By Phil Swainson

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

By Ross MacBeath

 

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

Toilet flushing and the lack thereof.

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

Click image to view video!

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

 

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

 

Camping Pitches

 

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

 

Disabled camping pitches are a disgrace

 

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

Click image to view video! – Disabled Pitch 8

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

 

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

Pitch 9 – Disabled Pitch

Visitor lock outs and lock ins.

 

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

 

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

 

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

See Full Terms and Conditions here.

 

Terms and Conditions – unable to comply

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Response to People, Places and Planning

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

The Beauly Denny scheme

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

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

 

It was interesting to read that:

 

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

 

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

 

Planning Service Improvements

 

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

 

The last point about this is about enforcement:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Part of torpedo range dump, Ben Lomond far distance

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

The site plan which was granted planning permission

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

View from the Cobbler to Clyde Estuary November 20

 

 

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

 

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

 

What should the LLTNPA do?

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Commentary

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Qatar royal family buy Cluny Estate

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

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

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

 

The rules governing Board Meetings

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Public Safety,outdoor recreation and access rights

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Parkspeak and the outsourcing agenda

 

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

 

What needs to happen

 

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

 

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

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

The LLTNPA is discouraging camping at designated sites.

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

 Suie Field

 

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

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

Photo Credit Nick Halls

 

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

Photo Credit Nick Halls

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

 

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

 

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

Photo credit Nick Halls

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

 

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

Photo credit Nick Halls

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

 

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

Photo credit Nick Halls

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Cuilag

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

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

 

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

Photo credit Nick Halls

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

Photo credit Nick Halls

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

Photo credit Nick Halls

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

 

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

Photo credit Nick Halls

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

(more…)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Analysis of LLTNPA response by Peter Jack

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

The real reasons for the decision to close the Milarrochy slipway

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

What needs to happen

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Extract CML accounts to 31st December 2015

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Notes to accounts are often very informative

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

What does this mean at Cairngorm?

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Protected areas and wildlife

 

Here’s the comment from Alistair Clunas:

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What about other species than mountain hare and raptors?

 

The second comment was from Iain Gibson:

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

The LLTNPA Board paper in December included this statement:

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

What needs to be done?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Note how capacity is presented as having reduced since 1996

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Parkspeak

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

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

 

 

Parkspeak

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

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

 

 

Parkspeak

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

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

Obtained through FOI

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

 

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

19/01/17 Milton of Callendar farm

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

Parkspeak

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

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

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

 

Parkspeak

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

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

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

 

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

 

Parkspeak

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

 

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

 

 

Parkspeak

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

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

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

 

What next?

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

The old Loch Venachar House, as pictured in the Bell Ingram sales brochure,  was derelict and has not been lived in since 1995..

In a post last week (see here)  I explained how the LLTNPA had landscaped the area its owns by Loch Venachar House to block off access and how it is no longer possible to walk round the shore of Loch Venachar from the car park to Loch Venachar dam.   In this post I will look at how the LLTNPA dealt with the planning application for Loch Venachar House, to which its Convener Linda McKay was a joint party, but first how subsequently access to the shoreline has since been expropriated.

 

Access to the shore of Loch Venachar

 

The biggest issue relating to the development of the new Loch Venachar House came after the final application in 2013.   All the planning applications were for a property whose boundaries did not extend to the shores of Loch Venachar.  The LLTNPA therefore had no reason to consider any potential access issues created by the development because it could be assumed that access along the shore of Loch Venachar would continue.

 

What then appears to have happened however is that the land between the house and the loch shore was either bought or leased and incorporated into the garden of Venachar House.  The best map that illustrates this is the one associated with the 2006 application:

The left of the map shows a strip of ground between Linda Mackay’s property and the shore along which people could walk to Loch Venachar dam.

No further planning permission was applied for.   In my view this should have required planning permission because its effect has been to stop the public walking along the shore.

The double height barbed wire fence surrounding part of Loch Venachar House has been extended to close to the shoreline – seen here from Loch Venachar Quay

And access to the piece of ground in front of the fence, as shown in the previous post, has been blocked off to the public, at least for the last nine months.

How does any of this fit with the National Park’s statutory aim of promoting public enjoyment of the countryside?    We know that Linda McKay, as Park Convener personally led the attempt to try and get the Land Reform Review Group to remove the right to camp by roads (see here) but it also appears she has placed her personal interests in respect of her property before the access rights of the public.  She may have the legal right to do so but how in Scotland we could have ever allowed  such a person to be elected convener of a National Park Authority and then lead the introduction of camping byelaws is a question that needs answering.

 

The planning history and applications

 

Loch Venachar House had been publicly owned, being originally built by the Glasgow Corporation as part of the Loch Venachar waterworks (see here) as a store, had been converted into a house but was abandoned in 1995 and had become derelict.  It was then sold by Scottish Water.

 

In 2002 a planning application was submitted to redevelop the old house but then withdrawn.   In 2004 a planning application from S.McGhee to redevelop the property was refused by the newly created LLTNPA as it contravened Stirling’s local plan and policies (see here).   The reasons for this included the size of the proposed new extension compared to the existing house, the angle of the roof was too low and there was too much glazing.

 

 

In 2006 a revised application from Mr McGhee was approved.   There is then a gap in the planning history during which time the property was marketed by Bell Ingram (top photo) and then bought on 16th July 2010 for  £250,000 according to a house price website.

The artists impression of the plans for Loch Venachar House which appeared in the Bell Ingram sales brochure and appear to be the same as those granted planning permission in 2006.

 

 

In 2011 a revised planning application was submitted to the LLTNPA by John Young and Linda Mackay, who was by then convener of the National Park Authority, to demolish the existing house and replace it with a house of similar footprint.  The existing house had been found to be structurally unsafe by engineers and beyond repair.  While much of the stone was judged unusable the LLTNPA required that that which was salvageable should be reused in building a new chimney because planning policy was that “The re-use of materials arising from demolition is maximised”.    The application was determined by Committee rather than officers because Linda Mackay was  a Board Member 2011_0161_DET-Committee_report_final-72143.  

The application approved in 2011 by Committee was for a traditional looking house. On far right is location plan and it shows that at that time the property did not extend to the shores of Loch Venachar.

While the conditions attached to the planning application were quite vague – and that matters in legal terms because its conditions rather than comments on the merit of an application that ultimately count and the applicant was not bound in this place to carry out the plans – the process otherwise appears to have been exemplary and there is no reason to question that the house needed to be knocked down.

 

In 2012, a new planning application was submitted to the LLTNPA, after the old house had been demolished, for a totally new design of house.

The footprint and design of the house approved in 2012 was totally different to that approved in 2011

This surprised me, why would someone apply for planning permission for one thing, gain it, and then after demolishing the property apply for something completely different?    I have however checked with planning experts and there is nothing to unlawful about anyone who has been given permission to demolish a house, to replace it with a new house of a specific design, from then submitting a completely new application once they have demolished the house as happened in this case.   The reason for this apparently sudden change in plan is not explained in the Committee Report on the revised application (see here).   The Committee approved the application.   Because the minutes are no longer published on the LLTNPA website,  its not possible to see whether Owen McKee, the then chair of planning, who was forced to resign from the LLTNPA for failing to declare interests (see here), chaired the meeting.

 

The consequence of the Committee approval is that the house which was built by Linda McKay and John Young was totally different to the original house and the plans which had been approved the year before.

 

 

The new building has won architectural awards (see here for photos).

 

The wording of the Committee Report was unclear about whether all the stone from the old building, some of which due to be re-used, was removed from the site:

.

7.6  The original dwelling has already been demolished and the resulting building materials
removed off site as previously approved. In these circumstances, criteria (d) of Policy HOUS8
regarding ‘the re-use of materials arising from demolition being maximised’ is not applicable to
this proposal.

 

On account of this, I asked the LLTNPA what information they held on this “approval” and received this reply:

In my view this does not answer the question.  The Committee Report says approval was given to remove the stone but the previous planning report had said the re-salveagable stone would be re-used.  Its not clear that it was.  At least as a result of other questions I asked about this development the Park did put the older planning applications onto the planning portal – a welcome step in the right direction in terms of transparency EIR 2016-003 Response

 

The more fundamental issues here however are two-fold:

 

The National Park planning process.

