouse shooting in Inverness-shire

While as the link shows, the numbers of grouse at Ralia have increased dramatically, what is not reported is the numbers of other species that predate on them.

 

The CNPA’s consent to Ralia Estate retaining this section of track appears to have had little impact on their off-road use of vehicles.     Indeed, Ralia estate appears to be creating further tracks without any planning permission.

The track that has been developed along the line of grouse butts on the north side of the Allt Coire nan Cisteachan.    The installation of a water bar means, I believe, that this counts as a constructed track and should have had full planning permission – its purpose, along the line of grouse butts is only too clear and has nothing to do with agriculture (where developments only require “prior notification”).

The track, as you can see far right, runs up in front of the grouse butts

 

New track, running up south side of Allt Coire na Cisteachan and branching off track used by many walkers to access A Bhuidheanach

The constructed nature of the track on the south side of the burn is even more obvious and to an appalling standard (I will report it to the National Park).  Although the newly “constructed” section is short,  its intention is clearly to enable vehicle access up the hillside easier and yet more scars on the Drumochter.

End of the 20m section of track showing erosion created beyond

The issue at Drumochter therefore is not just about restoration of the Beauly Denny or planning permission for hill tracks and what they are then used for – although both have had major and unnecessary impacts on the landscape – its about what off-road use estates should be allowed to make of vehicles in the National Park.   In my  the National Park could contain and control all these issues through the use of byelaws which introduce licenses for hunting.   Such hunting licenses could require estates not to use vehicles off-track or trap any animal without explicit permission.

Photo taken Sunday 19th March and posted by Donald Morris on the Save Cairngorm Mountain facebook page – great source of information for what is going on at Cairngorm. Natural Retreats were burning off the old snow fencing which they had previously committed to remove from the mountain.

After Highland and Island’s Enterprise announcement that they had agreed a new masterplan for Cairngorm, along with a £4m loan to Natural Retreats (see here),  I asked HIE for a copy of the masterplan and any associated plans for the proposal- such as a business plan providing evidence for the proposals:

HIE Response

“At the HIE Board meeting on 11 April 2017, the Board approved CML’s [Cairngorm Mountain Ltd’s] new Master Plan.  However, the CML Master Plan is commercially sensitive and cannot be published at this time.”

Comment

The business plan – although HIE has avoided answering whether such a plan exists – could be commercially sensitive and thus exempt from FOI law,  but a masterplan is a planning document and should be available to the public.

I also asked for a list of all organisations HIE has consulted on this proposed and any information relating to that consultation:

 

HIE Response

“CML will be the applicant in terms of any forthcoming planning application. Both HIE and CML have been involved in prior consultation with CNPA, THC [Highland Council] and SNH.”

Comment

HIE have failed to answer whether they hold any information relating to this “consultation”  with other public bodies.

My final request was asking HIE to clarify whether whether Schedule 4 to the current lease, which was about the requirement to deliver a new day lodge as part of the lease, has been revoked:

 

HIE Response

At the HIE Board meeting on 11 April 2017, the Board agreed that the legal documents will be amended to accommodate the new projects.

Comment

This is the only informative part of HIE’s response.  What it means is that the HIE Board have agreed to drop the legally binding requirement in the original lease with Natural Retreats to develop a new Day Lodge.  Its significance is that this was an opportunity for HIE to terminate their lease with Natural Retreats.  They have chosen not to do so.

The failures and lack of accountability of HIE

 

It is not unreasonable to ask how a public authority, funded by public monies, believes it is acceptable to put out a press release stating a masterplan has been agreed at Cairngorm but then keep that masterplan secret?

 

The proposal for a masterplan at Cairngorm formed part of the Glenmore Strategy agreed by the Cairngorms National Park Authority last year.

While I cannot find any reference to a masterplan in the CNPA Local Development Plan agreed in 2015, the footnote to the table above indicates that the masterplan is a spatial plan and therefore, its fair to assume, a masterplan in the formal planning sense.  Even if not, in terms of good practice, one might have hoped HIE would have taken some heed on the Scottish Government Planning Advice Note on developing masterplans (see here).

That guidance I believe is very relevant for Cairngorm.   It requires site appraisal – for Cairngorm that would mean a look at the ski area as a whole – and consultation with local communities:
“When creating successful places, people must be at the heart of the process. The local community’s understanding of the needs of an area are invaluable in establishing priorities and arriving at a vision for a place. Once the local community and key stakeholders (the community in its widest sense) have been identified, early discussions can provide a wealth of information about the area’s history and how it functions. An engagement plan could be devised to identify mechanisms for involving the community. These will establish opinions and confirm local people’s aspirations for the place. Various types of interests may have to be engaged in different ways.”
 
While because of the special nature of Cairngorm, I would argue that consultation should be far wider, and involve for example recreational (e.g skiers and mountaineers) and conservation interests, the important point is there has NO consultation at all.   HIE has apparently agreed what it wants to happen at Cairngorm with Natural Retreats and how to fund this through public money without any consideration of other views.    A top down solution that again is likely to end in tears.

Natural Retreats is not fit to manage any development at Cairngorm

While HIE and Natural Retreats have kept all information about the proposed dry ski slope secret at present (e.g its location) one detail emerged on the Cairngorm Mountain facebook page on 13th April where they said it would be constructed out of snowflex .  This raises some intriguing questions because the nature of the product http://www.snowflex.com/ which is “solid” rather than other types of artificial slope:
  • with no spaces for vegetation to grow through, it is likely to have a greater impact than other potential products on the vegetation and soils at Cairngorm;
  • without holes in the matting, there is higher friction and this means snowflex requires a water misting system which cannot operate in low temperatures because it freezes up;
  • because of the high friction, snow flex also needs to be installed on steeper slopes (unlikely to be of use at the Shieling rope tow which was installed for beginners).   While the manufacturer states it can be used when frosted, in such condition it can only be used by better skiers and boarders.  Not much use then for beginners in winter then;
  • if my understanding is correct and you cannot use piste bashers on snow flex, then if partly snow covered, snow flex could not be used at all (it would be like skiing over grass patches but worse).

 

There is nothing wrong with snowflex as a product, the trouble is its not designed for use in a mountain environment year round.  Its advantage over other products comes in artificial snowparks (artificial half pipes etc).  One wonders therefore if a summer snowpark is the secret plan for Cairngorm?.

