Category: Loch Lomond and Trossachs

January 21, 2018 Nick Kempe No comments exist

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 19, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

Bowles Green  Ltd (2)

Laurence Gould Partnership (3)

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

Walking the Talk (2)

Farming & Conservation (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

The operation of the warning system

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The position of caravans and campervans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parkspeak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Cost benefit analysis

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

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

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

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

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

 

Where next?

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

Interviews in programme (approx times into programme in brackets)

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

The road is just to the right of the photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What needs to happen

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

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

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

January 9, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

What constitutes an evaluation of a pilot?

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

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

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

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

Why openness about land management plans is needed

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What needs to happen

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

  •  First, to affirm that it is committed to a change in direction which involves developing an evidence based approach and, as part of that, to make the evidence on which it bases its decision public.   Anything else and we are in the world of Donald Trump and his post-truth approach to government.
  • Second, to commit to remedying past deficiencies in how it has used evidence.  As part of this it could instruct its Audit Committee  to start to focus on the things that matter, including standards for evaluation and what information the LLTNPA holds which could be made public
January 5, 2018 Bill Stephens No comments exist

Objection to Planning Application 2017/0254/MIN   Development of a Gold Mine, Glen Cononish, Tyndrum

Cononish gold mine sheds May 2017 – Photo Credit Nick Kempe

[Editor’s note:  Bill Stephens submitted this objection to the current Cononish gold mine planning application on 5th December.  While the documentation on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park planning portal (see here) has been added to since then,  Bill’s objection contains a fine analysis of the issues for all those concerned about landscape and wild land in the National Park.   Since he submitted it Scotgold has responded to objections from myself and Mountaineering Scotland  (see here), prior to the special Board Meeting which is scheduled to determine the application on 29th January, and I will consider that response and other matters relating to the application then].

 

Introduction

The planning application is presented as a further revision of the planning consent granted in 2015, reference 2014/0285/DET, with the accompanying Environmental Statement suggesting that what is now proposed is more environmentally acceptable but the driver is clearly to reduce costs. The main differences are:

  • changes to the ore processing building and associated screening;
  • disposal of all the tailings on the surface in ten ‘stacks’ instead of partly underground and in a ‘cross valley impoundment’;
  • construction of more than 2 km of surface water interception ditches around the stack areas instead of the diversion of the Alt Eas Anie to the south of the impoundment; and
  • extending the duration of the mine from 10 to 17 years with the potential to further extend this.

This submission considers each of these changes in turn before highlighting the implications for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and the Ben Lui Wild Land Area. These mean that the National Park Authority must refuse planning permission for what is now proposed as well as not renew the consent for the approved scheme and should focus efforts on restoring the existing site.

Ore Processing Building

The building now proposed is 80 metres by 30 metres, nearly 50% bigger than the average Aldi store, and has a 6% larger footprint than that approved in 2015. The design is also more monolithic in appearance with reduced screen bunding and consequently will be an even more prominent feature in the landscape.

Tailings Management

The approved scheme is to deposit 147,000 tonnes of the ore processing tailings within the underground workings with the remaining 400,000 tonnes pumped as slurry to an ‘impoundment’ contained by an embankment constructed with some waste rock from the mine and excavated from the Alt Eas Anie diversion together with glacial till excavated from the impounded area.

It is now intended to reduce the water content of the tailings to a ‘damp sand’ and transport all the now estimated 530,000 tonnes by 25 tonne all-terrain dump truck to one of ten stacking areas. There will be a need to construct a haul road from the ore processing site to the stacks and a crossing of the Alt Eas Anie to stacks 3 to 6 but details do not appear to have been submitted with the planning application. The stacks will have a basal layer constructed using some 172,000 tonnes of waste rock excavated from the mine with the total amount of waste material to be disposed of in the stacks some 50% more than on the surface for the approved scheme.

An indication of the the scale of the tailings stacks, outlined in orange, can be seen by comparing them with the area of forest plantation top right. Extract from documentation on LLTNPA planning portal.

The footprint of the stacks range in size from 5,425 square metres to 15,498 square metres, larger than the outer perimeter of an athletics track, and in total cover an area twice that of the currently approved tailings management facility. The tailings are to be placed on a foundation of waste rock excavated from the mine and compacted in 300mm layers to the desired stack landform. The particle size distribution of the tailings indicates that 80% is finer than 125 microns and is more accurately described as a silty fine sand with engineering properties unsuitable for what is proposed.

Although laboratory analysis of samples from the existing waste heap at the mine and a single ‘representative’ tailings sample provided by Scotgold suggest that the material is ‘inert’ with acceptable acid rock drainage characteristics, it appears that the suitability of the material as a growing medium has not been assessed either for this planning application nor indeed for the approved scheme.

Spoil below the Tyndrum Lead mine where re-vegetation has still not taken place – photo Nick Kempe

The gold is to be mined from the Cononish Vein which had several lead mines along it in the past with the ore including galena (lead sulphide) and the spoil having elevated concentrations. The ore could therefore be similar to that mined from the Tyndrum Main Vein with the previous activity on the slopes of Sron nan Colan leaving large spoil heaps still unvegetated 100 years or so after mining ceased. This is typical of other lead mining areas where the difficulties of establishing vegetation on spoil heaps are well known.

It is intended that the final landform for each of the stacks will replicate the hummocky glacial terrain that is there now but it seems that these will be modelled on larger drumlin features and will look quite different.  It is also the intention that final restoration of the stacks will attempt to recreate the existing vegetation type in a few years that has taken 10,000 years or so to establish here.

The potential plant toxicity of the tailings combined with their engineering properties, the altitude of the site and its exposed location makes it extremely unlikely that the restoration aims set out in the Environmental Statement will be achieved. The cost of restoring the site to anything like what was there before mining operations commenced will cost many £ millions, much higher than the financial guarantees provided by the approved scheme legal agreement. It is also evident that these guarantees are inadequate for the remediation of the approved scheme.