 

If you read the Planning Reports from 2002 to 2012 they start by trying to replicate the footprint and size of the original building and end up agreeing to a  completely different type of house.     The message appears to be that if you own a traditional building, there will be very limited things you will be allowed to do with it, but if you allow that building to fall into sufficient state of disrepair (and that Loch Venachar House was in a state of disrepair was clearly not Linda McKay’s responsibility) you can do anything.     This appears to me to be an invitation to developers to buy buildings, let them collapse and you can then do whatever you want.     Now I am not against new buildings and I think most people would agree Loch Venachar House is a very nice house, the issue though is about consistency of the planning process.

 

During the time-span covered by these applications planning policy in the Park has changed but its still difficult to see how what has happened at Loch Venachar House reflects the latest policy as expressed in the Park’s Local Development Plan:

 

Historic Environment Policy 3:Wider Built Environment and Cultural Heritage

Development proposals will be expected to protect, conserve and/or enhance a building or feature of architectural and/or historical merit or of cultural significance. Buildings or features of merit which are important to the cultural heritage of the National Park should be retained and incorporated in new developments where possible and any adverse impacts of the development should be avoided or mitigated.

 

The message this case gives.  

 

While nothing unlawful has been done, and while there may have been a very good reason for Linda McKay’s radical change in her plan after the old Loch Venachar House had been demolished,  this has not been explained publicly.   The message that unscrupulous developers who want to get around Historic Environment Policy 3 could take from this, therefore, is that the chances of getting planning permission to redevelop buildings within the National Park appear to improve if first you apply to build something similar to what is already on site and then, once the building is demolished, you submit new plans.   I think that is extremely unfortunate and it potentially puts the LLTNPA planners in a difficult position if similar situations recur in future.

 

To put this in perspective though there are plenty of other policies in the LLTNPA which are not worth the paper they are written on, including for example design of hydro schemes (see here for example)  but the importance of this case is it does involve the person who till 28th February 2017 has been Convener of the National Park Authority.  In my view its important that those on National Park Board not only follow the rules, but the LLTNPA can show they have followed the spirit of these rules.   On the information that is available there are legitimate questions to be asked about this.

 

What needs to happen

 

Its too late to do anything about the planning applications now but the LLTNPA needs to set an example and re-establish access along the shores of Loch Venachar by whatever means necessary, including compulsory purchase if Linda McKay fails to co-operate.

 

James Stuart, the new convener of the LLTNPA needs to set a new direction for the National Park and a core part of that should be to re-affirm that its NATIONAL, works for national as well as local interests, and there is no place for NIMBYISM anywhere in the National Park

 

 

Slide 17th August 2016. The Park is far more interested in branding than getting signs to be information. How would you know from these signs that the byelaws apply to campervans and motorhomes or shelters?

Ten days ago I received a response to another Freedom of Information request,  EIR 2016-068 Appendix A list meetings of the secret Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board business sessions that took place in 2016.    There were six of them, a slight reduction from the ten  held in 2015 (at the height of the Board plotting on the byelaws) and back to the average since 2010.  That’s still six secret meetings compared to four public meetings, worse than Police Scotland which is rightly being criticised for wanting to hold 50% of its meetings in private (see bottom of last past).    I have also obtained, thanks to the Information Commissioner’s ruling that the Park required to make public if asked written materials from such sessions,  written materials circulated at these meetings.  The LLTNPA has not put these on the FOI section of its website – indeed so far it has put up none of its FOI responses sent out in 2017 – so if you are interested in seeing/scrutinising any of them please contact parkswatch which will cover some of them in due course.

 

This post covers the secret Board Meeting held on 17th August 2016 which was devoted wholly to  camping YP Informal Briefing – 17th August 2016 – FINAL Staff.  While the agenda described it as an informal briefing, that is quite obviously false as you can see from this slide:

 

Recommendations are not made to informal briefing sessions, only to decision making meetings.  The whole way the LLTNPA Board has operated in developing the byelaws is corrupt.

 

The content of the slide is of great significance.   It shows there still appear a few decent staff in the Park, who are prepared to hang on to their principles, because they recommended to the Board there should be NO charge for camping permits. (You can see the logic in the argument in the full presentation 20160817 – Your Park Camping Management Models Final).     Indeed, staff estimated only c£6k would be raised through sale of permits, so it was hardly worth doing and in fact they thought the costs of collecting the money might be more than that.   However, staff appear to have been overruled by the Board  because in the paper to the Board in 2016 (see here) in the section on “Permits: Charging considerations” (paras 5.8ff) there was no reference to the principle of charging for access, the  proposal to accept donations had disappeared completely and instead there was only one option, to charge £3.    This makes it pretty clear that its the Board that is behind charging for access and is yet another example of the Board acting ultra vires because it is supposed to take decisions in public.   Reason enough for the Scottish Government to intervene now and insist all charges for permits are dropped.

 

Another example of secret decision making is that in the August slides the original proposal for campsite fees was £7.50 (up from £5 due to the extravagant costs of creating the Loch Chon campsite) but the option put to the Board in December and then approved was £7.  Perhaps the reduction in charge was because in October 2016 this is what the LLTNPA told the Scottish Government in response to a question about charges:

 

 

 

 

No indication there that the Park had been discussing a 40-45% increase in charges: the Scottish Government civil servants don’t appear to have appreciated yet that they really cannot trust anything that the Park tells them.

 

The development of the Your Park signage

 

While there was very little debate on charging at the December Board Meeting, there was debate on the signage examples accompanying the Board paper  some of which was quite encouraging (see here). What I and other members of the public did not appreciate at the time was that the Board had already discussed all of this in August.   No wonder staff looked put out when Board Members belatedly realised and suddenly started to insist, quite rightly, that there should be signs telling people when they were leaving the camping management zones.

 

A comparison of the August proposals with those put to the Board in December  (see here) is revealing:

The signage examples presented to the Board at their secret meeting in August 2016.  The permit area sign and colouring was in paper approved at the public Board Meeting in December 2016.

The “NO CAMPING HERE” signs, proposed at the secret Board Meeting in August were completely absent from the December Board paper and it appears the Board decided there shouldn’t be such signs at the August meeting.   I says “appears” because it is possible the Park decided NOT to present the “NO CAMPING HERE” in December because this would appear anti-access:  because there were no camping management signs of any description when I visited the Trossachs a week ago (they were supposed to be put up from the beginning of February), I was unable to check.

 

If NO CAMPING HERE signs are now being erected, then it appears that has been done contrary to the approval given at the Board Meeting in December.  If, however, the LLTNPA has indeed  decided there should be no NO CAMPIMG HERE signs, that will make the byelaws even harder to enforce.   The problem is neatly illustrated by the slide below presented at the August secret Board meeting:

 

The A82 is a major through route with tens of thousands of people driving along it each year.  So, drivers glimpse a sign as they roar past at 60mph saying “Camping Management Zone”  and even possibly “Camping in the Park”.   What would your reaction be?  Great, let’s find somewhere, stop and pitch our tents…………….so unless there is a NO CAMPING HERE sign in every single stopping off point, as was proposed back in August,  what’s going to happen is people are going to pitch tents and completely unknowingly committed a criminal offence.   The NO CAMPING HERE signs put to the August meeting were crucial for enforcement purposes.

 

However, what do the NO CAMPING HERE signs tell the public apart from tents are not allowed?  What about campervans, motorhomes or sleeping in the back of the car?    And, then consider the wording of the byelaws:

 

Unauthorised Camping
(6) It shall be an offence for a person to:
(a) set up, use or occupy a tent, wigwam or bivouac at any time; or
(b) set up, use or occupy overnight any other form of shelter (other than an umbrella)
within a Management Zone unless they have been authorised to do so by the Authority
under byelaw 11.

 

Does the NO CAMPING HERE sign give you the message that pulling off in a campervan or putting up any other form of shelter apart from an umbrella is a criminal offence?   How on earth will the fishermen or anyone else know from the signage that hanging a tarp between trees or putting up one of those fishing shelters are criminal offences, with fines of up to £500, which could result in them losing their jobs or being prevented from travelling abroad?  They won’t.

 

The LLTNPA’s signage, whether or not it includes the “NO CAMPING HERE” sign is completely inadequate.   The Park is pretending to be in favour of camping and encouraging it (“camping management zones”, “camping in the park”) while at the same time trying to ban it.  Its then tried to reduce the criminal law to a branding exercise where people are supposed to be able to tell from signs and symbols what they can and can’t do.   This won’t work.

 

Even if the Park put the NO CAMPING HERE signs in every layby and added smallprint so people could see shelters were banned it would still not tell campervans where it is legal to stop off overnight.  The Park would need to put signs up indicating to campervaners all the private roads in the Park (where you can stay overnight in a vehicle) for the byelaws to be properly understood.  That is never going to happen and as a consequence the byelaws are unenforceable.