 

If there is any case for an artificial ski slope at Cairngorm, it would be to provide a beginners area when there is insufficient snow and to link to the piste system.   This has been done in other parts of the world using different materials.

 

The revelation about the proposed use of snowflex just provides further evidence of Natural Retreats’ lack of competence to manage the Cairngorm ski area.

 

Cairngorm Estate Management Plan

 

Meantime, there is no sign of HIE’s  proposed estate management plan which might one have hoped excluded practices such as taking skips up the mountain to burn off fencing (first photo) and which needs to be considered along with any masterplan.

Aerial view of the proposed development area included in he scoping report from Peter Brett Associates

At the beginning of April, Flamingo Land (see here for most recent post and links) asked the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority whether an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) would be needed for its proposed development at Balloch  (see here)   The response of the LLTNPA on 13th April (see here) was that a full EIA will be required:

 

The development is permanent and will have an impact on a large area (33.5ha) and will have an impact on both visitors to the National Park, residents and businesses.  The proposal is complex and large scale.  The construction period is likely to be long and any impacts during construction will be prolonged in terms of construction traffic, noise and pollution.  The operation of the development also gives rise to potential significant environmental impact in terms of landscape impact, traffic increase and noise nuisance

 

The response was rapid I believe because the LLTNPA could hardly have said anything else.    So, what can the concerned public learn from the 125 pages of report submitted with the request for a screening opinion?

The most striking thing about this proposed development in our National Park is its size, 33.5 hectares, almost twice the size of the West Riverside Site marketed by Scottish Enterprise (map above).  What the top photo illustrates graphically is how Flamingo Land, through its purchase of Woodbank House, has in effect gained control of all the undeveloped land on the north west side of Balloch and its proposed development will effectively surround Loch Lomond shores.   Its power will increase further if Scottish Enterprise, as its proposing, eventually sells it the West Riverside Site. Land.   In effect the southern gateway to the National Park is being handed over to a private business.   There are legitimate questions about whether this is in the public interest and whether, whatever developments might eventually go be agreed by the LLTNPA,  the ownership of the West Riverside site should remain in public ownership or, alternatively, be transferred to the local community.

The EIA Report makes a reference to the site as being vacant and derelict – a myth that supporters of the development are using to justify the development – and states that there is a desire across  Glasgow Region to treat such land as an investment opportunity.   The trouble is the portrayal of the West Riverside site as derelict is  not true as the photo above shows.  Yes, there are pockets of dereliction and Woodbank House is in a sad state of disrepair.  While the West Riverside site may  not be the best green space in the world there is far more green than dereliction and, contrary again to claims in the Balloch Charrette, its well used by people.  Indeed much of the  greenspace is the  product of earlier restoration of what was formerly the line of the railway.

There are even pockets of wild along the shores of the River Leven.    If this is developed into a constructed river walkway, as the LLTNPA and Scottish Enterprise appears to wish, how will visitors to Balloch be able to access nature?   That is after all what the National Park is meant to be about?

 

The developers will argue that  people will still be able to access Balloch Country Park on the other side of the River Leven but this is inaccessible.   The EIA makes no mention of the long-wished for pedestrian bridge across  the head of the River Leven  which would enable people visiting Lomond Shores to access the Country Park.  That might offset to some extent the development of this site but the omission of the bridge from the EIA scoping requests indicates Flamingo Land has no intention of paying for this.

 

The EIA scoping Report is very vague about Flamingo Land’s plans which are listed as follows:

 

  However, other parts of the report give an indication of what this includes.

As if the existing Drumkinnon Tower at Loch Lomond shores was not enough, the report includes an outline visual impact assessment of a 100m high viewing tower.  Its appears that to compensate for the removal of greenspace  at Balloch, the idea is visitors should be able to view nature from afar.

 

 

 

You don’t need a viewing tower to see Ben Lomond from Balloch but  any viewing tower will have a signficant impact on the views south from the Loch Lomond National Scenic Area, including from the summit of Ben Lomond.   The EIA, though, apparently believes a solution could be found: “consideration should be given as to how to mitigate expansive southerly views from this popular hillwalking viewpoint”.    A friend suggested it could be very slim and reflect the shape of a Flamingo’s neck.

There is another apparent give away in the scoping of the Zones of Theoretical Visability (ZTVs).   On the maps that depict what can be seen from where there are three references to a “chute” which occurs nowhere else in the document.   Is this why the proposed Leisure Development feature is 50m high?    Is this an enormous water slide?   It appears the Sunday Herald was fully justified in referring to the proposal as the blingy bling banks of Loch Lomond (see here).    Such evidence as can be gleaned from the EIA documents provides no re-assurance about what Flamingo Land is going to propose but what it is it appears to be an intensive tourist development.

 

Such development is, I believe,  not appropriate for a National Park.   National Planning Guidance re-inforces this:

A good reason, one might have thought, for the LLTNPA to reject the proposal but the EIA provides an indication of why this might not happen:

This reads as though the application has already been agreed, its only the fine detail that needs to be sorted out and all can be mitigated.   It makes one wonder if the 100m viewing tower and leisure development are being proposed to divert people’s attention from other aspects of the plan, which are fundamentally about development on greenspace at one of the main entry points into the National Park?   The scenario is that following the inevitable public stushi on the viewing tower, the LLTNPA rejects that aspect of the proposal and tries to market the “compromise” which follows to the public as somehow meeting the statutory objectives of our National Parks.

 

The EIA contains a number of proposals for consultation, mainly with statutory bodies – potential for lots of wheeling and dealing behind closed doors – but nothing I could see about engaging with people who care about National Parks in Scotland, including the people who signed the petition against Flamingo Land.  So, how about Flamingo Land starting their consultation by asking the public about the viewing tower and leisure chute?

 

 

On Wednesday, James Stuart, new convener of the National Park had an agenda piece in the Herald to promote the consultation on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park draft plan (see here).  It included a commitment to engage properly recreational organisations – a implicit indictment of the way the LLTNPA bludgeoned through its camping byelaws – but a welcome step in the right direction.    The response from Dave Morris (above) shows the disastrous consequences.