 

Surface Water Drainage

Proposed site drainage marked in blue – from documentation on LLTNPA planning portal

The construction of the tailings management facility for the approved scheme requires the diversion of Alt Eas Anie with a channel to intercept its tributaries to the north and one of the stated benefits of what is now proposed is that these will no longer be required. However, because of the need to keep to a minimum surface water runoff entering the tailings stacks and avoid downstream watercourse pollution, over 2 kilometres of peripheral open drains will be required. These will have a man-made appearance and add to the difficulties of achieving the restoration aims.

 

Duration

The existing permission for the mine is for ten years but the planning application is now for 17 years to allow for a reduced rate of ore extraction and processing. Going further into the Cononish Vein and extracting more ore has previously been identified as a possibility and Scotgold have also highlighted six other priority targets within a 2.5 km radius of the Cononish Mine. These have the potential to extend the life of the operation well beyond the 17 years that planning permission is being sought for.

Planning permission for exploratory works to enlarge the existing adit and create a waste rock spoil heap was originally granted in 1988 and extended in 1989 with a scheme for the mine approved in 1996.  An amended scheme for the mine was granted consent in 2011 with an extension of time, that also included 24 hours working, approved in 2015. A nine-month bulk processing trial to extract gold from part of the existing spoil heap was given planning permission in April 2016 and approval was subsequently given to increase the amount of material to be processed as well as extend the duration of the trial to the end of March 2018.

Filling of geotextile bags at Cononish – Photo Credit Nick Kempe

The tailings from the processing trial are being contained in long geotextile bags which are much more intrusive than the spoil heaps. The planning permission stipulates that the bags can remain until May 2021 when the site ‘shall be restored and remediated…unless there is an extant planning permission for the development of a mine at the site’. How this has been allowed to continue in what is supposed to be a protected landscape for some thirty years with the prospect of another twenty years, should the current planning application be approved, and applications for further extensions to the size and duration of the mine likely, is difficult to comprehend.

 

National Park Aims and Landscape Special Qualities

The currently approved mining scheme was assessed in relation to National Park aims in the report on the planning application that was considered by a Special Board Meeting of the National Park Authority in October 2011. These aims are:

  • to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area;
  • to promote the sustainable use of natural resources of the area;
  • to promote the understanding and enjoyment (including enjoyment in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the area by the public; and
  • to promote the sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities.

The Sandford Principle gives precedence to the first of these.

The report concluded that because of ‘the impacts on landscape and scenic qualities, wild and remote character and the associated recreation experience of walking and climbing in the surrounding area’, mining here would be contrary to the first and third of the aims. ‘However, as these losses and impacts would not be permanent and the special qualities and recreation experience could be recovered and moderately improved within a 10 to 15 year period the proposals could be argued to support these aims… the impacts and benefits associated with this development will, taken as a whole, have a favourable contribution to the National Park aims’!

Even more remarkably, it goes on to suggest that because ‘the impacts on natural heritage interests are temporary and will be ultimately conserved and enhanced in the long term’ the proposal is considered to contribute to the first aim. Consequently, there was considered to be no need to invoke the Sandford Principle and the planning application for the mine was recommended for approval. This was accepted by the Board with the National Park Authority Convener subsequently stating that ‘the glen will regain its quiet, remote character following closure of the mine and the landscape will be improved from its current state’.

The 2010 report on the Special Landscape Qualities of the National Park provides a baseline for the ‘celebration, promotion and safeguarding’ of the National Park. The report describes the special qualities of each area of the Park including ‘Wide Strath Fillan’ where reference is made to the Tyndrum mines ‘highly visible on the slopes of Sron nan Colan, stand out barren within the surrounding woodland, and are witness to the economic activity of the past’. It goes on to mention the glimpses of Ben Lui with the flat-bottomed Glen Cononish leading into the heart of the high mountains past the ancient Caledonian pinewood of Coille Coire Chuilc but no mention is made of the recent mining activity on the eastern slope of Beinn Chuirn, presumably because it was at that time still a relatively small-scale operation.

 

Ben Lui Wild Land Area

The Ben Lui Wild Land Area was designated in 2014 and most of the proposed mining operations lie within this. Although the protection of Wild Land Areas from development is currently advisory not mandatory, it is still a material planning consideration and the Environmental Statement provides a Wild Land Assessment.

The Wild Land Area description recently published by SNH mentions Ben Lui being regarded as the ‘Queen of Scottish Mountains’ and, quoting from the 2010 Special Landscape Qualities report, refers to the ‘great tract of hills and mountains rising steeply and dramatically from the glen floors…the bare upper hillsides and mountains appear untouched, remote and wild, rising above the long glens where farming, forestry and infrastructure are found’.  It goes on to highlight the affect that development has on emphasising the relatively small extent and sense of remoteness and sanctuary of the eastern part of the Wild Land Area. Mention is also made of the existing mine at Cononish but nevertheless did not exclude this from the designated area again, presumably, because of its relatively small scale.

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

The Assessment concludes by stating that the restoration of the site will ‘enhance the naturalness of the existing situation and will be a positive effect in terms of these wild land qualities’. This ignores the fact that what is there now could be restored without having to extend the area of mining operations from less than a hectare to the 40 hectares covered by the planning application and downplays the landscape impact of what is proposed.

 

What Should Happen Now

The planning application Environmental Statement Overview indicates there is a ‘planning balance’ to be struck between the potential environmental impacts and socio-economic benefits of the proposal and that the findings of the Environmental Impact Assessment demonstrate that ‘there are no planning or environmental considerations which would give rise to reasons for refusal’. The Environmental Statement is of course only part of the EIA process with all consultee responses and other submissions an important part of this.

The short-term impacts on the special qualities of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and the Ben Lui Wild Land Area of building an ore processing shed the size of a suburban superstore, constructing tailing stacks the size of eight athletics grounds and 24-hour operation of the mine for up to 17 years is too great a price to pay for the anticipated economic benefits and mitigation measures offered. Uncertainties about restoring the land to anything like what it is now in the medium term and, probably, in the longer term, could well leave a huge permanent scar on what is one of Scotland’s most valued landscapes. Consequently, the precautionary principle should apply and planning permission for both what is proposed now and any application to renew consent for the currently approved scheme refused.

