Author: Nick Kempe

February 22, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment
The access sign at the Devil’s Elbow – note how the sign is not endorsed by the Cairngorms National Park Authority

On Sunday, returning early after a short ski tour over the Cairnwell in a white out, we stopped at the Devil’s elbow, where I had the pleasure of reading an estate sign which used the National Access Forum’s recommended template and form of words as set out in their Guidance on Deer Stalking and Public Access (see here):

Such signs are very rare, even if not unique sight, in our National Parks.    Bravo Invercauld was my reaction!

Unfortunately other signs which bear the National  Park Authority logo and convey very different messages to the public, most notably the Welcome to the Moor signs,  are proliferating in the Cairngorms National Park:

Sign on North Drumochter Estate. The list of bodies endorsing this version of the Welcome to the Moor sign (at bottom of photo) includes Scottish Land and Estates, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and on far right the Cairngorms National Park Authority.
Sign on Dinnet estate with CNPA logo prominently displayed at the top of the sign

While there is no specific recommended moorland sign from the National Access Forum compare their recommended wording for deer stalking:

“When stalking is taking place, you can help by using paths”

with the messages on the two signs which both say;

“keep to paths and tracks when possible”.

The messages to the public are totally different, the one asking people to help by using paths on certain days and the others recommending people keep to paths at all times.

 

When I was involved in negotiating the National Access Concordat and the agreement with landowners which preceded our access legislation, we negotiated every word.   Initially landowning interests wanted access rights, apart from in open country, to be based on paths as in England, where in many places you have a right to walk along a path but not to step off it.  We argued that it was a fundamental right that people should be able to leave paths, whether to go down to a river bank, go and sit under a tree, enjoy a flower or chase butterflies and that people should be able to do this so long as they did not do damage (e.g trample crops).  In the end the landowners’ representatives conceded this and that is basically why we have access rights to almost all land.

 

That though has turned out to be only the start of story of the fight to secure access rights.    Dave Morris, when Director of Ramblers Scotland,  had again to argue over every word in the model signs agreed by the National Access Forum posted above and below:

 

Neither of these agreed sign templates from the National Access Forum  use the phrase “Keep to the Path”.  This is not an accident or omission, its fundamental.    So, when one of our National Parks endorses a sign that says “Please keep to the path” they are, whether knowingly or not, helping landowners to undermine access rights once again.  What the Welcome to the Moor signs tell us is that certain landowning interests have never been happy with access rights and are using every opportunity they can to reverse them.

Photo credit Dave Morris

Access rights are NOT about having to walk along a path between two sets of barbed wire fences as in many places in England or on a section of the Speyside Way extension (see here).   That is why I was so delighted to see the first Invercauld sign, an example of a landowner doing the right thing.   Unfortunately behind the first Invercauld sign is another (left), part of the Scottish Scenic Roads initiative, which  uses a slightly different form of wording:

“When stalking is taking place you can help by staying to paths and following ridges”.

Why someone felt the need to reduce the three bullet points in the model National Access Forum signage to two  when there is so much empty space on the plaque I don’t know.  However,  in doing so,  they changed the advice from “you can help by using” to “you can help by staying to (sic) paths”:

Photo credit Dave Morris

Why the CNPA endorsed this (see left ) I can’t think and it would be in the public interest to know if this was funded by the Scottish Government.

There is an incremental change in meaning from advising people to use paths at certain times, to staying on  paths, to keeping to paths…………..and its only a short step from the last message to “don’t leave the path at any time”.   Rights are rarely abolished outright, they are lost in increments, often so small you hardly notice.

Words are important which is why its important all who care about access rights challenge the wording on these signs.

Our National Parks have a statutory duty to promote public enjoyment of the countryside and as access authorities should be exemplars of how to manage access rights.  The CNPA should therefore require that the Welcome to the Moor signs are changed.   The CNPA does not need to reinvent the wheel, all it needs to do – just as it was all the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority needed to do on camping – is  to follow the excellent National Access Forum advice that is already in place and ensure that landowners do so too.

February 20, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment
In the 18th Century, mine developers felt obliged to provide housing for their workforce in the local area, quite a contrast to the 21st Century where the LLTNPA is happy to leave all to the market with predictable consequences

Both our National Parks have two statutory objectives which incorporate the term ‘sustainable’:

  • “to promote the sustainable use of natural resources”, and
  • “to promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities”. 

As I revealed last week (see here), while the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority has adopted a policy on mining which states there should be NO mining in the National Park except where this is in the national interest and accepts that there is NO national interest at stake at Cononish,  nevertheless its staff (code senior management team) are recommending that policy should be ignored because of the alleged LOCAL economic benefits the gold mine could bring to the area.

The old LLTNPA Board fell for these arguments when it approved the planning application that has now expired.  It should not do so again.  This post takes a critical look at the social and economic benefits which it is claimed that the Cononish goldmine will bring  to the local area and ends by proposing an alternative way forward.

 

Socio-economic impact study

Scotgold have not produced a new socio-economic impact study but simply updated the jobs figures from a 2011 study on the socio-economic impact of the mine they commissioned from David Bell at Stirling University (see here).    David Bell may be an eminent economist but that report in my view simply provides the evidence of the dangers of academics being paid to do work by Developers:

“Under present conditions in the gold market, it is extremely unlikely that the mine would not be viable during its expected lifetime”

That key conclusion of the 2011 Report turns out to have been badly wrong, the mine that was approved has not been viable and none of the report’s predicted economic benefits have happened.  This is why the LLTNPA is being presented with a planning application whose main  purpose is to reduce costs, namely those required to construct a tailings dam (which would require a large amount of capital up front) and to return a high proportion of the tailings to the mine once mining had finished.

While the LLTNPA openly admit that the socio-economic report is badly out of date, the Committee Report provides no critical analysis of the findings of that report (which helped convince the Board to approve previous planning application) in the light of experience and provide no other analysis of the social  and economic impacts.  Indeed there is NO impact of the SOCIAL impacts of the proposed development either in David Bell’s old report or the Committee Report.  The LLTNPA has simply failed to look at this and assumed that new jobs are all that matters.

 

How many and what type of jobs would the gold mine create?

The heading “Socio-economic impacts” is totally misleading as there is NO analysis of the social impacts of the proposed development and very little about the economic impacts except for the number of jobs created.

The jobs sound great don’t they, 62 over 10 years or 37 over 17 years, and the average salaries appear to have increased?  Except that:

  • the jobs benefits are entirely dependant on the mine staying in production.  It might not because the plan now is to extract the richest ore first and if Scotgold don’t have to return tailings to the mine they could now abandon it at any time.
  • the increased average salary – and no explanation is given for why this figure has increased – means that those at Cononish appear to have been brought into line with the average salaries in English mines which was £30,600 in 2011.
  • Scotgold have used average and NOT median salaries.  Their Chief Exec currently receives £100k and will no doubt get more if planning is approved, there will be other high salaries paid for expert mining jobs and all of that will be offset  by lower salaries paid to manual labourers and security guards.  These may be slightly better paid than those in the local tourist industry but Scotgold and the LLTNPA are keeping coy about the exact figures.   Whether these will be adequate compensation for the working conditions (working down a dusty mine, with chemicals or outdoors) is another matter.
Data on traffic generated by the mine suggest that a fair number of the jobs will be driving vehicles outside the mine

Scotgold gives very little information about the types of jobs that will be created but of the 62 a number will not be located locally at all.  Those include the jobs created by the processing of the concentrate – which will take place outside Scotland – and, most likely, the people employed in transporting that concentrate to the processing plant (which might be abroad).

 

Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation data for an area slightly wider than the four local census zones. Employment Deprived includes people on Incapacity Benefit etc who are unable to work for health reasons.

That still leaves a significant number of jobs which will be based around the mine – 50 say. The Committee Report says NOTHING about the availability of labour locally to fill those jobs, whether skilled or unskilled.   Despite the claim apprenticeships will be created, it is very unlikely any of the 14 skilled jobs on higher salaries will be filled from people locally or indeed from anywhere else in the National Park.   Of the unskilled jobs which will be created, the 2011 Census shows that in the four areas closest to the goldmine (from Bridge of Orchy to the ends of Glen Falloch and Glen Dochart) there were 387 people living of whom 12 were unemployed.  Even if those 12 people all do gain employment at the mine that means that 38 people will need to be brought in from outside to fill the jobs.

Now, David Bell’s report argued that Cononish Goldmine would create better paid jobs than the local tourist industry with the implication being that local people might move from the tourist industry into the goldmine.  That might happen of course in certain cases but the consequence will be the same, someone will still need to come in from outside to fill the vacant low paid tourist job.

Jobs therefore will need to be filled by outsiders and this could happen in two ways.  Either people will need to commute from places like Fort William, Callander or Balloch – how does this fit with the LLTNPA’s commitment to promote sustainable travel? – or they will need to try and find somewhere to live locally.

 

The implications of the proposed gold mine for housing

The LLTNPA Committee Report, like the David Bell report before, is silent on the question of where the people filling the jobs at the goldmine will stay.  I have done a check on Zoopla, and at present there appear to be two properties for sale and none for rent within about fifteen miles of the mine.   Its not difficult to imagine that the current owners of the houses for sale might receive a windfall from the sale of their property if the mine goes ahead as the higher paid managers desperately look for somewhere to live locally.   Its possible too that owners of some housing rented out as holiday accommodation may decide they will make more money by renting out that housing to mine workers – although that would create a loss to the tourist economy which has never been evaluated.   There is, however, so little housing in the area, that its unlikely many of the 50 or so new workers could be accommodated locally.

For the lower paid jobs, commuting is unlikely to be affordable, and the predictable consequence is that much of the workforce is likely to end up living in caravans (though not on site, as the one thing planning officials are recommending is that NO caravans should be allowed in Cononish Glen).   It is equally predictable that of the people living in Scotland who aspire to live in the Highlands most will not want to stay in caravans.   The consequence will be that a large proportion of the workforce are likely to be transitory migrants, just like in the tourist industry.

If the LLTNPA had fulfilled its duty to promote sustainable social and economic development properly it would have considered the housing issues associated with the gold mine not just in the Committee Report but in the Local Development Plan which was adopted a year ago:

The Mixed Use development for Tyndrum does not include provision for a single house

However, the Local Development Plan contains NO proposals for new housing in Tyndrum, the nearest settlement to Cononish, or wider Strathfillan.  Even the Earls of Breadalbane in the 18th Century ensured cottages were provided for the people they removed from the land, forcing them to work in the lead mine – you can still see some of these at Clifton, though others such as at Newton (top pic) have now gone.

The Development Plan proposed 6 new homes at Willowbrae

While the Development Plan does provide for some new housing at Crianlarich, it gives no indication of whether these will be affordable or available to the proposed workforce at Cononish.  It appears therefore that in developing the Local Development Plan the LLTNPA paid no regard to the social and economic consequences of the goldmine going ahead.  So much for sustainable communities.

 

The LLTNPA’s evaluation of SUSTAINABLE social and economic development

In the light of the above, consider Park’s staff evaluation of the social and economic impacts:

£80m sounds fantastic until you do the sums.  Assume the average wage of the locally based jobs is still £32,500, assume 50 jobs for ten years and, discounting tax, the economic impact of the jobs created is £32,500 x 50 x 10 = £16,250,000 ie less than a quarter claimed in the Committee Report or just over £1.5m each year.  The £80m of course covers cost of capital equipment, processing of ore off site, the cost of the three HGVs and the supplies they bring in each day.  It also covered the cost of constructing the tailings dam and restoring the tailings to the mine both of which would have created more employment locally:  as a consequence its totally irresponsible of the Committee Report to quote the old figure of £80m.

The planner’s evaluation of the gold mine against its statutory objective – there is no mention of the word sustainable in the conclusion as underlined

The failure of LLTNPA senior management to properly scrutinise or challenge the claimed contribution of the Cononish gold mine is a serious error.    What’s more, the Committee Report fails to explain how this gold mine could be described as sustainable economically.   I am not surprised:  the Park last year promoted their Head of Planning to a new role of “Director of Rural Development and Planning”.  The title says it all.  The job is to promote development, whether sustainable or not, as is is all too evident in this Committee Report.

Here are some questions then which the Board should be demanding answers to:

  • In what sense can short-term jobs, most of which are likely to be filled by people from outside the area, be described as sustainable?
  • How is Scotgold proposing to transport their workers to the site (apart from the minibus shuttle up the track from the enlarged carpark at Dalrigh) and to ensure that decent accommodation is available for them.
  • If further gold mines are proposed in future, what it the long-term plan to enable a mining workforce to settle in the National Park permanently and would this be compatible with the National Park’s objectives?
  • And, most important of all, what are the alternatives which would better meet the National Park’s statutory objectives.

The lack of any critical evaluation of the alleged social and economic benefits of the Cononish gold mine reflects, I believe, the neo-liberal approach that the LLTNPA has taken to almost everything it does in  the National Park.   The market will provide – manna from heaven.  Rich people, such as Nathaniel Le Roux the controlling share holder of Scotgold, backing developments should be welcomed into the National Park with open arms as benefactors whatever their actual contribution, whatever the cost to local communites and whatever the cost to the natural environment.

 

What needs to happen

I would hope the Board will be brave enough next week to reject the new planning application for the Cononish gold mine on the grounds that its economic benefits have been grossly exaggerated, the social costs will be considerable and that no element of the proposal can be described as sustainable.

However, the LLTNPA Board cannot do this in isolation and it should therefore at the same time commit to developing an alternative economic strategy for the National Park based on its four statutory objectives.     This should start with the question of how the LLTNPA could help create locally based jobs which do not involved destroying the National Park’s special qualities.  The first step, for example, in developing an alternative to the gold mine would be to consider how to create 12 jobs for the people unemployed locally at say £32,500 a year.  With on-costs of 20% that comes to £468k a year.

That sounds a lot of money until you consider the huge income landowners and financiers are receiving from the hydro schemes in Glen Falloch and Glen Dochart.   The net income from the proposed scheme at Ben More farm, for example, was estimated at over £75k a year (see here) and that is without taking account the inflated cost of repaying loans to the city.

There are therefore clear alternatives but for these to happen we need land reform.   Instead of avoiding this issue as they have done, our National Parks should be at the forefront of engaging with local people and other interested parties to make this happen and to develop land-use strategies which benefit local communities, enhance the natural environment and promote its enjoyment.   Until they do this, sustainable economic development will never happen in our National Parks and the LLTNPA will continue to attempt to justify the unjustifiable.

February 19, 2018 Nick Kempe 2 comments
The track above the Clova Hotel as photographed in June 2017. The faint horizontal line across the hill above the arrow marks the pipeline connecting two hydro intakes and is not a constructed track as I had thought though used by All Terrain Vehicles. The black arrow indicates the top section of the buried pipeline.

Two weeks ago, when I was in Glen Clova, I went to take a closer look at some of the tracks I had seen while doing a round of the Glen Prosen skyline (see here).  This post takes a further look at what has been happening.  None of the five tracks featured here appears on the OS Map used on either the Cairngorms National Park Authority or Angus Council Planning Portals:

If you zoom in further on the map to the level that shows planning applications, there are none at all for these tracks or for the new bothy by Loch Wharral at the top of Track 2.  While it is arguable that Track 4 was constructed for forestry purposes, and therefore did not need any type of planning permission before the introduction of Prior Notification system in 2014, in my view all the other tracks should have required full planning permission.  Whatever the legal position,in my view an extremely fine area of landscape within a National Park has been trashed in a very short period of time without any public debate and without the consent of the Cairngorms National Park Authority.  What even more appalling is that, apart from Track 1, there is very little the Cairngorms National Park Authority can do about it.

 

Track 1 – Track above Clova Hotel

Track viewed from Loch Brandy path above hotel – Photo Credit Helen Todd, Scottish LINK hill tracks group

I had wrongly thought (see top photo) that this track had been created in order to construct the hydro scheme above the Glen Clova Hotel.  (The consent for the hydro scheme was given to Clova Farms Ltd who appear to be owned by the same people who own the Clova Hotel).    No track was consented for that scheme because construction of the two hydro intakes was to be by helicopter and while vehicles were used, the CNPA has kindly confirmed to me in the last two weeks that the track was constructed afterwards and negotiations are still taking place with the landowner.

Track viewed from slopes of Ben Tirran

The track is highly visible from all directions and because of this the CNPA should insist that it is removed.  While not built to construct the hydro scheme above the Glen Clova Hotel , it is very clear that it is being used to access the first intake:

Erosion caused by ATVs driving from the top of the constructed track to the first hydro intake.

 

It also appears to be being used for the purpose of rearing game birds:

Overturned feeder and pheasants – there were two feeders by the plantation accessed by an ATV track leading off the main track

The fact that its extremely poorly designed and constructed is in a sense irrelevant as it shouldn’t ever have been constructed in the first place because of its landscape impact.  The poor construction, however, adds to the impression that whoever constructed this track does not care about the landscape:

Large area, purpose unknown, at start of track
Poorly constructed ditch and abandoned? section of pipe
As well as being highly prominent, sections of the track are far too steep and will erode
While the upper part of the track was under snow, there was still evidence of very poor construction

 

 

 

 

 

The lack of care is also evident in the construction of the first hydro intake:

 

The original intake screen for the hydro – its a tiny intake and I suspect dries up in summer  – has already been replaced but instead of removing the old red screen its been left dumped on the site.

The line of the pipeline is marked by our footprints.

Besides being poorly designed – you can make out a bright “Lomond” blue pipe and concrete lid to pipe access – we walked by several sections of abandoned pipe.   I don’t know if the Cairngorms National Park Authority have visited the intakes but they need to order a clear-up.

 

If the Glen Clova Hotel tries to justify the new track as being needed to access this intake, in my view the response should be simple, an intake of this tiny size should NEVER justify permanent new hill tracks.    I believe this track is a real test for the CNPA and the presumption set out in the National Park Partnership Plan that there should be no new hill tracks.  The challenge will be how to get the landowner to restore the track and, if the CNPA do not believe they have sufficient powers to do this, they should say so now while the Planning Bill is going through the Scottish Parliament.

 

Track 2 to Loch Wharral

Top of Track 2 which ends at Loch Wharral

 

I did not walk along Track 2 which follows the line of the old path up to Loch Wharral and a newly constructed bothy but even under snow you could see it forms a prominent way across the moor.

The track to Loch Wharral, the tiny whitish spot at the end of the track and on the bottom of the coire is the bothy – photo June 2016

This track is on the Rottal estate, which has been responsible for creating several further tracks outside the National Park Boundary (which runs up Ben Tirran, the hill on the right).   According to the Cairngorms National Park Authority the track had been created by 2012 at latest while the bothy – there had been a ruin here before apparently though its not on my old map – was built sometime between 2008 and 2014.  Neither had planning permission.

The problem is our planning law, as set out in the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 and Scottish Government Planning Circular 10/2009 which set out the rules on Planning Enforcement:

 

TIME LIMITS ON ENFORCEMENT ACTION

Breaches with a 4-Year Time Limit

10. Where a breach of planning control consists of the carrying out of any form of ‘operational development’ without planning permission, section 124(1) provides that enforcement action may only be taken within 4 years of the date on which the operations were ‘substantially completed’. This provision extends to building, engineering, mining and other operations in, on, over or under the land.

 

Hill tracks are classified as operational developments and, since this track had been created by 2012, the CNPA would have had to initiate enforcement action at least two years ago to be able to remove it.   While I can understand there is a need for time limits on enforcement action for some types of  case, the whole system seems based on the assumption that planning authorities are aware of breaches of planning requirements and have chosen to do nothing about it.  Given cuts in the numbers of planning staff, such assumptions are no longer justifiable.