 

The wider point though is the LLTNPA did not just fail to consult with representative organisations, they failed to consult any of the people who actually camp and stop in campervans along the loch shores.  I saw a good illustration of this yesterday morning driving up the A82 to climb on the Ben.  There were campervans everywhere, in the Transport Scotland laybys which are exempt from the byelaws, on road verges (which are also exempt although the LLTNPA has not recognised this), in car parking areas where they are not (unless covered by the permit system as at Inveruglas and off-road.

 

campervans at Tarbert

 

 

 

 

 

Anyone who actually slept the night in the campervans in the above photo were committing criminal offences although I doubt any of the owners knew it.   What the photo illustrates is the byelaws are completely unenforceable – for campervans anyway.  If challenged by a Ranger all the campervan has to do is move onto a road verge or into a layby.    Complete nonsense.  The LLTNPA would have never got itself into this mess if it had actually talked to the people who use campervans.    So, how about some proper visitor surveys – instead of the latest dumbed down ones that say nothing – asking people what they need?  I suspect the answers will include “be left alone to make our own decisions” and Chemical disposal points.   Where are the chemical disposal points in the National Park (I have asked) and what are the plans to increase them?   Err……………..

 

And over to the Cairngorms National Park Authority

 

Following its lengthy coverage of National Parks in January, Scotland Out of Doors on Saturday included an interview Hamish Trench from the Cairngorms National Park Authority.  Its right at the start BBC out of doors.    Mark Stephen asked some searching questions about what partnership actually means and whether some partners have more power than others – highly recommended.    While Hamish Trench’s answers were carefully worded, the really important thing is that CNPA staff appear prepared now to articulate a vision for the National Park integral to which is large scale conservation.   While I don’t believe this can be achieved through the current ways of partnership working, which favour landed interests over everyone else, the fact that the CNPA is promoting this vision in public is in a sense a challenge to those interests.  Intelligent questions from the media, such as those put by Mark Stephen, can only help  change the parameters of the debate.

Tents at the St Fillans end of the Loch Earn south camping permit zone – much of the camping is on shingle beaches.

Parkswatch has, since the camping byelaws came into force on 1st March, documented how the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Park is trying to force campers into areas totally unsuitable for camping.  Relatively little coverage has been given to how the LLTNPA is managing the permit areas which are being used by campers.   Last Saturday, as part of a walk over hills east of Ben Vorlich, four of us walked through the South Loch Earn camping permit zone, the largest in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.   It provided plenty of evidence of the incoherent thinking behind the camping management zones.

 

 

The first thing that struck me was that people were enjoying themselves, despite the biting wind.     Yes, there were a few beer bottles out – we were offered a couple after helping a child to swing from an old rope hanging off an oak tree – but people were fishing, using their ingenuity and natural materials to construct shelters,  socialising, cooking on the camp fire, foraging for wood (a criminal offence now under the byelaws), taking a short walk up into the woods to find a place to have a crap, out for walks.  Lots of families, not just adults, many of whom had been coming for years, giving lie to the Park’s claim that the byelaws were needed to encourage families back to the lochshores.    Examples of connecting with nature in way that is just not possible for most people in their day to day lives.

Loch Earn Leisure Park

The contrast with the sanitised environment of the Loch Earn Leisure Park which sits between the camping management zone and St Fillans was striking.   Now, I am not disputing caravan parks meet a demand – the Leisure Park is enormous and it would appear more people go there than to camp –  but in terms of connecting with nature, what offers the better experience, staying in a chalet or camping by the loch shore?     What has the bigger impact on the landscape – the suburban style chalets or the tents on the loch shore whose presence is temporary (even if abandoned)?

 

 

Whatever the LLTNPA may have claimed in the past about roadside camping not being wild camping, the campers on south Loch Earn were out enjoying nature in a way that is just not possible in a chalet park.     This surely should be at the centre of what our National Parks should be about – “connecting people with nature” – but in the whole development of the camping byelaws the LLTNPA never once articulated the value of camping by the lochsides.  If it had done so, it would have wanted to encourage more people to camp, instead of trying to restrict numbers and confine campers to a few permit areas.

 

South Loch Earn is the only extensive permit zone the LLTNPA has created (all the others are very restricted) and the only place therefore where camping could carry on anything like it did previously with people turning up and having a wide choice of places to camp.   Its therefore atypical.

The reason for this became clear from discussions with campers.  Many have been coming for years – there would have been a riot if the LLTNPA had tried to ban them – and the Ardvorlich Estate appears to support their presence, not least because of the income it derives from fishing permits.   Hence, the LLTNPA had very little choice but to allow camping to continue here.

The enforcement of camping permits

 

We talked to some campers who had been advised by the estate to buy permits beforehand and others who had just turned up, and bought a permit online when requested to do so by Rangers.  Most saw £3 a night as a small price to pay to be able to continue to camp as they had done previously.  The big issue I believe will arise on popular weekends when 100 tents turn up, most of whom will be regular visitors, in a zone where the Park has allocated places for 38 tents (this is an arbitrary figure decided by Park staff).   I don’t envy the Rangers who are tasked with sending these people away.   The LLTNPA is going to have to work very hard indeed if its going to turn people who have been lucky enough to get a permit against those who haven’t.

The bureaucracy and cost of enforcing the camping byelaws was only too apparent on our visit.  We heard from the campers that there had been one round of Ranger visits in the morning to check permits – that’s when some people applied for them online.  The campers had then received a visit from the water bailiff, checking that those fishing had fishing permits.   Then,  late in the afternoon, the Rangers visited again.

We watched them for a time, referring to note books after getting out their vehicle and then walking down to each tent to ask campers for their permit.  They appeared to be having long conversations with campers and I would say it took 5-10 minutes to check each tent.    Now I don’t know what the Rangers were saying because the LLTNPA have refused to provide me with what they have briefed rangers to do stating this would prejudice enforcement of the camping byelaws:

 

“Release of this information is likely to have a negative impact on the ability of the Rangers to perform an effective role in working with the police, interacting with the public and, where required, submitting byelaw contravention reports”   (see EIR 2017-029 Response)

 

What is 100% clear though is that the new permit system has resulted in three check up visits in one day for people who go to camp to escape from the rules and regulations of everyday life!    An intrusion into our freedom to enjoy the outdoors, an attempt to bureaucratise the experience in the name of social control.  The costs are enormous – for whose benefit is this?   Where will it go next?