It is understood that the mine operator has lodged a financial bond with the Crown Estate, the owner of the mineral rights, that is intended to cover the restoration of the existing mining operations and area affected by the bulk processing trial. The efforts of the National Park Authority should be focussed on ensuring that this work is undertaken as soon as possible and not make things worse by extending the duration or size of the operations.

January 4, 2018 Nick Kempe 7 comments
Sign at junction south Loch Earn Rd with road to Edinample House 27th December.

Commenting on Tuesday’s post (see here) Dave Morris, former Director of the Ramblers Association and one of the architects of our access legislation, wrote:

"As we approach the 15th anniversary of the passage of the Land 
Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 it is worth reflecting, to Scotland's 
eternal shame, what is happening on the bonnie, bonnie banks of 
Loch Lomond and elsewhere in this national park. Nobody associated
with this legislation, which secured our right to roam, ever 
anticipated that it would result in the sort of thuggery now been 
practised against campers by this National Park Authority".

Both Dave and I are strong supporters of National Parks but neither of us anticipated either that visitors to the countryside would still be faced with signs such as that in the photo above.  The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority was also set up 15 years ago and has had responsibility for access matters since its creation.   That an Access Authority and National Park to boot still tolerates such signs – and the field behind the sign is clearly land covered by access rights – is a disgrace.

While the LLTNPA could be excused for not knowing about every sign about access within the National Park, during the byelaw season their  Rangers must drove past this unlawful sign on a daily basis looking out for “rogue” campers on their way to or from the south Loch Earn camping permit zone.   That says a lot about what is wrong with this National Park.   In other areas countryside rangers would be involved in resolving problems caused by landowners but not in the LLTNPA.

Judging by my experience of trying to report unlawful signs, this is probably not the fault of either the Rangers or access staff.  I have, for example, not even had an acknowledgement to my email of 4th December to a member of the LLTNPA senior management team reporting the signs near Ardlui saying “Keep Out High Velocity Rifles in use”  (see here). Quite a contrast to the Cairngorms National Park Authority who not only acknowledge reports of access problems but tell you what they intend to do and who is responsible for doing this.

While at best there would best appear to be no join up between the LLTNPA Rangers and their access team, given the attitudes of senior management I suspect that any seasonal ranger complaining about signs such as this risks not having their contract renewed.   Whatever the explanation, the LLTNPA is failing to uphold access rights while it claims to value the “Visitor Experience”.

The 27th December was a lovely day and we passed the Edinample sign on the way from Glasgow for a walk up Ben Vorlich.  Needing a pit stop, we had stopped off at Callander, marketed as a gateway to the National Park, to find the toilets locked.  At Loch Lubnaig, it was not just the toilets which were shut, the gates to the car park were locked too,  although there was a sign on the back of the gate saying they would be locked at 4pm!  What justification is there for a National Park trying to prevent people travelling in cars from stopping off here in winter and enjoying the loch?  In the five minutes I was taking these photos, two cars pulled in in front of the locked gates and then drove away.  What an appalling message for a National Park to give out.

What’s the point of referring people to gate closing times if the gate is locked?

The above sign is pure parkspeak.  How can people respect the environment when access to that environment is barred by locked gates much of the time.  Why, when parking is being charged for, cannot the car park be kept open 365 days a year 24 hours a day?   Why does the LLTNPA act as if only summer visitors are important?

We saw something like 40 people while walking up the north ridge of Ben Vorlich – people getting out taking exercise doing the healthy sort of thing our politicians exhort people to do.  And that was just one hill.    Most visitors people come from outside the Park, some will want to take a break from driving and many will need to go to the toilet at some point in the day but the LLTNPA acts as if the National Park is closed.

The National Park needs to get back to basics.   Remove anti-access signs and provide infrastructure for visitors, jobs it was set up to do and has failed to deliver on.  Unfortunately, judging by its current advert for a new Visitor Experience Manager it is still embarked on a very different course:

Job Title: Visitor Experience Manager
Contract: Permanent
Salary: £35,495 – £42,193 (Band E)
Working Hours: 37 hours per week – we support the “Happy to Talk Flexible Working” campaign
Location: Balloch
Reference: NPA/Dec/2017/02

You will provide leadership, co-ordination and inspiration in managing and delivering the tourism functions and commercial partnership activities of the National Park Authority as set out in the National Park Partnership Plan and Corporate Plan. These functions include delivering new tourism products, ensuring consistent communication of destination brand and information, working with destination businesses, and delivering commercial partnership activities which will deliver income for the Park Authority.

Degree qualified in related discipline, you will have a proven track record in the tourism sector. As someone who has strong project management skills who demonstrates sound independent judgement you will understand how to approach, advise and influence both internal and external stakeholders. You will be confident, credible, proactive and creative when driving quality improvement and good practice (see here for full advert).

The whole emphasis of the Visitor Experience role is on commercial tourism rather than countryside management or helping people enjoy the landscape and wildlife, on raising income rather than on delivering the facilities that are needed.   While the person appointed will be expected to work with businesses there is not a mention of them working with the people who visit the National Park or the organisations that represent them.    While the sooner both our National Parks get rid of the terrible term the “visitor experience” the better, the more fundamental issue is the LLTNPA needs to re-focus on what it was set up to do rather than trying to turn itself into a second rate tourist board.

 

January 2, 2018 Nick Kempe 4 comments
A photo from the BBC article which nicely illustrates how the byelaws have failed to deliver. The byelaws were supposedly introduced to prevent scenes like this but the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority first failed to apply them to caravans and was then forced to drop them against campervans staying anywhere on the road system with the result that now its only campers who are affected.

