Category: Cairngorms

August 16, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
An Camas Mor visualisation from 2008 re-submitted February 2017.  ACM is in the Cairngorm National Scenic Area.

On Friday the Cairngorms National Park Authority Planning Committee will consider a revised planning application for An Camus Mor (see here), the proposed new town across the Spey from Aviemore. (Click here for link to the Park’s planning portal and all 236 documents associated with the application). The main change proposed by the the application is to vary planning condition 1, which restricted the development to 630 houses (out of a potential 1500)  until the impact of this initial phase of the development on landscape and ecology had been completed.   Instead the applicants, An Camas Mor Limited Liability Partnership, the development vehicle of the landowner, Johnnie Grant of Rothiemurchus, are proposing a phased approach.

 

The abandonment of the precautionary approach

 

There is no explanation, from either the applicant or the Park about why the planning application needs to be varied.   The applicant’s letter 2017_0086_DET-SECTION_42_COVER_LETTER-100124269 claims that “The proposed change to condition 1 is essential to facilitate appropriate phasing of the development as the Design Team moves towards implementation of the development” without explaining why.  The Park’s Committee Report repeats this claim without explaining what it means.

 

The Committee report then fails to consider the proposed changes in relation to the precautionary principle or the National Park’s statutory objectives, which state that when their is a conflict between any of the Park’s statutory objectives, in this case sustainable economic development and conservation, conservation should come first.    That there is a conflict is clear from para 24 of the Committee Report:

 

SNH advise that the proposal is likely to have a significant effect on:
a) The Capercaillie qualifying interest of Cairngorms SPA (Special Protection Area for birds), Abernethy Forest SPA, Kinveachy Forest SPA, Anagach Woods SPA and Craigmore Wood SPA;
b) The acidic scree, alpine and subalpine heath, blanket bog, dry heath, wet heath, plants in crevices on acid rocks, and otter qualifying interests of Cairngorms SAC; and
c) The otter, Atlantic salmon, fresh water pearl mussel, and sea lamprey qualifying
interests of River Spey SAC.

 

Under the original condition,  if the development of this site had a larger impact than was being predicted or could be mitigated – and the whole site is basically surrounded by protected sites, including those important to the Capercaillie which once again is close to extinction in Scotland – it could be halted.   Johnnie Grant is now effectively asking for this limit on the development to be waived and the Park’s officers, in recommending the application is approved, are agreeing with him.  Its difficult to see any justification for this in conservation terms.

 

So why is this happening?  The most likely explanation is that the proposed change is being driven by financiers who will want guaranteed returns.  As a result of the infrastructure costs associated with developing the site (building new roads, relocating wildlife etc), it is likely that it will only be when house numbers reach a certain figure – probably over 630 – that the profit will really start rolling in.   Hence the reason for this application.    The financiers want to remove the risk that the development will not be highly profitable and the main risk of this happening in Planning Condition 1.   Money, it appears,  is more important than conservation in our National Parks.

 

Had the National Park officers been recommending that the development be reviewed and potentially halted at each phase of the development, that would have strengthened the precautionary approach, but unfortunately that is not what is being proposed.  Once the go-ahead is given for the whole development, and the block plan for the proposed housing has already been approved, it will become impossible to stop, whatever the evidence of impacts on the natural heritage.  In effect under a phased plan all the CNPA will be able to do is comment on matters of detail, not the wider impacts of the development.

The environmental impact of the proposed development and the implications for access rights

The main new document associated with the proposal is a 240 page Habitat Regulations Appraisal (HRA) dated 20th June, but which was only made public on Monday when it was uploaded to the CNPA planning portal, and which was drafted by CNPA staff with support from SNH (Appendix 4 of the Committee Report).

 

The HRA starts out by stating that the An Camus Mor Development will have a “likely significant effect” on no less than seven protected European sites:  Abernethy Forest Special Protection Area (SPAs protect  birds); Anagach Woods SPA; Cairngorms SPA; Craigmore Wood SPA; Kinveachy Forest SPA; Cairngorms SAC (Special Area of Conservation – protects things other than birds); River Spey SAC.       Basically the reason for this is 1500 new households at An Camus Mor will go out into the neighbouring countryside, which happens to be these protected areas, to do everything from walking dogs to mountain biking (and the people likely to be attracted to live at An Camas Mor, like Aviemore, are likely to be more active than most of the population).

 

The Habitats Regulations Appraisal however says that these impacts can be mitigated.  While there is a huge amount of detail (much of which is highly debateable in the report) In a nutshell what it is saying is that the CNPA and developer can compensate for additional recreational impacts from a larger resident population around Aviemore by reducing existing recreational impacts.  The outcomes required to mitigate for An Camus Mor and the measures that will be needed to make this happen are set out for each part of each protected area (hence the length of the document).   While the Habitat Regulations Appraisal at one place suggest these outcomes only apply to An Camus Mor residents there is no way of course of differentiating between local residents and visitors and, as phrased, most of the outcomes will affect everyone.  Here is the example for Inshriach, which is not exactly next door to An Camas Mor:

What this is saying is that in order to compensate for An Camas Mor, access rights will be restricted, so off path recreational facilties will stop and both residents and visitors will have to keep to “promoted existing routes”.   This is far more draconian than the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park byelaws and if implemented would in effect end access rights in large parts of the Cairngorms National Park.  Worryingly, the document even states that byelaws are a measure of last resort.   So, the CNPA is in effect proposing to sacrifice access rights to enable An Camas Mor to go ahead.   This is a national scandal and should not be being decided by the Planning Committee of the National Park.

 

There are all sorts of other implications for access to, as is clear from the measures proposed for Glenmore:

 

 

What this in effect says is that in order to enable the An Camas Mor development to go ahead existing car parks will be reduced in size or blocked off completely, certain access routes will be blocked off, particularly for mountain bikers etc etc.   Just how this fits with the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy, which was agreed less than a year ago, in unclear.    And similar measures are proposed for much of the rest of Speyside.   The implications for recreation and tourism are huge and yet there has been no public consultation.   There needs to be and the Planning Committee should refuse to take a decision until there has been full public consultation on the CNPA’s Habitats Regulations Appraisal otherwise it will be digging a very very deep hole for itself.    I am confident that if consultation did take place on the proposed mitigation measures, the proposals will collapse.

 

So, what is the explanation for  what is going on?

 

In 2014 the Scottish Government paid Johnnie Grant £7.2m for part of the Rothiemurchus estate in a secret deal (see here).    The question as to why Johnnie Grant needed to sell this land, or why the Government needed to purchase it when it was not at any risk, has never been answered.  One possible explanation is that Johnnie Grant needed to raise funds to help finance the An Camas Mor development.  If even an element of this £7.2 has been or is going to be spent on An Camas Mor, the Scottish Government has already been effectively helping to finance the development.

 

Whatever the case, there is a statement in the applicant’s letter that since the original planning application it has had:

 

Discussions with the Scottish Government and its advisors around advancing the design
and planning process in order to get to a point where Infrastructure Loan Funding for exceptional external infrastructure can be released for this project.

 

This appears to indicate that the Scottish Government is fully behind this application.    It would take a very strong National Park Board to reject the Scottish Government’s wishes and the suspicion has to be that both senior staff and Board have not approached this according to matters of principle, but rather are doing what they have been told to do.  To repeat, because of the implications for access of their proposed mitigation measures, they are digging a very deep hole for themselves.

Osprey on post at centre ACM, June 2016 which it was still using in August 2016. Photo credit Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group

The suspicion of a stitch-up is re-inforced by the failure of the Committee Report to consider more up to date information on the wildlife to be found on the An Camas Mor site.  The Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, who have been looking at the wildlife on the site for some time and discovered a number of species not reported in the original planning application (see here for brilliant photos of the wildlife), have been asking the Park for updated environmental surveys for some time.   Earlier this week, the CNPA at last added a survey on badgers to the planning portal but at the same time redacted most of the content.  Presumably someone doesn’t want the public to know how many badgers may be affected by the development because badgers are likely to arouse more public support than bugs.

 

More importantly, the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group had been asking for a copy of the Habitats Regulations Assessment for weeks.  The CNPA refused to provide this, on the grounds they planned to publish this,  which they eventually did this Monday – despite the massive implications for access rights.   The CNPA apparently expects the BSCG and Cairngorms Campaign, both of  have both asked to address the Committee on Friday, to be able to assimilate and respond to this 240 page document in four days.  That’s not right, although this situation has been partly mitigated – excuse me using that term – because SNH, to their credit, did agree to release the information.

 

Why the secrecy? I had expected better of the CNPA.  And what is the CNPA scared about?     I hope I have provided enough information here for some Board Members to start asking some searching questions.