 

In the case of National Parks though, when a landowner undertakes a development without planning permission that has a serious impact on its special qualities such landscape, conservation or recreational enjoyment, then I am not sure there should be any time limits to when enforcement action could take place.  The expectation should be that all developments require planning permission and no-one should get away with it.   I would have hoped that the CNPA might have made this case when responding to the Planning Bill (see here) and in my view it is an example of the type of change to our planning law which is needed to make enforcement more effective.

There is still a question of whether the Rottal Estate could be required to submit a retrospective planning application for the Loch Wharral bothy.

Track 3 – Rough Craig

The track over Rough Craigs, the ridge on the near side of Glen Clova, from west slopes of Ben Tirran

According to the CNPA, the track over Rough Craig had also been constructed by 2012 and is therefore outside planning enforcement time limits.  Following as it does the crest of the ridge and being built up above the surrounding moor it forms another very prominent landscape scar.

The northern end of the Rough Craigs track close to the estate boundary, and electric fence, where it terminates.

Track 4

Photo June 2017

I did not have time to visit Track 4 which is highly prominent when you are driving up Glen Clova and from a distance.    While significantly shorter than other tracks, this track is a good demonstration of the impact “forest” tracks can have when crossing open ground and why all forest tracks should require full planning permission.  I have no information of when this track was constructed but unless its been since December 2014, when the Prior Notification was introduced, the CNPA is very unlikely to be able to take any enforcement action.

 

Track 5

Photo Credit George Allan, LINK Hill track campaign

Across the glen, on the west side of the river, north of the hotel, behind a plantation so not visible from the road, there is yet another track which George Allan told me about. Again I have not visited but George reported it to the CNPA and it apparently pre-dates the Prior Notification system, so yet again no action can be taken, although in terms of construction its the most shocking of all the tracks:

Photo Credit George Allan

Our National Parks also need new powers to ensure that older hill tracks, which could not now be removed even if the law changes, are of a good standard of design and construction.

And, just in case you think that’s it………..

Earthworks opposite Glen Clova Hotel

Here is a photo of work currently going on in the glen.   There have been historic issues in Glen Clova with landforms being altered without appropriate permissions and this has been reported to the CNPA.  We will see what happens but if you see earthworks or earth moving equipment in the National Park report it!

 

What needs to be done

What has been happening in one short section of one glen in the Cairngorms National Park over (say) the last ten years should in my view be a national scandal.   Unfortunately, its not the only example and the landscape in Drumochter has been similarly trashed.    The basic issue is that landowners believe and act as if they can do whatever they want on their land without any consideration of the public interest even though their land is in a National Park.    This issue is unlikely to be fully addressed without far more extensive land reform.

While the CNPA took their eye off the ball for far too long, they have acknowledged this and are now taking steps both to monitor hill tracks and to initiate enforcement action where they have the powers to do so.  The enforcement process is painfully slow and because of this its not possible to tell whether the CNPA have sufficient powers to ensure the unlawful tracks on the Cluny Estate (see here) and above the Clova Hotel are removed and the land fully restored.

While the Scottish Government repeats ad nauseum the need to speed up planning applications – and judges our Planning Authorities on this – it has so far has taken no interest in trying to speed up enforcement process.  It should do so, and if our National Parks and other Planning Authorities need new powers to do this, they should be given this in the Planning Bill.  Indefinite periods to take enforcement action against developments which harm landscape or conservation would be a good start.

February 17, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Story from the Herald 16th February – who placed it?

Until a couple of days ago, there was NO information on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority website about Board or Committee Meetings this year, no dates, nothing.  I had written to the LLTNPA about this a couple of weeks ago, only to be reminded that the October 2017 Board Meeting had agreed dates for all Board and Committee meetings in 2018 but because it was possible some of the dates might change as a result of a current review of governance,  nothing had been published on the LLTNPA website.   This is unacceptable.

 

Back in October a Planning and Access Committee meeting had been scheduled for 30th January but there was nothing on the LLTNPA website to say it had been cancelled.   And then, out of the blue, on the 15th the meeting date for a Special Board Meeting on Cononish appeared (together with the date of the March Board meeting) while the Committee papers were made public on the planning portal.

There are now two 2018 Board meeting dates advertised on the LLTNPA website: there is still not a single date for the Planning and Access Committee, Audit Committee, Local Review Body or Local Access Forum advertised

Such lack of transparency is practically unknown in other public authorities, a couple of clicks on google and you can find meeting dates for any Council, as the elected Councillors on the Board should well know (see here for Stirling).    The first challenge of the governance review ordered by Board Convener James Stuart should be how to change the senior staff management team so they start acting like public servants rather than unaccountable bureaucrats.

 

What’s going on with the Cononish Planning application is more serious however.    Its not clear who released the story the Herald – unusually no-one is quoted – but it appears to have been timed to coincide with the papers appearing on the Park website.   If it was the LLTNPA, it suggest they have already in effect taken the decision but if it was Scotgold, the timing suggests they were tipped off by Park staff when to contact the media.   After the Owen McKee scandal, in which the LLTNPA tried to cover up that Owen McKee the Convener of the Planning Committee had been trading in Scotgold shares (see here for example), one might have thought that Park staff would have done everything to ensure the LLTNPA was seen to be squeaky clean.

 

Either this media announcement was done with Board approval – in which case we are back to the bad old days of Linda McKay’s convenorship where the LLTNPA in effect took decisions at secret pre-meetings held before public Board Meetings –  or staff appear to be trying to pre-empt any proper scrutiny or debate about their recommendations.  I suspect the latter and, if so, the Board needs to hold staff to account and remind them its Board Members, not staff, who takes the decisions in such cases.

The assessment of the new Cononish Gold Mine Planning Application

In 2011 the LLTNPA reversed its opposition to a gold mine at Cononish and a planning application was subsequently approved in 2012.   Nothing significant then happened until 2014-15 when the LLTNPA agreed to a Section 42 variation and extended that permission for a further three years.   That permission ran out on 6th February 2018, ie just over a week ago, and means that the current application is the only one on the table.  Scotgold had previously advised its shareholders that if the new application, which is primarily driven by a need to reduce costs to enable the development to go ahead, was refused it could revert to the existing one.   That is no longer the case.

 

This is important because through much of the 72 page Committee Report and in many of the 210 accompanying documents (see here) the argument is that the new application is better than the old one and hence should be approved.  To me it rather begs the question of how a National Park Authority could have ever approved the old scheme if the impact on the landscape was worse and the risk of collapse of the tailings management dam was higher as is stated in the report?  This application needs to decided on its merits.

 

While the final part of the Committee Report does provide an assessment of the scheme against the LLTNPA’s Development Plan, the National Park Partnership Plan and the statutory objectives of our National Parks, in my view this is far from objective.  Here is how the first Local Development Plan policy is evaluated:

So the mine is acceptable because Cononish could be said be a derelict site!   I thought it had been designated as a Wild Land Area!!     Leaving aside the fact that the current operation and area of “dereliction” only covers a tiny proportion of the proposed site, the developer was required to take out bonds to guarantee restoration of the existing site once operations finished.   If the current planning permission was refused, the site would be restored and would not be derelict at all!    So, the conclusion that the proposal “can be said to comply with EDP2” is wrong.

 

Or how about the evaluation in the Committee Report of the mine against the Local Development Plan’s Mineral Extraction Policy 1 which states:

‘New mineral extraction sites shall only [my highlight]  be supported where the material to be extracted is required to facilitate the enhancement and maintenance of the National Park’s built environment or, where it can be demonstrated that there is an overriding national interest and there is no reasonable alternative source outwith the National Park.’

The assessment is 9.27 is quite correct and should mean the development should be refused.    Instead, para 9.27, gives a number of dubious reasons why Park staff believe the mine should go ahead, none of which override a policy which basically says there should be no gold or other mines in the National Park except for reasons of national interest.

 

After these examples (and there are many more), you will not be surprised to read that despite also finding that:

“During the construction, operational and decommissioning phases of the mine, years 1-17, this development will be contrary to the Local Development Plan as it will not safeguard, protect or enhance the Landscape, Visual Amenity, Wild Land, Special Qualities, Recreation and Access”

the final recommendation is that the application should be approved, albeit with no less than 57 conditions.   Senior Park staff have therefore failed to ensure that the Cononish gold mine application has been evaluated objectively against the LLTNPA’s own policies.   I don’t know why this is the case but the failures in logic are so glaring that it appears something else is going on.

 

What needs to happen

I hope that Board Members read the Committee Report and accompanying papers properly and are not put off by the huge volume of information.  If they do so, they should appreciate that reasoning of officers is seriously flawed in a number of places and their recommendations open to legal challenge on a number of grounds.  Reasons enough to reject the application.

 

I will consider the new Cononish proposal’s compatibility with the conservation objectives of the National Park in my next post.

February 15, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Track above Allt Coire Fhar, Drumochter – a convenient way to access col between Geal Charn and A’Mharconaich but which replaced a former stalker’s path and was extended further last year, apparently without planning permission. Note the width and the eroding banks on the right which add to the scar.

The Scottish Government’s Planning Bill and the CNPA response

In December, the Scottish Government published its Planning Bill and this is now going through Parliament and will be considered this month by the Local Government Committee.    While in the Memorandum  accompanying the Planning Bill the Scottish Government clearly states “The purpose of planning is to guide how land should be used to meet the needs of society”  our planning system is currently focussed on where and how development should take place rather than how all land should be managed.  While there are some good things in the Planning Bill currently going through the Scottish Parliament, it reflects and indeed consolidates that development bias, containing no new measures to protect the environment or determine how land in the countryside is managed.

 

The gaping hole in the Bill is landownership and what happens when a landowner decides to manage land which does not “meet the needs of society”.    For example, while the Environment Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham has accepted there is a need to review how grouse moors are managed and set up a Review Group to do this – whose remit is ALL about land-use – there is absolutely nothing in the Planning Bill which would enable Planning Authorities to influence, let alone control, how grouse moors might be managed in future.    While that presents a problem for many of our Planning Authorities,  it poses specific challenges for our National Park Authority whose primary purpose relates to the management of land within their areas.

 

Historically, our planning system’s approach to environmental protection in the countryside has been limited to the  designation of protected areas, from National Scenic Areas to Special Areas of Conservation.  These offer some “protection” against certain types of development.  The Planning Bill contains no new measures to strengthen or extend existing protection and indeed contains one measure which is likely to do the opposite:  the proposal to replace Simplified Planning Zones with Simplified Development Zones will remove the current statutory restriction on such zones being located in National Scenic Area or Sites of Special Scientific Interest (see here for excellent SPICE briefing on the Bill).

 

While the John Muir Trust is thankfully campaigning for the Scottish Government to add clauses to the Bill which would increase the protection offered to wild land (see here for lobby of parliament)  that appears to be it at present.    There is nothing in the Planning Bill to suggest that the Scottish Government has any idea how our European designated sites could or should change with Brexit looming.  This is important because the European Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation have become far more important and carry far more weight in the decisions our Planning Authorities make than our home spun designations such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Scenic Area or, dare I say it, National Park.

 

The Planning Bill is therefore a lost opportunity when it comes to the environment including the challenges faced by our National Park Authorities, which have responsibility for development plans on the one hand and for conserving landscape and natural heritage on the other. There is nothing, for example, in the Planning Bill which would enable or help the Cairngorms National Park Authority to achieve its aspiration to enhance the environment at the landscape scale.  It was disappointing therefore to read the CNPA’s draft response to the Planning Bill which was considered at its January Planning Committee (see here).   Staff accepted the format of the consultation – I appreciate they are hard pressed and probably did not have much time to consider this – which avoided all the big gaps in the Bill outlined above and failed to use the opportunity to articulate and provide more evidence of the very real challenges they are facing:

 

 

No suggestion here as to how the planning system could be developed to influence land-use within the National Park “to meet the needs of society”.

 

While the CNPA did strongly support some of the proposals in the Bill, I am surprised given what has been going on in the National Park they do not make more of them:

Given their experience of hill tracks for example does the CNPA really think the proposals in the Bill to strengthen enforcement are enough?   Why did they not supply all the evidence they had presented to the Board at their December meeting on the need for better enforcement (see here)?    In the case of the Cluny Hill track in Glen Banchor, for example (see below), do CNPA staff believe the proposed new enforcement powers would have resulted in this track having been restored by now?  If yes, it would have been good to know why, but if no, surely the CNPA should have suggested what further powers they need?

So, what would the CNPA need to charge to recover the costs of enforcing the proper re-instatement of the Glen Bruar hydro scheme (see below) for example?    Again, like enforcement powers, we do not know whether or not CNPA staff believe the new charging flexibility would cover costs.

 

Its possible of course that the CNPA planning committee strengthened the response and at least the CNPA response was considered by Committee.  There has been no Planning Committee meeting in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority and its impossible to tell if they have responded to the consultation or not.

 

The proposals in the CNPA’s Main Issues Report affecting land-use in the countryside – hill tracks

This narrow approach to development planning, which accepts the current ruling ethos that planning should primarily be about controlling development rather than wider land-use,  is reflected in the CNPA’s Main Issues Report which is out for consultation until the beginning of March (see here) .  While its positive that two out of the ten main issues identified for the new Local Development Plan are ostensibly about land-use, the section on Natura Sites is reduced to a consideration of how to protect Capercaillie ( I will come back to this in a future post).  I will consider here the section on hill tracks.

The new hill track at Glen Banchor above Newtonmore is already being seriously eroded. Photo Credit Dave Morris

I welcomed the commitment in the CNPA’s National Park Partnership Plan published last year that there should be a presumption against new hill tracks in open moorland areas but I do not believe the discussion in the Main Issues Report goes nearly far enough.

The claim that the current policy on landscape “has been used effectively to control and mitigate the impact of new hill tracks in cases where they require planning permission” is in my view not true.  For example, the CNPA is taking enforcement action against the unlawful Cluny Estate track (see here) and has spent a considerable time ensuring that the Glen Bruar hydro track met planning requirements (see here) and that is without considering all the tracks which have been created for moorland management but which estates claimed were for agricultural and forestry purposes and so did not need planning permission.   The analysis fails to consider the serious deficiencies in the Prior Notification system or the very real problems the CNPA faces in proving that a hill track is not for agricultural or forestry purposes.

Photo taken end January 2018 – Photo Credit Dave Morris

Is the hill track at Glen Banchor, for example, which goes through moorland an agricultural track because the newly constructed section leads to a pen used for sheep dog trials?

The problem is the proposed Development Plan policy strengthening, while well intentioned, is poorly worded and likely to be totally ineffective.  To illustrate this consider the 10 miles of new track over moorland in Glen Feshie which the CNPA decided last year did not need planning permission and could be dealt with under the Prior Notification system because part of the purpose of the new tracks was to plant new forestry (see here). Is the CNPA now saying that such tracks, which I argued might be justified but should have been properly considered through the planning process, would not be allowed?  I suspect not.  So when will open moorland be treated as moorland?  Will anyone who says they propose to plant a few trees or keep a few sheep as mops for the ticks which affect grouse be still able to do what they want?

The quagmire created by off road use of vehicles above the Glen Banchor track – Photo Credit Dave Morris January 2018

An even greater problem is that the policy says nothing about use of vehicles off road which eventually becomes so bad that it is used to justify the creation of new tracks.  You cannot deal with track issues without considering how vehicles are then used when they come to the end of tracks.

 

And the Main Issues Report says nothing at all about how the CNPA might strengthen requirements about how tracks are designed, whether these be new tracks or upgrades of existing ones.

 

What needs to happen

While I welcome the desire of the CNPA to stop the proliferation of hill tracks, if they are to be successful in this, they need to develop and extend their proposal that there should be a presumption against new tracks in open moorland areas.  For example, the CNPA could:

  • Use planning powers to ensure that where tracks are consented in other areas, conditions are attached preventing vehicles using such tracks to access open country
  • Develop guidance, in partnership with recreational organisations and conservation minded landowners, on the off-track use of vehicles and consider the development of byelaws in future to control such use of vehicles
  • Set obligatory minimum standards for tracks and where tracks did not meet these standards no “upgrades” would be allowed.  For example, SNH recommends a maximum angle of 14% for hill tracks because any more than this the track erodes.   The CNPA should no longer tolerate poorly constructed tracks.

I also believe that the CNPA needs to consult on and articulate clear criteria about when they would be prepared  to consider tracks in moorland areas, for example to enable forest restoration, otherwise they will risk undermining their new policy proposal before its even adopted.  I will explain why in a further post on Glen Feshie.

February 8, 2018 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The volume of material allowed to be stored in the tailings stacks it is proposed to create below the Cononish gold mine (to the right of the dark specks on left) will impact on their size and number. Under snow, you could barely see the bags of tailings currently stored below the mine.

Following my post on what is going on behind the scenes at Scotgold Resources (see here),  this post will take a further  look at the landscape and wild land impacts of their proposals for storing waste extracted from the mine and their response to the objections made by myself and Mountaineering Scotland (see here).   The more “technical” issues, relating to the design and restoration of the proposed tailings stacks, will be picked up in a further post.

 

Scotgold want to increase the volume of waste that can be left outside the mine

In early posts on the new planning application (see here for example) and in my objection to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority about that application, I expressed concern that Scotgold Resources was wanting to dump far more spoil outwith the mine than the 400,000 tonnes which had been previously agreed.   Scotgold’s response in December was in my view less than clear and tried to divert attention to the form of the tailings stacks rather than their volume.   Earlier this month, however, they produced a further document comparing the volume of the materials in the original and in the new application (see here).   I suspect this was as a result of a request from the responsible Planning Officer, well done them!    The document shows that I was right to claim that Scotgold want the LLTNPA to approve plans which would result in far MORE material being dumped outwith the mine than was previously agreed.

The new proposal is to store spoil in ten tailings stacks rather than single large tailings dam which would have required the Allt Eas Anie – of ice climbing fame – to be diverted and a large amount of material from the floor of the glen (the earthfill in the table below ) to be bulldozed to form the dam. Here are the two tables, merged to make comparison easier:

Original Proposal – New proposal
Dam Stacks
Tonnage Volume (m3) Tonnage Volume (m3)
earthfill not specified 130,273 n/a n/a
rockfill not specified 33,403 172,332 86,166
filters not specified 6,000 n/a n/a
tailings 400,000 296,296 552,779 345,487
subtotal ? 465,972 725,111 431,653
Re-circulation pond
earthfill 10,000
Plant Bund
27,670 19,602
Allt Eas Anie Diversion
earth -38,100
rock -6,900
Fill (alteration above existing landform) 503,642 451,255
Cut (alteration below existing landform) -45,000 0

If you set aside the earthfill, what the table  shows is that Scotgold want to increase greatly the amount of rock (from 33,403 to 86,166m3)  and tailings (from 296,296 to 345,487m3) extracted out of the mine.   This also has the effect of signficantly increasing the area of ground affected:

 

“The operational disturbance now relates to 451,255m3, while at restoration this total alteration to landform is 9% larger by volume.”

 

The point here is that whatever the merits of tailings stacks over a single tailings dam, there would need to be fewer tailings stacks affecting a smaller area of ground (or alternatively the size of the tailings stacks could be reduced)  if the LLTNPA retained their original condition that the amount of material that could be left outside the mine could not exceed 400,000 tonnes.  Indeed, on Scotgold’s figures in the table above, that would mean 325,000 tonnes of waste being returned to the mine – which would almost halve the number of tailings stacks required!   That really would be an improvement on the original proposal!!   That is the last thing Scotgold wants, however, which is why they have been less than clear about their proposals up till now.

Part of the reason is cost, its expensive to return waste to mines, although that of course would create far more local jobs, which was one of the main justifications for a gold mine in the National Park in the first place.  Also, the creation of a tailings dam requires capital expenditure up front – the dam has to be created first (hence the 130,273m3 of earthfill in the table above) – while the cost of creating the proposed tailings heaps would be spread across the life of the mine.