 

While people may be buying permits when requested, its quite clear that the permit  are having little impact on either the quality of the environment or the behaviour of campers.

 

 

At the St Fillans end of the zone, there was a significant amount of rubbish which has been blown against the boundary fence.   We got talking to the people camping there – they had been coming for 12 years – and they told us the area had been like that before they arrived.  What this highlighted is that the introduction of camping management zones is not going to do anything to reduce the amount of litter along the loch shores unless there is actually someone employed by the LLTNPA to pick it up.

Unlike other Council areas within the National Park, Perth and Kinross provide bins the whole way along the road and they are well used – and not just by visitors.  As a result the Loch Earn shoreline has far less litter than other areas in the National Park.
Where litter is dropped though – whether by visitors, residents, people passing through or campers – it appears the LLTNPA Rangers are not picking it up – and from I previously established from talking to them is they are not allowed to put litter in vans.  This has three consequences.   First, its unlikely that the permits will have much impact on litter in the Park – the only thing it might prevent is people who have applied for a permit abandoning their campsites as they can be traced.  This however was only a tiny part of the problem.

The impact of flytipping was greater than anything left by campers

Second, the permit system does not help identify the sources of other litter along the loch shores, much of which does not come from campers, so will do nothing to prevent it.  Third, the sensible solution to all of this would be for Rangers to get their hands dirty, set a lead – and invite campers to help them to clean up the lochshores.  Whether people will do this now they are being forced to pay is less certain:  if people are paying for a permit they have the right to expect the LLTNPA ensures the area is clean before they arrive.

An example of a camper occupying more than the 5 x 5m area allowed for by the Park in each permit

During our visit we saw plenty of evidence to show that the Rangers at present are failing to enforce the terms and conditions associated with the camping permits.  Among the camping permit terms and conditions, breach of which is a further criminal offence with fine of up to £500, are the following:

 

  • Ancillary items must be kept to a minimum and limited to items reasonably necessary in connection with recreational camping activities; e.g.toilet tents, gazebo, fire bowl/bbq
  • The total area occupied by your tent and ancillary items must not exceed 5 m x 5m

 

The toilet tent in the above photo is allowed under the permit system but  it and the tent occupy an area greater than 5 x 5 square metres, the maximum allowed by the Park.  So, a criminal offence committed but it appears the Rangers have done nothing to prevent this.  One cannot blame them – what a stupid rule!   Who would want to sleep right next door to the toilet tent?

 

The daft rules associated with the permits are also illustrated by the photo which featured at the top of this post and shows a shelter hanging between two trees (again, with the tent, occupying an area greater than 5m x 5m).  Now, under the byelaws, while the public can put up a shelter during the day, its an offence to leave one up overnight unless its an umbrella.    So, will these campers be told to take the shelter down each night?  The rules are daft – an inevitable consequence I believe of trying to control every aspect of campers behaviour rather than leaving people with the right to make their own decisions.

Contrast the stultification of the Park bureaucracy with the ingenuity of campers making use of natural materials.

 

The most obvious failure in terms of enforcement however were campfires (as in photos above), which were everywhere, and in a number of cases clearly breached the byelaws.

The things people do – Dave Morris, veteran access campaigner, with firewood which someone had thoughtfully disposed of in the bin!

While a number of campers had brought their own wood, others were collecting it locally – an offence under the byelaws.  Whether they were doing harm of course is another matter – there were large amounts of wood available in the plantations above the road – and the estate had been busy chopping down trees.  People were carrying felled off-cuts back down to the shore to burn.

 

Now, I believe the way the provisions of the byelaws in respect of fires – collection of wood is an offence – is both wrong and is well nigh impossible for Rangers to enforce.  As a society do we really want to criminalise an eight year old who collects a twig to add to a fire on which they are cooking or to prosecute an adult who has picked up a log to burn (both of which we saw happening)?  The focus of the LLTNPA should be on preventing live wood being felled for fires – otherwise Rangers are being given an impossible task.

 

The basic problem on Loch Earn at present is not the quantity of dead wood – lots has been felled – but rather what wood the estate is happy for campers to use and what not.  There are no messages about this and as a result people forage.    To ensure damage is not done inadvertently or wood, intended for another purpose, is not burned, the solution is surely for the LLTNPA to provide wood to people who want it for a small price.  Indeed, under the original Five Lochs Management Plan the idea was to provide wood stores at campsites, a proposal  that has since disappeared without trace.   It would be far better use of Rangers time to spend a small portion of it providing wood to campers than checking up on permits.

 

The real failure in enforcement

 

Unlawful camping notice in the management zone – the camping ban applies from 1st March to 30th September and general notices such as this are thus contrary to access rights.

 

The most significant failure of the LLTNPA Ranger Service however to enforce the law, has nothing to do with campers.  The Park Ranger service drive by these signs, which are contrary to access rights and go beyond anything agreed by the byelaws, every day.  For some reason they don’t see it as their job to take enforcement action – or rather I suspect they have been told by the Park’s senior management to do nothing.  One rule for campers, another for landowners.
I first noticed a no camping sign here in May 2015 and reported it to the LLTNPA with a number of other access issues  access issues LLTNP identified May 2015.   At the time I thought there was only one sign here but on this visit counted over ten signs on a 100m stretch of road just before St Fillans – could you get more unwelcoming than that?  At first the LLTNPA responded positively to my report of the issues and Claire Travis, the member of staff responsible, told me Park staff had been to see the sign at Auchengavin and it was then removed.  Senior management then banned her from speaking to me – I know because I obtained the information through data protection – and provided me no further progress reports on what action the LLTNPA was taking.  It appears the LTNPA senior management decided not to take any action, a fundamental failure in their responsibilities as an access authority.
This is further evidence that this National Park is being run in the interests of landowners – good for the Ardvorlich Estate and the few other landowners who still tolerate campers but shame on Forestry Commission Scotland which has gone along with this whole charade – not of ordinary people.  If any readers are willing to report the signs at the east end of the south Loch Earn Rd as being contrary to access rights – best to use your own photos –  parkswatch would be delighted to publish any responses from the LLTNPA.