 

The level of support for the proposals

 

Despite a sustained local campaign to raise support for the proposal – see the ACM leaflet May 2017  which was delivered to every house in the Aviemore area – there were only 12 general expressions of support for the revised An Camas Mor planning application. “Of those supporting, nine were from individuals (eight from Aviemore and one from Pitlochry) and the remainder werefrom Visit Scotland, Scottish Tourism Alliance and Aviemore Sports Centre”    This compares to 23 general objections of which “16 were from individuals (from Aviemore, Kingussie, Nethy Bridge, Aboyne, Bettyhill, Broughty Ferry, Comrie, Ellon, Dunblane, Glasgow, Inverness, Limekilns in Fife, East Molesey in Surrey, Kendal and Wirral in Merseyside). The remainder were from the North East Mountain Trust, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Campaign for National Parks, The Cairngorms Campaign, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group.”

 

This is hardly an indication of high levels of support for the proposals, a factor which usually influences the politicians.   Part of the reason why may be because people working in Aviemore who currently don’t have suitable housing are not convinced that An Camas Mor will meet their housing needs.  When they learn it may affect their access rights too – and there is a much higher proportion of people who mountain bike in Aviemore than the rest of the country – they might actually start to oppose the whole development.   I hate to say this, but it looks like someone in the CNPA has reached the same conclusion, which is why the Habitats Regulation Appraisal has only been published at the last minute (I am happy to give the Park a right of reply on parkswatch to explain their position).

 

The wider picture

 

The big question is why, having created National Parks to protect parts of Scotland which are particularly important for conservation and recreation, are they in a position where much of their time and resources is devoted to developing new towns, leisure developments like Flamingo Land and inappropriate developments up mountains?.  Surely our National Parks were created to do things differently?

 

I can understand our politicians wanting to create jobs and build better places for people to live – I think this is necessary too – but to do this in the same old ways, basically giving land over developers to produce yet more inappropriate developments, shows a complete lack of imaginative thinking or ideas of how to promote sustainable economic development.      Both our National Parks need an alternative economic strategy, and to pioneer new paths to sustainable economic development.

 

Added to the inappropriateness of developments such as An Camas Mor, is the fact that its located adjacent to Glenmore, the place most under pressure in the whole of the Cairngorms National Park.  Why then is the CNPA directing development to the very area that can least support it?   There are plenty of other places, such as Dalwhinnie and Laggan, which could sustain further development and if developed would help spread visitor load.    Instead, the implications for all those who currently enjoy visiting Glenmore is that in order to offset the impact of more people living locally (and cycling or walking their dog in Glenmore) new visitor management measures will be introduced which will have a drastic impact on access rights.   This means this development has implications for the whole recreation community, including people who go to Glenmore to enjoy wildlife.

 

The big test for the CNPA on Friday is whether it will put the needs of the developer and the wishes of politicians before  its duty to promote conservation and public enjoyment of the countryside.

August 14, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
On Day 2 on the Alta Via 2, one of the great walking trails of the world, we met three path workers, one with a pick axe and the other two with shovels, employed by the Puez Odle Nature Park, conducting routine path maintenance. In three weeks in the Dolomites I came across two other teams of pathworkers doing path maintenance, something which is unimagineable in Scotland. Local jobs for local people.

I have just returned from the Dolomites to find extensive media coverage on how Scotland is failing to provide the infrastructure necessary to support visitors.  On Skye, there are claims that the island has reached the limit in terms of the number of visitors it can sustain (see here), while in Orkney suggestions of a tourist tax (see here) on luxury cruise liners to fund infrastructure have been predictably dismissed under the neo-liberal mantra that all tax is bad.    I suspect most Italians would be astonished by the way these debates are framed in Scotland.   The evidence on the ground from the Dolomites is that far more money is being invested in tourism infrastructure than in Scotland and there are far more visitors, with consequent benefits both to people and to the economy.   We saw signs saying tourism in the Dolomites is worth £50bn a year and, while this is considerably boosted by downhill skiing, it dwarfs the latest figure for tourism spend in Scotland of £8.9bn.   In this post I will consider how investment in footpaths in Scotland compares to the Dolomites.

 

Back in July, in a very welcome article in the Scotsman (see here) Grant Moir, Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, raised the need to think about how we pay for paths in our National Parks.   This in my view is exactly what our National parks should be doing – instead of pretending all is rosy and that they are managing on ever decreasing budgets – they should be articulating a new vision for the future and how this could be funded, which could then incidentally be adopted by other places like Skye and Orkney.

 

Unfortunately the heading of the article (which was no doubt inserted by a sub-editor)  – “freedom to roam is a costly business” – reflects the prevailing negative stance towards access in Scotland by the establishment, which sees everything in terms of cost not opportunity.    In fact, the amounts Grant Moir referred to are tiny.  So, the CNPA has spent £10m on paths in 15 years – that’s just £666k a year – and requires at least £500k a year to maintain paths.   Compare that to the £3bn that the Scottish Government has committed to pay for the dualling of 80 miles of the A9.   If just 1% of that – £30m – were spent on paths along the A9 corridor over the next ten years the CNPA and neighbouring local authorities would be awash with money to spend on paths.  Instead, the CNPA at present has to rely on Heritage Lottery funding, the £3.2m awarded in 2015 over 5 years for the Mountains and People project which covers both our National Parks.

 

Paths in the Dolomites

 

The path network in the Dolomites is far more extensive than what we have in Scotland and this is partly for historical reasons.

Military path in the Belluna National Park

 

Most people are probably aware that the Dolomites was the setting for major battles in the first world war in which 750,000 Italians died and which saw an extensive network of paths/tracks and via ferrata constructed high up in the mountains.    These now form the base for the mountain path network.   By contrast our own military roads, with a few notable exceptions such as along the West Highland Way, tend, because of their location along the floors of straths, to have become part of the trunk road network.

Path in woods above Predazzo – still used to extract timber.

The Dolomites also, however, have far more paths lower down.   I was based for a time in a lovely small town called Predazzo which is surrounded by forest.   I had no map to the area but no need of one.  Whatever way I left the town – and I did four runs in four different directions – I came across a multitude of path options.   The paths in the woods appear to exist because local people have worked the forests for centuries – the commune that runs Predazzo is 800 years old – a contrast to Scotland where people were cleared from the land and few paths were needed for work purposes, the main exception to this being our fine stalking paths.  These are thin on the ground however in comparison to the historic path legacy in the Dolomites.

Mule track onto Pale San Martino, reputedly constructed by a Count so his disabled daughter could experience the amazing scenery

The Dolomites, and indeed many other places in Europe including England, have had a head start over Scotland in terms of path infrastructure.   This was recognised in the discussions which led to our access legislation which identified a need for a more extensive path network: hence the provisions of the Land Reform Act about the creation of core path networks.   Unfortunately due to neo-liberal thinking, in which it is held a self-evident truth that nothing should be provided for free, and austerity the aspirations for a comprehensive path network have never been delivered (despite the efforts of many good people).     Instead our National Parks and other access authorities are left scrabbling for money.   This is quite a contrast to what I saw in the Dolomites.

Path, held together by logs, up scree slope south of Mulaz Hut – the nature of the ground in the Dolomites means that many paths would not exist without human ingenuity and engineering
An additional expense in Italy is the protection of paths with cabling – we have no equivalent in Scotland – but the creation and maintenance of such paths requires investment
A constructed log path from Rifugio Firenze/Regensburger Hut leads up this gully onto the Stevia plateau

While in the Dolomites I stayed in the Firenze Hut twice, the first as part of the Alta Via 2 when I walked up this path.   On my second visit to climb we found it closed, part of the path had been swept away in a great storm.    However, unlike the Cairngorms where – as Grant Moir states – people are still trying to find money to repair the damage from the great floods on Deeside, signs had gone up immediately saying what had happened and there was evidence the path was being repaired.   What I think this demonstrates is that path maintenance is a priority in Italy in a way that is unthinkable in Scotland.

Evidence of recent maintenance work could be seen along many paths: here a drainage hole has been created in order to create a sump for water running off a path

So why is this?  Part of the explanation I think lies in the power to make decisions and budgets to implement them being far more devolved than in Scotland.  In most of the huts we stayed in we paid a small tourism tax which is used to fund infrastructure locally.   Behind this though is a general appreciation that people want to experience the fantastic landscape of the Dolomites and what this requires is for people to be able to get out into those landscapes in the way they want.

Walkers coming off the lift from the summit of the Sas de Pordoi to walk over the Sella Plateau.  Many walk from here over to the summit of Piz Boe one of the 3000m peaks in the Dolomites and a superb viewpoint. The photo  illustrates the sheer numbers of people walking in the Dolomites and while the rocky terrain here can support these numbers, it also provides an illustration of the potential impact on the Cairngorm environment were the funicular ever to cease to be a closed system.

One of the best ways to do this is by providing paths.     This is backed by some interesting research (see here) which shows that satisfaction with the landscape is the biggest single factor influencing tourism spend:

 

 

 

 

A warning to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority who are allowing much of the landscape of the National Park to be trashed through the creation of unnecessary new and poorly constructed forestry and hydro tracks.  What they should be focussing on is the creation of a quality path network.