It appears another reason for the change though is that Scotgold want to be able to extend the mine in future if more gold is discovered:

Slide presented to Scotgold AGM in November 2017

What the schematic plan shows is that potentially there is more gold down there beyond that which has been granted permission to mine at present.    Scotgold would be unable to extract this “extra gold” if tailings had to be returned to the mine, as is required at present.  It appears therefore that Scotgold wish to be in a position where they could submit a further planning application in future to extend the size of the goldmine – and this in turn could result in even more tailings stacks!   The potential cumulative impact of the LLTNPA agreeing to any increase in the amount of tailings stored outside the mine is therefore immense.  The LLTNPA and the public need to realise that what is driving the tailings stack proposals is less a concern for the landscape but the financial interests of Scotgold’s main shareholder, Nathaniel Le Roux.

The wider implications beyond Cononish are also significant:

 

The Cononish mineralisation remains open at depth down plunge and to the west along strike. There is therefore potential to add to the resource by further extensional drilling.
In addition to the currently defined Mineral Resources, Scotgold believes that there is additional resource development potential close to the Cononish mine, subject to appropriate and successful further work. Extensive gold-in-soil anomalies, mineralisation associated with outcrops and trenching and geophysical anomalies close to the current resource clearly warrant further follow up. In addition, there are indications that other reefs are present in the area too. At this stage, such indications are highly conceptual and there is no guarantee that further exploration will define additional Mineral Resources.

 

So, Scotgold is potentially wanting to develop not just the existing mine at Cononish but further mines close by.

The green line on the schematic map is the National Park boundary

 

“Based on the resulting prospectivity map, the study identified a series of high priority targets, with 6 targets being located within a 2.5 km radius of Cononish, including 2 targets outside the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park (LLTNP). A further 5 targets have been identified within the studied area, all of which are outside the LLTNP. Close to the Cononish deposit, Coire Nan Sionnach and Kilbridge are highlighted as highly prospective, along with two further parallel anomalies between the Cononish deposit and Coire Nan Sionnach.”

So, besides Cononish, Scotgold has identified 4 further “high priority targets” close by within the National Park and  five more high priority targets just over the boundary.   How many tailings stacks is that going to produce?

 

The landscape impact of the proposed planning application

“It must however also be noted that while the total volume is of the same order of magnitude, and a slight increase, the current proposal for tailings placement is far superior in relation to the ultimate landform and its landscape fit.”

New photo montage of tailings heaps from the north. The edge of each heap is outlined in red and barely visible.

The documents in the Environmental Statement Addendum added to the LLTNPA planning portal in December include further photo montages, requested by the LLTNPA (to their credit), of how the ten tailings heap may look from different angles.  Seen from above the size of the heaps is flattened and the photomontage assumes that each heap will fully re-vegetate.  There are a number of factors to doubt this, which Bill Stephen will come back to in another piece, but they include the toxic materials in the tailings (think of the all of the bare ground below the Tyndrum Lead mine, bare 170 years later) and the erosive power of rainfall.  If bare or even half bare the mounds would look totally different, even from the angle in the photo-montage.

Why do our public authorities believe that the tailings stacks will revegetate successfully when the evidence from the Tyndrum Lead Mine is that the waste is still not revegetating 200 years later?

In terms of landscape impact, in my view the LLTNPA should be asking the developers to prepare photomontages of what the area could look like if the plans to create a new moraine field don’t work.  It should also be asking for photomontages of what the site will look like from close up (images of what the moraine field will look like from ground level are conspicuously lacking), e.g to a climber approaching the Eas Anie.

Perhaps the LLTNPA has requested this but unfortunately at present they are refusing to publish the report from their Landscape Adviser about the potential landscape impacts of the development and how they could be mitigated.  In my view, its in the public interest that the LLTNPA makes such reports publically available at the earliest opportunity as it would enable further debate and comments about the proposals.

Gold mines and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park – a wider perspective

The blue lines demarcate areas licensed by the Crown Estate for exploration

What the Scotgold Map of “Near Mine Potential” demonstrates is what a huge mistake the Loch Lomond National Park Authority made when, under the convenership of the Linda McKay, it reversed its previous opposition to a gold mine within the National Park and consented to Cononish.  According to the map and other information on the Scotgold  website there are richer gold deposits outwith the National Park which would make far more sense to develop from a commercial perspective (and which incidentally could have met the demands of the local community for jobs).  However, because Cononish had been prospected first, that is where the developers first submitted planning applications.  If the LLTNPA had drawn the line they should have drawn – mining is incompatible with our National Park’s statutory objectives –  the developers would have had to focus on the high priority areas outwith the National Park boundary.

Instead, the LLTNPA potentially faces years of applications and proposals for new developments and waste heaps.

 

The Crown Estate and the destruction of the landscape

While the Crown Estate has tried to promote a positive image at Tomintoul, most people will not be aware that without its consent, the Cononish gold mine could never have happened.  Gold mines, and the exploration for gold, are controlled by the Crown Estate Commissioners who in 2012 granted an unconditional lease to Scotgold for Cononish.  Now would be a good time to ask why the Crown Estate was granting licenses and leases for gold mine in National Parks as, in 2016, in the Scotland Act they became accountable to the Scottish Parliament (one of the main recommendations of the Smith Commission).  Indeed there is currently a Bill going through Parliament which aims “to:

  • reform the duties of the managers of Scottish Crown Estate assets;
  • provide legal powers for the transfer and delegation of management of Scottish Crown Estate assets to bodies other than Crown Estate Scotland;
  • create a national framework which ensures local communities, local authorities and industries can benefit

The Scottish Crown Estate Bill seeks to achieve these aims by changing the duty managers to manage assets on a purely commercial basis and allowing them to take into account wider social, economic and environmental factors when making management decisions.”

An ideal opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to make it clear that gold mines and other such developments licensed by the crown are NOT compatible with the conservation objectives of National Parks and there should be a presumption against any new such licences or leases in National Parks.

For the record the Scotgold 2017 Annual Report stated it had, in addition to Cononish, made the following Mines Royal Options Agreements with Crown Estates Commissioners:

  • Glen Orchy: Location – counties of Perth and Argyll, Scotland UK
  • Glen Lyon: Location – counties of Perth and Argyll, Scotland UK
  • Inverliever: Location – counties of Dunbarton, Argyll and Perth, Scotland UK
  • Knapdale: Location – county of Argyll, Scotland UK
  • Ochils: Location – county of Clackmannan, Perth, Kinross and Stirling, Scotland UK

Plenty there to provoke debate in the Scottish Parliament.

What needs to happen

The LLTNPA has a means to prevent the scenario of ever more goldmines being proposed within the National Park  and that is to insist that the current planning application is revised so that waste is returned to the mine and the amount stored outside the mine does not exceed the 400,000 tonnes originally agreed.  This would have the added benefit of enabling the size and/or number of the proposed tailings stacks to be reduced – which in landscape terms would be an improvement on the application it has already consented.

In doing this, the LLTNPA could make it clear that it has a duty to consider the potential cumulative impacts of further tailings stacks within the National Park and a duty (having conceded that one mine is acceptable) to ensure the landscape impact is as small as possible.   It could probably go further and insist that the more profit the mine makes, the more waste should be returned to it (thus creating more jobs and protecting the landscape).

The Scottish Parliament could help strengthen our National Parks by removing the discretion of the Crown Estates Commissioners to grant gold mine and other licenses in protected areas such as National Parks.  In my view such decisions should only be taken by the Scottish Parliament and only in the most exceptional circumstances.

February 7, 2018 Nick Kempe 4 comments
The Visitor Centre at the head of Glen Clova run by the Angus glens Ranger Service

Last weekend was the first time I had visited Glen Clova for several years.  The public road up the glen terminates  at a Forestry Commission (paying) car park and visitor centre. In contrast to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, which has installed gates across car parks which it then locks, the public are allowed to park vehicles here overnight.   I was pleased too to find the disabled toilet at the Visitor Centre is accessible to visitors 24 hours 365 days a year (for how the LLTNPA operates its toilets see here).  The basic infrastructure to support visitors is therefore in place and north of the car park there is a great flat area with picnic tables.

However, other things are going badly wrong and, just like in areas of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, the overwhelming impression for anyone bothering to read the signs – and I am now an inveterate reader of such signs – is No! You can’t do that.  This post takes a look at the legal basis and implications of all the NO signs.

The last time I had stayed in Glen Clova, to go rock climbing on Red Craig, we had slept in my climbing partner’s van.  The Forestry Commission is now apparently trying to ban this – as it has done on so many of its car parks across Scotland.  It appears however as yet to have put no byelaws in place to make the ban here enforceable.   If you ignore the signs therefore the most the FCS could do at present is try to seek an interdict to stop a person doing this again.  Whatever the legalities, there is no justification at all for the Forestry Commission to try and stop people staying overnight here.   For anyone wanting to visit Glen Clova in a campervan there are very few places to stop off on the road apart from the Glen Clova hotel and a car park for hillwalkers on the Rottal Estate.  The Glen Clova/Glen Doll Forest carpark is easily the best place to stay and yet the Forestry Commission wants to ban this.  So much for it supporting tourism and enabling people to enjoy the great outdoors.

There are a plethora of no parking signs alongside the public road before the car park – each flash of white on the embankment tells people there is no parking here.

In order to prevent people trying to avoid the charges for using the carpark or stopping off in campervans overnight, there are half a dozen no parking signs at the road end claiming it is needed for turning when there is a large car park where most vehicles could turn.  The legal basis for these signs is also unclear:  the public road is not a clearway and you have a legal right to stop overnight on the road network unless a traffic regulation order has been put in place that says otherwise.  Of course it would be much better if people used the car park but the inevitable consequence of car park charges and trying to ban overnight stays there is people will try and stay elsewhere.

As for camping, the field behind this sign and beside the river used to be used as an informal campsite.  I know because I camped here many years ago.  Ignore the nonsense of the field being needed as an overflow carpark in the middle of winter.   The sign is contrary to access rights.  The nearest accommodation is Scott Lodge, operated by the Boy’s Brigade on the other side of the river, hardly a residence, and I find it hard to believe that either they or the Carn Dearg Mountaineering Club, which has a hut nearby, would object to camping here.   There are no other residences nearby.  As for the claim that camping is not allowed because the field is close to the road this is wrong legally: you have the right to camp anywhere you have access rights.

Now I am not claiming here that this field is the best or most suitable place for camping hereabouts – I personally believe the flat area by the river north of the car park, beyond the picnic tables (sorry no photos) is more suitable and would be preferred by most people wanting to stop off overnight in tents (its also closer to the  toilet).   The signs however say that no camping is allowed there either.  Instead there is this:

 

 

 

This sign appears designed to mislead in respect of camping and access rights.  Our public authorities have first tried to persuade people that the right to camp under access rights was intended only to apply to people camping well away from the road, a practice which is now often termed “wild camping”.  While the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority has been the public authority which has most forcefully tried to convince people of this, other public authorities have tried to sell the same message.  But the FCS in Glen Doll and Glen Clova has now gone a step further intrying to direct people to “designated short stay wild camping sites”.   The implication of course is that in areas which are not designated, you should not “wild camp”.  Accept this, and that’s the right to camp under our access legislation totally undermined.

I am not against the Forestry Commission pointing people to areas that might be good for camping within their landholdings but this is NOT what is happening at the head of Glen Clova.  FCS is trying to stop people camping on any of the good sites by the river near the road end and instead trying to force people to camp in the old quarry or other areas further afield.  The closest good camping place to the road end they recommend is 1km away, despite there being several good flat areas for camping within sight of the car park.   The solution of course is for FCS and other partners to provide a basic campsite somewhere by the river at the head of the Glen not too far from the car park.  That would be a welcome facility which most campers would be welcome.  For campervanners, the existing car park provides an ideal base.

As final confirmation that our public authorities do not understand access rights and are mis-using the Scottish Outdoor Access Code consider this sign (approved by SNH, Angus Council and FCS):

Access rights do not cover motorised vehicles, which almost certainly covers drones, and there is no reference in our access legislation to drone flying or anything similar. Its safe to conclude therefore that flying drones is a leisure activity, like angling, which is not included in access rights.  To claim therefore that the activity “often” contravenes the Scottish Outdoor Access Code is totally misleading.  The SOAC is guidance about how to undertake activities which come under access rights NOT on how to undertake activities which are excluded.  Even worse is then to try and claim that because drone flying is “often” (whatever that means) incompatible with other activities, it should NEVER take place.  This is flawed logic.

Our public authorities should not therefore be referring to SOAC to try and dissuade people from flying drones and they have no powers under the access legislation to stop such activities.  What they could have said is that drone flying is not covered by access rights.  However, if they really want to stop people flying drones on land, they need to resort to other legislation.   FCS, Angus Council and SNH all have powers to regulate activities that fall outwith access rights by byelaws under other legislation and they should be able to use those powers rather than abusing our access legislation.

I am not claiming here that drone flying cannot cause problems for recreational users and indeed interfere with the enjoyment of access rights – drones buzzing above your head is irritating at the  best of time and at worst, for example if you are climbing, can be positively dangerous.   Drone flying may therefore need to be regulated but you cannot do so under our access legislation and this seems an appropriate matter for the civil aviation authority.

Near the first sign was a second similarly worded sign from Balmoral Estate.  It appears Balmoral have adopted this sign on the advice of the three public authorities.  My guess is that it may be the existence of the royal residence over the hill which has led to the attempt to stop drone flying in Glen Clova.  If so this just reinforces the point, our access legislation is not an appropriate means either to try and secure the safety of the royal family or the general population, for example at airports.

What needs to happen

On the positive side none of the signs at the head of Glen Clova with their various misguided attempts to manage visitors have been endorsed by the Cairngorms National Park Authority.   As the responsible Access Authority they are therefore in a good position to step in,  engage with wider stakeholders and help sort out the whole mess.  This should include removal of all misleading signs and the creation of a basic campsite/recommended camping area close to the road end.

Meantime local SNH and FCS staff could usefully seek advice from their headquarter staff before adding their names to signage in future while FCS  nationally needs to review its policy of trying to stop overnight stays in its carparks by campervans.    We need public authorities operating in National Parks to exemplify best, not practice – that was what the National Park Plan was supposed to be all about.

February 6, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment
A sign no more. This sign must have been up for at least a month before I reported it in December.

On 19th January I received a very welcome email from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park’s Access Team updating me on signs I had reported to the National Park Authority for contravening the access legislation over the last two and a half years.  I will explain why this is the first communication I have had from them about signage below, but first the good news.

The high powered rifles signs Keep Out signs by Ardlui , which I had reported to Simon Jones the LLTNPA’s Director of Conservation in December (see here), have been removed.   Ramblers Scotland told me they had not seen such signs since the passing of the Land Reform Act in 2003!   The signs were clearly contrary to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and to the legal duty which landowners have under Clause 3 of the Land Reform Act to manage land responsibly in respect to access:

“It is the duty of every owner of land in respect of which access rights are exercisable—

(a)to use and manage the land; and

(b)otherwise to conduct the ownership of it,

in a way which, as respects those rights, is responsible.”

So, well done the Access Team!

 

The Access Team also reported that they had investigated the signs on a gate by Cononish, well outside the current boundary of the gold mine, and that they had been informed these had been removed.  I had reported the signs to Simon Jones in January but others, such as Ramblers Scotland, had highlighted their existence on social media last year, so the investigation may not have been quite so rapid as it appears.  Whatever the case, again well done to the Access Team!

Unlawful sign telling people to keep out of a field at Edinample, Loch Earn
Unlawful no camping sign at south east corner Loch Lubnaig

The Access Team also informed me they would log and investigate two further access problems, at Edinample and Loch Earn, which I had reported to Simon Jones at the beginning of January and would provide updates on these cases in due course.  All of this is great stuff and exactly how it should be.

 

A change for the better

The reason this was the first communication I have had from the Access Team on signage for over two years is that they had been banned from speaking to me for this time.  How do I know?

Well in 2016, as a result of a number of actions by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority which appeared designed to prevent me from publicising what was going on in the National Park, I made a subject access request under the Data Protection Act asking for copies of ALL the information the Park held on me.   Besides finding that the LLTNPA’s large “communications” team were tracking me through Google Alerts, that the Chief Executive Gordon Watson knew I was an active member of my local community organisation in Glasgow and that there had been a certain amount of denigratory tittle tattle in emails between Board Members,  I also received this:

From: Claire Travis [Visitor Operations Manager]

Sent: 09 November 2015 09:18

To: Kenny Auld [member of Access Team];

Subject: FW: FOI 2015-050 request for information please Importance: High

Hi

The most recent Kempe email is being treated as an FOI. All contact from him from now on will be treated as such. Thanks

Claire

This was effectively an instruction to staff in the access team to stop all communication TO  me and to treat every communication FROM me as a Freedom of Information Request.   Reporting of access problems of course is NOT an information request and cannot be responded to as such and the consequence was that even if Simon Jones did pass down the issues I reported to him, his staff were NOT allowed to tell me what was going on.

The reason I believe this ban on communicating me has been lifted is because I have started to copy the new LLTNPA Convener, James Stuart, into all emails I send to the LLTNPA senior management team.  James Stuart is a decent man who is committed to openness and it appears he has now intervened and told his senior management they should allow staff communicate to me (and indeed other members of the public) as happens in other public authorities as used to happen in the LLTNPA.

For, in May 2015, when I first started reporting access issues to the LLTNPA (see here for list) I received a very positive response from Claire Travis.  Indeed, Claire fed back to me – well before Parkswatch was created -that the access team had agreed with the landowner at Auchengavin that the sign directing people to cross a deer fence had been removed:

At Auchengavin above Luss there was a sign telling people to take a route around the settlement rather than the track by the houses.

 

There had been a path of sorts around the settlement at Auchengavin but it had been destroyed by ploughing of the land to plant trees and the deer fencing had consequently made access very difficult.

Claire Travis also fed back to me that the poor access signage at Ben An, caused by the forest operations there, was being addressed and the No Camping Signs on the south Loch Earn Rd were being investigated.   By November 2015, however, she had been banned from communicating with me – I am not surprised that she subsequently left the LLTNPA.  It must have been very difficult for LLTNPA staff to work under the regime of former Convener Linda McKay and current Chief Executive Gordon Watson.

My reports of the No Camping signs of course caused a difficulty for the LLTNPA which wanted to ban all roadside camping.  I reported the south Loch Earn signs well before the camping byelaws came into effect and, although they are now within a camping management zone, they are still unlawful because they imply camping is not allowed at any time of year when the camping byelaw ban extends from 1st March to the end of September.   In April 2017 I had another go at getting the LLTNPA to remove these signs when I reported them again to Simon Jones, Director of Conservation.  I received no acknowledgement so six months later I raised this again in October and got this reply:

Dear Mr Kempe

With regard to your original email dated 21st April 2017, I note that no request
for a response was requested at the time and therefore none was forthcoming...... 
..........................................

Simon Jones
Director of Conservation & Visitor Operations

It took a further three months of further fruitless correspondence – Simon Jones failed even to acknowledge my reporting of the High Velocity Rifles in use sign – before James Stuart had all the evidence he needed to justify his intervening.

The Access Team, in their email of 19th January, kindly provided me with an update on the Loch Earn signs stating they were an “ongoing case”.   I suspect its not their fault that two and a half years after originally reporting these signs (which incidentally the LLTNPA Ranger service pass almost every day) its still ongoing.   My suspicion is that they were told to treat this case as very low priority but now the LLTNPA has agreed to be more transparent about this I hope the access team will be allowed to get on and do the job which they were set up to do.

 

The Access Team have also told me that the unlawful signage on the Invertrossachs Rd opposite the camping permit area there (see here) is an ongoing case. This is the first time the LLTNPA has provided me with any feedback about this and again most welcome.