 

The consequences of this is the Park is going to have to deploy its Rangers, as they do at present on Loch Lomond, chasing away campers and campervaners from every place that is not properly signed.  This is a complete waste of resource.   The new Convener, James Stuart, when he starts on Wednesday, needs to signal a completely new direction for the Park otherwise its going to sink.

Following my posts (see here) and (here) on the rights of and need for National Park Board Members to speak out, this excellent letter appeared in the Strathie this week.  (I know Peter very slightly, he preceded me on the Board of SNH, but I have not had contact with him for c 10 years).

 

What I think Peter has missed – and which I have only found out in the last week – is that the right to speak out is not just about the Code of Conduct but also the CNPA’s Standing Orders (the rules which set out how the Board operates).  They include this clause:

 

30. Board Members share corporate responsibility for decisions taken by the Board as a whole. Members must therefore either accept and publicly support the collective decision of the Board or resign. Members must respect the confidentiality of sensitive information held by the organisation, as well as the discussions and papers taken in private session.

 

In other words, once the Park Board has taken a decision, Board Members are gagged under the rules of the Park.     While Peter Argyle denies that he tried to get Cllr Lobban to resign, it appears if he had done so he would have only have been following the rules of the National Park.

 

I found this quite extraordinary so I checked the rules of three other environmental Non-Departmental Public Bodies.   Neither SNH or the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park contain similar clauses in their Standing Orders.  However, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has a similar if less draconian gagging clause:

 
Collective Responsibility and Confidentiality
79.SEPA’s boards and committees operate on the basis of collective responsibility for decisions.
Members are therefore expected, if questioned on a matter where a board or committee has
taken a view, to support the position reached

 

The gagging clauses appear to be incompatible with the Code of Conduct for Board Members.  For example all four Boards have a clause in their Code of Conduct on Accountability and Stewardship which reads as follows:

 

You are accountable for your decisions and actions to the public. You have a duty to
consider issues on their merits, taking account of the views of others and must ensure that
SNH uses its resources prudently and in accordance with the law.

 

It appears that the CNPA is try to make Members accountable to itself rather than to the public.   This is wrong.

 

That this is not just a National Park or environmental NDPB issue is demonstrated by Paul Hutcheon’s investigation in Friday’s Herald on the resignation of Moi Ali from the Scottish Police Authority after the chair tried to silence her (see here).  The parallels with CNPA Board Convener Peter Argyle’s alleged attempt to silence Cllr Bill Lobban are striking and one can’t help thinking that Moi Ali should have followed Cllr Lobban’s lead and refused to resign.

 

The story also mirrors other things that have been happening in our National Parks.  The Scottish Police Authority’s attempt to delay publication of Board Papers until the day of the meeting mirrors the LLTNPA decision in 2015 to change their Standing Orders so that papers only needed to be published 3 days (instead of 7) before meetings.   If you don’t know what’s on the agenda of course, you don’t know if its worth attending.    The increasing propensity of the SPA to meet in private, which led to Moi Ali’s resignation, is nothing compared to the LLTNPA which developed the camping byelaws which are due to come into force next week over 12 secret Board Briefing sessions between September 2013 and April 2015.   Moi Ali’s observation that “If dissent is only allowed privately, then I think decision-making becomes enshrouded in a type of fog” seems a pretty good description of the byelaw making process.

 

What the experience of the LLTNPA also demonstrates is that you don’t need formal gagging orders enshrined in Standing Orders in order to silence Board Members.  The problems go far deeper than that and appear to be linked to a style of leadership which appears authoritarian rather than democratic.

 

What needs to happen

 

The inclusion of gagging orders in NDPB Standing Orders conflicts with the Code of Conduct for Ethical Standards in Public Life for Members of those Boards.  While members of the CNPA Board therefore need to review their standing orders, the Standards Commission which oversees and enforces the Code of Conduct for NDPB Board Members, should have a role here.   What the public, to whom Board Members are accountable, deserve to know is the extent to which Board rules and practices enable and facilitate individual members to abide by their Codes of Conduct.

 

The Scottish Government also needs to start taking an interest in how our National Parks operate and to introduce reforms which would increase transparency and public accountability.    That should include the abolition of gagging orders – what is a Board Member not even allowed to approach the Minister if s/he thinks a decision by the Board is fundamentally flawed.   I would also like these to include a requirement that Board Meetings should always be held in public (with any confidential business held in private at the end of the meeting), that all Board Meeting should be recorded as available as pod/broadcasts for at least a year after the meeting and that papers for meetings should appear at least one week before the meeting is held.

Unlawful sign, Loch Lubnaig, last Sunday. Even if the camping byelaws come into force next week, such signs will still be unlawful because camping is not banned for the whole year even in camping management zones. The sign has been up for several years and National Park staff must have passed it frequently but none have taken action.  That tells you something about the LLTNPA’s attitude to access rights.

Alteration of the camping byelaws

The camping byelaws that now appear on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park website (see here) differ signficantly from those approved by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board and then sent to the Minister (see here).    This came as a surprise to me because the then Minister, Aileen McLeod, in her letter to LLTNPA approving the byelaws (see here) only made one formal modification to the byelaws, reducing the length of time they apply by one month.   I have asked the Scottish Government civil servants if they made the changes but they have treated this as an FOI request which means they can delay responding for a few weeks.

 

I had not picked up on these changes when previously commenting on the wording of the byelaws (my apologies to readers for this), and the changes do have some implications of what I wrote on campervans (here) and (here) and lighting fires.    I have detailed all the changes in a line by line comparison of the byelaws approved by the Board with those that have now been published.

 

The most significant changes are:

 

  • Instead of saying “no person shall sleep overnight”,  the byelaws now say “it shall be an offence…...”   This makes it crystal clear that the purpose behind the byelaws is to criminalise people simply for camping (with a £500 fine and criminal record) although senior Park staff keep claiming in their usual parkspeak there is not a ban.
  •  Instead of stating that people sleeping overnight in vehicles are exempt from the byelaws if the vehicle is on a public road or car park operated by the roads authority  the exemption now applies to people sleeping overnight in vehicles on roads, as defined by the Roads Traffic Act 1984.    Under that Act the definition of a road includes both public and private roads.  This means that the exemption for campervans and caravans is far wider than I had previously stated although, to add to the confusion, the ability to stop overnight in carparks operated by the roads authority may have been reduced (FOI requests have established there are not that many carparks operated by the Roads Authorities in the National Park and in most of them overnight stays have been banned under the Road Traffic Acts).
  • The definition of “damage” which was used in the Your Park consultation and rejected on the advice of SNH has been re-introduced to the byelaws.   (SNH have not been consulted on this – I have checked – or any other changes since the byelaws were approved by the Board).

 

In my view, none of the process through which the camping byelaws have been developed is  legitimate (e.g the LLTNPA failed to consult their Local Access Forum, a statutory consultee, before they had decided what they wished to do, fiddled the results of the byelaw consultation process, took decision outside public Board Meetings etc).   The whole process would make an ideal case study of how the process of good government can be corrupted.  However, that civil servants and LLTNPA staff appear to have taken it upon themselves to “improve” the byelaws (if the Minister made these changes she surely would have stated this in her letter) hits a new low and is an absolute indictment of the way officials, who are meant to serve the public, operate.

 

Whether this could be successfully challenged legally I don’t know, but it raises serious issues about how byelaws are created.   Byelaws are serious, they can criminalise people, but unlike other criminal laws they are not scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament and then decided democratically by majority vote.  Instead, it appears civil servants have the power to  alter the wording, and thus the extent and effect of what becomes criminal, on a whim.   They have not even consulted SNH the Government’s statutory adviser on access rights.    This is totally wrong.

 

The meaning and likely impact of the changes in wording

 

The changes to the camping byelaws have not made them any clearer, will have unintended consequences and raise further issues about enforcement.

 

Campervans and vehicles

 

The change of the scope of the exemption to allow people to sleep  overnight in vehicles to include private roads, opens up far more and better areas for campervans and caravans to spend the night.   I had previously commented that campervans might be forced into villages, as these were the one place you could be certain you were on the public roads network.  That now appears less likely as generally private roads offer more attractive places to spend the night than public roads.   To give one example, who would not rather pull onto the private road leading to the Ben Ledi carpark (in the Trossachs North camping zone), where cars already park in the day, rather than spend the night on the verge of the busy A84 through Strathyre?