An example of our failure to invest from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park

The contrast between Scotland and the Dolomites is illustrated by these photos from Arrochar, which I received from reader Stephen Pimley, on arriving back in Glasgow.   Its only a tiny section of path, funded by multiple agencies, but I believe it tells an important tale.

 

Photo credit Stephen Pimley

 

Here is the problem in Stephen’s own words:  “I see tourists standing in a state of puzzlement in front of the overgrown brambles and conifer hedge.  They stand at the side of the road and move on………………I have raised a work request on the Argyll and Bute council but previous requests have been ignored.   Hopefully the fact that there are multiple ‘partners’ involved won’t lead to one of those desperate “its not my job!” situations”.

Photo Credit Stephen Pimley

The basic problem is that there is almost no money available for basic path maintenance.   Most of the paths through dense vegetation like this in the Dolomites are strimmed to keep them clear for walkers.   By contrast our public authorities seem to expect that volunteers should do this and, while there is a very active and committed group of volunteers in Arrochar – where the Community Council has been long trying to improve the local amenity of the area and without whom its doubtful whether any of the attempts to clear up the beach at the head of Loch Long would have happened – I have been informed most of these volunteers are now in their seventies.     They should not be having to do this.

 

Is it really too much to aspire for that there should be one part-time footpath maintenance worker available to every community in the National Park?    This would help keep young people in the villages, as happens in Italy.  It could even provide all the pathwork trainees on the Mountains and People project jobs in the longer term.   Instead, what is happening in our National Parks, is that pathwork is funded by one source of temporary funding after another rather than being treated as a core function of National Parks.

What needs to happen

  • I would like to see our National Parks learn and compare themselves to places in other countries, whether National Parks or not (only a small proportion of the Dolomites are designated as National Parks).
  • Grant Moir was right, a permanent solution to how we invest in paths in National Parks – and elsewhere in Scotland – needs to be found.   Both our National Parks should be taking a lead on this and this should include consideration of what investment needs to take place to enable Scotland to catch up in terms of path provision as well as how paths can be maintained.    Both our National Parks have made tentative steps in this direction but they should be using the evidence from places like the Dolomites to articulate a far more comprehensive vision.
July 24, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

Dear Cairngorms National Park Authority,

I had come over Carn na Drochaide and Carn Liath – crossing the track which runs up the fairy glen it is true – to be faced with the track which runs up to and across the Bealach Dearg, high under the western face of Culardoch.  Besides the grouse, it services a scientific research station on the bealach (visible where the track bends left).   The National Park has stated it wishes to stop track development in our hills, a welcome step, but I think it needs to go one step beyond, follow the example of the National Trust for Scotland on Beinn a Bhuird and start to identify tracks that should be removed to re-wild our landscape.   The Culardoch track would be high on my list but why not ask other people what they think?

July 19, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Ladder trap for crows 7th July north west of Loch Builg, Meall Gaineaimh, outlier of Ben Avon behind

Dear Cairngorms National Park Authority,

Loch Builg and the eastern flanks of Ben Avon are remote country for those arriving on foot, three hours or so from a public road.  Despite the network of estate tracks I was surprised to see this trap, at the end of the track above Loch Builg ,and on the hillside above upturned turves sprinkled with medicated grit.   Please read Susan Matthew’s fine piece in the recent issue of the Cairngorms Campaigner, the newsletter of the Cairngorms Campaign,  about a walk through a wildlife desert on the flanks of Ben Avon.  The explanation is in the photo.  Every animal that might prey on or affect grouse is destroyed, while heather is the only plant that counts. If the core of the Cairngorms cannot be wild, a sanctuary for wildlife and devoid of human artefacts, where else could be?

July 13, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Destruction around the Corrimulzie intake. On first viewing this, I had assumed all the destruction had been caused by the construction of the hydro intake but the rocks in foreground, which partly envelope the bases of the two birch trees, were deposited by flood water during Storm Frank which devastated Deeside.

The Corriemulzie community hydro scheme  http://braemarhydro.org.uk/scheme/, just west of Braemar on the road to Linn of Dee, provides an interesting case of how developments can go badly wrong despite the best intentions of the main players.  I first visited this scheme, which became operational last summer, in September 2016 and was horrified by what I saw.   Subsequent research and correspondence with the Cairngorms National Park Authority established the situation was a little more complex than it appeared and both the CNPA and Braemar Community Hydro were taking action to rectify the damage that had been caused by the contractors and design failings.  I have therefore delayed blogging about it but a check up visit last weekend (its a ten minute walk from the road and well worth a visit if in the area), on the way to a stravaig through the eastern Cairngorms, showed that remedial measures have only had a limited impact.  I think its time therefore to publicise what appears to have gone wrong and what lessons could be learned for the future.

The old intake dam has been infilled with flood debris. You can just see old intake pipe centre left.

Historically there was a hydro scheme on the Corriemulzie burn which supplied power to Mar Lodge.

View of powerhouse from Linn of Quoich July 2017

The new powerhouse sits by site of former powerhouse although the track to it, down from the Braemar to Linn of Dee Road, is new.   In my view – and I realise this is just a matter of opinion – the wider landscape impact of the track is not a major issue.  I did not revisit the track though last September there were both good things and bad about how the land around it had been restored.

In design terms the power house is well located, close to bank and trees, and the turning area for vehicles is small.  All positives.  The ground above the pipeline had recovered quickly, with evidence of turfs having been stored and replaced.   Incredible care needs to be taken with removal of turf and topsoil if all the surface area is to be re-covered in restoration and in this area there was not enough to use on the banks (bare patch left) though I suspect this has recovered by now.

The track has been less well done, with large boulders left on the surface of what had previously been a grassy field.  The bank on the right though is at a sufficiently low angle to recover quickly and a good example of track design.

The Corriemulzie hydro intake area

The main problem with the Corriemulzie scheme is around the main intake.  It was not pristine prior to the hydro and the hill track and vehicle use had caused some needless damage.

The hydro scheme and burn is just to the left. Note the steep bank down to the track.

 

The planning however was a chance to restore past damage and the intake was intended to look like this:

 

Photomontage from CNPA Planning Committee report which approved the scheme in December 2013

If this had been delivered, I would be congratulating Braemar Community Hydro and the Cairngorms National Park Authority whose landscape adviser had said “the location of intake is a small but very scenic a ‘gem’ of a location” and recommended the utmost care.

 

Unfortunately, what has happened is completely different to what was intended.

In order to build the dam the burn needed to be diverted through a channel created through the (true right) bank above the intake.  The intake as it appeared in September 2016.

 

The bank as it appeared in September 2016

And this is an overview of how the area looks now:

The fundamental issues here are:

  • there has been no effective restoration of the bank along the burn;
  • the bank on the hill was excavated and is far too steep to be restored;
  • the track and turning area are far too wide.

While  there had been obvious attempts at amelioration since September 2016 these have not in my view addressed the fundamental issues.

Four strips of fabric had been applied to the oversteep bank to reduce erosion but this has had no impact.   There is no sign of vegetation re-establishing itself and the problems have been increased by deer (you can see hoof marks between 2nd and 3rd strips) walking down the slope.

 

View across burn above intake

There has been “compensatory” tree planting but no attempt to restore vegetation to the bank of the burn.   This should have been done months ago at the beginning of the growing season.

A new signboard has been erected by the intake.   The line of pylons is rather ironic given CNPA’s opposition to the Beauly Denny and I wonder what Prince Charles, who opened the scheme, and talks so much about architectural standards and traditional landscapes thought about the destruction.  Its as if, though, everyone at the official opening had their eyes shut.

 

Despite the atrocious finishing along the bank and track, this photos shows some good things about the scheme.  You can just see the pipe from the second hydro running below the bridge – you won’t see it unless you look out for it – and the CNPA told the developer there was no need to erect fencing around the intake.  I agree.     All that good design though counts for little if the destruction round about is not addressed.

 

So what has gone wrong?

 

I have tried since the weekend to look through planning documents.  There are pages of them, one document submitted by Braemar Community Hydro is over 200 pages long, and seems to cover everything except a description of the detailed work that was planned to construct the main intake.    The CNPA landscape adviser drew attention to this in an appendix to the Committee Report and recommended further detailed plans were required before planning consent was given.   The Committee however gave approval on condition these documents were produced but unfortunately these documents, if they were produced, are not on the CNPA website.    It is possible therefore that the CNPA allowed this development to go ahead without a proper landscape plan for the intake area.    If so, that in effect allowed the contractor to do what they wanted in the intake area and undermined all the other efforts staff had made to ensure this scheme was of the highest standard possible.  One small mistake can have huge consequences.

 

However, I don’t think all the emphasis should be on paperwork, which is beyond the capacity of any  community organisation to deliver and which means they have to put themselves in the hands of consultants.   I suspect if there was a hole in the paperwork, Braemar Community Hydro did not appreciate this either.