The sad thing about all of this is the Access Team in their email of 19th January felt they needed to apologise to me for the lack of communication on their part.   I wrote back and said I knew the lack of communication was not their fault and they had no reason to apologise.  They, I have reason to believe, are good people.  The apology should have come from the senior management of the LLTNPA.

While I have highlighted the failures of Simon Jones, the Director of Conservation, to respond to reports of access problems in this post, that is because he is the senior manager directly responsible.  When he was first appointed, however, he did communicate for a short time.  I know because I have other emails. This then changed and my best guess is that this was because he was then ordered not to by his Chief Executive, Gordon Watson, the person who is ultimately responsible for how the LLTNPA is run.  It is very good to see that the Convener, James Stuart, now appears to be holding his Chief Executive to account and I hope that will help senior managers like Simon Jones to change the way they treat people who are legitimately concerned about how the LLTNPA is being managed.

 

What needs to happen

While it is fantastic that LLTNPA access staff are now being allowed to communicate about access issues, they now need to be allowed to address these as was intended under the Land Reform Act.   Specifically the LLTNPA needs to demonstrate that outside of the camping byelaw permit areas and periods it will give its access team all the resources they need to remove no camping signs and address other issues.

In order to hold the LLTNPA to account and empower the Access Team to do their job, far more people need to report signs which breach the Scottish Outdoor Access Code in the National Park to accessteam@lochlomond-trossachs.org.    If you care about access rights, please report signs and send copies of correspondence to parkswatch or Ramblers Scotland or Mountaineering Scotland.  Once reported, other people can follow up with the LLTNPA and ensure the Local Access Forum is aware of the issues.

If people do not stand up for their rights they will I believe be eroded. One of the factors that contributed to the creation of the camping byelaws was that the LLTNPA, based on its experience, did not believe there was a strong access lobby who would oppose their proposals.  I believe they got that badly wrong and the camping byelaws are a millstone which will eventually sink the LLTNPA in the glacial trench of Loch Lomond.   Meantime, the more pressure that can be brought on the LLTNPA to start properly addressing other access issues the better.   If you see a Park Ranger, go and ask them what access problems exist on their patch and what they have done about them.

February 5, 2018 Nick Kempe 3 comments
Moraine and the cliffs in Coire Fee 3rd Feb, a middling day.   Gully B is most prominent white line centre, Gully A behind ridge on left.

I was alerted to Scottish Natural Heritage’s consultation on the Corrie Fee National Nature Reserve “We want to hear your views on our proposed management and any additional ideas you would like us to consider”  through Mountaineering Scotland news (see here).   The consultation (see here for draft management plan and excellent history) is open until the end of February and, because I was staying at the Carn Dearg Mountaineering Club’s brilliant Hut in Glen Clova at the weekend,  I took a look myself as part of a day out (Look C Gully was not there, B Gully was marginal so we wandered up Gully A).  This post looks at some the implications of the Coire Fee consultation for how the wider Cairngorms National Park is managed.  I hope others may feel inspired to respond to NNR@snh.gov.uk.

Coire Fee NNR is the hatched area marked by the bird symbol between the Foresty Commission owned forest in Glen Doll and the high plateau of Mayar

Corrie Fee is a gem of a coire.   Approaching from Glen Doll you ascend through forest and suddenly, just after the NNR sign you emerge on the top of what was once a terminal moraine for the coire glacier.   Below the coire floor is covered by smaller hummocky moraine while ahead are the crags, famous for their Alpine plants and ice climbing.   The NNR is very small, only 164 hectares of land, and is owned by SNH having been purchased from the Forestry Commission  It is as a consequence sandwiched between forestry below and deer “forest”/grouse moor above.

It was however formerly part of the much much wider Caenlochan NNR which was created in 1961 and covered 3639 hectares of land all the way over to Caenlochan at the head of Glen Isla.  This was de-registered in 2003, the year the Cairngorms National Park was created, because:

 

“Almost all of the Caenlochan NNR was owned by private landowners and managed as commercial sporting estates. After considerable discussion and further assessment SNH decided that three of the four (new) essential attributes of a NNR (primacy of nature, security of tenure and best practice management) could not be met.”

 

I have to confess, to my shame, that I was a party to that decision, having been appointed to the Main Board of SNH that year.  I now believe that this was a terrible mistake which helped undermine the conservation potential of our National Parks.   I will reflect on what went wrong and what is still going wrong  – we have moved from designating NNRs to re-designating them, most recently at Mar Lodge estate in November 2017 – in a future post on the history of NNRs in our National Parks.   In respect of Coire Fee, however, I was somewhat relieved  to find today on checking my old SNH Board Papers for September 2003, that alongside the recommendation to de-designate Caenlochan and retain Corrie Fee as a NNR  I had scribbled “Can you just protect that bit from overgrazing?”.  I cannot recall the answer and its not recorded in the minutes but I believe it was and still is the right question.

 

The implications of fencing Corrie Fee

Access into the fenced exclosure below the crags in Corrie Fee – Look C gully is the line to the right of the stile while Gully A starts far left.
The fence along the plateau above Coire Fee – the stile is well situated for climbers topping out from B or Look C gullies.

SNH history of the NNR, the story of Coire Fee, explains some of what is wrong with the fence:

 

A fence was erected in 1991, reduced to an area of around 60 ha in Corrie Sharroch, due to practicalities and cost.    While every effort was made to select a fence line that allowed access and was not too obtrusive scenically, an exclosure is not an ideal solution because as well as impacting on landscape and recreational use, some grazing is needed to stop grassland areas from becoming too rank which may hinder the regeneration of willows and other plants.

 

While the fence has not kept deer out – we saw deer footprints in the snow under B Gully – it probably excludes larger mammals, such as foxes, from the NNR.   This reduces the extent to which the NNR is a place where nature has primacy but, as importantly, gives the wrong message to landowners, that fencing is an appropriate way to manage open hill land.

Fencing between Green Hill and Ben Tirran east side of Glen Clova 4th February. The tight meshed fencing in background appeared designed to limit mountain hare movements. The electric fencing was in a poor state of repair and not functioning.

While SNH continues to enclose land with fences, albeit for the best of intentions – the rare Alpine plants in Coire Fee have recovered as a result of a reduction in grazing pressure – its very hard for either SNH or the Cairngorms National Park Authority to object to fences close by or to make a case that all new fencing should require National Park approval.  We saw a good example of terrible fencing the next day (above).

While the wider Caenlochan area is still designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Special Protection Area for birds and Special Area of Conservation for plants the action being taken there to reduce deer numbers has not been sufficient to enable SNH to recommend removal of the Corrie Fee fence:

 

Our top priority is to manage the internationally important rare montane habitats and associated arctic-alpine plants found in Corrie Fee NNR. To do this we need to ensure that the fenced exclosure in Corrie Sharroch allows low herbivore grazing pressure to be maintained. The impacts from deer are being addressed across Caenlochan SAC as part of a Deer (Scotland) Act Section 7 agreement, with the primary object to achieve favourable condition of all the Natura Habitats and SSSI features of the area. The reduced grazing pressure since the last reserve plan has successfully resulted in both an increased diversity of plant species and increased extent of habitats sensitive to grazing pressures. For example, tall herb communities and Yellow Oxytropis are both benefitting from management. Rare habitats and species of restricted distribution such as Mountain Willow Scrub, Alpine Milk-Vetch and Purple Colt’s Foot may require more intervention to increase their abundance in the NNR. We would like to work with partners at the landscape scale, in order to investigate opportunities to increase biodiversity in the wider area around Corrie Fee. This may include felled areas of forest in Glen Doll.

 

To put it another way, Coire Fee is a gem which is regaining its shine but still surrounded by dross.

I don’t doubt the desire of SNH staff to work with partners at the landscape scale but the draft management plan contains NO proposals for how this should happen.  This is little different to the Cairngorms National Park Authority whose National Park Partnership Plan, agreed last year, set out a vision for conservation at the landscape scale but was short on any effective means to achieve this.  The problem is exactly the same as when I was on the Board of SNH in 2003: there are still no effective means for ensuring landowners co-operate with conservation objectives such as reducing deer numbers to allow vegetation to recover, whether in NNRs or in a National Park.

The draft SNH management plan though does propose one suggestion which I believe needs to be strongly supported:

Consider intentional supplementary feeding for eagles etc by leaving occasional deer carcasses

This is a brave suggestion because, when other organisations have tried to do this like John Muir Trust on Knoydart, there has been an outcry in the press (see here) which deliberately plays on the British public’s love for animals.  SNH  are undestandably being far more cautious than JMT.   They are only proposing to leave the occasional deer carcase in place (a very sensible thing to do given the difficulty of extracting dead deer from the steep slopes below the crags)  rather than the sort of mass culls which might enable the deer fence to be removed completely.  Still, this could help set a precedent which could be applicable to areas of wild land where it is very difficult to extract deer carcases.  I believe that if we want both to reduce deer numbers and protect the landscape from a proliferation of hill tracks, we need to win the argument that some deer carcases should be left where shot.

I would, however, suggesting rewording the proposal slightly:

 

“As part of the management of deer numbers, where deer are culled in areas difficult to access, carcases may be left in situ which would have the benefit of providing food for other animals, including golden eagles”.

 

It will be interesting to see if the Scottish Gamekeepers Assocation and neighbouring landowning interests object on the back of their objections to the JMT culls.  Given the mass culls of mountain hares in the eastern Cairngorms and the history of dumping these animals in stink pits, such objections will be open to charges of hypocrisy.   The last thing landowning interests will want, however, given much of their land management practices are designed around removing the food sources of anything that might prey on red grouse,  is anything that could help restore golden eagle numbers in the eastern Cairngorms.

 

The Coire Fee NNR and the Forestry Commission

Below Coire Fee, in Glen Doll, commercial forest currently predominates although the Forestry Commission is making some attempts to restructure this in favour of native trees and open areas at the top of the plantation which could allow  space for alpine plants and willow scrub to recolonise:

Forestry Commission plantation on the slopes of the Scorrie, viewed from the track up to Coire Fee. The lines on the hillside are piles of felled logs and the open slopes could eventually be colonised by willow scrub spreading out from the NNR.

There are NO concrete proposals from the Forestry Commission about how they could help expand the NNR’s at a landscape scale despite all the land they own in Glen Doll.  I am not surprised because a consequence of austerity is that every public authority defends its own budgets and as a result partnership working has become less and less effective – despite the exhortations to the contrary.  I would therefore like to propose a practical measure which could be achieved for little cost.

A section of the path up the moraine slopes into Coire Fee. While mainly Scots pine, there are significant numbers of non-native trees – and the photo shows how some are self-seeding beside the path.

The forest track up to Coire Fee ends at a turning area and above that a wide path heads more steeply up moraine to the edge of the forest.  The end of the forestry track marks both a landscape boundary, with a transition to large scale moraine, and an ecological boundary as beyond it native trees predominate.  So why not extend the northern boundary of the NNR downhill over the moraine to the end of track?

All that the Forestry Commission would need to do then is remove the non-native trees from the moraine slopes and  let nature take its course.  The potential to create the sort of open wooded moraine landscapes encountered elsewhere in Europe is huge and it could eventually help promote a gradual transition from Scots Pine dominated native woodland to montane will scrub which is so lacking in Scotland.  It would fit with the aspiration of the proposed management plan that:

 

Distinct moraine flutes from the last time ice flowed, some 12,000 years ago, can be glimpsed from the woodland path in Glen Doll on the way up to Corrie Fee [so why not include these in the NNR?]. The altitudinal range in the NNR is important and its rich diversity of upland and sub-montane habitats with associated species is maintained through sustainable deer and woodland management as well as restoration projects of the montane willows [so why not extend this lower down?].

 

So why is there no consideration of this in the draft management plan?

 

What needs to happen?

SNH’s public consultations on its NNR management plans provide a great opportunity to re-think how land is managed in our National Parks to help further the objectives of the Cairngorms National Park Authority.   What is needed is more public debate about how the objectives of our National Nature Reserves could be applied to wider areas within our National Parks and for our public authorities to be brave enough (as I wasn’t in 2003) to make specific proposals for how these might be achieved.   In respect of Corrie Fee here are some suggestions:

  •  Both SNH and the CNPA should state how far numbers of deer need to reduce to on neighbouring estates before the Corrie Fee fence can be removed.  They should then be using the compulsory powers they have to achieve this.
  • The CNPA, FCS and conservation organsations should strongly support the SNH proposal that occasionally leaving deer carcases on the hill is a  positive way forward for deer management
  • The CNPA should be calling on FCS to commit to extending the NNR further downhill into the Glen Doll Forest and SNH should start negotiations with FCS about how this could be made to happen.
February 2, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment
This new track on the Dalnacardoch Estate, which was created to construct the Beauly Denny pipeline runs through the Drumochter Hills Special Area of Conservation.   All the original assessments and planning consents for the Beauly Denny stated that there should be NO new tracks created in European protected areas.  I am still trying to find out HOW the decision was changed (more soon!) but it appears this track could have only be allowed to remain if the landowners wanted it.    Another case of individual landowner interests taking precedence over national policy.

Further evidence of the political power of landowners in our National Parks was revealed yesterday when Kate Forbes, the SNH MSP  for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, held a reception for the Gift of Grouse http://www.giftofgrouse.com/ at the Scottish Parliament.    This was preceded by an excellent post from Raptor Persecution Scotland (see here) lambasting the claims from the Gift of Grouse organisation that grouse provide healthy and sustainable food and providing links to comments and research from Andy Wightman, MSP.    The persecution of raptors such as hen harrier and golden eagle on grouse moors is now well known and the eastern part of the constitutency which Kate Forbes represents is not only in the Cairngorms National Park, it is something of a raptor persecution hotspot (see here).     Getting a National Park MSP to host this event therefore was something of a coup for landowning interests – unless of course Kate Forbes told those attending the reception that the Cairngorms National Park Authority should be taking a lead role in correcting the ills of the grouse industry.

 

There have been two other recent stories covered by Raptor Persecution UK which illustrate the political power and influence grouse moor owners have over our National Parks – and we need to remember that National Parks are places where, legally, conservation is meant to come first.

The first was how the Moorland Association blocked a draft press release from the Peak District National Park in England on the results of the Peak District Birds of Prey Initiative which basically showed it had been a complete failure (see here)).  The significance of the Report was that it showed that the voluntary measures which the grouse moor industry repeatedly claim are the way forward do not work.   As a consequence of the Moorland Association’s actions the findings of the report received very little publicity.  I hope the CNPA Board formally consider the findings of that Report and its implications for the voluntary measures they are pursuing with landowning interests in the Cairngorms at present as set out in the National Park Partnership Plan agenda for action on Moorland Management.

The second news story was the Countryfile programme on Sunday evening (see here from 7.01 and 30 mins 30 secs) which filmed a hare cull in the eastern part of the Cairngorms National Park and is well worth watching if you have not done so.  The estates that took part in the programme presumably did so because they thought they could persuade the public with images of dead hares being placed in refrigerators for consumption rather than dumped in stink pits.    Raptor Persecution Scotland (see here) reported a huge backlash on social media which was even picked up by the Daily Mail (see here) – a sign that grouse moor interests got this badly wrong.  The presenter was far more sensitive to public opinion than either the gamekeepers or scientists discussing research about hare numbers and summed this up really well when they stated that shooting  hares to create a habitat to shoot something else might seem hard to swallow.

The only shame was that the programme did not ask some more questions:

  • how mountain hare culling fits with the conservation objectives of the National Park?
  • how does hare culling, which removes the favourite food of golden eagles, fit with the lack of eagles in the eastern Cairngorms
  • how does the claim that grouse moors support rural employment fit with the abandonment of many of the remaining houses left on grouse moors and would not other forms of land-use create more rural jobs?
  • what did the estates concerned think of the east Cairngorms Moorland Partnership, the Cairngorm National Park Authoirty’s  preferred means to address moorland management issues?  (Raptor Persecution Scotland pointed out that keepers from the Edinglassie and Candacraigs estates were present on the programme and neither is part of the east Cairngorms Moorland Partnership).

These stories illustrate where we are at present in terms of grouse moor management in our National Parks.  Grouse Moor interests still have the political power which means they can still block anything which threatens their interests and in effect have prevented the CNPA from taking any meaningful action to change the way grouse moors are managed in the National Park.  However, like many interests with too much power (and there are interesting connections between grouse moors and bankers not least in the case of RBS where Fred Goodwin’s idea of a management development day was to go grouse shooting at huge expense) they have become divorced from public opinion. The ideas of the people who ultimately control what happens in our National Parks in respect to grouse moors are no longer the ruling ideas and in that lies hope for change.

The implications of this are that the CNPA and politicians like Kate Forbes risk alienating public support unless they start to address the issues.  I don’t believe the public will allow the Scottish Government’s review of grouse moor management – which has taken a lamentably long time to get off the ground (another example no doubt of the political power of landowners) – to become yet another talking shop.

January 31, 2018 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Herald 29th January

23rd January was the fifteenth anniversary of the passing of the Land Reform Act which enshrined access rights in laws.  Behind the legislation was a recognition that any problem in the countryside which was associated with people taking access to land, from burgling houses to dogs being out of control and worrying sheep, was already covered by the criminal law.

I know this because I represented Mountaineering Scotland at the negotiations which took place with landowners at the then Access Forum – chaired by Magnus Magnusson – and asked their representatives to tell us about any problem landowners faced which could not be covered by the criminal law.   They could not come up with a single example.

That is why the Land Reform Act did not introduce any new offences for people visiting the countryside – none were needed.  That is also why the failures in policing in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park (since former Chief Inspector Kevin Findlater retired and Police Scotland was created) should be a matter of concern for all who care about access rights (as explained by Dave Morris above) as well as to the communities that live there.

The illiberal and unjust camping byelaws

The Land Reform Act is a great piece of liberal legislation, in the best sense of that word, and was socially inclusive.  It gives everyone access rights, from the Queen to the homeless, so long as these are exercised responsibly.  The framework for that is set out in the Act as follows:

 

In determining whether access rights are exercised responsibly a person is to be presumed to be exercising access rights responsibly if they are exercised so as not to cause unreasonable interference with any of the rights (whether access rights, rights associated with the ownership of land or any others) of any other person,

 

Its worth considering how this relates to camping.   Camp in the wrong place – right next door to a house or blocking a gate to a field – or for too long, and you would be interfering with the right to a landowner to enjoy or manage their property.   Hold a party by your tents, causing disturbance or putting people in fear or alarm and you  are interfering with the access rights of others and also probably committing the Criminal Offence of Breach of the Peace.

Our access legislation therefore in my view provides a great framework for addressing any issues that might be associated with camping.  Its not just me that thinks this: in 2013 the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, led by their Convener Linda McKay, gave a presentation to the Land Reform Review Group set up by the Scottish Government to review the legislation proposing that road side camping should be removed from access rights.   Copies of the presentation she gave – and therefore the arguments made – are mysteriously not held either in the archives of the LRRG or the Loch Lomond National Park Authority but we do know the LRRG firmly rejected these proposals.   The LLTNPA then went off to develop in secret its own version of a ban using its byelaw making powers under the National Parks Act legislation which pre-dated the Land Reform Act.

The core problem with the camping byelaws is that they sacrifice the rights of the majority – whom even the LLTNPA acknowledge cause no major issues – in order to try and prevent problems caused by a small minority.  The camping byelaws are thus fundamentally illiberal and undermine the entire framework developed by the Land Reform Act.    Roseanna Cunningham, the Environment Minister and minister responsible for our National Parks, needs to add her voice to that of Dave Morris and  call on Michael Matheson, the Justice Secretary, to ensure that proper policing is in place for rural areas.   She could even call on him to meet with former Chief Inspector Kevin Findlater – who moved from supporting the camping byelaws to becoming their lead critic – on what resources would be required to provide effective policing in the National Park (accepting that crime rates in the National Park are much lower than in urban areas but also that problems when they do occur are relatively resource consuming because of the long distance between communities etc).