The implications of the permit zone for access rights

At the end of our walk, both Dave Morris and I agreed, that really the introduction of the permit zone on Loch Earn has so far, changed only one thing.   It has introduced charging for access.   The permits have done nothing to address the litter or other basic infrastructure issues that the LLTNPA should be addressing.
So what, it might be argued, people appear to be accepting the £3 charge.   Well, so would most people faced with the choice of a charge or a ban from staying in a place you have been visiting all your life.   That doesn’t make the charge right – people are getting nothing for it except bureaucracy and intrusion – and of course what is likely to happen is that sometime in the next year or so a report goes up to the LLTNPA Board explaining openly for the first time the enormous enforcement costs and suggesting these should be recovered from campers.   If people accept the principle of permits and charges,  our access legislation will be in tatters.
What needs to happen – and the LLTNPA is currently consulting on its new Five Year Partnership Plan – is the resources currently being spent on enforcement of the permit system (which means almost the entire time of Park Rangers) should be redirected to other tasks.  High on my priority list would be removal of litter – including Rangers encouraging campers and other visitors to take part in litter picks – and provision of wood for campfires.    Ranger services were never intended as quasi – or is that Stasi?  – type police forces  and the Park Ranger service should be allowed to return to its educational role, which should include leading by example.
The Ardvorlich powerhouse on the east side of the burn followed by the main path up Ben Vorlich from the north. It was designed to resemble the traditional water mill that was once located here. Had the intake and tailrace also been finished in natural stone, this aspiration would have been met.

The General Election and National Parks

Had this been been published when originally intended it would have been issued to subscribers at about the same time  as the general election was announced yesterday!    In the world of newspapers, radio and TV I guess the post would have been scrapped.   I will persist!   However, its worth saying first that the general election will provide an opportunity to consider why decisions at the UK still matter to Scotland’s National Parks, even though powers to create and manage  National Parks belong to the Scottish Parliament.

 

For Scotland’s National Parks don’t exist in a vacuum but reflect wider changes and conflicts in society.   Among the matters at stake in the General Election that will affect our National Parks are:

 

  • wage levels (employment law is controlled by Westminster) – average wage levels in the Cairngorms National Park are below the Scottish average
  • levels of public expenditure in our National Parks, which will be determined not just by any future UK Government’s commitment to “austerity” but what is proposed by the political parties proposals for rural expenditure post-Brexit
  • ownership of land through complex legal and financial vehicles (which are ultimately aimed at avoiding not just tax but other legislation such as the community right to buy

 

All these things ultimately impact on our landscape, wildlife and ability to enjoy them.  Meantime though, a little more evidence of what appears on the ground.

 

Ardvorlich estate hydro scheme

 

Following my post on the Keltie Water hydro scheme (see here), I was up on the north side of Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin at the weekend (about which more anon) and took the opportunity to have a look at the Ardvorlich hydro scheme.   I returned home to find that Jim Robertson of the Munro Society had sent parkswatch photos of the Tarken Glen hydro on the north side of Loch Earn.  Both are featured here and, while there are many positive aspects to the way both schemes have been designed and executed, both raise issues about how successfully the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority is protecting the landscape.

The Ardvorlich hydro was granted planning permission back in 2009, before the LLTNPA published its guidance stating that pipes should wherever possible be placed under bridges  and the only paper currently on the planning portal is the decision notice (see here) .  Its not possible therefore to what what consideration was given to this pipe across the burn which in my view is the single worst aspect of scheme.   It should not have been so difficult to align the pipe with the bridge and track so the pipe was concealed by the bridge as at Keltie Water.

 

The biggest landscape impact is not where pipe runs underground – the ground above the buried pipe  is recovering well – but the steep edge of the track – too steep to regenerate naturally and which is likely to continue eroding for years.

Same view from closer up:  a few years and I suspect it will be very difficult, even for vegetation experts, to detect line of the pipeline, quite a contrast to the permanent landscape scar created by the track.   According to my old OS Map, dating from 1988, at that time there was just a path up the west side of the burn.  Now there is a vehicle track on both sides.

View of western intake above fork in the burn  – the main walker’s path up Ben Vorlich from the  north runs up the skyline

There are two intake to the hydro scheme.    The main visual impact of the western intake is the concrete on left side of dam which has not been faced with natural materials.  The concrete on the right side appears to have coloured due to water flowing over it regularly so it blends better into the landscape    The wooden safety fence is also unobtrusive and fits in Park’s subsequent policy to use natural materials, such as wood for fencing.

Closer up the main visual impact of the dam remains the grey/white concrete.  If our National Parks and other planning authorities required intake structures to be finished in stone, except where likely to be stained by water,  their visual impact would reduce considerably.   The cost of this would be minimal and it could reduce carbon imprints.

 

In the past natural stone was used a lot more (see photo below) as it was less easy to import materials and people consequently used whatever was to hand.

Stone faced intake, Cuaich hydro scheme, beneath Beauly Denny powerline, Drumochter.

 

View from just below western intake dam to bridge (where pipe crosses burn).  The pipe runs beneath grassy/mossy section in centre of photo.  Even though the greenery is probably explained by the failure of the heather to recover yet, its almost impossible to tell now that this conceals a pipeline – succcessful restoration!

The visual impact of the dam is also reduced because the track does not go right up to the dam, as in most later developments in the Park.    There is nothing to draw your eye to it and as a result many people walking up the track probably miss it.

The formal track also ends short of the eastern intake (to right of view in photo) although an ATV eroded track continues up the glen (in place of the old path).   What is good about this track is that there is no large turning area which is so common with so many other hydro tracks.

Eastern intake on Allt

 

The second intake is closer to the track than the first and more intrusive.   While the lower concrete has stained there is a much greater expanse of light grey concrete retaining wall, which is made even more obvious by the Lomond blue piping.   Added to this there rip-rap boulder embankment on the far side of the burn and the excavation of the banks on either side of the burn where vegetation has not recovered (its too steep, just like the bank of the track below the bridge).  The design of this intake could, in my view, have been considerable improved and the impact on the landscape reduced.

eastern intake

Still, its a small scheme and within the landscape as a whole the impact is not great.   In many places this would be judged a good scheme but it still falls short of what I believe we should expect in our National Parks.   Its not the location of the scheme that should cause concern, its the execution.