 

A fundamental problem with the proliferation of hydro schemes is that monitoring their construction is not being properly resourced.  I think if there had been someone properly qualified on site, the bank on the hillside would never have been excavated because it would have been only too obvious it could not be restored properly.   The problem is our National Parks rely on developers appointing an Ecological Clerk of Works to do the supervision and these people are beholden to the developer/contractor who pay their wages – they are therefore not independent.   It may also be the case – given the many failures to restore construction tracks – that they don’t have the right skills.

The ground above the pipeline to the second intake has not bee restored well and will, as a result, take a much longer time to recover than it should have with increased erosion.

A related  issue is that both our National Parks only appear to start proper monitoring once construction is almost complete.  Here is what CNPA Chief Executive Grant Moir told me in January:

 

“CNPA staff noted various breaches at the site in April 2016 during a routine monitoring visit.  The agent was immediately contacted by phone to express concern and also contacted in writing.  CNPA staff and the agent for the development met on site in May 2016 to discuss how to reinstate or mitigate the unauthorised or unsatisfactory works.  The agent provided an initial written programme of reinstatement works in June 2016 which the CNPA did not consider satisfactory”

 

What a commendable response and the contrast with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority who treat everything as a Freedom of Information Request is striking.   The problem though is once the construction has gone wrong, and created unnecessary damage, this becomes very difficult and very expensive to put right.  Our National Parks need to try and find a way of preventing problems rather than detecting them after the event.

The small second intake, the pipe runs to the right of the blocks of trees which have been planted.

Lots of tree planting should not be seen as compensation for poor ground restoration work.

What needs to happen

 

I hope this post has demonstrated that the way the planning system operates at present, even when our National Parks’ have taken considerable and commendable efforts with hydro developments, they can go badly wrong.

 

The focus of the CNPA and Braemar Community Hydro needs to be around addressing the landscape damage around the first intake.   I think that to remedy the damage will require considerable expertise and require money.  If the contractor cannot be made liable, it means the shareholders for the hydro, who were expecting a 5-8% return (there is interesting information on the finances on the community hydro website), Mar Estate which is charging rent (and was responsible for previous damage in the area) and the community may have to wait for their return.  It seems to people that all the people who were going to gain from this development have a collective responsibility to ensure that this is not at the expense of the landscape.   Success would then be being able to promote this as being a nice place to go for a walk again – a “small gem” in the National Park – as it was in the past.

 

In terms of planning system failures, it seems to me these are twofold.  First, not nearly enough emphasis is put on the landscape impact of construction prior to planning approval.   Planning applications consider the wider impact on the landscape but not the more localised impact.  Its hard to see the Corriemulzie intake from any distance but the local impact is huge.   Our National Parks should be exemplars of good practice in this respect but they generally approve hydro schemes in principle without detailed Construction Method Statements.  Then, once a scheme is approved in principle, its much harder for staff to influence and its probably less of a priority, because they are judged on the time it takes from planning application to approval.    None of this is the fault of planning staff, its the system and that needs to change.

 

Second, the focus of monitoring needs to shift from the end stage of the construction to the beginning and be independent of both developer and contractor.    This would prevent problems arising.  For example, if our National Parks were ensuring all vegetation was properly removed and stored before pipelines were dug or tracks created or broadened, restoration would then be far more effective.

 

For this to happen though, our National Parks, like all our public authorities, need to be properly resourced.

 

Lastly,  it would be good, given what I see as their good intentions, if the CNPA, Braemar Community Hydro and the other main players had a proper discussion, a post mortem if you like, about what lessons might be learned and then publicised this so they could be used to inform the development of hydro schemes, both community and commercial, in future.

July 10, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Following my posts on the Ledcharrie (see here), Coilessan  (see here) Glen Clova and Glen Prosen (see here) and (see here) hill tracks I contacted the heads of planning in both National Park Authorities to find out what they were doing about this.  The responses could not have been more different.   The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority treating my request under Freedom of Information, delaying their response and then refusing to divulge information.  The Cairngorms National Park Authority answering my questions and promising to make information on their planning portal.

 

The LLTNPA response to Ledcharrie

On 11th June (see here) I asked Stuart Mearns, Head of Planning (and copied in the Park’s Convener of Planning Petra Biberbach) for all the information required by the Park’s Decision Notice approving the Ledcharrie scheme in principle , the dates of monitoring visits and any correspondence/information about enforcement.  On Friday, I received  this unsigned refusal EIR 2017- 050 Response Ledcharrie from someone, they have not put their name to the letter, claiming to be a Governance Manager.

 

The  LLTNPA’s reason for refusing the information, would if accepted, represent a massive step back for the planning system:

 

The documentation submitted by the developer to comply with conditions set out in the planning decision has been withheld from release under R10(5)(b) of the EIR’s as the information relates to live operational activities which are currently being monitored by the Park Authority. Not all conditions have been discharged.

 

Section R10 (5) b of the Environmental Information Regulations reads:

 

(5) A Scottish public authority may refuse to make environmental information available to the extent that its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially–

(b) the course of justice, the ability of a person to receive a fair trial or the ability of any public authority to conduct an inquiry of a criminal or disciplinary nature;

 

The Park is in effect is claiming that to make public any information required by a Decision Notice could interfere with the course of justice – presumably a reference to potential enforcement action.   Leave aside the fact that the LLTNPA has almost never taken enforcement action, this is complete and utter rubbish.  The Decision Notice of 2015 required the Developer to provide lots of further information including construction methods for all aspects of the scheme, detailed landscape mitigation and restoration techniques, a turve protection plan, a peat protection plan, a raptor survey, etc before any work started.  A commendable list.   If these had all been supplied as required and approved by the Park Authority there is no reason at all why they should not be made public, as they form part of the approval, nothing to do with enforcement.  That is a separate matter which comes afterwards as is about whether the Developer kept to the conditions that had been agreed.   Indeed making such documents public would have enabled interested parties to judge for themselves whether the conditions had been adhered to and report potential breaches to the Park.

 

If the Developer had not provided all the information required – and the Park has refused even to say whether the Developer has or hasn’t done this –  the Park should not have allowed construction to go ahead.   What the Park appears to be saying is that none of the detailed specifications for developments should be made public until the file is closed (once monitoring is complete).   This makes the Park as Planning Authority almost totally unaccountable and would be a retrograde step for the planning system.

 

The Coilessan track

 

In response to my questions on the Coilessan track on 28th June (see here), and in particular whether Forestry Commission Scotland had told the Park about this under the Prior Notification System, I have had an email from Stuart Mearns saying I should get a response by 26th July.   That’s almost a month but at least Mr Mearns responded himself rather than passing straight on to the Park’s Secrecy Department.

 

The CNPA’s response to information requests on enforcement and hill tracks

 

The contrast to the CNPA’s response to my emails on the Glen Prosen and Glen Clova tracks could not be greater.  Here are some extracts from Gavin Miles, Head of Planning’s emails:

 

We are looking at the Glen Prosen Hydro tracks. The CMS [construction method statement] etc should be uploaded to our public access planning pages this week or next. If there’s anything that doesn’t get uploaded we’ll let you know and will send it to you in the formal FOI/Environmental Information Request response format.

 

If the CNPA can add Construction Method Statements to their planning portal so the public can see what has been agreed in cases where enforcement action is possible, so can the LLTNPA.  Well done the CNPA for being transparent!

 

Just to make things slightly easier for us to identify on the maps and aerial photography, it would be helpful if you could send an image of the map that shows the bits you walked or are concerned about if they don’t appear to you to be part of a consent or application.

 

It gives you confidence when the Planning Authority asks for further information about exact locations (I had sent them photos and a general description of where I had walked).   My mate who I was running with told me afterwards that if you use Strava, it not only plots your entire course, it can give the exact location for photos – a useful tip for anyone wanting to report on hill tracks.

 

The CMS we have for the Clova Hydro scheme will be uploaded to the public access planning pages. Just to be clear, we haven’t taken any enforcement action against the Clova track at this point. The Planning Contravention Notice (PCN) is a fact-finding notice.

 

Honesty about what the CNPA is doing.  Quite a contrast to the LLTNPA who want to keep everything secret.

 

A comparision between the two National Parks

 

The CNPA  is far from perfect and I have criticised its planning department in a number of posts, particularly the way they handled the Shieling Hill Track at Cairngorm and also their decision to stop recording planning meetings, which in my view was a retrograde step.   I believe that as a National Park Authority they could do better but at present they are a country mile ahead of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.    Their Partnership Plan includes a presumption against new hill tracks, the LLTNPA draft plan says nothing.  They are prepared to be open about what they are doing (at least some of the time), the LLTNPA reveals nothing unless its forced to.   They are trying to put more information on the planning portal, the LLTNPA has been removing information post-decision saying the law does not require such information to be published.

 

One might not always agree with the CNPA but it is possible to have a dialogue.  The LLTNPA does not do dialogue:  if you don’t agree with them, you get shut out of processes.