 

There are dozens of private roads in the National Park, so this change probably drives a coach and horses through the byelaws – a good result if unintended in my view –  but the problem is what counts as a “private road”.   For example, what about tracks down to jetties on the loch side?     I suspect they do count as they are obviously going somewhere, but what about a vehicle track down to a loch used by the owners to go fishing?   Because of this uncertainty, one possible consequence is campervaners will stop off on the verges of the most obvious private roads, which are usually those leading to houses, rather than places they would prefer to stay.

 

Originally one of the main claimed purposes and justifications of the byelaws was to prevent overnight stops and encampments in laybys and the LLTNPA sold the byelaws to local communities on the basis that they were all about keeping anti-social campers away from where people lived.   While the Park has gone very quiet on campervans and motorhomes, there is a little give away on the “camping” section of their website:

.

In order to protect some of our most cherished lochshores, byelaws covering camping and firelighting are in place in certain areas from March to September.

During this time, you will need a permit to camp or (in some locations) to stay overnight in your motorhome in these Camping Management Zones.

 

What I believe I have shown is the locations where people will be unable to stop off overnight in a vehicle are probably very few.   While the changes to the byelaws appear to have made it more difficult for people to stop off overnight in vehicles in carparks, as even carparks run by the Roads Authority are no longer exempt from the byelaws, anyone can now in theory stop off on the private roads leading to car parks!

 

The problem here is the legal position of where people can and cannot stop overnight in vehicles is totally unclear.  First, the Park has completely failed so far to say what counts as a private road or not, and I doubt it will ever be able to do so, the legal position is far too complicated.  What instructions it has issued to its Rangers, who are supposed to enforce the byelaws, so they don’t hassle or try to refer people to the Procurator Fiscal who have not broken the byelaws, is unclear.  Second, how will the public know unless there is a sign by every private road?   There is no plan to do this and the cost would be prohibitive.  People sleeping in vehicles therefore will find it very difficult to know where they stand.  It may all come down to who is prepared to stand up for their rights and challenge the LLTNPA.  This is all wrong.

 

SNH in their response to the camping byelaws stated this quite clearly:

 

“The byelaws must be reasonable, proportionate and clear (the actions that are an offence) if they are to command support from the publíc”

 

The camping byelaws are not reasonable, proportionate or clear about where people can sleep overnight in campervans and vehicles.  These byelaws would never have been passed if they had been scrutinised properly, for example by the Scottish Parliament.

 

Damage caused by fires and collecting wood

 

What the re-introduction into the byelaws of the definition of damage rejected by SNH does is potentially to make any fire within a management zone unlawful.   The problem here is twofold:  what constitutes damage or what activities could be said likely to cause damage is subjective;  and how will the Park let people know what is responsible?  I had asked  the Park some time ago about the meaning of the word “damage” in respect of fires before realising a definition had been re-inserted into the byelaws, and received this response EIR 2017-001 Final Response fires.    Its still relevant as the Park was responding based on the definition of damage inserted into the byelaws.  It failed to provide answers to any of the scenarios I had raised and its unclear which of them could turn you into a criminal.

 

Since the response, the Park has added information on what constitutes damage caused by fires and collecting wood to  the camping section of the Park website (under permit terms and conditions) (see here).  If you are not camping but simply going for a picnic or staying in a vehicle overnight on a road and want to have a fire, you are unlikely to have any idea of this or what activities could turn you into a criminal.   While the Park could improve the information of their website,  the much more serious  issue is how will people know what is lawful unless there are signs everywhere spelling out what is and is not allowed in respect of fires?

 

The information contained in the terms and conditions for camping permits suggests that the LLTNPA is now interpreting “any damage” to mean that if you burn wood that you find, that is criminal offence, but its ok to bring your own.   If that was the intention of the byelaws, it would have been  clearer if they had simply said what is in the permits:  “Should you wish to light a fire, you must bring your own firewood and kindling”.    After spelling out the offences you could be committing, the terms and conditions include a  section on “Advice for Campers” which is far more like the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.  However, taken with the all-encompassing definition of damage in the byelaws themselves, this “Advice” just adds to the confusion: 

 

Wherever possible use a stove or fire bowl.
If you have an open fire keep it small, on a surface that cannot be easily damaged, under control, supervised and bring you rown wood,or other kindling
Comment:  so when does having an open fire count as causing damage and a breach of the byelaws which will turn you into a criminal?    So when will Park Rangers count open fires as causing damage with breaking the byelaws and try and turn them into criminals?   I am none the clearer from reading this.  It will probably depend on the Rangers who’s on duty at the time.  That is totally wrong.

 

Enforcement Policy

 

The lack of clarity over the meaning of the byelaws, and therefore what activities are and aren’t legal, raises issues about enforcement.   I have been asking the LLTNPA about this for some time and in January received EIR REVIEW 2016-057 Response-1 Enforcement policy.

 

The most important part of this letter – which is full of the usual obfuscation – is the statement at the end:

 

Finally, given your interest in the enforcement of the byelaws, the Your Park project team is currently in the process of developing an Enforcement Policy. This will be released to the public in due course via our website

 

It will be interesting to see if this policy provides clear guidance to Park rangers on all the issues that have been raised on Parkswatch but the most important thing here to note is that any Park Policy should be srutinised and then approved by the Board.    The camping byelaws thus cannot be enforced on 1st March as there is no Board Meeting scheduled till mid-March.

 

I would go further and suggest that the Minister for Environment and Ministers for Justice in the Scottish Government should comment on this policy before it is put into effect  because of the significant implications for who could be made a criminal or not.    Were Ministers to do this, and not rely on opinions of their civil servants, they would realise the byelaws as they relate to campervans and sleeping overnight in vehicles are unworkable and, as a consequence of this, there is a complete lack of parity between how campers and campervaners are affected by the byelaws which undermines their whole rationale.

 

What can be done?

 

Its only a matter of time before someone decides to challenge the legal basis of the byelaws.  As soon as someone is referred to the Procurator Fiscal for lighting a fire or sleeping in a vehicle for example, it should be possible to challenge the LLTNPA  without incurring great costs.

 

The LLTNPA’s success in enforcing  these byelaws mainly depends on bluff.  This is not just about the impossibility of enforcing badly wordly byelaws,  the Park clearly wants to make camping in a tent in a management zone a criminal offence, but if the Park tries to refer lots of innocent campers camping according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code to the Procurator Fiscal, their reputation will collapse.    If people call the Park’s bluff,  the byelaws will collapse.

 

In the longer term we need to prevent this situation recurring.  A good way to ensure this would be if ALL byelaws affecting access and thus access rights could be called in for scrutiny by the Scottish Parliament.

 

Meantime, people could follow the excellent advice from Cameron McNeish in his article on Walk Highland and write to Scottish Ministers asking them to intervene

 

A look to the future?

 

The construction track as it looks after “restoration”  .   It appears very little vegetation was saved prior to construction for use once the track was removed and the pile of boulders created by the construction work has simply been left without any attempt to re-position so they would appear more natural.   Photo Credit Jonathan Binny

The stretch of land between Dalwhinnie and Feagour, on the A96 west of Laggan, taken by the Beauly Denny powerline is fairly unfrequented.   Following my posts on the Beauly Denny at Drumochter (see here) and (here), my thanks to Jonathan Binny for sending these photos of the section between Feagour and the col east of Meall nan Eagain.

 

 

The Scottish Government, which overruled the objections of Cairngorms National Park Authority to the Beauly Denny, required all construction tracks  to be restored to their original condition. These restoration works were supposed to be complete last year, so the photos show the “final restoration” – clearly not the original condition.

 

In 2013, Ben Alder Estate, which covers part of this area, applied for planning permission to keep part of the construction track (just like the Drumochter Estate did at Drumochter) but this was refused by the CNPA – for which they deserve credit.  I suspect it helped the CNPA that an excellent case was made by John Thomas for refusing the track, including the added impact it would have on wild land (see here).     (NB I know John slightly but I had no idea he had made representations on any part of the Beauly Denny until I checked the application on the Park’s planning portal).   The primary problem that the photos illustrate is not that the CNPA are failing to consider planning applications properly or set appropriate conditions – they do most of the time – its that they are failing to enforce those conditions.

 

I checked with the Scottish Government about responsibility for enforcing the Beauly Denny planning conditions:

 

My question

“I am interested in trying to find out what the role of the Scottish Government is in ensuring the Planning Conditions that were attached to the decision to allow the Beauly Denny powerline to be constructed are enforced”

The Scottish Government Response.

“In relation to the enforcement of conditions on planning consent, this is primarily the responsibility of the relevant planning authority, i.e. the planning authority within whose area the development is taking place.”