Last week, in a welcome development, some of the mainstream media picked up on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority first annual review of the camping byelaws for Scottish Ministers (see here).   Unfortunately neither article picked up on the burnt out caravans, the fact that the National Park is no longer trying to enforce the byelaws against either caravans or campervans or the lack of any proper explanation of this in the report for Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment.

The focus of the BBC coverage (see here) and to a lesser extent the coverage in the National (see here) was on the hundreds of people warned for breaching the byelaws, 828 to be precise.  The actual number of people unwittingly committing a criminal offence for breaching the byelaws is likely to be far higher, taking account of cases where no warning was given, but the fact that the LLTNPA is issuing large numbers of warnings should raise alarm bells with Scottish Ministers about how the Park Authority is being governed and about civil liberties.

 

Who approved the warning system?

On the governance side, there is no provision within the byelaws themselves to issue warnings.  What’s more, in the Engagement and Enforcement Policy approved by the Board Engagement-and-Enforcement-Policy there is not a mention of any warning system being introduced.  That policy refers to a “Loch Lomond & The Trossachs Camping Management Byelaws 2017 Enforcement procedures and principles” which I can find no evidence of having been approved by a Board Meeting and is NOT publicly available on the LLTNPA website.  If this is right, the whole warning system has either been agreed in secret by the Board or else introduced by staff without Board approval.  This raises some fundamental question about the legitimacy and lawful authority of the whole warning system.   Do staff really have delegated authorities to approve such systems?

 

The warning system and civil liberties

The civil liberties issues are profound.  The LLTNPA would appear to be keeping information on people who it believes have breached the byelaws but have decided not to refer to the Procurator Fiscal.  Among the more obvious questions this raises are:

  • On whose authority are LLTNPA staff holding such data as this has never been put to the Board for approval?
  • Who are LLTNPA staff sharing this information with?   For example, they appear to be sharing this data with the police – because the 828 figure includes warnings by both police and park rangers – but do they also share this information with others such as the Forestry Commission Rangers?
  • What are the consequences of a warning?  For example, if you have been issued with a warning and then camp again without a permit is referral to the Procurator Fiscal automatic?
  • If being issued with a warning has consequences, how long is the LLTNPA holding this information on file?  One year, five, ten years, indefinitely?
  • What information is the LLTNPA and police handing out to people issued warnings about their rights?   For example, are people being told they have the right to see the information that the Park hold on them and what if any right do people have to appeal about receiving a warning?

Given all these important issues, its interesting that in the report to the September Board Meeting which contained a report on how the byelaws had gone until that date there was not a mention of any warnings being issued:

Why?

The LLTNPA has also failed to explain how all these warning fit with “positive feedback” which Gordon Watson, the Park Chief Executive, claimed to have received in the National:

“From the positive feedback we’ve gathered through the visitor survey, to what our rangers have experienced by talking to campers on the ground during the first season, we are really pleased with how things have gone.

“The approach of our ranger service is always engagement and education first, with enforcement action only being taken as a last resort. That approach has worked well, with the vast majority of campers choosing to adhere to the by-laws.

“While warnings were issued, the number was small in proportion to the overall number of visitors and only a very small number of people were then reported to the procurator fiscal.”

So, Mr Watson, what feedback did you receive from all the people issued warnings?  Or did you fail to ask them, just like you failed to mention anything about the complaints that have been received about the application of the byelaws in your Report to Roseanna Cunningham, Minister for the Environment?

 

What needs to happen

Unfortunately poor campers, as a friend observed, have no lawyers to challenge the Park about this legally (with cuts in legal aid not helping).  Meantime various civil liberties and human rights organisations in Scotland have so far taken very little interest in the implications of the camping byelaws.   Its time people interested in protecting people’s rights started to question the camping byelaws.

Meantime, the LLTNPA needs to provide answers as to who agreed to introduce the warning system, on what authority and what measures they have put in place to protect civil liberties.

December 28, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The Ledard Hydro track approved by the Planning Committee just before Xmas follows the line of the pipeline.  The original planning decision required the track to be hidden in the woods on the west (side of the burn).

While  the Cairngorms National Park Authority took a significant step forward on planning enforcement and consequently the credibility of the planning system a couple of weeks ago (see here),  the planning system in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park fell further into disrepute on 18th December when a permanent access track to the Ledard Hydro intake, on former Board Member Fergus Wood’s land, was granted planning permission.   This reversed the previous decision the LLTNPA Planning Committee had made in December 2014 that there should be no permanent access track on the east side of the Ledard Burn and, in landscape policy terms, appears to contradict the LLTNPA’s decision to refuse a short track in nearby Kinlochard earlier in the year.  The story about what has happened illustrates a number of serious defects in the planning system in the National Park and shows its in need of a complete governance overhaul.

 

The planning status of the “temporary” construction track

The construction track to the Ledard Hydro was, according to material which has recently appeared on the LLTNPA planning portal, granted planning permission back in April although the Case Officer told me a couple of months ago it had NOT had planning permission.

In September, alerted by a local row about breach of planning conditions at the Ledard Hydro scheme on Board Member Fergus Wood’s property, I discovered that a few weeks earlier a retrospective planning application had been submitted for an access track to the intake (see here) and started to scrutinise the documents on the LLTNPA planning portal.    There was nothing I could find in the published documentation to show that a temporary construction track to the Ledard Hydro Intake had ever been approved by the LLTNPA, but I wrote to them asking them to confirm the planning status of the track just to make sure.    In an email dated 28th September (which I quoted in my second post on Ledard (see here)) the Case Officer stated:

“I can confirm that the temporary track which has been constructed does not have planning permission”. 

From this I concluded that the track had been unlawfully constructed on a Board Member’s Land and wrote to the Convener of the LLTNPA, James Stuart, to bring this to his attention and to ask him to investigate.  I believe breach of the planning system by Board Members should be treated as a very serious issue.   His reply, which staff appear to have drafted, claimed that the track had had planning permission but without providing any details, so I issued this challenge:

There is no document I can find on the planning portal that describes a temporary track, as has been constructed, and therefore it appears a temporary track in its current form has not been approved. Please do ask staff to provide both you and I with the document that shows the current temporary track was ever approved (line, construction method etc). If its there, I will be content, if its not, there is an issue.