 

The role of the Scottish Parliament

To date the Scottish Parliament and our MSPs have taken very little interest in the camping byelaws.  However, just this week (see here) the Scottish Parliament passed a first vote to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act 2011.    Andy Wightman MSP described this as an illiberal piece of legislation – just like the camping byelaws then – and the parallels  don’t stop there.  Central to the arguments of James Kelly MSP, who has lead the campaign to repeal the Act, is that it unfairly targets football fans and the existing law is quite sufficient to address problems.  The camping byelaws of course unfairly remove access rights just from campers (not from campervanners as originally proposed or from people who hold boozy barbecues on beaches) and there are lots of powers to deal with problems associated with the irresponsible minority (abandoning tents, chopping tree etc etc are all criminal offences).

James Kelly has also said there is no evidence that the Offensive Behaviour Act has had any positive impact.  Exactly the same could be said for the camping byelaws where the LLTNPA are refusing to release information on the operation of the camping byelaws on the grounds its too early to tell and releasing such information could prejudice their enforcement (I will come back to this in another post).

The way forward that James Kelly  identifies for tackling sectarianism, namely that the Scottish Government ” must work to unify parties, anti-sectarian organisations, faith groups and education leaders, and start taking the problem of sectarianism seriously” is my view, is the type of approach that should be adopted to address the problems associated with visitors to the National Park.  Unfortunately, rather than involving the people who visit our National Parks, and working with the recreational organisations that represent them, the LLTNPA’s answer has been to ban everyone.

The LLTNPA of course are now claiming that the camping byelaws are less about irresponsible behaviour but more about numbers.   That is also totally illiberal and contrary to what our access legislation was about and what better proof than this motion recently put to the Scottish Parliament:

 

“aspires to see more people getting the most from Scotland’s wonderful landscapes” – the exact opposite to what the LLTNPA is doing.

 

What needs to happen

Its time not just that the Minister for the Environment talks to the Minister of Justice about the important role that policing should have in ensuring access rights work as intended, but also that the Scottish Parliament starts to scrutinise what is going on in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.

In order to prevent public authorities undermining the will of the Scottish Parliament in respect to access rights, the Scottish Parliament could usefully aim to make two changes to the way byelaws are created at present:

  • The first is to repeal the provision in the National Parks Act, which preceded the Land Reform Act, to make byelaws controlling access and require that any byelaws controlling access should come under the provisions of the Land Reform Act.  This is important because although there is a byelaw making power under the Land Reform Act this was only ever envisaged for very specific circumstances (e.g to prevent disturbance to nests of terns on beaches during the breeding season) and where other measures, such as advisory signs, were shown not to have worked.
  • The second is that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to scutinise all proposals for camping byelaws put to the Minister of the Environment for approval.  The Scottish Parliament should be demanding it has the right to hear evidence about the alleged success of the camping byelaws before any decision is made about their renewal.
January 30, 2018 Nick Kempe No comments exist

This post explores considers very recent developments in what is going on at Cairngorm Mountain, following earlier posts (see here),  how this is symptomatic of wider ills in how companies are allowed to operate and the implications for the proposed development at the Ptarmigan.   Unfortunately being in a National Park offers no immunity to this lack of public accountability and failure to act in the public interest.

Over the last week there has been a flurry of activity on the Companies House website  related to the companies that appear to own and operate  Cairngorm Mountain, Natural Assets Investment Ltd (NAIL) and the UK Great Travel Company Ltd (UKGTCL).   Under Company Law UK companies are legally required to register and keep up to date certain information on the Companies House website, including who controls them.  Although information about who controls a company is also legally required to be included in company accounts, because these are often published a year or more after the financial year in question (the last accounts for NAIL are for the year ending December 2016), this does not tell you who currently owns a particular company.   That becomes particularly important when a company like Natural Retreats breaks up – its the only way the public can find out what is happening.

Unfortunately Companies House is grossly under-resourced and current legal requirements are not enforced so for the last few months there has been no information publicly available about who really owns and operates Cairngorm   My MP, Alison Thewliss, has been in the news about this this week calling, rightly in my view, for tighter regulation of Scottish Limited Partnerships.  While tighter enforcement needs to be extended to all companies, public authorities could help with improving transparency if they made it a pre-condition for all public contracts that the company concerned met Company House requirements.  I have been in dialogue with the Chief Executive of HIE, Charlotte Wright,  about this in respect to Cairngorm Mountain and had the following responses:

1              Information on Companies House website

Companies House data should be kept up to date, and I understand you raising this as a concern.  However, as I said before, HIE believes that this is a matter for the company.  I would assure you that we do not rely solely on Companies House information for our monitoring activities, which are regular and robust.

and then, when I questioned this further, received the following:

HIE’s approach to risk evaluation and treatment is refreshed continually, and overseen by our Risk and Assurance Committee which reports to the HIE Board and is attended by representatives of Audit Scotland and the Scottish Government.  We are always alert to changes that may affect individual projects, and that process is being followed in relation to the new arrangements for CML.

While I was disappointed that HIE is basically claiming “its not our job” to help ensure information about their contractors is available to the public, it is possible that they have had a word behind the scenes and that helps explain the activity in the last week on the Companies House website.   This started with information on the ownership of Cairngorm Mountain which confirms NAIL still owns it:

 

Form Description
22 Jan 2018 PSC02 Notification of Natural Assets Investments Limited as a person with significant control on 6 April 2016

And was followed on 26th January with notifications for six other NAIL subsidiaries confirming they were still owned by NAIL.   So far so good.  Then two further changes occurred, both of which raise serious questions about what is going on at Cairngorm and the extent to which HIE have any influence over this (remember NAIL and UKGTCL are managing what used to be public assets and Cairngorm Mountain Ltd leases what is publicly owned land).

 

Who controls NAIL?

NAIL, the company which was registered as having significant control in Cairngorm Mountain Ltd on 22nd January,  had declared on the Companies House website that there was a person who controlled but they did not know who this was (see below).  This appears to have mince – and illustrates just what companies can get away with –  because in its accounts for the year ending December 2016 NAIL stated that  David Michael Gorton (a fund manager) had significant control:

Then, on 26th January, Companies House published this notice for NAIL stating that the person with significant control statement has been withdrawn.

 

Form Description
26 Jan 2018 PSC09 Withdrawal of a person with significant control statement on 26 January 2018

 

So what is going on?   Has David Michael Gorton sold NAIL to multiple owners so there is no need legally to state who has “significant control” – which appears unlikely – and has HIE been informed?  Or is this simply a mistake?   I have written again to the HIE Chief Executive  to try and find out.

Ownership of the UKGTCL (formerly Natural Retreats)

The HIE tender published on 30th November for a review of ski infrastructure at Cairngorm (see here) stated that:

“In June 2014, following a public tender process to find a new operator for Cairngorm Mountain, HIE sold its shares in the operating company, CML, to Natural Assets Investments Ltd. CML is now operated by a Natural Assets subsidiary, UK Great Travel Company Ltd.”

So, according to HIE in November, when Natural Retreats broke up and the UK arm became the UKGTCL, it became a subsidiary (owned by) to Natural Assets (Investment Ltd) the same company that owns Cairngorm.    If this is true, it was never registered at Companies House.

On 29th January however I received the following information from Companies House:

“You have been sent this email because you are following THE UK GREAT TRAVEL COMPANY LIMITED (07232597)

The following information is available from the company’s filing history.

Date Form Description
26 Jan 2018 PSC02 Notification of The Great Travel Company Limited as a person with significant control on 1 November 2017″

In other words the UK Great Travel Company, the new name for Natural Retreats, is NOT owned by NAIL as HIE claimed but rather is owned by a new company, the Great Travel Company Ltd (the similarity in names is confusing), which Companies House shows is controlled by Matthew Spence (and not David Michael Gorton).  Either HIE has got it very wrong – which raises serious concerns about the robustness of the procedures they claim to have in place to monitor what is going on at Cairngorm – or ownership of the company has changed twice in the last four months or so.  If that is the case, none of the required documentation is on the Companies House website.

Who now operates and controls Cairngorm?  And what are the public interest implications?

The Cairngorm Mountain website included the following statement in its announcement (see here) of its (very brief) public consultation on the Ptarmigan extension “CairnGorm Mountain Ltd is operated by The UK Great Travel Company Ltd”.

So its now all clear, Cairngorm Mountain is OWNED by NAIL, controlled by David Michael Gorton, but OPERATED by UKGTCL which is controlled by Matthew Spence – who also happens to be one of the Directors of NAIL!

While there are further questions to be asked about the relationship between these companies, one of the most pressing issues is HIE’s proposal to lend millions of pounds to fund the redevelopment of the Ptarmigan.  Before this goes any further HIE need to clarify whether their proposed loan will be to:

  • Cairngorm Mountain Ltd, whose net liabilities at December 2016 were £1,092,906
  • UKGTCL, as the company which operates Cairngorm (whose net liabilities at December 2016 were £216,959) or to;
  • NAIL, the company which owns it whose net liabilities at December 2016 were £29,380,827?

HIE also need to explain publicly how they intend to secure the proposed loan when none of the companies concerned have sufficient assets to guarantee it.

Now that the ownership and management of Cairngorm Mountain appears to  have been clarified, HIE’s proposal to lend the operators/owners large amounts of public funds to redevelop the Ptarmigan appears from a financial perspective foolhardy in the extreme.   Time perhaps for Audit Scotland, who sit on HIE’s risk management committee, to have a look at what is going on and provide HIE with some advice?

January 29, 2018 Nick Kempe 4 comments
A sign no more.   This sign had been put up by Scotgold Resources beyond the perimeter of the proposed boundary to the Cononish gold mine and several hundred metres before the boundary marking the current mine workings.  It therefore contravened access rights but I am delighted to be able to report that, after the intervention of the LLTNPA’s access team, Scotgold agreed to remove it.

On 7th December, the same day that Bill Stephen’s objection to the Cononish goldmine planning application was published (see here), Scotgold Resources lodged an Addendum to their Environmental Statement,  a document which in turn included another five 5 addenda of its own.   A  a few days later, on 13th December, they lodged a response to the objections made by myself and Mountaineering Scotland (see here). Both documents appear to have been lodged in the expectation that the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority would shortly hear the planning application at a meeting of the full Board (there was a paper proposing this at their December meeting).  I will consider this additional documentation in my next post on Cononish but meantime will consider here what is going on behind the scenes.

First, however, the timescales for determining the planning application.    Scotgold has been telling its shareholders all year that its revised planning application would be approved in December and mining would start early in 2018.    Under the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations, however, changes to Environmental Statements need to be advertised and consulted on and the LLTNPA only did this on 5th January.  As a consequence the special Board Meeting they had scheduled at the end of January to consider the application cannot now be held until well into February.  That extends the time people can object to the application.

 

What is going on at Scotgold Resources?

While the documents relating to the Environmental Assessment were submitted under the name of Scotgold resources, the actual planning application as lodged in August was from a new company, SGZ Cononish Ltd which was incorporated on 21st June 2017.  It has two Directors, the Managing Director, Richard Gray, who is a mining engineer, and Nathaniel Le Roux, who became chair of Scotgold Resources in March 2015 (see here) and owns 25-50% of shares in the new company.  There has been NO mention of this new company that I can see anywhere on the Scotgold Resources website which makes it difficult for shareholders, the public and indeed our National Park Authority to work out what is going on.  I have been having a looking through company documentation which has revealed some interesting information.

Nathaniel Le Roux appears to have a significant control in the SGZ Cononish Ltd through his significant control in Scotgold Resources which owns it:

Meantime Scotgold’s accounts show what money Mr Le Roux has been lending to Scotgold Resources over the last 15 months:

This shows that an UNSECURED 6% LOAN from Mr Le Roux which was due to be repaid in September 2018 was paid back in March 2017, i.e 18 months early, and replaced by a SECURED 10% LOAN which paid him a significantly higher rate of interest for a less risky own (as secured on the company’s assets). Its not clear from the accounts how Scotgold Resources dealt with the obvious conflict of interest with its Board of Directors agreeing a far more advantageous loan to one of its fellow Directors and the main shareholder in the Company.  It is legitimate to ask however if this was in the interests of any other shareholders?

Mr Le Roux’s degree of control over Scotgold Resources appears likely to increase further in the near future if it has not already done so.  On 13th November, Scotgold Resources published a Rights Issue (see here), an attempt to raise further capital, by offering two new shares for every three existing ones to shareholders and then another share for every five new shares.   Complicated, but if small shareholders do not sign up and Mr Le Roux takes up his rights, he will have ended up with a majority of shares in the company and therefore absolute control.

Mr Le Roux’ shares don’t appear in his own name but appear to be held by Hargreave Hale Nominees Ltd:

While almost the entire Hargreave Hale Nominees Ltd shareholding  would appear to belong to Mr Le Roux, for some of the other “nominee” shareholders, who holds shares on behalf of individuals, that is unlikely to be the case.   Hargreave Landsdowne, for example, deal in and hold shares for small shareholders and their holding therefore is  likely to represent holdings by a number of smaller shareholders.   That probably increases Mr Le Roux’s control of the company further.

Hargreave Hale Nominees Ltd’s function appears to be purely to hold shares as it does not trade and does not therefore have to lodge accounts.

While Mr Le Roux has currently waived his fees as a Director of Scotgold, Richard Gray the Managing Director earned $168,180 or approximately £100,000:

A “possible appropriate sustainable legacy”?

Scotgold has always presented itself as benefitting the local community and indeed committed to paying £350k over the lifetime of the mine to the Strathfillan Community Development Trust should it ever go ahead.  Now I am not against local jobs but the mine may have a lifetime of 8-17 years – hardly “permanent” jobs – while £350k seems a small price for the creation of what will be a huge dump above Strathfillan which has the potential, if it does not work, to blight it for hundreds of years.

I believe its worth contrasting the picture being sold by Scotgold with what the accounts show.  That is that the main beneficiary from the mine, should it go ahead and make money,  will be one person, Nathaniel Le Roux.  Depending on your perspective you can either see this as an example of benevolent paternalism or ruthless city exploitation.    I happen to believe that neither should have a place in our National Parks.   What price so called sustainable economic development?

January 26, 2018 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Looking down on the Cononish gold mine from the north ridge of Beinn Dubhcraig, Ben Nevis in distance.

The snow, last weekend, nicely brought out the relief around the Cononish gold mine but also covered up its visual impact, with the waste bags  covered by snow.  The photo shows, I believe, that what I stated in my last post (see here) on Cononish was correct:

 

“The Wild Land Assessment contained in the Environmental Statement suggests that the establishment and operation of the mine will have a ’moderate and significant effect on approaching the north-eastern hills’ but this will be medium term and localised to upper Glen Cononish with the effect on the local sense of sanctuary ‘minor and not significant’. The visibility of the mining site from the surrounding mountains and the effect that this will have on their landscape setting including that of the impressive Eas Anie waterfall and ravine is not considered.”

 

This demonstrates that the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority need to undertake and publish their own independent landscape assessment on the impact of the proposed gold mine as part of their consideration of the revised planning application.  This needs to take account of the landscape impact of creating 10 heaps of tailings in the large area below the mine (in the central section of the photo) and what doing so will do to the Wild Land Area which was created in 2014.  This will be a test of the value that our National Parks attribute to Wild Land Areas and will have implications for Wild Land Areas elsewhere.

I will consider what’s happening with the Cononish planning application more fully in my next post.

January 24, 2018 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Beachen Court – the Developer’s perspective

I have been aware of the Beachen Court housing development at Grantown for some time.  I believe it illustrates many of the fundamental issues facing the Cairngorms National Park Authority in respect to housing and planning, some of which it is currently consulting on in its Main Issues Report (see here).  The area, previously flower rich grassland used for informal recreation by local people, had been earmarked for housing in the CNPA Development Plan and subsequent site standards developed through consultation.

The development is taking place in phases, each subject to separate planning applications, subsequent to basic infrastructure being put in place.  There have been issues with the developer adhering to the planning conditions for this infrastructure which were referred to at the December CNPA planning committee in their report on enforcement:

a) Beachan Court, Grantown-on Spey
This is a housing development with permission for roads and plot layout for 53 houses (and full permission for 10 affordable units granted in October 2016) and included a range of conditions dealing with SUDS provision, levels, tree protection and measures for species protection. The opening up of the site, significant infrastructure works and interaction between different conditions has required monitoring to ensure conditions are complied with and development commences in a satisfactory way. The CNPA has investigated a number of enforcement enquiries raised by the public on the site.

Unfortunately the report did not explain what action the CNPA had taken as a result of those concerns.   That same meeting, however, also considered a planning application for the second phase of the development (the first phase being the construction of 10 social housing units by Highland Council), the subject of the Strathy article above.  The main point of contention in the application (which was objected to by the Community Council) was the proposed design of the housing which breached the design policy the CNPA had adopted for the site:  this has originally been that houses should be 1.5 storeys in height (with the upper floor set in the roof) but had been relaxed to a maximum of 1.75 storeys in height.  :

The appearance and size of a one and three quarter storey house is outlined in red, the new proposal for a full height two storey house in grey.  CNPA planning papers.

The Developer argued that full height two storey houses were needed to make the houses “affordable”:

The Design Statement explains that the type of housing complies with the Scottish Government’s “help to buy” scheme which helps buyers who would not otherwise be able to do so to buy a new home. The applicants assert that this has meant that 1 ¾ storey houses would be difficult to provide given the ratio of construction costs to valuation costs and this has led to the current proposal for two storey houses. The statement seeks to addresses the relationship to the original design brief as approved for the wider plot layout which set out design principles for future development and included a statement that all new housing would be a maximum of 1 ¾ storeys high which was reflected in the planning conditions attached to the original plot layout consent here.

The proposed appearance of the 2 storey dwellings CNPA planning papers

CNPA staff had this to say about the proposed design:

In terms of the design the houses types are considered to be functional and satisfactory, of simple design incorporating an acceptable range of materialswere not exactly enthusiastic about the standard of the design 

Hardly an enthusiastic endorsement, but they nevertheless recommended the designs be approved:

61. It is appreciated that the guidance contained in the non-statutory development brief for this site set out that development should be up to 1 ½ storeys. This was amended in the subsequent application for the wider site where 1 ¾ storey development was put forward in the accompanying design and access statement. The applicant is now putting forward the case for 2 storey housing on the application site. The financial reasons behind this are not considered to be an overriding planning consideration, but simply an explanation from the developer as to why they have gone down this route. The land use planning consideration here is simply whether or not on these particular sites two storey properties as proposed are acceptable.

62. Given that the house designs are satisfactory, there are no adverse impacts on amenity of neighbours and sections demonstrate that the houses will sit acceptably on the sites there is no planning policy reason to refuse the application simply because it does not comply fully with the guidance contained in the design brief and development brief.

What message does it give to developers if development briefs can be ignored?  If planning in the our National Parks is to become really effective, our National Park Authorities need to hold developers to agreed design briefs and to adherence to planning conditions.  I suspect the CNPA is storing up problems for itself for later phases of the development of this site (and its worth saying here there were many excellent elements in the original design brief including such things as dedicated cycle storage facilities – the proportion of National Park residents who cycle is very high) and the developer will come back with further proposals to relax the original design brief in later stages of the development.   We will see!

While the Planning Committee approved the proposal, to their credit three members of the Board supported an amendment that the CNPA should stick to their policy.  Further the mover of the amendment, the new Board Member nominated by Perth and Kinross Council, Xander McDade (referred to in the article above), hit the issue on the head when he stated it should be possible to provide high quality affordable housing, a challenge to the Developer’s claims that the changes were necessary to make the housing affordable.

 

Gus Jones, Convener of the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group had an interesting letter in the Strathy last week about the decision which focusses on the alleged merits of the Help to Buy Scheme as a means of providing affordable housing.