 

I think this is pretty clear.  Responsibility for ensuring Scottish and Southern Electric properly restored the land after the construction of the Beauly Denny lies with the CNPA within the Cairngorms National Park.     I can sympathise with the CNPA that they never wanted the Beauly Denny to run through the National Park but once that decision was made their responsibility was to ensure the work was done to the highest standards.  That clearly hasn’t happened and there is no record of the National Park taking any enforcement action.

 

In case any reader is thinking from all the photos of destruction posted on parkswatch that destruction is an inevitable consequence of development in our hills, its worth comparing Jonathan’s photos with restoration work elsewhere

Photo of moorland restoration on the upper Gynack hydro scheme Kingussie February 2016.  The line of the pipeline runs from the view up the centre of the photo.

The Pitmain Estate avoided constructing a new track here and used different construction techniques for this hydro (which I will feature in a future post) but you can see quite clearly that heather has been retained and then replanted.  Most hillwalkers probably walk past this pipeline without realising its there.  That is not going to happy any time soon with Beauly Denny – in fact they are now talking of 20-30 years before the land “recovers”.   That is NOT restoration but a very slow reclamation by nature processes.

Part of the track from Feagour went through woodland. Photo Credit Jonathan Binny.

 

The land looks just like any other clearfell, a mess, which will take years to recover.   Contrast this with the restoration of the ground in Stank Glen by Loch Lubnaig in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs

National Park

The line of the pipeline runs diagonally across photo from bottom left and has been cut through the trees.

Again, this was not restoration of a track as shows, but does show how woodland can be restored after major construction works.  The work here post-dates the Beauly Denny and will be all but invisible long before nature reclaims the Beauly Denny destruction.

In addition to the destruction caused by the construction track, which appears to have been in addition to the forest track far right, you can see the usual failure to restore the ground around the base of the pylons Photo Credit Jonathan Binny

 

What Jonathan’s photos demonstrate along with the photos published in earlier posts, is that there has been a serious failure to restore the ground and tracks after the Beauly Denny works within the Cairngorms National Park.    This should matter to SSE the developer – it claims to take a responsible approach (see here), including treating staff decently and tackling climate change.  Along with claims about sustainability  its foundational aim is to “Do no harm”.   That’s not what these photographs show.   SSE’s claims seem to count for nothing when it comes to how it treats the land.

 

However, responsibility for addressing SSE’s failures lie with the CNPA.   This is not just one isolated bit of land that has been trashed by some landowner that doesn’t care, its a huge swathe of ground running right through the National Park.  The CNPA should be exposing SSE for failing to hold by its own claimed principles.  This is actually one case where the public could have an influence.   If the destruction was publicised and SSE does nothing, customers could change their accounts.   There is huge potential in this case for CNPA to sort matters out without the costs of any legal action simply through the adverse publicity for SSE which would be created if it threatened to take enforcement action along the length of the Beauly Denny.  What has the CNPA got to fear?

The Loch Venachar Quay carparking area – a nice scene or a demonstration of how powerful interests control how we enjoy the landscape?

On Sunday, I was reminded of Oscar Wilde’s story of the selfish giant.   The story is about a giant who returns to his castle, finds children playing in his garden and infuriated, builds a wall to keep them out but then the hard way learns the error of his ways.  Its a parable about many things, but access and sharing land is at the heart of it.   For readers who don’t know it,  its a recommended read (5 minutes – see http://www.online-literature.com/wilde/180/). 

 

I had gone to the Trossachs to check a couple of hydro schemes (about which more anon) but first of all wanted to check some details about the land around Loch Venachar House, the home of Linda McKay, the soon to depart convener of the National Park.  She appears to have been the driving force behind the forthcoming camping byelaws (see here).   I stopped at the carpark at the Quay on the Invertrossachs Rd, which the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park upgraded in 2015.   Parkswatch has previously covered how the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority had changed some of the original plans for this site (see here for the cock and bull stories about why gates were installed)   as set out in the Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan in 2012.  What I had not appreciated till last week was that the Park had applied for planning permission to itself for re-landscaping this car park and planning documents were also available:

The plan that was approved 14th January 2015 by planning – note the footpath out along the quay.

In the original Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan,  the area to the right of the gate which is directly adjacent to the grounds of Loch Venachar House, Linda McKay’s House, was to be grassed.  On the planning application the grass was replaced by trees.  You can see from the photo that many are of prickly variety and sit in front of a full height barbed wire fence.  The objective would appear to be the prevention of any public access along the shoreline towards the old water works. Why the LLTNPA should be so determined to curtail  public access here remains obscure.

 

While the landscaping in the foreground of the photo at the top accords with the plan granted planning permission, the path along the quay has totally disappeared and been replaced by closely planted trees making access very difficult.  Again, it would be in the public interest to know why it was decided to do this.

According to the plans approved by the LLTNPA the path was supposed to run just to the right of the larger trees on the left side of the Quay

The land at the Quay was gifted to the people of Callander on 7th August 1909 as part of a deal in which a builder, John Watherston, bought the lands of Easter Duilater (now known as Dullater) from the McLaren Educational Trust.   The original deeds from the Register of Sasines state that the purpose of the gift was for local people “to enjoy the rights and privileges of fishing and boating in Loch Venachar……together with the right of access to Loch Venachar for these purposes”.   Over the years the land was managed on behalf of the people of Callander, first by the McLaren Educational Trust, then Callander Borough Council before being transferred to Stirling Council and thence to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority on 22nd September 2004  (along with other parcels of land on the north side of Loch Venachar, Rowardennan, Milarrochy Bay and some other places).

 

While the quay had fallen into disrepair, one might have thought a National Park would have wanted to respect the terms of the original gift.  Not so – the LLTNPA has now effectively stopped anyone from launching boats from the quay while  the dense treeplanting  discourages anyone from walking out to the end of the Quay and enjoying the view along the shoreline to the dam and waterworks, a  fine piece of Victorian architecture.

Loch Venachar House is behind the Scots pine, Venachar dam to the left. The full height fence appears to stop close to where what I believe is willow scrub can be seen in the water

This landscaping appears to contravene one of the four statutory aims which is to promote enjoyment of the countryside.  An artificial quay built into a loch is not the sort of place that would normally be planted or where tree regeneration would be promoted.    I have written to the LLTNPA asking for them to explain why the path has been replaced by a barrier of trees and the basis for this decision.

 

One might have hoped that with the Convener of the LLTNPA, Linda McKay living next door, she would have taken a close interest in the need for the Park to demonstrate best practice here and intervened to prevent this measure.   On the contrary, I have – despite asking – seen no evidence that she made any written representations on the Park’s development of the Quay site.

 

The main thing I wanted to check on my visit though was access along the boundaries of Loch Venachar House.    Last summer I had seen a barrier between the high fence, which I suspected marked the property boundary, and a lower fence that runs along the edge of the quay.  It was still there:

The wire is very hard to see from a distance (you can see a faint haze across between the fences if you look carefully) and its only if you tried walking between the fences that you would realise it was there:

Close up though the barbed wire and wire netting below it form a very effective barrier with no way round without wading through the Loch.   I have no idea of who has done this.   It appears though to be fairly recent from the way the barbed wire is wrapped round the fence wire, i.e it post dates that, and whoever did this appears to care little for trees.  Nor do I know who owns the land outside the fence.  This could form part of the Venachar House property or could be owned by someone else, such as by Scottish Water – or it could form part of the harbour and quay and be owned by the National Park itself (I was not able to find the diagram of the land originally gifted from the Register of Sasines).

 

What I did learn on Sunday though, from a man fishing with his son, is that people used to walk around the shoreline of the loch here to the dam during the long period when the former Venachar House was derelict.  The intention of the new wire is clearly to stop people doing this and because its outside the fence that marks the garden boundary, whatever the ownership, it appears to be an obstruction to access, possibly on land owned by the LLTNPA.    Interestingly, the man fishing – who turned out to be a police officer in his day job – also told me that when the reservoir is low you can still walk round to the dam along the beach.  LLTNPA photos from the Your Park consultation prove that people used to camp on the beach along the shoreline by the Invertrossachs Rd and perhaps they also used to camp on the beach in front of what is now Loch Venachar House.

 

After checking the Quay side of the shoreline and being unable to get further, I walked round Linda McKay’s house then took the track to the dam.

The track to the dam, Loch Venachar House on the left.

 

The access is not welcoming, there are no signs making  walkers welcome however,  I knew the track was used by Scottish Water to access the dam and the last time I had visited, a woman from the house to the right of the track gave me a friendly wave as I walked past.