Hey presto, when checking the planning portal for this post, four new documents had appeared although I have so far not been told about this!  According to these, the case officer who told me the track had not been granted planning permission was totally wrong as the portal now shows a full specification for temporary and permanent access tracks dated 24th April 2017 (see here).  So how could the LLTNPA have had this document for six months and the Case Officer did not know about it?  Perhaps she, like I and other members of the public, only had access to published information?

Because LLTNPA has a history of changing documentation, I have started to keep records of what appears on the planning portal (and would recommend others do so until the LLTNPA puts basic governance procedures in place) and therefore have proof the documentation has been changed:

 

The documents highlighted in yellow were NOT published on the dates shown, which is fairly apparent for the lower two as they are not in date order, but the proof of this is from photo I took on 29th September:

The changes to the documentation on the planning portal involve two fundamental failures in governance.  First, as I have long argued, the LLTNPA should be publishing all documents relating to the satisfaction of planning conditions as they appear.  If Baby Hydro, acting on behalf of the Developer, really did submit the specification for temporary and permanent access tracks in April, as required by the planning conditions for the development, and if this really was approved back in June the documents should have appeared on the portal then.  That would have saved a lot of bother.   Second, when documents are added retrospectively dates should NOT be falsified (another example of this took place with Fergus Wood’s application for a campsite at Ledard (see here).

The LLTNPA told me NOTHING about the existence of these documents in correspondence until I issued my challenge to the Convener (well done him for getting staff to act) and they are NOT referred to in the Committee Report.   This may be because the Access Track Specification dated 24th April makes it clear that the Developer intended the construction track to be anything but temporary:

 

while the LLTNPA, by approving this specification in June, had effectively agreed to a permanent access track on the east side of the Ledard Burn before someone realised this lay outwith the existing planning consent and indeed contradicted the previous decision of the Board.

 

What has gone wrong

The Report to Committee Planning_20171218_Agenda6_Ledard-Farm stated that the original approval given in December 2014, besides approving a permanent track on the west side of the burn “also included a temporary access track for construction of the hydro scheme which was to be located on the route of the pipeline”.  The go ahead for construction of this track was dependent on detailed proposals being submitted for approval in the Construction Method Statement:.

However, the original Construction Method Statement dated 10th June 2016 and approved by the LLTNPA  contained no reference to any temporary track or how it might be constructed which is why I and presumably the Case Officer deduced the track was constructed without planning permission.

An explanation for this can be found in the Landscape Visual Assessment:

 

This suggests that the Construction Method Statement contained no information about a temporary construction track because it had been decided such a track was not considered necessary.   Instead the use of low ground pressure vehicles to construct the pipeline would obviate the need for a track and, where the ground was soft, it could be protected by laying stone on a sheet which would later be removed.   This helps explain why none of the site maps show a temporary construction track by the pipeline but instead refer to a construction corridor:

In the site plans no temporary access track (tracks are marked in brown) is shown along the line of the pipeline.   Photo – LLTNPA planning portal

Such an approach made perfect sense given that in December 2014 the LLTNPA had decided any permanent track on the east side of the Ledard burn would be unacceptable in landscape terms and the cost of importing aggregate to construct a track and then removing it would be significant.  Better to find an alternative means of constructing the pipeline.

About the same time the original Construction Method Statement was approved, however, the LLTNPA also approved an application from Fergus Wood, through a Non-Material Variation to the planning consent (see here), to remove the proposed permanent access track on the west side of the burn (see inset above for location of this track).   The result was Ledard was a hydro scheme without any permanent access track.

How did the LLTNPA allow this to happen when the recent report to the Planning Committee stated: “The proposed track is assessed to be reasonably necessary for the operation and maintenance of the hydro scheme” ?    If access tracks are judged necessary, the LLTNPA, in approving the removal of the permanent access track from the  west side of the burn, were in effect giving the go ahead to the creation of a permanent track on the east side of the burn, where it had previously been rejected, without any Committee approval.   This should have never happened.

To cap it all, the conclusion of the Report to the Planning Committee then says:

“It is considered that a permanent track constructed at 2–2.5m width, with a central vegetated strip, would have less residual impact over the long term than the alternative option of no permanent track to the intake.”  

The hyprocrisy is staggering:  if staff had not consented to removal of the track on the west side of the burn (which was through woodland and totally hidden) the question of whether a permanent track would have more impact than ATV use would never have arisen.   It appears the LLTNPA has allowed their original decision, which was based on the need to protect the landscape, to be undermined incrementally by the actions of a former Board Member and Member of the Planning Committee.

The reason for this is, I suspect, money.   An earlier application to build a hydro on the Ledard Burn was withdrawn PSC_2013_0006-Withdrawn-100094334 because the owner of the land on the west side of the Ledard Burn had held the developer to ransom – i.e they had demanded huge fees for a new access track.  A possible explanation for what has happened therefore is that Fergus Wood was still faced with very high charges for the track on the west side of the burn, which affected the value of the hydro scheme.  However, by getting the LLTNPA to agree to remove the requirement for an access track in this location (and this consent was granted to Fergus Wood (see here)), the value of the scheme would have increased significantly.  It was then sold to Vento Ludens.   If this is right, the National Park appears to have gained nothing from the increase in financial value to the scheme to the owner and the landscape appears to have been put second to a former Board Member’s and the Developer’s profits.

 

The LLTNPA’s flip flop approach to landscape assessment and protection

Back in 2013 the LLTNPA’s landscape adviser judged that any permanent track on the east side of the Ledard burn would have an unacceptable landscape impact but now, just four years later:

“The National Park Landscape Adviser is satisfied that the track can be well integrated into the local landscape with the mitigation of compensatory planting and landscaping.”