 

The explanation for this difference is not just about differences in staff (and who knows what pressure Stuart Mearns is under from his Chief Executive Gordon Watson), it is I believe about Board Members.   Petra Biberbach was on the Scottish Government’s independent review of the planning system which included these statements:

 

“Consistency and transparency of information are central to the reputation and smooth running of the development management system.”   

 

“The increasing use of social media and online portals is in our view a more resource efficient and effective way of communicating casework with the wider public.”

 

So, why has she apparently done nothing to make the LLTNPA as planning authority more transparent?

 

Contrast this with Cllr Bill Lobban who is on the CNPA Board and was Highland Council Convener of Planning;  he criticised the CNPA for not recording planning meetings as webcasts and argued that Councils were better placed to fulfil the planning function.  In other words there are people on the CNPA Board who keep staff on their toes.

 

What needs to happen

 

I hope the refusal of LLTNPA staff to provide information about the Ledcharrie Scheme does not have to go to the Information Commissioner for Decision and that Petra Biberbach as convener of the Planning Committee, insists the Park’s Chief Executive Gordon Watson instructs staff to make the information public as recommended in the independent review of planning report which she co-authored “Empowering planning to deliver great places”.

July 6, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
The Fiacaill t-bar dump in 2016
The Fiacaill t-bar dump in July 2017
Image from Save Cairngorm Facebook Page

Over the last fifteen months Parkswatch has highlighted the lack of maintenance and rubbish at Cairngorm, one of the worst examples being the dump at the former Fiacaill T-Bar.  This was originally justified as a temporary holding area for old fence posts which were supposed to be removed in the winter season but never were.  Instead, Natural Retreats started to burn fence posts in skips on the mountain (left) and added materials to the dump.

 

With Natural Retreats seemingly immune to any adverse publicity, Save the Ciste group  activist George Paton wrote to Highlands and Islands Enterprise on 21st June pointing out the temporary dump had been growing for 18 months and that “if little Johnny was injured or worse” they would ultimately be held responsible.   Here is the response:

 

30th June

Dear Mr Paton

Your email of 21 June 2017 to my colleague Keith Bryers, has been passed on to me, as HIE’s Customer Service Improvement Manager, for response.

Health and safety within the Cairngorm Estate is, naturally, of paramount importance, both for HIE as landowner, and CML [Caingorm Mountain Ltd] as operator of the visitor facilities.  HIE staff meet CML regularly to monitor performance on a broad range of operational issues, including safety.

With regard to your specific concerns about the present conditions in the Fiacaill T Bar area, our understanding is that this location is being used temporarily to store materials while current maintenance works are progressing.   We have already discussed this issue with CML and will raise it again, both to be assured on health and safety matters, and to ensure that the area is tidied as soon as is practicable.

 

Playing the Health and Safety card appears to have worked because in the last few days (see photos above) Natural Retreats has started to  clear the Fiacaill T-bar area.  Well done George, it shows how activists can make a difference.

 

The downside is that at present it appears the only way to get HIE to act at Cairngorm is threaten them with Health and Safety.  The test in this case will be whether, having tidied up the site and made it “safe”, HIE stop Natural Retreats using it as a dump and get them to remove the concrete plinth which formed part of the t-bar structure.   I have my doubts. HIE, like many other public authorities, is far more interested in large new capital vanity projects than in restoring sites affected by past developments or in basic maintenance.  What Cairngorm needs first and foremost is some attention to basics and all the evidence shows this is not happening.

 

Natural Retreats’ failure to develop an environmental plan or standards for Cairngorm

 

Last year, after parkswatch drew attention to the lack of any proper environmental management plan at Cairngorm (see here) CNPA staff wrote to Natural Retreats urging that they develop a set of standards for operating at Cairngorm.    This request was repeated by the CNPA Convener of Planning, Eleanor Mackintosh, in a letter (see here – thanks to George Paton who obtained it through FOI) to Natural Retreats dated 14/2/17:

 

“I would also urge you to develop some simple, best-practice management standards for your operations that you can consistently apply to your own works or those undertaken by contractors”.

 

Actually, there is no need for Natural Retreats to develop new best practice standards, because these already exist.  What they should have been doing, in consultation with conservation and recreational interests, is to review and update standards for the management of ski areas which were developed back in the 1980s (see here) as well as those developed during the construction of the funicular.   It has suited HIE to forget this history, the lessons from the past and, if there is one thing CNPA should be doing at present, its to demand that these lessons are incorporated into new standards.

 

Where Eleanor Mackintosh got it wrong, I believe, was to suggest to Natural Retreats that the management standards should be “simple”.   Cairngorm is a complex mountain environment and the examples of best practice that have been developed over time range from the simple to the highly complex depending on what is proposed.  To apply best practice standards consistently and appropriately would require the types of skill and expertise which are sadly lacking among managers at both at Natural Retreats and HIE.

 

The crumbling environs of the Day Lodge

Clearing up the Fiacaill dump takes very little effort or money, it could all be done in a day.  That it has taken so long tells you something about the way Cairngorm is being managed.  Its not just the natural environment that is being mismanaged though, the state of the buildings at Cairngorm tells a similar story, as these recent photos from around the Day Lodge show.

Before Natural Retreats bought Cairngorm Mountain Ltd from HIE, they were paid a sum, which I understand was c£600k, to cover delapidation works to buildings.  A sad indictment of HIE’s failure to maintain the buildings at Cairngorm during the period 2008-2014 when it had direct control.  This money appears to have been either insufficient or has not been spent by Natural Retreats as intended.

The failure to carry out basic maintenance and repairs is a UK wide phenomenon.  The powers that be, in both public and private sectors, would prefer to let buildings collapse and then build new ones, rather than spend any money on maintenance.   Money spent on maintenance though not only improves amenity – what message do these photos give to visitors to Cairngorm? – it helps create local jobs.   Natural Retreats appears though to have no interest in investing in the things that matter at Cairngorm but would rather be involved in grandiose new projects financed by the public sector.

Under the terms of HIE’s lease, Natural Retreats are supposed to maintain buildings in a reasonable state of repair and has to contribute to both a Buildings Sinking Fund and Asset Replacement Fund.  It would be in the public interest that Natural Retreats’ contributions to these funds (they were supposed to pay £11k to the ARF in March 2016 and £27k in March 2017) and expenditure from them are made public – I will ask!

How long before a visitor trips on this edge and sues Natural Retreats?

I suspect Natural Retreats will only maintain the built environment around the Day Lodge when forced to do so for health and safety reasons – if I was their  insurers I would be upping their premiums.    It shouldn’t need health and safety though for basic maintenance and care of buildings to take place at Cairngorm, it just needs an owner and operator that cares about the place.    Unfortunately all the evidence shows that neither HIE or Natural Retreats care and, while activists need to press for improvements at Cairngorm, the only long-term solution is for the land to be taken away from HIE and transferred to an organisation that does have the interests of the mountain and the people at its heart.

July 4, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The new track runs round the head of Glen Prosen – here looking towards Bawhelps

During a round of the Glen Prosen watershed 10 days ago, I came across a bulldozed track on the plateau at the head of the Glen which appears to be just inside the boundary of the Glen Isla Estate and therefore created by that estate.    The lack of vegetation on the surface – on what is a relatively fertile soil – and the state of the turves which have been piled by the track suggest the track is relatively recent.   There is nothing about this track on the Cairngorms National Park Authority planning portal and it therefore would appear to have been constructed without planning permission.

The new hydro tracks in Glen Prosen viewed from Mayar. The boundary of Wild Land Area 16 is at Kilbo, centre right, where the track meets a burn flowing in from the right

I had not realised when blogging about the Glen Clova and Glen Prosen hydro tracks (see here)  that the head of Glen Prosen was within Wild Land Area 16 “Lochnagar and Mount Keen”.   There is a presumption against development in wild land areas – even more reason, if more were needed, for the CNPA to taken enforcement action and ensure the “temporary” hydro access tracks are removed.

Glen Prosen runs parallel and left of Glen Clova. Most of the new track across the plateau appears to be in Wild Land Area 16.
View to Dun Hillocks from east of the Mayar Burn. Lochnagar is on the right.

After crossing Driesh and Mayar, we met the track near the Mayar Burn.  While I was tempted to follow the northern section towards Dun Hillocks and Finalty Hill, I was not sure my legs would take it (first longer run of the year!).   It was difficult to see how far the track goes because of the rolling nature of the landscape here which is well described in the Wild Land Statement (see here) which was published last year:

 

At a broad level, the landform tends to be convex, limiting visibility up and down slopes. This means that, from the hill tops, neighbouring glens are screened and there is a horizontal emphasis of open views directed over successive tiers of ridges and tops extending far into the distance and contributing to a sense of awe.

 

What is clear is that it penetrates well into the Wild Land area 16.  I couldn’t tell either if it enters the Lochnagar and Deeside National Scenic Area, the boundary of which runs in a straight line between Mayar and Finalty Hill  (any information on this, particularly photos, would be welcome).