The view of the dam and track beyond the houses – clearly an access track

At the dam I tried walking back towards the Quay along the lochside, but this was soon blocked by vegetation, so I walked through the open field (to left of picture), climbed over a wire fence and then realised by a short section of wooden fence between the fence and the shore that if I went further I could be in what is now Linda McKay’s garden.  I turned round.

The view from the wooden fence outside the field.  This is where apparently people used to walk along the loch shore between the Quay and the dam. The Quay is round the corner in the distance. The double height fence in the previous photos stops somewhere between here and the Quay allowing the occupants of Loch Venachar House open access to the lochshore.

 

 

I don’t know as yet whether the shoreline here forms part of the property of Loch Venachar House or whether the wall or line of trees in the photo forms the boundary and, if so, who owns the land outside the boundary, including the sloping embankment down to the reservoir.     If the wall or lines of trees forms the boundary, the land outside of this would still be within access rights.  However,  because there is no information and because no-one wants to walk into what is legally someone’s garden, what this would effectively mean is that the owners of Loch Venachar House have secured part of the shoreline for their own private use.   I turned back because of this.    If the owners had continued with the boundary fence, as they have every right to do, this would indicate to the public that the land outside the fence was within access rights but would have blocked Linda McKay’s access to the shore.

 

If the entire shoreline now forms part of the Loch Venachar House property, since its been effectively treated as being part of the garden, then access rights would no longer apply.    If that is the case, this is a land reform issue – how do we protect land that is important for recreation from being bought up for exclusive private use?

 

I live in Glasgow, am lucky enough to live in a nice house on a fairly quiet residential street and on an average day several hundred people walk within metres of my front door.  If people, whether children or drunks step onto the property I happen to own, I tolerate it and sometimes welcome it.  In this respect I am no different to many thousands of other city dwellers.  I know there are though some people who live in the countryside or very large houses who feel differently.  They become so hooked on their own privacy or right to enjoy the land that they try and put barriers around their property, like the selfish giant.

 

One of the significant things that have changed for the better as a result of our access legislation in 2003 has been the whole culture of access among the general population (if not among public officials).    Many people who live in the countryside have become far more relaxed about access and have come to realise that people visiting and walking close to where they live are not a threat but a positive thing.  There are now walkers welcome signs all over Scotland.    Views have changed, like those of the Selfish Giant, but on a mass scale.  This is something that Scotland can and should be very proud of, one of the greatest achievements of the Scottish Parliament.

 

Unfortunately there are still some people who have not seen the light, who, like the selfish giant, remain shut up in their properties.   While Linda McKay appears to have done nothing illegal, my investigations have re-inforced what I thought the first time I saw how she had fenced her house and how the National Park had blocked off access at the Quay.  Neither she, nor the National Park staff who changed the landscaping design at the Quay,  appear to be to be among those people who understand or appreciate the importance of access.   Such people have a right to their views but should not be holding positions of power in a National Park which has a legal duty to promote access to the countryside and that they do is a matter that should be of the greatest concern.

 

What needs to happen

 

We need to learn from what has gone wrong  in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.    A key lesson for  the Scottish Government is to avoid in future the appointment of anyone to a National Park Board  who appears to  have strong private interests which conflict with the protection and promotion of access rights.    I think that should require that at Board Interviews, people who own land should be asked to demonstrate how their management of land is in sympathy with the National Park’s objectives.  This should include not just access but also conservation and sustainable use.  If people cannot demonstrate this in their own ownership of land they should not be appointed (that would also rule out any landowners who had in any way tolerated raptor persecution or flouted planning permission from serving on National Park Boards)

 

At Loch Venachar, public access should be restored from the quay to the dam area along the shoreline linking to the path alongside the river beyond.   The dam is a listed building, a great place to visit and it could form part of a path network linking Gartchonzie with the Invertrossachs Rd, a distance of c1.5k.   Walking along river and lochside would be immeasurably superior experience to walking along the Invertrossachs Rd, which is currently marked as a core path.   If that requires the LLTNPA to purchase of a strip of land on the edge of Linda McKay’s property then they should do this, as soon as possible, using their compulsory purchase powers, if necessary.

The downstream side of the Loch Venachar dam – an interesting place to visit that could be linked to a path along the river and the Invertrossachs Road
The “temporary” construction track looking north towards Dalwhinnie. Note the piles of spoil running alongside the left of the track – an artificial esker!

Following my  post about the failure to restore the destruction caused by the Beauly Denny  by the developer, Scottish and Southern Electric, I went last Monday to have a look at the section of the “temporary” construction track on the Drumochter Estate.

 

Under the Beauly Denny planning application determined by the Scottish Government, all construction tracks were to be fully restored.  The Drumochter Estate however submitted an application in 2013 to the Cairngorms National Park Authority to retain the section of track on their estate.   The first application was refused, mainly because the estate wanted to keep the entire section of track which ran through the estate.   The section south of North Drumochter Lodge ran into the Drumochter Special Area of Conservation – why is it that only European designated sites appear to have any teeth?  – and cut across the open hillside.  The revised application removed the southern section of track but is still 4.7 km in length.

The track granted planning permission runs from 750m south of Drumochter Lodge to just south-east of Dalwhinnie. Most of it is hidden from A9 by a shelter belt of trees.

 

The Committee Report which considered the application in February 2015 track planning application was very thorough.  The CNPA had opposed the Beauly Denny, was concerned about the proposed track, but was won over by arguments that with the new A9 dualling would make it very difficult for estate vehicles to access the existing hill tracks onto the east side of Drumochter.   Their assessment of the construction track was pretty damning:

 

However, the assessment of staff was that as long as the construction track was narrowed considerably – to a maximum of 3m – and the spoil heaps used to do this, retention of the track was acceptable:

 

The North East Mountain Trust, which to its credit had objected to the application for the existing track was also persuaded and agreed not to object.   Both the NEMT and the CNPA were no doubt partially persuaded by the illustrations from the estate of what they were proposing:

 

The problem is that two years later absolutely none of what was promised by the estate has happened.

No work has been undertaken to narrow the track from 5m in width and no work undertaken to conceal the plastic culvert

Some of the track is “floating” which means it was created by dumping aggregrate onto the peat in sufficient quantities to support construction vehicles.  Proper restoration would mean all this aggregate being removed.   The estate promised to improve this by narrowing the track to 3m maximim and revegetating the sides using vegetation from a new drainage ditch and seeding.

 

The track is almost two landrover widths and should have been almost halved in breadth according to the planning conditions.

Part of the restoration proposed by the estate was removal of this “hammerhead.   Nothing has been done.  There are piles of spoil in the centre and along right side of the area.

Another view of one side of the hammerhead.  All this ground should have been restored.

Spoil heaps on either side of the opposite section of the hammerhead to that pictured above.

The priority of the estate is indicated by these new grouse butts.  They were being brought in from the A9 by landrover and trailer.  It appears it has suited the estate to retain a large storage area rather than restore the land as promised.

The access to the A9, more spoil heaps on right. The shelter belt helps conceal this mess.

 

The CNPA, again to give it credit, had required that all the works be completed by June 2016:

Six months after the deadline for works to be completed, on the section I looked at at the north end of the proposed track, there is no evidence that any work has been completed.  There are two issues here:

  • first you cannot tell from the planning portal whether the CNPA has agreed in writing with the estate to extend the deadline for completion of the works beyond June 2016 and, if so, the justification for this and what the new deadline is;
  • second, if the CNPA has not agreed an extension, its not clear what enforcement action they have taken if any.

 

Unfortunately, this is yet another planning case where the credibility of our National Parks is at stake.  What appears to be happening in a number of cases from Natural Retreats at Cairngorm to the Bruar Hydro to Drumochter is that the CNPA approved planning applications with conditions which the developer then simply ignores.   The failure of the CNPA to go public about this and use its enforcement powers gives a clear message to developers that as long as they pay someone to complete good looking paperwork, they can do what they want.

 

In the Drumochter access track case there is an added complication.  SSE were supposed to restore this track and, being a huge company, obviously have the resources to do this properly (if there was anyone insisting they should do so).  Having agreed that Drumochter Estate could keep the track, however, the risk is that all obligations of SSE will have been taken over by the estate.   My guess is that will now make it impossible for the CNPA to turn round to the estate and say the planning permission no longer applies and ask SSE to do the works.

 

This supposition is reinforced by the fact that SSE has not been at all co-operative about restoration of the Drumochter and the atrocious standards of the restoration work they have undertaken.