The Planning Committee Report, maybe in an attempt to justify this volte face, claims that:

“The proposed route of this track was different from the current proposal under consideration. It was located further to the east and its proposed alignment was very angular involving a number of right angled turns as it traversed the hill rather than the current proposed track which has a more natural alignment, utilises a section of existing track close to the farm buildings and provides a more direct access route to the intake of the hydro scheme.”

The Committee Report however fails to refer to the original Environmental Assessment:

“4.6 Access and Maintenance Track
Initially a new track was proposed across open field areas from Ledard Farm to the dam. Because the contours of the area preclude a short direct route; it would have been quite prominent in more distant views, particularly looking over to Ledard from various observation points on the road above Loch Ard on the south side.”

The Committee Report fails to explain why the short direct route is now deemed acceptable or to mention that the gradient of the uphill track exceeds the 14% maximum recommended by Scottish Natural Heritage in their Good Practice Guidance on hill tracks.  Why?

The first section of the Ledard track approved by the Planning Committee is too steep which is why this line was originally rejected by the LLTNPA

The consistency of the Ledard Hydro track approval with other decisions

Its not just the internal logic of the LLTNPA which raises serious issues in this case, its also consistency with other decisions.   In January 2017 the LLTNPA refused an application for a 35m track in a field in the village of Kinlochard due to its landscape impact (the Ledard Hydro track is 385m or over 10 times as long).    The applicant appealed and the appeal was due to be heard by the Local Review Body last June (see here) although it was then withdrawn.

The papers are worth a read because of the really strong statements (e.g The proposal conflicts with clear planning objectives and policies that seek to protect views, scenic quality, amenity and special landscape character within the National Park) about the need to protect the local landscape in the photo below:

The track, to run from this fence to shed was deemed to have too great an impact on landscape to be acceptable. Photo credit: LLTNPA Review Body papers – officer photograph

So how does the LLTNPA explain the approach it has taken in this case compared to the Ledard Hydro Track just down the road?  Well, its because the track was judged not to be essential but then nor would the Ledard track if the LLTNPA had insisted the original plan for the track through the woods be retained.

While it looks from the documentation that has appeared on the planning portal as though I owe an apology to Fergus Wood for claiming that the construction track on his land was outwith any planning consent, the case still suggests he has exploited deficiencies in the LLTNPA’s planning system to further his own interests.

What needs to happen

In my view the LLTNPA still needs to conduct a full investigation into what has gone wrong in this case.  While initially, after I had been informed the new track had been constructed without planning permission, I thought this should have focussed on the LLTNPA’s failure to take enforcement action, now I think it should focus on how the LLTNPA ever agreed that an access track on the west side of the Ledard Burn was no longer necessary and the impact this had on the financial value of the scheme.

The Ledard Hydro track also shows is that the LLTNPA’s approach to landscape assessment is extremely poor.  Part of the problem was no proper independent visual assessment of the track was included in the Committee Report but the problem is wider than that.  At present responsibility for assessing landscape impact lie with a few individuals who, while working within certain policies inevitably take different approaches, with the result that decisions are inconsistent.   I believe the LLTNPA could learn a lot from the Cairngorms National Park Authority who firstly involve Board Members far more in decision making (which means that decisions are taking collectively rather than by individuals) but equally importantly go on far more site visits.   This leads to better informed decisions.   The Planning Committee should NEVER have agreed to reverse the decision of the earlier Committee without such a visit and without a full landscape assessment.

Hope though may be on the horizon.   At the last Board Meeting a Board Member raised the issue of delegated decisions by planning staff.  He suggested this required review.  The LLTNPA Convener, James Stuart, put it to the Board that the scheme of delegation should be reviewed and this was agreed.  This is most welcome and, if it takes account of the lessons that can be learned from the way the Ledard hydro track has been managed, could help avoid such fiascos which undermine the reputation of our National Parks in future.

 

December 21, 2017 Bruce Biddulph 3 comments

By Bruce Biddulph

Photo accompanying petition

(This text was included in an update to a petition to the Scottish Government to stop the sale of the Riverside Site in Balloch to Flamingo Land)

Drumkinnon Bay, along with its Woods and the river bank along the Leven which flows from Loch Lomond, are steeped in history. This history was almost destroyed in less than 100 years, and in the past year, an attempt has been made to obliterate it completely.

The woods, the bay and the riverside are three sacred cows really. The woods have stood here since the early 1800s as managed plantations, and before that, they were a small wood naturally growing in the fields and drumlins of Drumkinnon, through which the burn gently led to the bay, a sandy expanse that was a jewel in itself, opening up to the grandest view of Loch Lomond possible at low level.

Through the 19th Century the railway encroached, but did not destroy Drumkinnon, it could be argued the pretty steamships enhanced it. And then came the 20th Century, and the previously small sand pits that had been dug at one end of the now extensive plantation, were ruthlessly exploited by a local and by the 1960s he had left behind spoil heaps and pools that nature quickly rushed in to claim. Meanwhile a factory was built further towards Balloch, behind the woods and then in the 1950s a pipeline was laid from Finnart to Grangemouth, resulting in a broad line of trees being hacked down.

By the 1980s the factory was gone, and quickly a housing estate followed. The railway line closed too. In the 1990s work then started on Lomond Shores and by the 2000s the shape is as you see it now.

In all that time, the woods still grew, the bay was still swam in, the riverside was even opened up as a walkway and the former railway was levelled and turned into grasslands where families have played and picnicked for years now. Industrial wasteland it is not.

The success of Lomond Shores was deemed in itself a problem, in that Balloch the village was not benefiting from the million pairs of feet going there. So it was determined that a plan needed up to join up the village with the Lomond Shores – it seemed that a tasteful pruning of the riverside, with perhaps some form of attraction all year might suit. The idea being to have people walk in a circular way from one end of Balloch to another, there was even talk of a bridge over the Leven’s mouth to connect Balloch Park.

At no time time did anyone stand and say, what a dump let’s sell it.