The underlying issue here is the price of land.   This was subject to a very interesting report from the Scottish Land Commission Land Lines.  The housing land market in Scotland.The report is well worth reading in its entirety for anyone who wants to understand the housing market and its findings are very relevant to the CNPA’s consultation on its Main Issues Report.

Main findings

• House prices have risen dramatically in Scotland in recent decades, far outpacing
growth in incomes. The driving force behind rising house prices has been increasing
land prices.
• The way the land market operates depends largely on the laws, institutions and
political history of particular nations, and so varies widely. In Scotland, the key
characteristics are a reliance on the private sector operating on a speculative model
to deliver new house building; a legal framework that allocates the uplift in the
value of land resulting from planning permission to landowners rather than public
authorities; a liberalised mortgage credit market; a taxation system that is highly
favourable to land and property; and a paucity of publicly available information on
land values and ownership.
• This system has resulted in an under-supply of housing and escalating housing
costs, which in turn has undermined living standards, exacerbated economic
inequality, and stifled productivity growth and output.
• Policy options to improve the supply of land for housing include public land value
capture, compulsory sale orders, a new housing land development agency, tax
reform, and greater market transparency.
• Intervening in the land market would have a number of long-term economic benefits
including a more productive and dynamic economy; a fairer and more inclusive
society; improved living standards; and healthier public finances.

While I will come back to this in a more detailed consideration of the CNPA Main Issues Report, the relevance to Beachen Court is that good quality housing which met the original design requirements could have been provided for considerably less than £178k for two bedrooms if it had not been for the price of the land.  Hence, the message to the CNPA for their Main Issues Report is that if they truly want to deliver affordable housing in the National Park – given the enormous gap between current prices and the average income of residents – they need to start tackling the land question.

January 23, 2018 Nick Kempe 4 comments
Inveruglas car park last Saturday just after 4pm – I counted 17 cars in the main car park

 

 

The consequences of outsourcing what used to be publicly provided services has been much in the news with the Carillion collapse.  This should serve as a warning to Scotland’s Enterprise agencies operating within our National Park, with Highlands and Enterprise proposing to lend public money Cairngorm Mountain Ltd – owned by a company whose net liabilities (in December 2016) for its size appeared not dissimilar to Carillion – and with Scottish Enterprise wanting to flog off the lochshore at Balloch to Flamingo Land.   Neo-liberal thinking however is so deeply embedded in the Scottish establishment that they cannot see any alternatives.  It has, I believe, particularly influenced how the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority operates and helps explain its inability to keep basic facilities open year round.  This post will explain how the locked National Park toilets at Inveruglas on Saturday result from same blind adherence to neo-liberal ideology as Carillion, although obviously the consequences are very different.  

According to the notice the toilets should have been open 8.30-5pm

 

 

 

 

In the short time I was stopped at Inveruglas I saw two parties walk up to the door only to find it locked and walk away with a shrug of the shoulders.  We are being conditioned to accept basic failures in service provision but if this is to change more people need to understand what is going wrong.

When the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority was created in 2002 some assets previously belonging to Local Authorities were transferred to it but the LLTNPA also created new facilities. Originally most of these facilities, however acquired, were operated directly but over time the LLTNPA has let some out for other purposes (e.g the former Gateway Centre at Balloch) and outsourced service provision in others.  In 2013 they took this one step further with the adoption of a Commercialisation Strategy.  

The ideology behind this I believe has been the same as what led to Carillion, the neo-liberal tenets that the state is bad, everything should have a price and as many services as possible should be provided by the private sector  (preferably with as little supervision/interference as possible).   Driving that has been the Government imposed requirement for our public authorities to make savings – budget cuts – and the assumption by managers that since private sector wages are generally lower the same service could be obtained for less.

An explanation for how this has resulted in locked toilets at Inveruglas can be found in the organisational update report to the December LLTNPA Board Meeting:

5.4 Our tenant at Inveruglas has given up their lease, providing us with an opportunity to carry out essential upgrade works to this building and secure a high quality tenant in future. It is anticipated that a shorter-term ‘pop-up’ arrangement will be secured for next season whilst we plan and carry out this work. The Estates Team are focussed on improving the quality of our public toilet provision across the board and, like our litter management work, this will take time and investment, however the evidence gathered from sites where we have already made improvements gives us confidence that even small changes can make a big difference to the visitor experience.

No tenant, no toilet.   The Park had a clever plan to get others to manage facilities like toilets, in order to make savings, but this is clearly in tatters because it had no fallback option.

The problem has been accentuated because the toilets at Inveruglas, like the Balmaha visitor centre (which is still run by the LLTNPA and where going to the toilet costs 30p),  are accessed through the visitor facility so when they are closed, so are the toilets.    This is not an accident but also driven by ideology.   The LLTNPA, just like most other public authorities in Scotland, saw the cost of providing public toilets as a problem and one solution to this was to ensure they were indirectly supervised at all times by being accessed through another facility.  Supervised toilets, they believed, would reduce costs and be easier to manage.   The needs of people, whose need to go to the toilet is not limited to visitor centre opening hours, were forgotten.

The toilets at the Ralia Cafe/Visitor Information Centre by Newtonmore are accessed separately to the cafe and there is a sign on the toilet door saying when locked people can still use the disabled toilet.

Buildings don’t need to be designed with internal toilets, as the Ralia Cafe shows, and it would be quite easy for the LLTNPA at Inveruglas to create separate access to the toilets so when the facility was closed, people could still access a toilet as at Ralia.      Before concluding that this might be about to happen at Inveruglas from the references to investment in the extract from the Board Report quoted above, the same report under the Appendix titled “Your Park Project update” states:

West Loch Lomond: following further investigation and discussion, the site at Inveruglas was not thought to provide best value for additional investment at this particular point in time and therefore capital resource for the current financial year has been diverted to making improvements at Tarbet car park which should see benefits for motorhome and campervan stop overs.

So, is there to be investment or not?   Which paragraph in the Board Report is true?

From the LLTNPA’s perspective, however, incorporating toilets into visitor facilities is probably still counted as a success because at least in such facilities toilets are sometimes open over the winter (even if that at Loch Lubnaig is shut).  Standalone toilets, such as at Rowardennan and Firkin Point, are completely closed through the winter despite the 12 month tourist season.   The management of those toilets appears to have been outsourced and is delivered under a contract  entitled:

Opening & Closing of Public Toilets, Minor Cleaning of office space, provision of toilet attendant, cash collection & banking, cleaning of public toilets

This runs from 1/4/17 to 1/11/18 and the contract value is £120,000k.  It would require an FOI request to tell exactly what that covers but it clearly doesn’t cover winter cleaning of most toilets and explains their  closures.    Moreover there would appear to be either no flexibility (or no money) for the contractor to change cleaning schedules to cover situations such as at Inveruglas.

I don’t think this is purely a matter of resources, its a consequences of HOW the LLTNPA has chosen to use its resources.   As an illustration, shortly after leaving Inveruglas I found the gates at Firkin Point had been locked – a practice which I thought had stopped, but perhaps this was because of the snow?    So, the LLTNPA is paying for one type of employee to go round locking gates while Simon Jones, their Conservation Director, claimed on Out of Doors the Park has no money to keep toilets open over the winter.   The problem is the LLTNPA is treating visitor management in silos (policing campers, opening toilets, locking gates) and outsourcing adds to those difficulties by locking funds into certain contracts.

 

What needs to happen

Our National Parks should be there to enjoy 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and to support that basic visitor facilities such as car parks and toilets should be open all the time.    The ideology behind locked toilets and locked car parks needs to be challenged.   Now of course, if toilets are open they will need cleaning – and sometimes they will need a more major cleanup after someone has abused the facility – while car parks that are unlocked may be used for fly tipping, but that is the challenge of visitor management, how do you manage the issues caused by a minority without affecting the rights and needs of the majority?

I would like therefore to see the new LLTNPA Board undertake a fundamental review of how it uses its resources driven not by any requirement to make savings but how it might best meet visitors basic needs year round.  If that then requires more resources, so be it, but the starting point should be if the LLTNPA brought all its resources together, could it use them more effectively?  In terms of provision of toilets, which has always been highlighted as a basic concern of visitors to the National Park, such a review should include:

  • An assessment of the capital expenditure needed to change the design of existing buildings to make toilets accessible 24 hours a day and to provide chemical disposal points for campervans
  • An assessment of priority areas for new toilet provision for all visitors and not just campers (and where toilet provision really is only needed seasonally it could be provided by portaloos rather than permanent provision).
  • Consideration of how toilet cleaning is best provided (and it may be that where toilets are attached to facilities which are let out it makes sense to make the tenant responsible for cleaning them).
  • Consideration of ways to reduce the risk of facilities open 24 hours a day being abused
January 21, 2018 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Returning from a great day on the hill yesterday, I stopped at Inverarnan at the head of Loch Lomond to have a look at the Eagle Falls.  I wanted to check how much ice had formed.   While on past experience the temperatures we have had over the last ten days would not have been cold enough to freeze the falls, I was interested in the impact of the Ben Glas hydro scheme.  This siphons off water from above the falls and I wondered if the reduced flow of water might have aided ice formation.

In fact, as you can see from the photo above, the hydro scheme has had the opposite effect.  The volume of water is so small (you can see what is left of the Eagle Falls running down the side of the left hand gash) that there is nothing to splash on the rocks aiding ice formation.

Eagle Falls January 2010.  While the volume of water used to reduce in a hard freeze, it was still enough to splash over all the rocks in the great gash in the hillside aiding ice formation.

One wonders, with the hydro scheme, whether people will ever again be able to savour the experience of the frozen waterfall.  This is not just about ice climbers and outdoor activities, its about scenery and landscape and people coming to the National Park to experience what was a great spectacle.

While generally I believe hydro schemes are compatible with National Parks, albeit in far too many cases poor design and construction has resulted in unnecessary adverse landscape impacts, Ben Glas provides a good example of a scheme that should never have been built.  The Eagle Falls are no longer worthy of that name, the wild area above no longer feels wild due to the intakes, track and a bridge (see here), while the track up from Glen Falloch is far too steep and forms a great scar up the hillside.

The Ben Glas hydro therefore should be a prime candidate for removal once the construction debt has been paid off.  I would like to see the LLTNPA admitting a mistake has been made at the Eagle Falls and committing to redress this in the longer term, say in 20 years time.

January 19, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment

Prompted by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority’s refusal this week to provide me with a list of the research they have commissioned in the last five years, I have been checking the contracts they have awarded from the Scotland Contracts portal (see here).   While this did not reveal much about what research and other such work the LLTNPA has commissioned from external sources, it did reveal some very interesting information about the LLTNPA’s approach to that Estate Management Plans, plans which the LLTNPA has refused to make public  (see here).

Almost all contracts let by public authorities are now meant to be advertised through the Contracts Portal.  This is a useful counter to the increasing tendency for all levels of government not to record how or why decisions are taken.  (The LLTNPA’s camping byelaws provide a good example of this with officials claiming to hold no information about what discussions took place between Ministers and the National Park Authority about the need for byelaws despite Linda McKay writing a letter to then Minister Aileen Mcleod saying the byelaws were a follow up to a discussion with the previous Minister Paul Wheelhouse).

While my search did reveal the existence of a couple of research/audit type reports others, which I know exist, did not appear to be recorded there.    I could find no trace, for example, of any contract which might have covered the Strategic Environmental Assessment for the National Park Partnership Plan.  This   was undertaken by Collingwood Environmental Planning Ltd based in Westminster and Volume 1 alone was 150 pages long.   It is unlikely to have been cheap.    The information on the Contracts Portal therefore appears incomplete, perhaps time for the audit committee to scrutinise how far the LLTNPA is meeting the procurement rules?  That would give something for Board Members to do (see here)

What I did find however was details of contracts awarded to outside organisations to help landowners produce estate management plans under the general heading of “Provision of technical support to landowners”:

Title Contract start Contract end Awarded to Minimum bid Maximum bid
Renewable Energy Specialist 26-03-13 26-03-18 Smith Gore £35,750 £175,000
Revenue opportunities outdoor recreation 08/05/13 2017? Step (1)

Bowles Green  Ltd (2)

Laurence Gould Partnership (3)

£72,000 £108,000
Conservation, agri-environment and climate change 01-04-14 2017? Lockett Agri-environmental (1)

Walking the Talk (2)

Farming & Conservation (3)

£31,000 £70,000
Forestry and woodlands 01-04-14 2017? Eamonn Wall & Co £25,000 £74,000
Farm Business Consultant 01-04-14 Laurence Gould Partnership £55,000 £89,000
£218,750 £516,000

To be fair to the LLTNPA, the outsourcing of estate plan consultancy was referred to in reports to their Delivery Group  EIR 2017-071 evaluation land management plans Appendix A but what I had not put together before was the amount of resources the LLTNPA had devoted to the production of these  management plans.  In 2014, besides appointing a second land management adviser to their own staff to progress this work, they had committed to spending a minimum of £218,750 (see table above) on external consultancy to land owners.   (The sum might be considerably more than this because the contracts portal only provides information on the range of bids for contracts, not the price of the successful contractor and its very unlikely, for example, that Smith Gore bid £35,750 to provide advice on renewables).

It appears safe to conclude from this that the LLTNPA has spent well over £300k (taking costs of their own staff into account) on producing 4-5 Estate/whole farm plans, that is c£60k per plan, plans which they refuse to make public.

This, and other information from  the contracts portal, raises a number of further public interest questions:

  • Given the amount of money spent, why did no proper written evaluation take place, to establish whether these secret plans are value for money?
  • What are the cost implications for the new National Park Partnership plan which commits to a further roll out of these secret estate plans?
  • Given four out of the five contracts now appear to have expired and the Smith Gore contract ends in March, how will the LLTNPA support this work in future and will it continue to be secretive?
  • Can the LLTNPA provide assurances that none of the advice given under the “revenue opportunities for outdoor recreation” contract involved advising on charges that could affect access (eg advising landowners on how to charge for car parking?).
  • Can the LLTNPA provide assurances that all the Renewables Energy Advice to landowners provided by Smith Gore put the landscape quality of the National Park before economic return to landowners?

The evidence is starting to suggest that the LLTNPA has been far more interested in promoting commercial approaches to land management rather than conservation or public enjoyment of the land through its land management plans.  This is basically a neo-liberal approach:  money and making it comes first;   public services should be supporting that aim (so despite the fortunes being made out of hydro schemes the LLTNPA still subsidises landowners in the preparatory work for these schemes without asking for anything back); and expert advice is better outsourced than provided by your own staff.

We need a public debate on who and what the land in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is for – is it about making money for landowners or is it about public recreation and conservation?

 

January 18, 2018 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Half removed ski infrastructure in Coire na Ciste, a sort of tank trap for skiers – Photo Credit Ron Walker

I had not personally visited Coire na Ciste since HIE found £267k for a clear-up at Cairngorm (see here)  in which they removed the ski infastructure there without any consultation.  Having been sent the above photo (used with permission) I wish I had.   The half removed unmarked infrastructure is an obvious hazard which could have killed an off-piste skier using the lift system.

This hazard has been reported to HIE and I understand they have taken immediate action.  They now need to explain publicly how the current management at Cairngorm, who were supervising the contract to remove the infrastructure from Coire na Ciste,  either never checked on the work or, if they did, failed to identify this as a hazard and respond appropriately (which would have included reporting it to HIE if the money had run out).

More evidence that “Natural Retreats” (or whoever is now actually running Cairngorm) cannot be trusted to manage publicly funded contracts and the publlcly owned land at Cairngorm and more grounds for HIE to terminate their lease with them. If HIE does not act, the responsible Minister, Fergus Ewing, should.

January 17, 2018 Nick Kempe 3 comments
Badenoch and Strathspey Herald 11/01/18

Last week, nine months after Highlands and Island Enterprise launched its so called masterplan for Cairngorm (see here), the Strathy announced  the date of the pre-planning consultation event on the proposals to revamp the Ptarmigan near the summit of the hill.  At the same time it also broke the news that the Scottish Ski Club, which has a hut at Cairngorm, was proposing to spend £1.4m on a new lift at the White Lady.  This post will consider how both proposals fit with the need for a wider plan for Cairngorm and what is really going on there behind the scenes.

 

The Ptarmigan proposals

There were two main elements to the Cairngorm masterplan what wasn’t: a dry ski slope by the carpark, which now appears to have been ditched (a planning application was submitted before being quickly withdrawn last year), and the Ptarmigan.  From the Strathy article it appears that the proposals have not changed greatly in the last nine months since the concept was revealed, with the extension to the building and revamped exhibition both included in the original plans, although the plan for a walkway out over the funicular appears to have been altered slightly.  It now apparently goes around or over the roof:

Extract from 365 Degree Architecture’s previous plans released under Freedom of Information – if the reports of a rooftop walkway are correct, it appears that the design of the building will have been changed.

The basic idea however remains the same, try and get more people to use the funicular by creating a visitor attraction at the top of it.   The idea is totally flawed.  In landscape terms National Parks should not be permitting new developments near the summits of mountains and in visitor experience terms, to use that awful phrase, the plan is complete stupidity.   The Ptarmigan is shrouded in cloud for much of the time and subject to high winds, so the claim that the rooftop walkway will “maximise the amazing vistas all year round” is complete tosh.   HIE appears to be preparing to lend another £4m of public monies to create yet another white elephant at Cairngorm.

What’s worse, HIE appears to be pressing ahead with this proposal before it – or rather Natural Retreats – has produced an overall plan for Cairngorm, as it committed to do under the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy which was approved in 2016 and before it has completed its review of ski infrastructure at Cairngorm.  This is important because in terms of use of public money, HIE should have fully assessed the cost-benefits of expanding the Ptarmigan compared to other options BEFORE endorsing any planning application.

 

The White Lady ski lift proposal

The former White Lady lift before the removal of the old lift base with the Scottish Ski Club Hut above it. August 2017.

HIE’s inability to produce any sort of coherent plan for Cairngorm is nicely shown up by the proposal from the Scottish Ski Club to reinstate the White Lady lift, probably in the form of a state of the art t-bar which apparently would cost £1.4m and which they hope to fund.  This is most interesting, not least because it suggests that new lifts could be installed in Coire na Ciste for less than the £4m HIE are proposing to lend to Cairngorm Mountain in order to develop the Ptarmigan.    So, would it not be better to use public monies to support the proposals from the Ciste Group and Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust to redevelop the Ciste rather than waste it on the Ptarmigan?  Add those proposals to the White Lady lift and the use of snow making machines and one might, once again, have skiing worthy of the name at Cairngorm.

While the White Lady Lift proposal appears welcome, the evidence suggests that behind the scenes HIE has yet again not been honest about what they are up to while the Scottish Ski Club has allowed themselves to get caught up in HIE and Cairngorm Mountain shenanigans.  The Strathy story quotes the Scottish Ski Club as saying they have been in collaboration with HIE and Natural Retreats  to look  at the feasibility of the proposal.  This must have taken time and it seems reasonable to conclude therefore that HIE must have known about this when they tendered for their review of ski infrastructure at the end of November (see here).  That tender included in its scope the development potential of Coire na Ciste but NOTHING about the development potential of Coire Cas where the White Lady is situated.  So has HIE helped commission another study, which they have kept secret, about the ski potential in Coire Cas or have they just missed an opportunity to get independent evidence on the Scottish Ski Club proposals which could be used to justify some public financial investment?   Either way the lack of join up by HIE between the various initiatives at Cairngorm is quite staggering and yet more evidence of the need of a proper overall plan.