The restoration of the land under the pylons (access track foreground and background) is SSE’s responsibility though the communications I have had from the Scottish Government say its the CNPA’s responsibility to enforce this

The trouble is that the CNPA has allowed them to get away with this.    Although very concerned about the standard of work, and taking time to visit the site, they have then resorted to their normal practice of writing letters rather than taking enforcement action when things go wrong:

 

20. The Convenor advised the Committee on her reflections following site visit with Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) to the Beauly – Denny overhead transmission line that she and other members had attended, along with SNH staff. She advised that it seemed that SSE Officers were not sufficiently clear as to what the restoration of the tracks involved. SSE Officers were also rather vague as to who was ultimately responsible for carrying out the restoration and reinstatement and what standard would be deemed acceptable. Following a full discussion the Committee agreed that Convenor of the Board should write to SSE expressing significant concerns.  (Planning Minute June 2015)

 

The failure of the CNPA to take a robust line against either SSE or the North Drumochter estate means that the CNPA is storing up serious problems for itself at Drumochter and setting further poor precedents for the rest of the National Park.

Back in 2011 the justification for the camping byelaws on east Loch Lomond was all about anti-social behaviour.  Here is what then Chief Executive Fiona Logan said on BBC News 10 March 2011:

 

“National park chief executive Fiona Logan said she did not believe there were any other areas of the park where similar bans would be “appropriate”

“We really want responsible people to come to the park and enjoy themselves,” she said.

“This is about tackling anti-social behaviour and not penalising West Highland Way walkers or those people with a backpack on.”

Ms Logan said the measures had been welcomed by local residents who had complained for many years about informal camping on the Lochside.

But she told BBC Scotland that the by-laws were not permanent and could be revoked if the park was confident the problems had been successfully tackled.

“We would like not to have these laws in three years,” she said.”

 

The LLTNPA did claim in the review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws that the problems on east Loch Lomond had been solved but instead of revoking the byelaws, as Fiona Logan had promised, the Park decided to extend them – because of their alleged success in tackling anti-social behaviour.    Leave aside the fact that the Park’s analysis was totally flawed (see section 4 of Report on Your Park consultation process)  the Minister at the time, Paul Wheelhouse, thought the byelaws were about tackling anti-social behaviour too judging by his Letter to Linda McKay Oct 2014:

 

The report provides a useful and detailed analysis of the positive impact that the introduction of the byelaws have had in tackling significant issues of anti-social behaviour on the east side of the loch.
I imagine the current Government Minister Roseanna Cunningham, and all the people who have believed what the LLTNPA has said,  might be surprised to hear that the camping byelaws as published (and they have been changed which I cover in my next post) will do nothing to stop anti-social behaviour.   This is because under the new byelaws it is NOT an offence to sleep outside and the provisions relating to vehicles will be impossible to enforce (see here)  
While the byelaws will make it a criminal offence (you get a full-blown criminal record and fine of up to £500) for putting up a tent or any kind of shelter, for the people who want to party on the shores of the lochs in the National Park, having a tent is hardly crucial.  If you think about all the Park’s photos of wrecked tents, the wrecking  almost certainly takes place when people are drunk and in all likelihood a significant proportion of wrecked tents were never slept in.   While the  east Loch Lomond byelaws made it an offence to sleep outside, that provision has been removed, so the dead drunk can simply collapse on the ground – as the dead drunk tend to do – and not a single byelaw will have been breached.     Morever, it won’t take long till the party goers realise that if they hire a van instead of taking a tent, as long as they leave that on the road verge they can sleep in it without committing any offence under the byelaws.
All the byelaws will do therefore is make criminals out of responsible campers.
There won’t though be any influx of revellers to east Loch Lomond as long as the alcohol byelaws and the restrictions on parking north of Balmaha continue to be enforced – which only goes to show it was not the byelaws that stopped the anti-social behaviour there as the LLTNPA claimed to Government Ministers.   The problem for the LLTNPA is it cannot promote clearways throughout the rest of the National Park because it can only do so for road safety reasons and the effectiveness of alcohol byelaws is dependent on policing.
The extension of camping byelaws in the rest of the National Park therefore is very unlikely to stop anti-social behaviour – which is almost certainly why Gordon Watson, Park Chief Executive, is now claiming the real reason for the byelaws is the “sheer volume of campers”.    The problem of anti-social behaviour though remains – as it does across Scotland – and the solution is the same as it always was, good policing.

Encampment

A second major justification for the camping byelaws given in the Your Park consultation was the “summer long encampments in the area’s most scenic laybys”.   Now, there were already powers to deal with this under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994,  although the LLTNPA has never worked with others to use the existing law. Instead it claimed to local communities that camping byelaws would deal with the problem of encampments.   That now appears to be a lie because the byelaws definition of a “vehicle” includes a “vehicle designed or adapted for towing” – which I understand includes caravans which are classified as “leisure accommodation vehicles” – and its NOT an offence to sleep overnight in a vehicle as long as its on a road.  Since the definition of a road includes the verge and laybys which are part of the roads networkthe byelaws will do nothing to stop encampment.

I am sure local communities will be surprised to learn this because vehicle encampments were one of the major reasons for their support of the byelaw.  This is illustrated by these responses to the camping byelaw consultation (which I obtained through FOI but are also on the Your Park website):

 

399) BLS Community Council:  “there seems to be a misconception, amongst a minority of visitors, that they can bring a caravan to the lochside and leave it parked up for the whole ‘fishing season’.  This ruins the opportunity for other genuine visitors………”  Comment  unfortunately its just the genuine campers who will be affected by these byelaws.

 

460) East Strathearn Community Council – wanted all laybys Loch Earn to be accessible to visitors.  “We absolutely support any measures that will discourage any semi-permanent occupation of our loch shores”.

394) Crieff Community Council  Member of Strathearn and District Forum of Community Councils, “through which we are aware of the problems and difficulties causes at St Fillans and the adjacent area of Loch Earn by rogue campers and caravaners, anti-social behaviour and rowdyism, and drink related problems and litter” and “ask if the proposed changes will tackle the particular and regular problems of caravans being left in lay-bys and authorised parking places for weeks at a time”.   Comment – sorry Crieff, the answer appears to be no.

551) Comrie Community Council.  “The members of Comrie Community Council fully support St Fillans Community Council, and residents of St Fillans, in their efforts to combat/control the ongoing problems along Loch Earn of prolonged camping, particularly over the summer months – whether in tents or motorhomes……………..”     Comment the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act could be used against tents as well as motorhomes or any time of Leisure Accommodation Vehicle.  The byelaws will only stop campers, the vast majority of whom are not camping for prolonged periods.

What needs to happen

 

I hope these local communities will now start calling on the LLTNPA to use the powers under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which might just address the problems they have experienced, and unite with recreational organisations in calling for the camping byelaws to be ditched.

On 8th February, a few days after my post on freedom-speech-democracy-national-parks  Peter Argyle, Convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, posted a Statement on Cairngorms News   about his dispute with Board Member Councillor Bill Lobban titled “Convener Clear on Code of Conduct”.    Its positive that Peter Argyle has been  open about this because what he has done, albeit inadvertently, is to highlight a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the Code of Conduct.

 

The issue that has arisen is emphatically not about Mr Lobban’s right to speak out or support his constituents as a councillor. It is not about freedom of speech. It is simply about the duties imposed upon him and all of us on the CNPA board by the Code of Conduct which we all signed up to when appointed to the board. It specifically requires us to act at all times in the best interests of the CNPA.

 

The relevant part of the Code of Conduct which Peter Argyle refers to comes under “General Principles”:

 

Duty
12.You have a duty to uphold the law and act in accordance with the law and the public trust placed in you. You have a duty to act in the interests of the Cairngorms National Park Authority of which you are a member and in accordance with the core functions and duties of that body.
Peter Argyle has then interpreted this as requiring Bill Lobban to agree with CNPA Board Policy:
My actions and discussions were directed solely to try to resolve a situation of a Board member’s personal opinion being at odds with the agreed policy of the Board.

 

However, as he is a Councillor, Bill Lobban is also bound by the Code of Conduct for Highland Council and guess what, this also includes, under the section on General Principles, a clause on Duty:

Duty
You have a duty to uphold the law and act in accordance with the law and the public
trust placed in you. You have a duty to act in the interests of the Council as a whole
and all the communities served by it and a duty to be accessible to all the people of
the area for which you have be en elected to serve, and to represent their interests
conscientiously.
If this clause had the meaning that Peter Argyle imputes to it, that every member of the Board should on all occasions support Board policy, every councillor on our National Park Boards would be in an impossible position each time their Council adopted a different policy position to that of the National Park.   What duty should be put first, the duty to the National Park or the duty to the Council?  This doesn’t just affect Councillors as some National Park Board Members also serve on other Boards that are also governed by a Code of Conduct with a similar duty clause.  What this shows is there cannot be a duty on Board Members always to uphold Board Policy.
 