 

Tarken Glen hydro scheme

 

The border of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park runs just north of Loch Earn and only the lower part of Tarken Glen, by St Fillans, lies within it.   The papers on the LLTNPA planning portal show that LLTNPA staff, in deciding this scheme, worked closely with Perth and Kinross Council.

Photo Credit Jim Robertson

Within the National Park there is a small section of new track to the powerhouse, the powerhouse itself and a very short area of open pipeline behind the powerhouse.   This is well concealed and not possible to see from Jim’s photos.

 

 

Photo credit Jim Robertson

While the intake is outwith the National Park, it  is fairly typical of those found within our National Parks, being constructed out of white/grey concrete partially concealed by rip rap tendering.  The gantry adds to the visual impact although viewers will note the piping is not bright “Lomond” blue.  The location of this dam in a wide open glen makes it more visible than those at Ardvorlich.

View of intake from above – photo credit Jim Robertson

The rip-rap bouldering looks as artificial as the concrete dam.

An existing track was used for construction purposes and, because the size of the scheme was relatively small, it appears the track did not require extensive upgrading.   Vegetation appears to be recovering well which will give it a more “natural” feel for walkers.

The track demonstrates what a track looks like from close up where there is a central vegetated strip – as advocated in the LLTNPA’s Best Practice Guidance.

View of Tarken Glen from Meall Rheamhar above Fin Glen – the power house is behind the large agricultural shed located just north of the Tarken burn and you can just see the line of the buried pipeline through the bracken covered area to the left of the burn.

The photo demonstrates once again that the main impact of hydro schemes is not the pipeline, where these are buried, but the access tracks.   While in this case the track was already in place, where tracks cut across the grain of the landscape, as in the middle ground of this photos where the track goes diagonally uphill, they are particularly prominent.  While the LLTNPA did refer to the visual impact of the scheme from the South Loch Earn road, it made no recommendations about what might be done to mitigate the impact of what can be seen from the National Park.

The Tarken Glen track though is not nearly as bad as the new track (above) you can see from the summit of  Meall Rheamhar in Gleann Ghoinean which again lies outwith the National Park boundary to the south.

Photo credit Jim Robertson

There is a much older hydro scheme at the head of Glen Tarken – part of the extensive Breadalbane hydro scheme  – which demonstrates that at least in respect of pipelines, some progress has been made.

Photo credit Jim Robertson

Jim’s photo though raises questions about how much progress has been made in reducing the impact of dams and hydro intakes.  In this case, the intake diverts all the normal flow of the burn, which will only flow in spate conditions, whereas intakes are always designed nowadays, due to greater awareness of hydrology and the framework of water catchment plans, to maintain some flow.   Are the concrete embankments of the existing hydro intake though any worse than the rip rap tendering shown in Jim’s second photo of the new scheme?

View from above intake – Photo Credit Jim Robertson

The photos also demonstrate just how long it takes for concrete retaining walls to be colonised by mosses and lichens and to start blending into the landscape.   A good reason why theLLTNPA needs to enforce its guidance that concrete dam structures should wherever possible be faced with natural materials.

 

Parkswatch  covers our two National Parks.  The Munro Society is trying to survey the impact of hydro schemes across Scotland (see here) as part of its work on measuring change in our hills.  This is incredibly important work because it will provide evidence of the impact of hydro developments in mountain areas on the landscape across Scotland.    Parkswatch has agreed to share with the Munro Society photographic evidence of hydro schemes gathered within in our National Parks – so if you have photos please send them as Jim and others have done –  but if you have photos from outwith the National Parks, do please contact the Munro Society directly (see here) and let them know what you might be able to share with them.

 

The LINK hill tracks group is doing similar work on hill tracks and also collects photographic evidence of their impact  across Scotland and you can submit photos online (see here) .

 

Plans to rebuild the Day Lodge and turn it into an international conference centre have been dropped

Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s news release on 12th April (see here) on its latest plans for Cairn Gorm – or “CairnGorm Mountain” in marketing speak – was widely taken up by the press.    HIE must be delighted there was so little critical coverage but their announcement raises a number of serious questions.

 

The truth is that the long promised masterplan, if it exists, is not yet public and the only agreement there has been is between HIE and Natural Retreats, the organisation that now run Cairngorm.   Nothing resembling a plan has been issued or is available on either the Cairngorm Mountain or HIE website.    So, for example, no indication has been given about where the proposed dry ski slope will be located nor how that proposal will meet environmental requirements.   The design and location of the dry ski slope and proposals for environmental mitigation are absolutely crucial for determining whether the Cairngorms National Park Authority should give ANY consideration to the new “plan” – yet HIE claims the masterplan has been agreed.  Either there has been yet more shady behind the scenes negotiations or this is pure spin!   I suspect the latter.

 

However, there is a reason I believe for the spin and that is if HIE can get a head of steam up behind the proposal and convince people that in this lies the economic salvation of Speyside, it will make it much harder for the Cairngorms National Park Authority to reject the proposal, however awful it might be.     Hence the emphasis in the News Release about the new jobs that HIE claims will be created – 35-45, but nothing of course about pay or working terms and conditions – and this just a few weeks after Natural Retreats had been threatening to make a large proportion of the workforce at Cairngorm redundant.

 

Rather than a masterplan, what has been made public is that HIE has agreed to re-direct the loan of £4 million its Board had previously agreed with Natural Retreats to construct a new Day Lodge (see here for legal agreement obtained under FOI).  It is now being proposed that the loan should be used for the construction of a dry ski slope and to make changes to the Ptarmigan Restaurant at the top of the funicular, doubling the size of the restaurant and creating a viewing platform.

 

The rationale behind the Ptarmigan part of the proposal is obvious, to increase numbers of people using the funicular, but whether it is sensible is another matter.  The funicular has been a disaster from start to finish, both for skiers and day visitors, but HIE management and funding of the Cairn Gorm estate has been driven by the need to justify it and  keep it afloat financially:  HIE’s one and only idea about how to do this up till now has been to increase the numbers of paying visitors in summer.  Why take the funicular in summer though when all you can do is walk around inside the Ptarmigan restaurant,  because the soils and vegetation on Cairn Gorm are just too fragile to sustain thousands of visitors, or be escorted to the top of Cairn Gorm and back by Rangers for a price.   The wrap around viewing platform proposal would appear to be an attempt to enable more visitors to experience fresh air – or should that be the more usual howling gale at the top of Cairn Gorm? – and expansion of the restaurant designed to allow people to sit around for longer periods at the Ptarmigan spending money.