While I can understand that the Scottish Ski Club needed to get HIE, as the owners, and NR as the operators, on board, it appears they may have allowed themselves to get too close.  Its much easier to understand now why the SSC did not  make an issue when Cairngorm Mountain staff entered the Ski Club Hut and removed the Winter Highland webcam without permission (see here).  If they had done so, Natural Retreats might have refused to co-operate with their proposal.   Easier too to understand why Cairngorm Mountain thought they could get away with this highhanded action.    It would be in interests of all who care about Cairngorm if SSC were to talk now to the Ciste Group and Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust and ensure all their plans fit as one cannot see either HIE or Natural Retreats doing this.

So is Natural Retreats still Natural Retreats and if not who is running Cairngorm Mountain?

While the Scottish Ski Club reported they had been talking to Natural Retreats, I suspect this is because the staff they spoke to never told them what was going on – or perhaps even they didn’t know.  I think it is significant in this respect that the Ptarmigan proposal is being push in the name of Cairngorm Mountain with not a mention of  Natural Retreats.  The original proposals for the

The branding strapline from an earlier version of the proposals for the Ptarmigan

Ptarmigan were branded on every page as coming from Natural Retreats.  I suspect that at the consultation event there will be not a mention of Natural Retreats, which we know is no longer a so-called international operation, and the UK part of which appears to have transferred to the UK Great Travel Company on 1st November  (see here) and (here).  I have since found out – as a result of a comment on the blog that the Great Travel Company Ltd had registered a person with Significant Control – that there are in fact two Great Travel Companies, both operated by former directors of Natural Retreats:

The UK Great Travel Company is the new name for the Natural Retreats UK and has three Directors, Ewan Kearney, Anthony Wild and Matthew Spence and, while it has still failed to register who has significant control, we know from past accounts that it used, at any rate, to be controlled by David Michael Gorton, the same man who controls Natural Assets Investment Ltd, the owner of Cairngorm Mountain.

The Great Travel Company was incorporated – i.e created as a new company – at the end of October 2017 with Matthew Spence as sole Director and owning over 75% of the shares.

So what is happening?   The former company Natural Retreats UK, before it became the UK Great Travel Company, appeared to service all the companies owned by Natural Assets Investment Ltd .  As remarked in my last post, there is still a Natural Retreats UK website but all mention of Cairngorm Mountain has been removed from it and a new marketing manager is/has been appointed based at Cairngorm.  It appears therefore the companies are being separated.   The creation of the Great Travel Company suggests that Cairngorm Mountain is not the only part of the Natural Retreats business which is being separated off.  But why then create a company with such a similar sounding name and why is Matthew Spence a director of both?  A recipe for confusion unless something else is going on.

Before the latest changes, I has written to HIE expressing concern about what is going on behind the scenes and who actually now manages and controls Cairngorm Mountain Ltd.  I had a very polite and clear response from their Chief Executive, Charlotte Wright, just before Xmas:

1              Information on Companies House website

Companies House data should be kept up to date, and I understand you raising this as a concern.  However, as I said before, HIE believes that this is a matter for the company.  I would assure you that we do not rely solely on Companies House information for our monitoring activities, which are regular and robust.

What this told me was that even if HIE do know who owns the UK Great Travel Company, they don’t see it as being in the public interest that this information is made public.   Given that Scottish Limited Partnerships, money laundering and tax evasion are in the news on a daily basis at present, one would have hoped that all public agencies in Scotland were ensuring the organisations they contract with meet these basic legal obligations.  All it would take is one call from them saying “publish the correct information or there will be contractual consequences” and the UK Great Travel Company would oblige.   That they have not done so suggests other things are going on.

Within this context it appears foolhardy in the extreme to be pushing ahead with an ill conceived scheme which will hand yet more public money to the shadowy companies that own and manage Cairngorm and whom we know were, until recently at least, controlled by a hedge fund manager.

January 16, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Speyside Way extension along line of former powerline between Lynwilg and Alvie – Photo credit Peter Crane

Following last week’s post on the undergrounding of powerlines in Glen Tromie (see here), in which there was a photo showing how they had blighted the Speyside Way extension, Peter Crane from the Cairngorms National Park Authority sent me a photo of how it looks now, after the powerlines have been removed.   Thank you Peter.

You can judge for yourself the difference by comparing to a couple of my photos below from December 2015 but in my view, with the removal of the powerlines, the Speyside Way is far more worthy of a planning award than it was in 2016 (see here).

The Speyside Way extension will be a much better walk with the removal of the powerlines

Following this improvement I would, though, still like to see the CNPA promoting a variant to this section of the Speyside Way along the fine section of river at Kinrara which has been avoided by the extension.  This would also make it far more obvious to people that they could do circular walks using this section of the Way.   The challenge is getting landowners to agree to this – time, as Dave Morris proposed in his interview with Scotland Out of Doors at the weekend, for Public Authorities to be given Compulsory Purchase Powers to put paths in place.

January 15, 2018 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Firkin Point camping Zone A March 2016 soon after the byelaws came into force – it was little better last week – hence the comment from Euan McIlraith “you would not camp there if you had the choice”

If you have not heard it, most of Saturday’s episode of BBC Radio Scotland’s Out of Doors programme (see here) was devoted to Scotland’s access legislation as it approaches its fifteenth anniversary.    If you want to understand the amazing story of how our access rights were secured – and in this case “our” really does mean our, as anyone who ever steps foot in Scotland has those rights and they apply to everyone, from the homeless to the Queen – or the background to continued access problems and challenges, including those in our National Parks ((see here) or (here)) I commend the whole programme.   (And for those who don’t have the time to spend 1.5 hours listening I give the approx times of the various interviews and their content at the end of this post).

 

While most of the programme was a celebration of the successes of our access legislation, the programme gave significant coverage to the camping byelaws.  I was pleased to participate, balanced by a contribution from Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority staff and excellent commentary/questioning from the presenters Mark Stephens and Euan McIlwraith.   The interviews with staff were very revealing.   This post will take a critical look at what was said within the context that most of the people involved in securing our access rights, including many interviewed on the programme,  believe the camping byelaws and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority pose the biggest single threat to those rights.

 

The operation of the warning system

In their Review for Ministers of how the byelaws had operated in their first year, the LLTNPA reported that it had issued 828 warnings to campers.    It is not clear on what legal authority (see here) the LLTNPA has instigated this warning system –  I have now asked them to clarify this – but what the programme revealed is that the Park is keeping data on people it has warned for three whole years.

The interview took place at Milarrochy, on a long stretch of the east shore of Loch Lomond where camping is completely banned except in campsites which are often fully booked. So, the LLTNPA’s suggestion in the interview that they would ask people found camping here to move to a permit zone  – say exhausted backpackers on the West Highland Way – bears no resemblance to reality. Other areas, such as the west shore of Loch Lomond north of Inveruglas have even less provision.

The programme revealed what the LLTNPA has to date refused to reveal under Freedom of Information, how its enforcing the camping byelaws.    Simon Jones explained it as follows, stating that “we will do everything in our power to let you stay”  so long that is that either you move into a permit area and buy a permit or move out of the camping management zone – in other words there is NO power to let people camping responsibly stay!   While Simon Jones said the byelaws, the criminal offence, are only being applied to people who are “intractable” and won’t follow the directions of rangers, the Ranger clarified that they are taking the name and address of people found in breach of the byelaws.  Whether all of these people are then being issued official warnings is still not clear.

The LLTNPA has always said it does not want to criminalise campers, not I believe because it respects responsible campers – one thing that came across to me in the programme is that Park staff see any camper as a problem needing “management” and “education” –  but because this would be a public relations disaster.   So, what they have decided to do is to create a warning system and hope that the threat of having the camper’s name and address and the potential of a future referral to the Procurator Fiscal will be sufficient to deter a person from ever again camping without a permit.

Its within this context that the LLTNPA  are saying to the Minister in their Review Report that its too early to tell if the camping byelaws have worked.  The byelaws clearly aren’t working at present as intended as lots and lots of people are still camping where camping has been banned.  The LLTNPA is hoping however that as they add more and more names to their files fewer and fewer people will camp.   It would be interesting to know if any other criminal law in Scotland has ever been implemented in this way.

Its ironic that at the same time the Scottish Parliament has been cleaning up the behaviour of Police Scotland, which has reduced the number of stop and searches from over half a million to 20,000 or so, its allowed the LLTNPA to instigate a STOP AND PERMIT system for campers.  If you doubt that this what it is all about, listen to the Ranger who describes herself as “an enforcement officer”. Time that the Scottish Parliament, in celebrating our access legislation, started to scrutinise what is going on in the LLTNPA.

 

The position of caravans and campervans

Legally, the byelaws allow people to stay overnight in a vehicle on a “road”, which is defined to include both public roads and private roads over which there is a right of passage, in any camping management zone.   When asked about this Simon Jones, Director of Conservation,  replied:

“if you are in a car you have the opportunity to stay in a layby and rest where you want to on the public road [note he avoided mentioning people sleeping ovenight], off the public road is another matter………..”.  

This was a false statement and was picked up by Mark Stephen:

“with respect that is not what it says in the byelaws, the word public road is not in the byelaws………….”.

Simon Jones then acknowledged this but avoided clarifying the Park’s stance:

ok, the interpretation I think (pause) the important thing to remember is what we would do as an authority to try and help you [why would someone doing nothing wrong need help?], educate you………...and as a last resort enforce something we don’t want to have to do”

Oh dear!  So what is the Park’s approach to campervans and caravans?  We don’t know, apart from that the LLTNPA claim they are now following the advice of Police Scotland, whatever that is (they refuse to release it).  The problem for the LLTNPA, epitomised by Mr Jones convoluted response, is that if they publlcly accept the byelaws effectively no longer apply to campervans and caravans, half the justification for the byelaws collapses (the main reason local community councils supported the byelaws proposals was they were told this would address the problems of caravans parked up for the summer in laybys).   Then the manifest unfairness of applying the byelaws to campers and not to people in vehicles (nicely brought out by Mark Stephen in his question about why a cyclist should not be able to stop off for a rest like a car driver or campervan owner) becomes ever more apparent.

The LLTNPA need to make public the instructions they have issued to staff about how the byelaws apply to campervans and caravans, including the legality of their attempts to charge people for stopping on places that are part of the road network (e.g Inveruglas).     Because I doubt they will do this, I have submitted an FOI request asking the LLTNPA how many warnings have been issued to people stopping overnight in campervans and caravans.  When that eventually becomes public, as I am confident it will, it should help show if LLTNPA are abusing their powers or have effectively abandoned trying to enforce them against campervans.

Parkspeak

The LLTNPA provided a number of choice examples of parkspeak in their interviews (I don’t blame the Ranger for this, she was only doing what she was told).  These are important because these are about trying to change the way both staff and the public think about access rights.

The old east Loch Lomond no camping signs at Milarrochy have now been replaced but the message is the same

The LLTNPA interview took place at Milarrochy bay. Instead of openly acknowledging they want to ban campers from places such as this, the byelaws are now being presented as being part of a “toolkit”.  (This is a significant change since the Your Park consultation never asked people what they thought about toolkits and what should be in them).  What Mark Stephen’s exposed in his “role play” with the Ranger is just what a useless tool the byelaws are.   If you refuse to give your name and address and follow the directions of Park staff, whether you are camping according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code or chopping down trees, LLTNPA staff still have to call the police – the same remedy that has always been available to address situations where people have been breaking the law.

Both Simon Jones and the Ranger also claimed that the byelaws are about protecting the National Park for “future generations to enjoy” .  This is complete and utter rubbish and very dangerous.  Rubbish because vegetation impacted on by people camping normally recovers within a season, and where it doesn’t does not need byelaws to make it happen.  Dangerous because if you accept the logic for campers, day visitors will be next (they also have impacts on vegetation, leave litter and sometimes chop down trees – which always was a criminal offence anyway).   The impacts of visitors are simply not comparable to issues like climate change, where pumping ever more carbon into the atmosphere does risk the ability of future generations, or land management in the National Park.  It will be interesting to see if the LLTNPA apply the future generations argument to the forthcoming Cononish gold mine planning application (which is in a wild land area) or whether this parkspeak about “future generations”  is only applicable to the impacts of campers.

Simon Jones also repeated the claim, which now appears the LLTNPA’s main justification for the byelaws, that they are needed because of the “sheer volume of campers”.  This is again nonsense and the LLTNPA is deliberately trying to hide the truth of what is going on.   Before meeting Mark Stephen and Euan McIlwraith I prepared an illustration of this from the data I have for Firkin Point (where I was interviewed) and west Loch Lomond.

Firkin permit area No Places Bookings Numbers feedback Percent positive
Motorhomes 6? 159 33 91%
Tents
Zone A (larger grass area) 3 51 4 75%
Zone B (small grass area) 2 30 1 100%
Zone C (beach) 1 27 4 75%
Zone D (south road) 9 24 2 0
132 11

Booking and feedback 1st March- 26th June 2017 from info released under Environmental Information Regulations in August (EIR 2017-055) (I am still waiting for useable data on bookings post 26th June).

Compare this data with Ranger Patrol records for Firkin for 2013 and 2014:

April – June 2013 Numbers of tents – 8 (Source Ranger patrol records supplied under FOI)

April – June 2014 Number of tents – 0  (Source Range patrol records supplied under FOI)

Zone D is mostly uncampable and that is reflected I believe in the permit feedback data provide by the Park – of the two people giving feedback both said they were highly unlikely to ever camp there again

Now, not every booking under the permit system will have resulted in someone camping and, while Ranger patrols took place most days, they rarely visited the south road (location of zone D).   Setting aside these qualifications,  there has been a huge increase in the number of people camping at Firkin Point (from 8 tents up to 132).  How does this fit with the LLTNPA’s claim the camping byelaws are about managing the volume of campers or it is just another lie?

I think two things are happening here.  The first is some people who never knew about Firkin Point are being attracted to stop off there, probably on their way to somewhere else, because it is now being advertised as somewhere to camp.   The availability of toilets (but not chemical disposal points) – even though these are closed when the byelaw season starts – adds to the attraction.  The second is that people who previously would have been spread out along the loch shores are being forced to camp in places like this.  As evidence of this, consider my analysis of camping on west Loch Lomond prior to the implementation of the byelaws West Loch Lomond Ranger Data analysis which shows that in the whole of 2013 Rangers recorded 130 tents along the whole of the west shore of Loch Lomond.   Yes, the total number of people issued permits to camp at Firkin Point in four months, exceeded the number of campers found on the west shore in a whole season.  Incredible!   The LLTNPA’s claim that the byelaws are about controlling the number of campers is therefore a lie, a lie which their staff need to stop repeating.  The byelaws are about controlling people, forcing people to camp where petty park bureaucrats and certain landowners are prepared to let people camp, rather than letting people to choose where it makes sense for them to camp..

 

 

Cost benefit analysis

Ranger Vans parked near Maid of the Loch 11/1/18 – plenty of resources here!

At the end of the interview,  Mark Stephen reported he had asked LLTNPA staff about the closed toilets at Firkin Point and they had said this was due to lack of resources.   This is the first time LLTNPA staff  have, to my knowledge, publicly acknowledged that their toilets should be open more – a step forward.  To attribute this to lack of resources, however, is garbage.  Here’s why.

The LLTNPA has far more to spend on visitor management to the countryside than any other public authority in Scotland.  The problem is that it has decided to devote almost all its resources to policing camping rather than using its resources to the benefit of ALL visitors.    As an illustration of this, I arrived at Firkin Point on Thurday to find a LLTNPA ranger van sitting there but the toilets locked.  If the LLTNPA can afford to pay Rangers to visit sites where toilets are located in the middle of winter, it could afford to can afford to keep them open, send someone in to check them occasionally and clean them if necessary.    I am not saying that it should necessarily be Rangers who should do this, but if the LLTNPA redeployed a small part of the resources used to employ seasonal rangers to cleaning toilets and emptying bins, they could keep toilets open year round and prevent much of the litter problem in the National Park happening in the first place.

What’s more, while I support the need for new campsites in the National Park, when their campsite at Loch Chon has only 20% occupancy (as predicted), its clear that the £345k and more of capital monies so far spent on developing that campsite would have been far better spent on installing new toilets and chemical disposal points throughout the National Park.   That would have benefitted not only campers, and far more of them, but the general public.

The LLTNPA never undertook a cost benefit analysis while developing its byelaw proposals and its review report to Ministers says nothing about the amount of scarce public funds which have been wasted to date.   Unless the LLTNPA starts acting more rationally and responsibly on this, the Minister Roseanna Cunningham should transfer both its capital and revenue resources to help those public authorities who do want to improve tourist infrastructure but really don’t have the resources to do so.  Skye and the North Coast 500 provide good examples and alternatives.

 

Where next?

I am happy to predict that on this showing, and as more information becomes available, during 2018 the camping byelaws along with the LLTNPA’s reputation as a National Park will continue to collapse.  The main question now is whether it will be the Scottish Government or the new Board which will see sense first.  This will mean re-affirming that camping by the loch shores can and should be managed within the framework set out under access rights and while resources need to be directed to where they will have most effect.

Interviews in programme (approx times into programme in brackets)

  • Roseanna Cunningham, Environment Minister “this is a right they cannot get around” (3.25)
  • Dave Morris on history leading up to final legislation and what issues are now(6.30)
  • Alison Riddell Scotways on continuing access issues (12.45)
  • Andrew Bachell (now Chief Exec JMT) on SNH role drafting legislation (23.45)
  • Discussion between reporters Euan McIlwriath and Mark Stephens on one of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park’s camping permit areas at Firkin Point:  “you would not camp there if you had the choice”
  • Cameron McNeish on politics around the legislation and since (37.01)
  • Jess Dolan Director Ramblers Scotland on making more people aware access rights (44.45)
  • Lauren MacCallum on Patagonia film on snow boarding and access (46.30)
  • Nick Kempe at Firkin Point (52.00)
  • Simon Jones, Director Conservation and Lea Hamilton, Ranger at Milarrochy Bay (1.02).
  • Dennis Canavan (1.13.30) on his amendment to include Balmoral in legislation
  • Bob Reid (past convener National Access Forum) on the legislation, planning and paths (1.20)
  • Andy Wightman on agenda outdoor recreation (1.24.30)
January 12, 2018 Nick Kempe 2 comments
The powerlines which blighted the Speyside Way extension south of Aviemore have now been removed

While the Beauly Denny has been a blot on the landscape, as a consequence of the visual impact of the pylons and the poor restoration of ground around (covered in my last post (here)), elsewhere in the National Park a very different approach is being taken.   The powerline infrastructure is being modernised but to the benefit, not at the expense of, the landscape.

Much of this is due to the Cairngorms National Park Authority which, while failing to stop the Beauly Denny, did win support for the associated rationalisation scheme for the the removal of c93km of existing LOW voltage or redundant tower lines from Etteridge, through Boat of Garten,  Tomintoul, the Lecht and Strathdon towards Tarland – a great arc around the north of the National Park.   The Report on the Beauly Denny at the December planning Committee reports this is now complete:

 

The scheme started in 2014 and completed in the summer of 2017 with the removal of the last towers between Ruthven and Etteridge. Much of the new low voltage line has been undergrounded using a mole plough for cabling so there has been relatively little disturbance of vegetation. CNPA officers have undertaken site inspections and advised upon some technical matters relating to natural heritage. There have been modifications to wayleaves and some tree removal during the project but the work has been undertaken in a satisfactory manner and with minimal disturbance so has been successful

 

There are many positive consequences of this for everyone who lives in and visits the Cairngorm National Park (see photo above and here) and this should be seen as a great success story.    What particularly interested me from the report, however, was CNPA officers positive assessment of how the work was done, by mole plough.  I had come to similar conclusions about the benefits of using this technology to bury powerlines from two visits to Glen Tromie in November.  The rest of this post will use what is happening at Glen Tromie to illustrate the benefits of using this technology before arguing it provides a great opportunity to enhance the landscape throughout both our National Parks.

 

 

The current work to underground the Glen Tromie powerline starts at the hideous Lynaberack Lodge in Glen Tromie. The ground here, where the undergrounded line joins with the overhead powerline, is more disturbed than almost anywhere else along the route.