This though has not prevented our National Park Conveners acting as if there was an absolute duty on Board Members to uphold Board Policy.  In the case of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority its been taken so far that any disagreements between Board Members are resolved in secret Board “Briefing Sessions” and then all “decisions” are agreed unanimously.  In the case of the  camping byelaws, strict instructions were issued telling Board Members they could not talk to the media.  Thank goodness therefore Councillor Bill Lobban was prepared to go public about his disagreement on planning policy and that his local paper was prepared to carry the story.
 
Our National Park Authorities, ability to silence debate and opposition is helped by the wording of the Duty clause.  In the Council Code of Conduct the duty on councillors is not just to uphold the law and act in the interests of the Council as a whole but to act in the wider interests of all communities and  to represent the views of the community which elected them.  This allows Councillors  to speak out against their own council policies or actions. The Council Code of Conduct in effect recognises that the interests of the Council, as a public authority, may not be the same as the people who have an interest in it, ie local residents.
The National Park Code is significantly different.  The only duty on Board Member is to uphold the law and the interests of the public authority. There is no duty to anyone or anything else.   Even the locally elected representatives to the Board have NO duty to represent the views of the people who elected them.  This is very wrong.  It puts the interests of the National Park Authority, which is only an organisation, before that of the people who live in the National Park or the people who visit – there is no duty to represent national interests, such as outdoor recreation – and no duty to protect nature.
 

What needs to happen

The Duty clause in the Code of Conduct for our National Parks – the LLTNPA one is very similar – needs to change.  I would like to see it become about upholding  the four statutory aims of the National Park  rather than upholding the interests of the National Park Authority, which basically means the interests of staff and Board Members.
Such a change would, I believe, encourage open debate and allow room for disagreement on the National Park Board because interpretation of those four statutory aims (ie conservation of nature, enjoyment, sustainable use of resources and sustainable economic and social development of local communities).varies.  It would enable Board Members to speak out, for example, against inaction on raptor persecution, which contravenes the conservation aim of our National Parks, or on the LLTNPA camping byelaws which will stop people enjoying the countryside.     It would I believe help Board Members focus on the fundamental issues, such as how planning powers could be  used more effectively to achieve the statutory aims of the National Park, rather than the question of whether planning applications are best dealt with by Highland Council or the CNPA which led to the dispute between Peter Argyle and Bill Lobban.
Sign in centre of Balmaha (see below). Park Rangers have passed this sign on an almost daily basis for over 10 years but no-one from the LLTNPA ever thought to challenge it

I have now had responses to two of the issues I took up with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park  after the appearance of Gordon Watson, their Chief Executive, on the Out of Doors programme on National Parks early in the New Year and which I covered in a post at the time (see here).

The first issue, I took up with Gordon Watson directly by email.   Here is my question and the LLTNPA reply, which they have dealt with – as is their way – as an Environmental Information Response:

 

So, in respect to Mr Watson’s claim that “some signs are put up by landowners” it turns out that he had no specific sign in mind and indeed, what’s even more telling, the LLTNPA holds no information about “No” signs put up by landowners.   In other words Mr Watson’s statement was completely made up – it bore no relation at all to the truth.   Funnily enough I could have told Mr Watson of one sign on east Loch Lomond (see above).  I don’t think though that this sign contradicts the general point made by Mark Stephen and Ewan McIlraith, that the first things that hits the visitor on east Loch Lomond are the “No” signs  and most of them are put there by or with the agreement of the National Park Authority – a point Gordon Watson was trying to deny.

 

I took the second issue up with Linda McKay, the LLTNPA convener (the letter is pasted below), because one of the duties of the LLTNPA Board is to hold its Chief Executive to account and that, to my mind, should include ensuring any public statements he makes bears some resemblance to the truth.  His claim that “measures we are taking are purely about heavily used areas” was clearly utter rubbish.

 

Instead of apologising for this – and in the heat of an interview it is very difficult to get your words right – I received COMP 2017-008 Complaint Response reply from the Park’s Governance Manager (who no longer signs her letters so I am unclear if this really was sent by Ms Amanda Aikman or not).   Here is an extract from my response which is now being dealt with as a stage 2 complaint about Mr Watson:

 

“it is completely irrelevant that Mr Watson was not speaking in detail about “levels of usage”.  What he said was that the “measures we are taking are purely about managing heavily used areas”.   “Purely” is a very strong word.  If Mr Watson had said “mainly about” I would have had no complaint but he said “purely” which is not true.  I stated to Linda McKay in my letter that I appreciated words could slip out in interviews and suggested that if the words were not intended, if Mr Watson apologised I would not pursue a complaint.  Since the LLTNPA has chosen to deal with this as a complaint, I can only assume Mr Watson is not prepared to apologise, although I note in your response there is no indication of whether you have actually asked Mr Watson whether he believes his statement was correct or not.      I can therefore only assume that Mr Watson is standing by a statement which is clearly false.”     

 

I have little faith that the LLTNPA will investigate this properly because under their procedures complaints about the Chief Executive are investigated by a fellow Director – in other words someone whom Mr Watson directly line manages.  This is wrong.  There are very few people brave enough to find against their boss.  In my view it should be Board Members who investigate complaints against the National Park Chief Executives as part of their role of holding the post-holder to account.    That will never happen while Linda McKay is convener but needs to change once James Stuart becomes convener in March.

 

Previously where the LLTNPA has failed to uphold my complaints, I have been unable to take them to the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman because in order to do this you need to have suffered a personal injustice or hardship (e.g the public authority has caused you some harm).   What is shocking is that if you complain on matters of principle or governance to the National Park you have no redress.   However, and the point of outlining my complaint in public in this post, is its my reputation as a commentator on National Parks that is now at stake.  The camping byelaws are not purely about heavily managed areas as Mr Watson himself wrote in a paper for the secret Board Briefing session on  16th June 2014  (see here) released after the intervention of the Information Commissioner:

So, if whoever has been allocated to investigate my complaint fails to do so properly and to take account evidence such as this,  I will  take this complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman on the grounds that I have suffered “personal injustice”.      If they still maintain such a complaint is outwith their remit, I think that adds to the case that the law needs to change.  The public need to have some way to hold Chief Executives of Public Authorities to account when their Boards fail to do so.

 

Addendum – email to LLTNPA convener

 

Dear Ms McKay,

You may be aware that Gordon Watson was on the Out of Doors programme on Saturday and while in my view he made a number of misleading statements, one was clearly wrong:

“measures we are taking are purely about heavily used areas”. 

He said this in the first part of the programme in which he was featured (which starts after 7 minutes 53 seconds).

The reason this statement is not true is that:

a) the camping byelaws clearly cover areas which are not “heavily used” .  Data held by the Park’s disproves this including the  maps that were presented to the secret Board Meetings in September and October 2013 (see here) and Ranger records which have been made public as a result of Freedom of Information requests (which show very low numbers of people camping at Loch Arklet for example).   Mr Watson, as Chief Executive, is fully aware of this – as is the Park Board which has clearly stated that the reasons why the byelaws cover some areas is not that they are heavily used but because of anticipated displacement (the justification used for Loch Arklet for example).   He has therefore deliberately misled the public.

b) if the measures the LLTNPA were taking was purely about heavily used areas, the LLTNPNA would not now be building a campsite at Loch Chon, which is inaccessible and currently where very few people camp

c) if the measures the LLTNPA were taking were about heavy use, as Mr Watson’s statement implies, then the Park would be allowing some use to continue.  You are of course doing that in some areas, including the four permits that will be allowed on the lochshore by your own house, but there is not provision for a single permit along the shores of west Loch Lomond (which was not in any case one of the most heavily used areas)  which again shows that the byelaws are not “purely about heavily used areas”.

I am aware that interviews can be difficult and its easy to say things that might not be right and therefore if the National Park is prepared to issue a statement apologising for Mr Watson’s misleading statement that would satisfy me otherwise I would like to pursue this as a formal complaint.  As I have previously stated to you I believe there are serious deficiencies in the Park’s complaints procedure in that complaints against the Chief Executive are investigated by people managed by him which cannot be right and again ask that if you proceed to investigate this as a complaint, rather than issue a public apology,  that this is conducted by Board Members.

Yours Sincerely,

Nick Kempe