Back of the Ptarmigan January 2016 – why anyone would want to walk around a viewing platform to look onto this is unclear.

The key problem for though for HIE is when Cairn Gorm is shrouded in cloud, as it is for much of the year, why would anyone visit?  Not many people want to pay a £12 entry fee (the cost of the funicular) to a restaurant.  On clear days, given the legal agreement in place preventing funicular users leaving the stop station, for those fit enough to do so, its much better to walk up Cairn Gorm and, for those who are not, to walk elsewhere. The whole concept of attracting people to the top of the mountain to sit inside is fundamentally flawed  yet HIE persist with it.   The wider flaw in their thinking though is the belief that people visit National Parks primarily for a manufactured tourist experience rather than for the great outdoors.   A strategy built on trying to extract large amounts of money from people for poor experiences is just not going to work.

 

What you can charge money for at Cairn Gorm is for skiing and there is a hint in the news release that at long last HIE realise that if they want to make the Cairn Gorm ski facilities financially viable, they need to make it a better place for skiing.  One part of that is to try and compensate for poor snow cover as this year- hence the dry ski slope proposal in an attempt to guarantee beginners a ski experience.   That however will not bring in enough people to make the ski area financially viable.   What’s needed is a complete re-think of skiing at Cairngorm within the context of the challenges posed by global warming.  There is no sign of HIE doing this, instead they are “lending” money to Natural Retreats.

 

Financial questions that need to be asked

 

The first  question HIE needs to answer is what, if anything, are Natural Retreats going to invest in the Cairn Gorm ski area?  While the HIE News Release referred to HIE’s  £4m loan to CairnGorm Mountain Ltd, it said not a thing about any financial contribution from Natural Retreats.  I suspect that this is because Natural Retreats are contributing nothing.   CML  at the end of December 2015 had net liabilities of £776,328 and while 2016 was a good ski season, 2017 has been awful and its safe to conclude CML has no money to invest – that is why is was threatening to lay off staff just a few weeks ago.  Its owner, Natural Assets Investment Ltd is ostensibly in a far worse financial position, with net liabilities at 31st December 2015 of £38,083,245  (see here for consideration of both sets of accounts).

 

The second question HIE needs to ask is on what basis do they believe CML will ever pay the loan back given the losses currently being made by the company?   CML had a £1,219,606 operating loss in the nine months to December 2015.  I assume HIE has already produced a set of visitor projections to the new Ptarmigan and the dry ski slope that shows projected income exceeding projected expenditure and how the loan will be repaid.   While any such projections should be treated with healthy scepticism – remember how the funicular would have paid for itself by now – HIE needs to explain how any projected extra income will also offset the current massive operating loss.

 

The third question HIE needs to answer therefore is why is it lending money to a company that is basically insolvent and dependent on the goodwill of hedge fund manager, David Michael Gorton, the ultimate owner?   When selling CML HIE retained most of the assets at Cairngorm, including the land and lift infrastructure.   Why not then simply pay for the new assets itself and retain them in public ownership rather than lend money so they end up in the hands of a hedge fund manager whose companies appear to be going bust?   The safe way to get the money back would be to keep the asset and then to charge extra rent to CML for the use of those assets?

 

I suspect the reason this option is not being taken is because of neoliberal dogma, that public assets and public investment are bad and everything is best done through the private sector.    The financial evidence in this case (as in many others) suggests otherwise and that HIE is creating a disaster at Cairn Gorm.  HIE will no doubt claim that it will secure its loan as it it did in its agreement with CML over the day lodge (see link in paragraph 4 above).   That agreement states CML cannot sell the new assets financed by the HIE loan without permission.   That sounds fine until a company goes into liquidation – and CML appears heading that way – when its assets are distributed among all creditors which would inevitably result in HIE getting back less than what it put in.  I am not an expert in these things but  its looks to me as though its almost impossible for HIE to secure its loan properly.

 

The wider questions about Cairn Gorm

 

Part of the justification for selling Cairngorm Mountain to Natural Retreats was to enable much needed investment in facilities to be financed by the private sector – the latest investment announcement suggests that is no nearer to happening.  If investment depends on the public sector, the obvious question is why have the private sector involved at all?

 

The answer is that sometime the private sector has expertise that the public sector lacks.  However, Natural Retreats was a new company with little experience and no expertise in skiing – so why then did HIE choose them?   There were – and are now – local people and businesses who are prepared to work together and manage Cairn Gorm for the benefit of everyone and keep money invested in the local area.    The biggest question therefore which HIE needs to answer is why its still pressing ahead with financing Natural Retreats instead of putting its efforts into supporting a community enterprise to takeover and run Cairn Gorm?

 

It would appear from the HIE News Release is that the proposal to redevelop the Day Lodge has now been abandoned.   The delivery of a new Day Lodge was a condition of HIE’s lease with Cairngorm Mountain and set out in Schedule 4.  That schedule now needs to change and it appears therefore that HIE would, if it gave notice to Natural Retreats to terminate the lease now, be secure from any legal challenge.   It has no excuse for not doing so.

 

The public investment at Cairn Gorm is a good thing – its just being given to the wrong people for the wrong purpose.  Its time our politicians appreciated this and started arguing for alternatives.

New bridge over the Allt Breac Nic, Stuc a Chroin in distance.   The pipe has been concealed under the bridge, as per LLTNPA good practice guidance.    Photo Credit Derek Sime.

The Munro Society has started to monitor hydro schemes – a very welcome development – and my thanks to Derek Sime who sent parkswatch a number of photos of the Keltie Water Hydro Scheme, situated between Callander and Stuc a Chroin.   While the Keltie Water forms the eastern boundary of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park all the development associated with the hydro scheme lies within it.   The hydro scheme was originally approved in 2013, revised plans approved in 2014 (see here) and map below and apparently constructed in 2016.

Location and site plan for Keltie Water hydro scheme 2014 from LLTNPA planning portal

The track up the glen by the Keltie Water from Braeleny farm is the starting point for a number of fine walks, including the southern approach to Stuc a Chroin, along the prominent rounded ridge from Meall Odhar, and a wonderful round from Beinn Each to Meall na Fearna taking in Stuc a Chroin and Ben Vorlich.    Derek’s photos, which are mainly of the access track and the pipeline – there are none of the two intakes  – show some good and bad things about the hydro scheme but on balance this appears one of the better schemes in the National Park.