Except Scottish Enterprise. And so to balance their own books they fabricated a tale of post industrial decline, scrubland and contamination, requiring some great saviour to come in and clean it all up and convert it into something productive. Quite the opposite story that the village was telling or knew.

Over the past year their tale has clashed with the village’s. And their sale proceeded with barely a recognition until the signs went up and suddenly, it was a done deal. Or so we screamed!

We were told we were talking nonsense. That it was all very open and that the company Flamingoland were the only ones who had an idea and we should all be, in effect, grateful.

Fast forward to this week, and a Freedom of Information request was responded to, in mean and miserable spirit. No details of an Exclusivity Agreement -yet one was made. No details of the price. No details of the other bidders, however, admission there was that there HAD been other approaches, strangely!

But now, no details. The exclusivity agreement itself and the excuse of commercial sensitivity meant that they deemed it right that the public interest could not be served by releasing any information at all. The rights of the buyer far more important than the rights of the people to know just what has been going on.

And so it seems the woven tale (of Scottish Enterprises) has led us to a chapter we may not read, until they have closed the book forever and sold the rights on the back of a poorly thought and detail-lite development. One that will kill the three sacred cows. One that will open up the floodgates.

This is the tale you wont hear. So far ,the media are not too interested, believing this is about local NIMBYs protesting about viewing towers. (Another narrative well spun by local politicians, who, perhaps understandably, dont want to get their hands sullied in this). So no real input from, them either locally or nationally.

And nationally, its a story that does not feel comfortable either. It hurts a government quango. Therefore, government ministers would be hurt also. Party goes before politics. People mind their own backs. And the locals? Those who have seen this are ignored, patronised, even told the narratives of the SE, that run contrary to their own memories, their own knowledge, and tell them that the bay, the riverside and the woods are not anything to get emotional about.

Well, perhaps not. Perhaps this is the age of no emotions, no heritage, no care for anything except the bottom line. Perhaps when all is wiped away and no real history is left, no-one need care.

We believe, those of us who DO care, that the line of decency has been crossed, that this is a sale too far, and that the loch – and the locals – deserve better guardianship than this. And most certainly do not deserve contempt.

We also believe that land in public hands is our gift to ourselves and our nation. And that it’s better we, the people, decide its future, than a speculator landowner shooed in by a secretive and unaccountable quango.

This is the history and story you wont hear. I urge you to let others hear it too.

Keep Loch Lomond’s Public Lands in Public Hands.  Sign the petition here
Stop the Sale. Share the Tale.

December 18, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments

One of the main arguments for National Parks in Britain and Northern Ireland has always been that planning has a key role in conservation, whether of the historical or natural heritage, and visitor management and that a dedicated National Park Authority will do this better than Local Authorities.   Three matters which have been covered by parkswatchscotland are on the agenda of today’s meeting of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Planning Committee:  the Loch Achray Campsite (see here), the Ledard Farm Hydro Track and the housing application for Balmaha (see here for all papers).    I had considered going to the meeting today but missed the deadline for registering a request to speak.  Here is what I would said about the Loch Achray campsite.

 

The proposed Loch Achray Campsite

The large flat grassy area to the east of the burn where 9 “pitches” are due to be located.   Due to foreshortening the eroded area looks much bigger than it really is relative to the grassy sward and there are plenty of place of camp.

While the planning application for the Loch Achray campsite is being presented to Committee because SEPA have objected due to the risk of the site flooding, there are other matters that I believe should be being determined by Committee rather than officers.

The photographs in the Committee Report (see here) do not give a true reflection of how the site looks and specifically there are NO photographs of the large flat grassy area which floods occasionally and which has been operated by the Forestry Commission as a youth campsite for about 30 years.  Those facts tell you two things.   First, that wild camping type experiences are quite compatible with flooding (people just choose elsewhere if a place is flooded or stay at home).  Second, that there is no need for artificial pitches, hence one of my objections to this application:

In response the LLTNPA as planning authority claims the National Park as applicant believes the raised camping pitches on plastic mats will “enhance the experience” of campers using the site.  No evidence is provided to support this claim and there has been no engagement with people who camp.  I wonder how many of you have tried to camp on a plastic mat?   Furthermore, as a National Park Authority in the Your Park plan you committed to enhancing the wild camping experience with informal style campsites.  Unfortunately, what is proposed here is the opposite and contravenes Park Policy intentions on camping although, after the changes you made to the Planning Guidance on the Visitor Experience at the last Planning Committee meeting, you make no formal distinction between different types of campsite.   That is fine, so long as staff and Board Members keep in the heads the fact the primary objective is to provide infrastructure that supports the wild camping experience and does not attempt to convert it into something else.   This campsite should be kept as informal as possible, as it has been for many years.

The only area included in the campsite where there is any justification to create artificial pitches is on the rough and boggy ground to the west of the burn, where no-one in their right mind would camp at present: but even here, those pitches should NOT be covered in plastic matting.

The reason for these fixed pitches is LLTNPA staff appear to want to control everything campers do.  This is well illustrated by the Job Description for the campsite wardens at this site which was advertised in the last month:

This is no longer about wild camping, its about GUESTS and the main tasks of the wardens is to ensure these guests camp and park in their allotted places.  Bureaucracy gone mad and a waste of scarce resources.

My second objection to this application is that there is no provision for campervans to dispose waste at the toilet block.   The LLTNPA and the Forestry Commission haves been busy promoting Forest Drive as a destination for campervans and creating more campervan permit places but without installing any facilities.  This is a recipe for disaster and the creation of the campsite is an opportunity to rectify this.  Instead, the LLTNPA  as planning authority is  saying they have no influence over the National Park as National Park Authority:

The lack of will to join up policy aspirations is in my view a failure which you as Board Members can put right.  Why campervans shouldn’t be able to stop in the car parking area seems like a repeat of Loch Chon where there was no provision for campervans, although in this case at least there is other “provision” nearby on Forest Drive.  But, campervans need places to dispose of waste and take on water and there is nowhere else to do this on Forest Drive.   Now, this might not be the best place to do so – maybe the Forestry Commission toilet block would be better? – but unless the Planning Committee knows alternative provision is planned, it should be insisting on such provision here.