The plateau, the head of the Mayar burn is the lower ground on far right of photo, the track just to the left of the photo.  While the grouse butt is well disguised, it indicates that this track was created for “sporting” purposes and therefore should have required full planning permission.

The creation of the track has removed much of the challenge of navigating across what was a featureless area of plateau.  If you have ever tried to walk between Tom Buidhe and Mayar in the mist you will know what I mean.   This quality of the plateau, so important to adventure, is also well described in the Wild Land statement:

 

Despite a mixed composition of hills and undulations, the simplicity of the landform and land cover at a broad level means individual peaks do not tend to stand out and it can be difficult to estimate vertical scale or distance within the landscape. This makes navigation challenging upon the hills and plateaux, especially in low cloud, thus increasing risk.

Looking towards South Craig at head of Glen Prosen.  The track is intermittent in the sense that it is a mixture of track eroded by regular vehicular use and new sections where the turf has been completely removed.

Because its intermittent, although the constructed sections predominate, its possible that the track was not created all at once but over time.

View across track to Mayar.  The creation of drainage channels adds to the mess and impact on vegetation.

The track has been created by a digger scraping off the turf and dumping it by the side of the new track.  The positive thing about this is it should make restoration of the track quite simple.  All the estate would have to do is replace the turves and soil onto the bare surface.

 

Intermittent section of track up Bawhelps

The older vehicle erosion shows that its not just constructed tracks which are the problem – its vehicle use.  The CNPA should be addressing the issue of vehicular use on higher ground.    A start would be to restrict the type of vehicles that can be used, ban heavier vehicles like landrovers and just allow quad bikes which are much lighter and, if used carefully, cause much less damage to vegetation.  This could be done through the creation of conservation byelaws.

Looking southwest from Bawhelps, Badundun Hill and Mount Blair in distance.  The track comes up to Bawhelps over Midhill from Glen Isla.

We didn’t follow the track over Mid Hill and so did not ascertain where it started (again photos would be welcome) but it appears most of it lies within the Cairngorms National Park boundary.

View along new spur to track which runs south east along Broom Hill, Craigie Thieves behind.

There is a short spur to the track down Broom Hill, which unlike other sections of track has been created by importing aggregate and dumping it on top of vegetation.  This section of track will be much harder to restore.

The spur then turns into a vehicle eroded track before ending completely before the bealach between Broom Hill and Craigie Thieves

Had I not stopped to take photos, we would have made fast time from the Mayar Burn to the bealach with Craigie Thieves.  After that, the going was much slower and although the hills were much lower, they provided a wilder experience even after we had crossed out of the National Park.

Looking towards Eskielawn outside the National Park boundary.

Although there was a fence, the absence of track made a huge difference to the experience,  altogether wilder and hard on the legs, and not just because I was forced to play the role of aged deerhound trying to keep within sight of my mate!

 

Until, that is, we came to this monstrosity on the Hill of Adenaich, well outside the CNPA boundary, and the responsibility of Angus Council to fix.     Sadly, whether these tracks are created or not appears to have very little to do with the Planning Authority, its all determined by the landowner: most create tracks, some don’t.  It would be good though if our National Parks became exemplars of good practice and the CNPA by its actions inspires Angus Council also to take action.

 

What needs to happen

 

I have reported the track featured here to the CNPA, asked them to confirm whether they were aware of it not and stated that it appears to have been constructed for sporting purposes and therefore should have required full planning permission.    In my view the track should be removed.   The CNPA in their new Partnership Plan, to their credit, have stated that there will be a presumption against new hill tracks within upland areas in the National Park.  This one enters a Wild Land area to boot so there is every reason for them to take action.   If the CNPA act fast, much of the damage could  be restored quite quickly (because the turves removed to create the track are still usable) so I would urge them to do so.

 

Whether the Glen Isla estate, which straddles the National Park Boundary, will co-operate remains to be seen.   While the Glen Isla estate appears on the CNPA map of estates which lie within the National Park (see here) there is no estate management plan.  The CNPA initiative to get estates to publish management plans was a good one but has been ignored by many landowners.  In my view the publication of management plans for all estates within the National Park should be compulsory and such plans should include maps of all existing tracks (and where they end) as well as a statement from each estate about what vehicles they use off track.  This would it much easier for the CNPA to take enforcement action in cases like this.

July 3, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

Apologies to readers but due to problems with internet connectivity I was not able to get this post on (or next on rural development) out last week as intended.   The consultation on the National Park Partnership Plan (see here) closes today.

 

The LLTNPA’s visitor priorities are wrong

 

The second section of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority’s National Park Partnership Plan (NPPP) is titled Visitor Experience.  I hate the term (it was also used by the Cairngorms National Park Authority) because its being used to change what National Parks should be about.  Instead of enabling people to enjoy the landscape for itself, and being free to do so, our National Park Authorities now appear to believe their role is about giving people an experience – often it seems something to be paid for – whether or not that experience has anything to do with outdoors.  This is a distortion of our National Park’s statutory objective in respect to visitors which is “to promote understanding and enjoyment, including enjoyment in the form of recreation, of the special qualities of the area by the public”.   Note the statutory objective relates to “the special qualities” of the National Park, not to the promotion of developments such as Natural Retreats or Flamingo Land.    Many of the failures of the LLTNPA and draft NPPP result from a departure from that statutory objective.

 

A good example is VE3, which is about the visitor economy:

 

“Businesses and organisations in the Park have taken great strides in adapting and innovating to better provide for the dynamic and ever changing tourism demand. The accommodation offering has seen many positive investments while the quality of food and drink has improved significantly. We have seen a strong increase in the number of people coming to the National Park for food and drink, up from 15% in 2011 to 44% in 2015. There has also been a rise in visitors using of self-catering, managed campsites and hotels from 2011 to 2015.”

 

Ignore the fact that there are now fewer places to camp in the National Park than ever before, ignore the failure of the NPPP to consider low pay and precarious jobs in the tourism industry, the LLTNPA appears to see promoting food and drink as important, if not more so, than enabling people to enjoy the Great Outdoors (and is it really credible that the numbers of people visiting the National Park is up from 15% to 44%?).   The photo in this section, (left) speakers louder than words.

 

Tourism, whether appropriate or not, has become a substitute for sustainable economic development (the third statutory objective of the LLTNPA and subject of my last post on the NPPP).   This is the wrong starting point.   As the NPPP states, the vast majority of visitors to the National Park are day visitors from the Clyde conurbation.    Those people – I am one of them –  and overnight visitors visit primarily to enjoy the scenery and undertake recreational activities such as walking, cycling, boating or fishing.  We may of course spend some money – many hillwalkers for example enjoy a meal or a drink at the end of the day and this helps explain the success of enterprises like Real Foods at Tyndrum, while other people enjoy sitting out in pleasant surroundings (hence the success of the Oak Tree Inn at Balmaha?)  – but for most people this is a consequence of their visit, not a reason for it.

 

What appears to be happening though – and the Visitor Experience framework and the NPPP is an attempt to promote this further – is that the LLTNPA is prioritising the small minority of high spend visitors over the mass of people who visit the National Park:

 

“Our visitor profile has traditionally been characterised by high numbers of predominantly day visits that coincide with good weather. Historically this has meant a highly seasonal, weather dependent visitor economy that can give us very high volume visitor pressures in some of the most popular areas of the Park. These pressures can affect the quality of environment, visitor experience, economy and community life.”

 

Note how the LLTNPA claims that the high number of visitors on a few days of the year affects “the Visitor Experience”.  This is a version of the same old chestnut that there are too many people on the hill – the presence of other walkers destroys the experience.  Its elitist and the solution is obvious:  if you don’t like other people go somewhere else when its busy.    I am sure I am not the only person who avoids west Loch Lomond on public holidays but the large numbers of visitors at these times is an opportunity for the people who visit (to promote their own physical and mental wellbeing).    The LLTNPA however appears to see numbers as a problem rather than a challenge and so is trying to restrict visitors through the camping byelaws (300 places under the permit system instead of maximum counts of 850 tents previously), gating off and reducing the size of car parks (e.g on Loch Venachar) and introducing charges for visiting (car park charges, toilet charges etc).  There is no attempt to analyse the implications some of which are touched on the in the Strategic Environemental Assessment:

 

“the new more stringent visitor management measures may erode certain personal freedoms (population and human health), negatively impacting the image of the National Park.”

 

Instead of attacking access rights, the LLTNPA should be addressing the shortfall in infrastructure  needed to support visitors, at both peak and non-peak periods.  This includes addressing the shortfall in  basic facilities which parkswatch has covered many times in the last year, particularly litter bins and toilets (no mention in the NPPP that this comes out as top need in all visitor surveys in the National Park), as well as more challenging improvements such as to transport infrastructure as recommended in the LLTNPA’s own Strategic Environment Assessment:

 

the vast majority of visitor journeys to the Park continue to be made by car. There remains a need to promote public transport options and encourage visitors to travel by alternative modes. There are also opportunities to make travel to and within the Park “part of the experience” (e.g. linking longer distance cycle routes to public transport, investing in the seasonal waterbus service).”