Photo credit Derek Sime

 

The power house is situated close to Braeleny Farm, has been finished with natural materials and is quite tucked away.   It will have almost no landscape impact on the glen, which becomes wide and open higher up.  The construction compound to the left of the building has been restored well – from this distance you would hardly know it had been there – and for good measure Drummond Estate have added three blocks of tree planting.   While in the wrong place, tree planting can look artifical, not far  south of the powerhouse on the far side of the river (outside the National Park boundary) there is a large block of forestry while further south, along the Keltie Water, there is some fine native woodland and the planting here has the potential to link to that.

 

Generally the LLTNPA has ensured the power house elements of hydro schemes in the National Park have been done well – their planners I think are more comfortable with buildings than landscape – and this is appears a good example.

Photo credit Derek Sime

The other element of hydro schemes that the LLTNPA have generally ensured is done well is restoration of the ground in grassland and peatland areas.   If peat and turves are removed and stored before the trench for the pipeline is dug, once replaced the ground should recover quickly.  A multitude of stones on the surface as along Glen Bruar (see here) is a sign that contractors have mixed up excavations with top soil and vegetation.  While you can see some stones on the surface here, generally this section of pipeline restoration appears to have been done well and is likely to recover quickly.  In two years it may not be possible to see the line of the pipeline.

 

The section of pipe on the left of the photo is another matter.  It is one of several which appear to have been abandoned as all machinery has been removed from the site and there is no sign of ongoing works.   There is no need for this and it is not acceptable.  Sadly abandoned sections of pipe are a feature of a number of other hydro schemes in our National Park – its cheaper to leave them in situ than recycle them – including Glen Bruar.  (Its also yet another example of why the litter left by a few irresponsible campers needs to be seen in perspective).

Photo Credit Derek Sime

 

The restoration of the ground just south of the bridge over the Allt Breac Nic and beyond it on the left side of the track appears less successful, with far more stone visible and what appears to be a boulder dump by the sheep on the far left.   I suspect part of the reason for this is the ground before the bridge slopes steeply and the depth of soil here was less.    Where the soil is shallower its much more difficult to separate vegetation and topsoil from rocks if the work is done by machine as it invariably is nowadays.  This is a problem not just at Glen Bruar but on sections of the Beauly Denny powerline.   If our National Parks are serious about ensuring the highest standards of restoration I believe they need to consider and support the development of  alternative “construction” techniques in areas of shallow soil.    Meantime the LLTNPA needs to consider how its going to make the restoration of this area effective.

 

Photo Credit Derek Sime

Prior to the construction of the hydro there was an existing track to Arivurichardich.  This was upgraded to enable the construction works to take place.  Drummond Estate’s planning application asked for the tracks, after restoration, to be 2.5m wide.  The LLTNPA, stuck by their Planning Guidance and made the following requirements:

 

Notwithstanding the approved plans and for the avoidance of doubt these tracks shall be reduced to a width of between 2 metres, and 2.5 metres (at essential turning areas and steep gradients only), (to be agreed in writing by the Planning Authority), and shall have a grassed central strip.

 

What the photo above illustrates is that this requirement has not been met.  This straight section of track is more than 2m wide.  You can also see how aggregate from the track has spilled down the slope to the right, broadening it still further.  There is no sign of a grass central strip.  Perhaps that will be put in place this spring?     The problem here is not with the conditions the LLTNPA required in this case, its the enforcement of them.

A close up of the area between the two bridges (above) illustrates a number of areas where restoration work could have been better.  Left of the track large amounts of stony substrata has been mixed up with the peat and may change the type of vegetation that grows back here .   Another piece of abandoned pipe is visible to the right of the sign.  The track itself is clearly broader than the 2.5m the LLTNPA allowed for bends and junctions.   And, while I am not against all signs – this is part of a core path network – did it really have to be bright red?

Photo credit Derek Sime

The old bridge south of Arivurichardich (above) over the Keltie Water was washed away on 18 August 2004, during a violent thunderstorm which sat over Stuc a’Chroin, and which was also responsible for sweeping away a number of other bridges in the area, including that on the public South Loch Earn road at Edinample.     Since then the Keltie Water has been uncrossable when it has been in spate, and while of course the hydro pipeline will reduce those levels in future, the two bridges help make the area more accessible.  This is a  benefit on what is part of a core path network.

 

What Derek Sime’s photos illustrate is that the problems with this hydro scheme is not about its location but about the way its been finished.   The officer’s report recommending approval for the scheme is very thorough and show a good appreciation of the landscape:

 

The site is within an expansive and unspoilt glen comprising a mosaic of sensitive habitats and watercourses featuring unique geological rock formations.

 

It then recommends a number of specific conditions which I think are welcome.   For example, one condition was that the two dam intakes should be finished in local stone.  While use of local stone to finish dams forms part of the LLTNPA’s Good Practice Guidance, in reality most dams and intake structures within the National Park have been finished in concrete and no requirements made to abide by the Park’s own guidance.   So, the requirement in this case is very welcome.  It would be interesting though to see if this has actually happened here – photos please!

 

It will be interesting too to see hat the LLTNPA does to ensure the other conditions it has made, particularly regarding the width of the track, are enforced.   One problem with monitoring all of this – and it will be a challenge to all the Munro Society volunteers who are adopting hydro schemes – is that the LLTNPA is not adding any information to the planning portal once a decision has been made.   There is no information publicly available about the Keltie Water hydro scheme since it was finally approved in 2014.  Its impossible to see therefore whether Park enforcement have done anything to address the problems illustrated in the photos.  The result is if you, I  or Munro Society volunteers want to find out what has happened we have to submit Freedom of Information Requests.  That is wrong and needs to change.

 

If, following the People and Places planning consultation,  the Scottish Government publishes a new Planning Bill  it should include a requirement to make Planning Authorities publish on their planning portals information relating to the implementation of planning consents, including whether planning conditions have been met .   One would have hoped a National Park would be doing this anyway.  In the case of the LLTNPA it appears it is frightened that if it made this information public, that would expose its failure to take proper enforcement action against landowners.