In November, as part of my visit with Dave Morris to discuss hill tracks (see here), Thomas McDonnell, the Conservation Manager of Wild Land Ltd, took us up Glen Tromie to look at tracks there.  On the way we stopped off at Lynaberack Lodge, a planning disaster which thankfully the estate intend to remove, so Thomas could have a word with a team who were about to return to Germany with their mole plough (sorry no photos!).   It was as a result of this that I became aware that part of estate’s programme to re-wild the landscape is to underground powerlines – work which is basically being paid for by Anders Povlsen, the billionaire owner.  Two weeks later I went back myself to take a proper look at how the work has been done.

Evidence of the amount of new electric cable which has been undergrounded

The work is not yet complete.  While the contractors have buried the new cable,  it is not yet connected and removal of the existing powerline and clear-up has still to happen.  The advantage,in terms of the timing of my visit, was I could record the landscape impact of the existing powerline.

The road is just to the right of the photo

Imagine the difference, when this section of powerline is removed.  While there is still a road running up the glen, to the person walking or cycling along it the view  will feel significantly wilder.

The new powerline, which lies beneath the vehicle track starting bottom centre, will replace the pylons.
Few people would know, just a couple of week after the work had been carried out, that the reason for this ground disburbance is an electric cable had been buried  unless it was for the sign
You can however see some evidence that a mole plough has been used. In places boulders have been excavated  to allow the passage of the plough and cable.

Apart from the removal of boulders, the vegetation has been little disturbed and on the grassy floor of the glen should recover from the passage of vehicles very quickly.  I suspect by next summer, when the grass has had time to grow again, it will be very hard to detect the line of the buried cable.

The buried cable is under the disturbed heather on the left side of the road

I was most impressed that the mole plough could also be used on heather moorland and cause so little destruction to vegetation.  Again, I think the vegetation here should more or less fully recover in a season.

There was a section further up the glen where I had great difficultly following the line that had been taken and wondered whether I had reached the end of the work.

The worst area of ground disturbance/destruction of vegetation on moorland

I then came across the patch of very disturbed ground in the photo above.   I was unable to ascertain the cause of this – it may have been a consequence of the land being very boggy – but in the context of several kilometres of buried cable it just served to illustrate in general how well the work had been done and the potential of using mole ploughs.

The line of the Glen Bruar power cable runs along the line of disturbed vegetation on the left of the road to the powerhouse which you can just see top right

The advantages of using the mole plough can be seen by comparing the powerline burial in Glen Tromie with that to the new Glen Bruar scheme.  While parkswatch has given extensive coverage to the Glen Bruar pipeline restoration above the powerhouse, below it several miles of new electric cable was required to connect it to the grid.  The work for this was generally to a high standard – and hence I have avoided comment – but the methodology used was to excavate a ditch, bury the cable and then refill it.  Despite the care taken, over two years on the line of the cable is more visible than that in Glen Tromie two weeks after the work finished.   The lesson, I believe, is that burying cable with a mole plough, if done well, does significantly less damage that any methods that involves removing vegetation, excavating a ditch and then trying to restore this work.

I had seen one example of excavation in Glen Feshie – the hole appeared for connection purposes.  It is very difficult – and incidentally far more labour intensive – to restore the ground caused by such digging.  Compare this to the impact and work involved in using a mole plough.  Thomas MacDonell told us, if my memory is correct, that it had taken just five days to bury the cable in Glen Tromie and, from I saw, very little further work or monitoring will be needed.

Sign marking where cable crosses the track leading up to the upper Allt Bhran hydro intake – the track below the moraine leads to the Gaick

I left the line of the buried cable to head further up the Allt Bhran and look at tracks there (to be covered in further post) convinced that mole ploughs are the way forward and wondering why there is a paucity of contractors using this technique in Scotland.

 

What needs to happen

While I hope in due course to visit sections of the powerline that has been undergrounded in the Beauly Denny restoration scheme (any photos from readers of before and after would be welcome), from the evidence I have seen at Glen Tromie, there is no reason to disbelieve the statement by CNPA staff that the use of the mole plough there has been very effective.  I think there is an opportunity for the CNPA to advertise and build on that success with a view to ensuring that as much low voltage cable as possible is undergrounded in the National Park.  Among the ways the CNPA could help this to happen are:

  • to commission research/publish a  study on the impacts and costs of the mole plough compared with traditional ditch digging techniques to underpin a future action plan in the National Park
  • to share this experience with other planning authorities, including the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, and with landowners.
  • to encourage other private landowners to follow the brilliant example set by Wild Land Ltd and to consider what other opportunities there might be for enhancing the landscape through burial of further powerlines in the National Park
  • to develop planning policy in this area, as part of its consultation on the new National Park Development Plan, with a policy presumption against any new overhead powerlines and guidance on how any new powerlines can be buried
  • encouraging contractors to purchase the appropriate equipment and develop the expertise to use it effectively

That then would leave for the future the big challenge, how we can undergound the HIGH voltage powerlines which blight our National Park landscapes, like the Beauly Denny or the many that cross the Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

January 11, 2018 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The Drumochter, a fine landscape forming a gateway between north and south, marred by development – the line of the “restored” Beauly Denny construction track is marked by the scar behind the pylons

Over the last year Parkswatch has featured a number of posts about the destruction of the landscape at Drumochter, including:

  • the unrestored Beauly Denny construction track between Dalnaspidal and Drumochter (see here);
  • the failure of Scottish and Southern Electric to restore the ground at Drumochter as required by the Beauly Denny planning consent from the Scottish Government  (see here for example);
  • progress on the restoration of the Beauly Denny construction track from just south of  Drumochter Lodge to the end of the A9 shelter belt opposite Dalwhinnie (see here)
  • and, the continued proliferation of hill tracks and inappropriate use of All Terrain Vehicles around Drumochter (see here for example).

Two of these issues were considered by the Cairngorms National Park Planning Committee in December (see here for papers) and will be covered here.  While welcoming the CNPA’s continued interest in Drumochter and the actions taken, this post will argue they do not go far enough and suggest some alternative measures to restore and enhance the landscape and its wildlife.

The North Drumochter Estate Beauly Denny track restoration

In February 2015 the CNPA gave consent to the North Drumochter Estate to retain a section of the Beauly Denny construction track outwith the Drumochter Hills Special Area of Conservation  and Special Protection Area (above in red) on the condition that the track was narrowed and a belt of native trees was planted alongside it.  The restoration, with the exception of the shelter belt was due to be completed by June 2016.

The start of the northern section of the Beauly Denny construction track (as indicated by arrow in map above) as it appeared in February 2016. Note the ridge of vegetation covered spoil running along the left side of the track.

A year ago the restoration had not started but sometime between then and August 2017, when I next visited, the northern section of the track (above my arrow) was restored.  The work was done by McGowan, who provided the specification for the track which was submitted to the Planning Committee, and has generally been completed to a high standard, much higher than is usual for hill tracks or for most of the Beauly Denny restoration work to date:

The northernmost end of the track. Note how the low angle of the embankment above the track has enabled vegetation to recover quickly while stored turfs have been effectively used to restore the ground below the track.  October 2017.
Before restoration, the track extended almost to the edge of the culvert. The bare banks on either side of the culvert appear the consequence of insufficient turf being stored for restoration purposes and are at high risk of erosion.  October 2017.
Looking back down a line of new grouse butts – which appear to have been installed without the appropriate consents and have caused significant damage to vegetation – to the restored section of track which starts to the right of the first pylon. The track is hardly detectable from this distance compared to the unrestored section to the left of the pylon. August 2017.

While generally McGowan has done a very good job, their ability to restore the track to the standards set out in the specification appears to have been affected by a number of factors.  Throughout its length the section of restored track is broader then specified by the planning conditions:

While generally the sides of the track have been well restored in places there appears to have been insufficient vegetation to do this: here there is an unvegetated section of ground to the right of the track while the unnecessarily large passing place appears to be another solution to this lack of material (which was not their responsibility).

The reason for this appears to be that insufficient turves were stored for restoration purposes so that there wasn’t enough material available to restore the track to the required width.  I don’t think matters too much here because the track is hidden from a distance and because of the proposals to plant native trees to help conceal it.  However, it provides yet more evidence of why planning authorities need to monitor very closely any requirements that developers store turves properly when restoration of construction tracks in required. This in my view has been the key failure of the Beauly Denny construction.

Poorly finished culvert which is fairly typical of this section of track – the dry stone finishing in the photo above was the exception. Note the grouse tick mops in the background.

My main grouse – an appropriate word here as that is the main wildlife you are likely to see? – is that most of the culverts have not been properly finished.  This I hope is something which will be pursued by the CNPA.

Another more minor grouse is that vehicles continue to be driven over areas which have been “restored” adversely affecting vegetation recovery.

Its within the context of this work that the North Drumochter estate made a further planning application to remove the requirement from the planning consent to plant native trees alongside the track.   I am pleased to say that CNPA officers recommended that this be rejected  (see here) and the Planning Committee endorsed that recommendation.   Both the North East Mountain Trust and Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group had objected to the removal of this condition and I suspect that helped the CNPA to stand its ground.

On the north section of the track, the main short-term landscape impact of the continued requirement to plant a 5m strip of native trees between it and the existing shelterbelt will be to soften the edge of the line of trees.  If the shelterbelt was ever to be felled, however, it would then be the only thing screening the track.  It is therefore a good decision in landscape terms.  Its good too for ecological reasons.  While there is generally too much emphasis on planting native trees, rather than reducing deer and sheep numbers and seeing what grows (trees will grow in some places not others),  here the trees will provide an alternative to the intensive grouse moor management which dominates the landscape.  They should provide a home to other forms of wildlife and maybe even a partial refuge to some of the creatures which are persecuted on the grouse moors.

To construct this section of track Balfour Beatty as the main contractors allowed imported material to be dumped on the moor without any apparent attempt to save the vegetation beneath (there is no evidence of vegetation being stored

Further south, along the section of track which remains to be restored, the native trees will fulfil a far more important landscaping function as the track runs higher across the hill away from the existing A9 shelterbelt and is highly visible.    The restoration of this middle section of the track poses considerable technical challenges as it has basically been floated across the moor.   In my view the best solution would be to remove all the excess aggregate from site – rather than trying to bury it under vegetation – and use it for the construction of the new A9.  Perhaps the CNPA could persuade Transport Scotland and the north Drumochter Estate to work together on this?

 

The restoration of the Beauly Denny by SSE

The second “Drumochter” item considered by the December meeting of the Planning Committee was an update report on SSE’s restoration of the Beauly Denny Item10AABeaulyDennyUpdate.

This represents a breakthrough as SSE had previously been claiming the restoration of the Beauly Denny was nothing to be concerned about and that the destruction caused to the landscape could be repaired through natural regeneration alone.      CNPA staff are to be congratulated in getting SSE, who are a very powerful organisation, to accept this officially after doing nothing for two years.

SSE provided a summary report of this year’s survey results (see here) for the Planning Committee.  This contains no analysis of what caused the problems while the solutions its proposing to pilot in 2018 – some re-seeding and fencing off of ground – are minimalistic.   The entire focus of the report is on vegetation.   There is no mention of the landscape issues and more specifically of the failure of SSE to ensure that where the track was removed, the land was restored to its existing form as required by the original planning consent.  This has left large “benches” cut across the hillside (photo above) which are still being used as estate tracks (below) and have a considerable landscape impact:

 

By contrast, although I was disappointed the CNPA report did not cover SSE’s failure to restore landforms as required, the report does explain why re-vegetation has been so poor:

There appear to be two main reasons for this. Firstly, in some areas, the soil management and handling during construction as well as restoration was poorly executed, leaving little soil material or very wet ground and secondly, there has been no clear management for grazing sheep and deer. It is clear that even where some regrowth has occurred it is heavily cropped by mammals.

Its good to see CNPA recognise that for effective restoration to take place vegetation and turf has to be set aside and stored properly from the beginning.    Evidence that SSE failed to do this can be seen everywhere:

A great swathe of moorland just north of the track as “restored” under SSE’s aegis. There has been no apparent attempt to keep vegetation separate from the stony substrata with the result there is now a boulder field just like the one created by the Glen Bruar hydro

The CNPA and SSE reports differ too on their assessment of the seriousness of the situation.  The SSE survey claims that:

“Of the sites monitored throughout the CNPA area, 41% are assessed as being in Good or Excellent condition for revegetation and a further 20% are showing demonstrable improvement.”

and then classifies the remaining 39% as being of concern.  The CNPA by contrast are sceptical about the improvements claimed and conclude

“59% are mediocre or sparse and more than half of these were also sparse last year, with no significant improvement so are likely to required additional mitigation measures to ensure full revegetation within the five year period”

Having walked the entire Drumochter section of the Beauly Denny I have to say I have strong doubts that the sites SSE chose to survey are representative – it would be in the public interest the full survey is released – and that the CNPA’s assessment of the situation is far nearer the mark.  My view is that at least 2/3 of the “restoration” is not fit for purpose.

Tower south of Dalnaspidal. Some revegetation has taken place but because soils have been so disturbed and not replaced properly grass and rush have replaced heather (as seen beyond the tower).

While  I don’t doubt that grazing is having an impact on the ability of vegetation to re-colonise bare ground, this is not the fundamental issue.   Because of the way the ground has been disturbed, SSE has created more mineral soils which will promote vegetation that is good for animals to eat. Couple that with the large number of deer in the southern part of the National Park and you have a problem.  The proposed solution to fence off areas, avoids the issue.  It would be far better for SSE to be asked to finance deer culls and compensate the estate for removing sheep from the area and aid vegetation recovery that way.

Even better would be for the CNPA to advocate the solutions which have been developed in Glen Bruar, where a failure to store vegetation properly during the hydro pipeline construction (see here) created a landscape scar several kilometres long just like through the Drumochter.  Those scars have now almost disappeared due to the application of different techniques, which involve careful robbing of vegetation, and in a very short timescale (see here) with McGowan again the contractor.  So why not at Drumochter?

 

What needs to be done to make the Beauly Denny restoration happen

While I very much hope that CNPA staff keep up the pressure on SSE, I would like to see them encouraged by their Board and Planning Committee to go several steps further than they have at present and:

  • Consider the Beauly Denny restoration from a landforms perspective and more specifically how to heal the scars that have been left by the poor removal of the construction tracks.  A first step  on this would be for SSE to commission an independent report on what needs to be done to restore the landscape to its original state (as required by the Scottish Government planning consent).  A plan could then be developed to implement this prior to any further vegetation restoration work.
  • Press for SSE to adopt a similar approach to landscape and vegetation restoration at Drumochter as was taken at Glen Bruar.
  • Reject the proposal to deal with grazing impacts through fencing and instead focus on how to reduce the number of grazing animals at Drumochter (which would also support the Board decision to require the retained section of track on the north Drumochter estate to be screened by trees)
  • Create a Drumochter landscape steering group which would bring together SNH, Highland Council, SSE and Transport Scotland (due to the A9 dualling) in order to ensure a holistic approach is taken to protecting the landscape, with a view to amelioriating/remedying past damage and mistakes and ensuring that these are not repeated when the A9 is dualled.

Most of this should be financed by SSE and would cost them far more money than their current meagre proposals.  As a consequence I expect SSE to be resistant to it despite their self-proclaimed mission to set an example as a responsible business  The most likely way to achieve change, will be if the wider public starts calling on the Scottish Government and SSE to fulfil their responsibilities and not leave everything up to the CNPA who, in the wider scheme of how this country is run, are not a particularly powerful public body.

January 9, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment

I start with a belief that how the land in our National Parks is managed is central to what they do.

Currently I have an appeal being investigated by the Scottish Information Commissioner about the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park’s refusal to provide me or to make public any information from the land management plans it has agreed with landowners.  The LLTNPA, which still appears wedded to an ethos of secrecy, is claiming the entire content of these plans is commercially sensitive whereas I am arguing that it in the public interest to know what agreements our National Parks are making with landowners.

While drafting the appeal I found in the Review of the National Park Partnership Plan 2013-14  (see here) – the last such review before these were abandoned – this:

 

I therefore, naively perhaps, made in October a further request for all information relating to how the pilot Land Management plans had been evaluated.

The initial response appeared to confirm there had been an evaluation:

As outlined in the 2014 review of the National Park Partnership plan, the pilot phase of land management plans (previously known as Whole Farm and Whole Estate Plans) was completed and evaluated. Relevant searches have been carried out for information about this evaluation process. Information has been located in various updates to the Delivery Group, extracts of which are attached in Appendix A.

However, none of the extracts referred to above and sent to me (see here) – and I appreciate the time that staff must have taken to track all down – contained anything which could remotely be described as an evaluation of the Plans.  I therefore submitted a review request  (see here) and received a response  (see here) just before Xmas   This helpfully clarifies that there was NO evaluation report but also shows that NO other meaningful evaluation of the land management plans was ever conducted.     The best that the LLTNPA could come up with in terms of evaluative information it holds on the pilot (and it dates from 2016 almost two years after the LLTNPA had claimed in the report to Ministers that the pilot had been evaluated!) is this:

What constitutes an evaluation of a pilot?

While the word “evaluation” can be used in informal circumstances – “I evaluated what to do next” – when it comes to public authorities it has, I believe, a very specific meaning which is well reflected in the Merriam Webster online dictionary definition:

    “to determine the significance, worth, or condition of usually by careful appraisal and study”

The information responses show that there is no evidence that the LLTNPA has conducted any such appraisal of its land management plans.  Yet its Review Report to Ministers and updates to Board Members suggests otherwise.   Its not clear whether this happened because the then Land Management Adviser claimed to evaluated the plans but this was never checked by senior managers (which I suspect is unlikely) or because some senior manager wanted the box ticked even if no evaluation had take place.  Whatever the case its an approach to evaluation which reflects Donald Trump’s America rather than what we should expect in Scotland.

I also find this interesting because it shows the LLTNPA senior management’s cavalier approach to evidence and disregard for the truth started well before they manipulated the Your Park consultation on the camping byelaws.

Why openness about land management plans is needed

The lack of any proper evaluation still matters because Conservation Priority 5 in the new LLTNPA National Park Partnership Plan is on Integrated Land Management and contains this commitment:

Support land managers to plan and deliver multiple environmental and social benefits, alongside economic return, through the creation and delivery of Integrated Land Management Plans for land management businesses.

So the LLTNPA is pressing ahead with something without knowing whether the plans which have so far been put in place work.  That the LLTNPA is now trying to keep the plans it has agreed secret suggests there is something else to hide.

An indication of what this might be is given in the LLTNPA’s response which does at least reveal four of the estates/farms which have been involved so far:

  • Benmore Farm
  • Protnellan (sic)
  • Inverlochlarig
  • Loch Dochart

All are clustered around Glen Dochart/Balqhuhidder and two at least have developed hydro schemes (the Park planning portal is down so unable to check whether Loch Dochart scheme is on Loch Dochart farm).  This raises questions about the extent to which the LLTNPA has been taking account of landscape considerations in the agreement it has reached with landowners and before the impacts are considered by the LLTNPA as planning authority.

 

What needs to happen

The failure to evaluate properly the land management plans agreed between the LLTNPA and Landowners is, to my mind, a serious failure in governance and reflects the LLTNPA’s failure to take an evidence informed approach to what it does.   I would like to see the LLTNPA Board do two things:

  •  First, to affirm that it is committed to a change in direction which involves developing an evidence based approach and, as part of that, to make the evidence on which it bases its decision public.   Anything else and we are in the world of Donald Trump and his post-truth approach to government.
  • Second, to commit to remedying past deficiencies in how it has used evidence.  As part of this it could instruct its Audit Committee  to start to focus on the things that matter, including standards for evaluation and what information the LLTNPA holds which could be made public