The only improvement to public transport mentioned in the NPPP is the waterbus.    While the CNPA are committed to improving public transport in Glenmore, the LLTNPA has no plans to encourage the provision of public transport to Rowardennan, despite Ben Lomond being completely inaccessible to the large proportion of people who reside in the Clyde conurbation who don’t have a car.   This should be a national scandal.

 

Parkspin

 

The Visitor Experience section is peppered with parkspin, which is made possible from the lack of evidence in the plan and the failure to review progress in the previous plan (see here). This is a post-truth neo-liberal world full of soundbites and where evidence doesn’t count.  Here are a few examples:

 

  • “focus on raising the level of ambition, to ensure that the quality of visitor experience in the National Park is truly world class.”

Comment: actually, what most visitors want the National Park to do is provide basic facilities such as toilets and ensure litter is picked up.  The scenery doesn’t need ambition, it needs practical protection (there is no consideration of how all the new hydro tracks in the National Park contribute to the world class visitor experience).

 

  • “Boating and fishing continue to be popular and the availability of boating facilities (publicly-accessible piers, pontoons and moorings) continues to fall short of demand”. (VE2)

Comment: this is the same National Park that shut the Milarochy Launching pad without consultation just a few months ago.

 

  • “The West Highland Line offers an outstanding rail experience but opportunities to come here via local stations are currently under-promoted” (VE3).

Comment: last year (see here) the LLTNPA failed to respond to the reduction in cycle places on trains on the West Highland Line. Perhaps its now seen the light?   The West Highland Line though needs more than promotion for people to use it.  A timetable that worked for day visitors and a bus link for hillwalkers to the Arrochar Alps would be a start.

 

  • “Much public investment has already been targeted in raising the quality of visitor facilities in the busiest areas improving car parks, toilets, information points, litter facilities, viewpoints and campsites. This approach has achieved transformational improvements to East Loch Lomond and parts of The Trossachs through the 5 Lochs Visitor Management Plan.”(VE4).

Comment: the reality is that there has been some (not much) public investment, much of which has been wasted (for example £150k to date on camping management signs), the toilets the Park operates are closed for much of the year and most of the excellent proposals in the Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan have been dropped (eg for new toilets, camping areas, litter bins and wood piles for people to use) without any public explanation.

  • “There is scope for us to further develop the role of the National Park to engage with a wider range of groups in society and support recreational enjoyment, responsible behaviour and stronger appreciation of the need to look after the environment.” (VE5)

Comment: the reality is the LLTNPA has a long history of failing to engage with recreational groups, who have been excluded from decision making processes. There is not a single proposal in the plan about how recreational and landscape interests could be given a real say in how the Park is run.

 

Commentary on Visitor Experience Outcomes and actions

VE1  Recreation opportunities

This heading is misleading, the content is about path provision.   There are outdoor recreational opportunities everywhere, the issue is what infrastructure is needed to support this.   There are some good practical proposals in this section – unlike most other sections of the plan –  which are about what the LLTNPA will do over the next five years to improve the path network.      Whether the investment is enough, however, is not considered – its not nearly enough – and all the financing is dependent on other bodies.

 

In my view what the plan should have done is evaluate the recreational infrastructure – is it sufficient to meet demand, what state is it in? – and then set out a case for what resources are needed.    The Mountains for People project is great but it only tackles a small number of paths predominantly on publicly owned land.  What is the LLTNPA going to do to address path erosion on other hills?   Do the existing state management plans, which the LLTNPA has refused to release under FOI, contain any plans for paths?  (see here) The NPPP gives a nod to the problem “finding long term solutions to ensure the existing network is maintained and promoted to a high standard”  but contains no ideas let alone any proposals for how this might be addressed.   How about a bed night tax as is common in the French National Parks?   A small levy on overnight visitors would go a long way, as would car park charges if they were spent on paths rather than on trying to restrict access.

 

The absence of any context  makes it hard to interpret the commitment to review core paths.  Does the LLTNPA think these are sufficient or insufficient?  We are given no idea.   There should be a clear aspiration to increase the core path network.

 

VE2 Water based recreation

 

This section lacks any concrete proposals.     The spin, “Ensuring larger lochs are managed to support and facilitate both water craft and other recreational uses  while maximising safety for all users” is contradicted by the the reality which includes the Milarrochy slipway on east Loch Lomond has been closed on spurious health and safety grounds (see here),  the former access point for canoes at Loch Chon has been blocked off and the Loch Venachar Quay which was gifted to the people of Callander to enjoy boating (and which happens to be adjacent to Venachar House, home of former convener Linda Mackay) has been planted with trees.  There is no analysis of why numbers of boats on Loch Lomond have dropped – the water byelaws are asserted to be a success – and no practical proposals to make access to the water easier.  Instead the LLTNPA is focussing on supporting high profile mass events, such as swimming, which depend on volunteers from the boating community for stewarding.    The Loch Lomond Association, which represents all water users on the Loch, is not included as a stakeholder – that says it all!   The development of a meaningful plan should have started with the people who use the lochs (just as plans for camping should have started with the people who camp).

 

VE3 on tourism businesses

 

Priority action 1 says it all:  “Encouraging and supporting new and established tourism businesses to innovate and collaborate to  capitalise on growth markets………………”.    The section then goes on to talk about “recreation activity offerings” and “accommodation offerings” and states the LLTNPA wishes to encourage private sector and other investment in facilitiies for motorhomes and lower cost accommodation.   Nowhere does the Park set out what provision it sees as being needed or what investment might be required.   That is another abdication of responsibility.  The LLTNPA however apparently would prefer to leave not just delivery of facilities but also their planning to the market.   Why have a NPPP or a National Park Authority if you don’t believe in planning?

VE4 Visitor Management

 

This section states its about popular areas and management of visitor pressures but again is not based on any analysis. Its proposals show that the LLTNPA has learned nothing in the last two years from the criticisms of the camping byelaws.

 

The first priority action, which is the Park’s way of saying that it wants the camping byelaws to continue, is both meaningless and now defunct after the LLTNPA’s decision that it can no longer limit the number of campervans/motorhomes (see here): “Ensuring that the Camping Management Zones (WestLoch Lomond, Trossachs , Trossachs North and East Loch Lomond) support improvements to the environment and visitor experience through providing for sustainable levels of camping and motorhome use alongside other visitor activities.in the camping management zones

 

The second priority action “Agreeing an approach to ensuring the sustainable and responsible use of the Loch Lomond islands” is code for extending the camping byelaws to the Loch Lomond islands which the Board has already agreed in principle to look at. No evidence is provided to show that there is a problem that needs addressing and the failure of the LLTNPA to be open about this is another indictment of how it operates.

 

On the third priority action, while its a step forward that the LLTNPA has recognised the litter at the head of Loch Long as a problem that needs addressing (but if this, why not the litter along the A82 or fly tipping?), the inclusion of this action point under a section dealing with visitor management is incomprehensible. The litter at the head of Loch Long is not created by tourists but comes from the Clyde.  The Park’s reference to “innovative solutions” is devoid of content and therefore meaningless – what’s needed are resources to clear up the mess.

 

The fourth priority on developing parking and traffic management measures appears to be “code” for the further introduction of car parking charges. There is nothing in the consultation asking what people think about this – another indication that this is not a proper consultation at all.

 

VE5 Diversity of visitors

 

The actions in this section are again in my view meaningless. While the LLTNPA recognises that getting outdoors is good for people’s health and also its difficult for many people in the Clyde conurbation to get to the National Park, there is no analysis of how its existing visitor management measures have impacted on this (the camping bylaws hit the poorest most) and not a single proposal for how the LLTNPA could make the National Park more accessible  (A contrast to the Cairngorms National Park Authority who, for example, recognised there are issues about who accesses outdoor education).    The Park’s plan is to engage with health boards – is this really going to sort out the mess it has created?    If the Park really wanted to encourage people it would not have constructed its new campsite at Loch Chon, only accessible by car. The LLTNPA claims the National Park offers a range of quality outdoor learning experiences, again with any analysis. The reality is that outdoor education provision has been hit hard by the cuts while organised groups like Duke of Edinburgh Award and the Scouts (which are working hard to welcome a wider range of young people) now face the bureaucratic rigmarole of having to apply for exemptions to the camping permit system.   Judging by the number of such exemptions, most are voting with their feet.

 

What the LLTNPA needs to do

 

Here, in a nutshell, is an alternative agenda for promoting understanding and recreation which depends on the National Park’s special qualities:

 

  1. The LLTNPA needs to re-write its plan  so it focuses on outdoor recreation and enjoyment of the countryside, not “the visitor experience” and base this on proper evidence and an analysis of what it has/has not achieved since it was created.
  2. The LLTNPA needs fundamentally to change its approach to visitor management from seeing visitors as a problem to recognising the right of people to enjoy the countryside.  This means dropping the existing camping byelaws and the proposals to extend them to the Loch Lomond islands and reversing other measures designed to reduce visitor numbers (such as removing gates from car parks)
  3. The LLTNPA needs to get back to basics in terms of recreational provision, developing a plan describing what infrastructure is needed from litter bins and toilets to new paths and improved public transport.   This should set out what can be funded from existing sources (there is money to invest, for example from Forestry Commission Scotland, through various land management grants or even from hydro schemes) and what additional investment is needed
June 27, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Start of Clova hydro track which cuts back right to two hydro intakes, one on the Corrie Burn and the other on the Brandy Burn.                                                                                                                   Photo Credit J Neff

Glen Clova Hydro Construction Track

 

A week before taking action against the Cluny Estate track (see here)  the Cairngorms National Park Authority issued a planning contravention notice against the owners of the Glen Clova estate for failing to remove the temporary hydro construction track behind the hotel.  This is another very significant action from the CNPA and should be welcomed by all who care about the landscape.   First, because the CNPA approved the hydro scheme on the basis that the track should be temporary – its permanent access tracks which cause the greatest landscape impact with hydro schemes – so well done to the CNPA for putting the landscape before profit.   Second, because the CNPA are now prepared to enforce the conditions of the original planning application, unlike the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority who caved in to the Glen Falloch Estate when they applied to make the temporary construction tracks there permanent (see here).

 

My thanks to Jojo Neff, who has been monitoring hill tracks and passed on some photos (above).  Dismayed by what these showed, on Saturday I took the opportunity to have a look myself as part of a run round the Glen Prosen watershed.   In the course of that I came across another  temporary hydro track at the head of Glen Prosen which has also not yet been re-instated.

View from North East ridge of Coremachy. The track forms a large zig zag before traversing across the hillside to join the path to Loch Brandy and the second intake located there.

The track is visible from many points along the 8km ridge between Coremachy and Driesh.   I was too far away – and without binoculars – to be able to tell if the horizontal scar across the hillside is still a track (would welcome information on this) or has been re-instated but to a very poor standard.   The uphill section of the track is far more prominent than the lower part of the footpath to Loch Brandy.

A close-up shows that while the uphill section of the track has been narrowed – there was no planning permission for this – the quality of work has been poor
The pipeline, which you can just make out centre of photo is not an issue and will have blended into the landscape in a couple of years.

The planning application was approved by the CNPA planning committee in 2010.   There is no information on the CNPA planning portal at present following the decision letter.  As a result there is almost no information about the construction track.   All I could find was a reference to “temporary access tracks” in the Committee Report and this map which shows the pipeline, not a track, and indicates therefore there was no proposal for a permanent track:

The Decision Letter from the CNPA required the developer to produce a Construction Method Statement, which would have provided information about where the temporary access track was to be sited and how it was to be constructed and the ground then re-instated, but this information is not public.   Nor is there any information on the planning portal about when the work started, when it was “completed” or subsequent correspondence between the CNPA and the Developer.    I will ask for all this information under FOI but in my view the CNPA’s reasons for taking action should be public (and should not be limited to a one line entry on their Planning Enforcement Register).  It would also be in the public interest to know just how long negotiations had been going on before the CNPA decided to take enforcement action.

 

The owner of the land and developer of the hydro scheme appears to be Hugh Niven, who runs the Glen Clova Hotel, the Glen Clova farm – which has been supplying Albert Bartlett with potatoes for over 25 years (see here) – and Pitlivie Farm, near Carnoustie in Angus.  This according to information on the internet is the site of one of Scotland largest agricultural roof mounted PV installations.   An interest in renewables then.

 

Mr Niven had a run in with Angus Council Planning in Glen Clova just before the Cairngorms National Park was created.   In 2000 (see here) Angus Council initiated enforcement action against Mr Niven because he had created a new loch in the Glen without planning permission and there were sufficient safety concerns about the earthworks that the public road was closed for a time.  Two years later Mr Niven applied for, and was granted, retrospective planning permission for the works (see here).

 

There are lessons for this for the CNPA.  First, this is not the first occasion Hugh Niven has ignored planning law.  In this he is not unusual – many landowners still see planning authorities as imposing unwelcome restrictions on their ability to manage land any way they wish.  Second, back in 2000 it appears that Hugh Niven argued that what he had done was justifiable and the risk is that he will now do so again which will lead to years of wrangling.    While the creation of a loch might have been acceptable on landscape grounds, the permanent retention of this track is not and the CNPA therefore needs to avoid drawn into negotiations about how this scar could be ameliorated and take a stand.   This track needs to be removed and like the Cluny track, is therefore a fundamental test for the CNPA.  They deserve the support of everyone who cares about the landscape in our National Parks.

 

As in the Cluny case, it appears that the developer does not lack resources: the latest accounts for Clova Estate Farm Ltd doesn’t show income (because they are abbreviated accounts – a fundamental issue in terms of business transparency) but does show the business has total net assets of £8,037,710.   Hugh Niven therefore has the resources to pay for the re-instatement of the hydro construction track.

 

Glen Prosen hydro track

The hydro construction tracks are on left half of photo with the bare ground behind resulting from clearfell of a forest plantation which appears to have taken place at the same time the hydro scheme was constructed

After completing the ridge on the west side of Glen Clova to Mayar and after coming across  a new bulldozed track on the plateau leading from Bawhelps to Dun Hillocks (which I will cover in another post) the head of Glen Prosen is scarred by new tracks and clearfell north west of Kilbo.

View from Broom Hill, Driesh in background

On returning home I checked the planning report from 2013  which made clear that the construction tracks would be temporary:   “Beyond the powerhouse there will be a temporary access road for construction to reach both intakes.”   Again well done to the CNPA for putting landscape before profit.

The Committee Report also concluded:

Landscape and Visual Effects
40. The landscape impacts of this proposal are minor, given the scale of the development and the location in the upper Glen Prosen. Conditions relating to the construction phase of the development have been proposed to minimise any short term impact. In addition, the set of mitigation measures proposed are likely to have a positive impact on the development site in the long term.

 

The trouble is at present the landscape impact is anything but minor, as the photos show, and this is mainly because the construction tracks have not been removed, although the clearfell has added to the destruction.  There were no signs of machinery on site and it appears therefore that the Glen Prosen estate, like the Glen Clova estate, thinks the work is finished and simply hopes to avoid the expense of re-instating these tracks.    It will be much easier for the CNPA to take action if they show resolution in addressing the Glen Clova track.  The message to landowners will be then loud and clear:  you cannot afford to ignoring the planning rules in the National Park.

June 23, 2017 Nick Kempe 10 comments
Part of upper section of Cluny Estate track, Glen Banchor

On the longest day, the Cairngorms National Park Authority initiated enforcement action against the Cluny Estate for the unlawful track up Carn Leth Choin at the head of Glen Banchor (see here).

 

The latest entry on the CNPA’s Planning Enforcement Register

 

This is extremely welcome.  In March the CNPA had written to me stating that they had been in discussions with the estate about restoring the track voluntarily but if the estate failed to do this the CNPA would take enforcement action (see here).  The addition to the register indicates the estate is refusing to do this and the CNPA have been as good as their word.    They deserve support from everyone who cares about our National Parks for initiating this action and will, I suspect, need ongoing support through what is likely to be a long and complex process.  Its not easy to bring recalcitrant landowners to heal while removing tracks is not easy.   It has been been done in the cases of a handful of hydro schemes, but these have been lower down the hill.  The only time a track has been removed on high ground was when the National Trust for Scotland removed the bulldozed track on Beinn a Bhuird.  This took place over a number of years, being completed in 2001, and took both significant investment and expertise.

 

Still,  the Cluny Estate appears to be owned by the Qatari Royal Family (see here) who, even if they are under lots of pressure at present due to the blockade from their neighbours, are not short of a bob or two.  There is no reason therefore why the restoration should not be to the highest possible standard.   While they are about it perhaps the Qatari Royal Family, if its indeed they who own the Cluny estate, should also pay for the restoration of the lower part of the track which was constructed at an earlier date and is, I understand, outside the current enforcement action.

The lower section of the track up the shoulder of Craig Leth Choin is apart from the landscape impact, too steep and will be constantly subject to erosion

The significance of this action by the CNPA is far wider than just this hill track.  In my view the Planning System in our National Parks (and indeed Scotland) has fallen into disrepute because enforcement action is hardly ever taken.  The emphasis has been on co-operating with people who, like the owners of the Cluny estate or Natural Retreats on Cairngorm, appear to have no respect for the planning system, drag out processes of negotiation for years and do anything they can to avoid doing what is right.    This therefore needs to be seen as a shot across the bows of all landowners in the National Park (its not the only one, as I will demonstrate in a future post).  The CNPA need to see it through.   I believe it will only take a couple of enforcement cases, where landowners learn what the costs of ignoring the planning systems are likely to be, and the whole attitude of landowners and their advisers to planning will change.

 

This is therefore a crucial test for the National Park and they should be congratulated for their new approach.