Lastly, although no objection to the proposal has been lodged on these grounds, the Committee should I think make recommendations about two other aspects of the proposals.  The first is about access to the site which at present requires a five mile drive around Forest Drive when it is located just a few hundred metres from the main road:

While situated close to the main road – campsite is orange hatched area – Forest Drive is currently one way and the site can only be accessed from the top of the Duke’s Pass

This is hardly green and if you are approaching from the north, as people from Stirling might do, access requires a huge loop and will unnecessarily increase traffic on Forest Drive.  So, please ask your staff to approach FCS and make the section of Forest Drive to the campsite or indeed a little further to the campervan places along Loch Achray two way.

Second, the report reveals that the campsite will only be open from 1st March to 30th September

Every visitor survey the LLTNPA has done on facilities indicates that lack of toilets is a key issue for visitors to the National Park so why not keep the toilets here open?   The Park’s Director of Conservation at the September Board stated that there were significant issues with human waste in camping permit zones, and this is particularly evident on Forest Drive, so keeping the toilets here open for a longer period – or preferably year round – should be a no brainer.

While I appreciate that as members of the planning committee you may be limited in the extent you can impose formal conditions as applicants but you also sit on the Board of the LLTNPA which is the applicant in this case and therefore have the power to address the matters I have raised.  I hope you will do so.

December 14, 2017 Nick Kempe 6 comments
Extract from Review of National Park Partnership Plan 2013-14

I have been trying since the summer to obtain copies of the “Land Management Plans” which the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park claim to have agreed with certain landowners (my appeal is with the Scottish Information Commissioner).  The content of these plans seems to me important for understanding how far the LLTNPA are getting landowners to manage their land according to the National Park’s statutory objectives.    A couple of months ago however I realised that the Review of the National Park Partnership Plan for 2013-14 (extract above) claimed the pilot phase of these plans had been evaluated.   I assumed from this statement that there would be some sort of evaluation report of these management plans, which might even say what progress had been made in achieving National Park objectives, and so submitted another information request.  I received this response a month ago:

This  appears to confirm that the pilot was evaluated BUT the information provided  EIR 2017-071 evaluation land management plans Appendix A  consists of extracts of reports given to the National Park’s Delivery Group (which oversees progress against plans) and reference to Board updates.  There is nothing that remotely resembles an evaluation.  The nearest any extract gets to this is one which says “lessons have been learned” but without saying what!

I wrote to the Park’s Director of Conservation last week and asked if an evaluation report existed, yes or no, and so far have not had an answer.  LLTNPA senior staff appear to find such questions, which are about truth, not spin and marketing, difficult to answer.  Meantime, staff appear to have mislead both the Board – not the fault of the current Conservation Director, it was before his time – and the Minister.

Our Public Authorities talk a lot about values but when listing these, I cannot recall “truth” ever being mentioned.  Yet a commitment to truth should arguably underpin everything else our National Parks do.  Unfortunately, as with other Public Authorities, our National Parks have been under pressure to reduce spending while telling the world everything is going wonderfully and they can keep doing better on less.  Its been very hard in these circumstances for Boards to retain a clear eye on the truth.  What starts as spin and omissions, eventually becomes totally detached from reality and ends up a lie – little different to Donald Trump but said more nicely. The claim in the Review of the National Park Partnership Plan to have evaluated the land management plans pilots – exactly what the LLTNPA should have been doing by the way – is just one example.

While I can understand how things might have gone wrong in this way – I have been there myself – this is no longer about isolated instances (the Review Report for Ministers on the Camping Byelaws (see here) is a case in point).    I am not sure how far Board Members appreciate this – there is far too little questioning of senior staff – or how the LLTNPA is losing its reputation for probity, but they need to start putting truth and facts back at the centre of everything the LLTNPA does.

Meantime, the Information Response does reveal the names of the handful of landholdings with whom  Land Management Plans were agreed, Portnellan, Benmore Farm, Loch Dochart and Inverlochlarig (which form a geographical block) bloand that a contractor was appointed to provide them with advice on renewables.  That raises some interesting questions about what advice the LLTNPA was giving on the landscape impact of hydro tracks – which it acknowledged at the last Board Meeting was an issue – and is even more reason the information in the land management plans should be made public.

December 12, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
This photo has been used to illustrate what the Park thinks protecting landscape, wildness and tranquillity is all about. What a disaster!  And more of the same is promised!    In my view any National Park worth its salt would have insisted this section of A82 upgrade, replacing the old single road at the traffic traffic lights, should have been tunnelled through the hillside to come out behind pulpit rock. To add human  insult to the injury inflicted on the natural environment, there is no path alongside the road and no safe place for cars of people who want to visit pulpit rock. to pull off and park.

The National Park Partnership Plan is supposed to be the most important document governing what happens in our National Park, setting out not just what our National Park Authorities do but also the commitments made by their partners, from public authorities to private landowners.  It was considered at the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board Meeting today, a meeting I missed.  Its one of the democratic deficits in our National Park that if you cannot attend in person, its very hard to find out if there was any debate worth of the name – though the Park, under its new convenor James Stuart, is trying to get minutes and papers for meetings out earlier.

As austerity has bitten further, its become harder and harder however for public authorities to plan for the future and instead the main function of management now appears to be to ensure the books balance whenever the next round of cuts is announced.    Its not particularly surprising, therefore, to find the following judgement in the Strategic Environmental Assessment which accompanied the NPPP being considered by the LLTNPA Board today (see here for all papers):

“a key weakness of the new plan over the old plan is its lack of specific implementation detail”.

The LLTNPA and their Public Authority partners appear reluctant to commit to doing anything in the future.  Five years plans have as a consequence become something of a farce.  Large amounts of consultation and effort – for what?.

While since my posts  on the DRAFT NPPP (see here for example), the LLTNPA has made some improvementsto the plan (e.g there is a commitment to develop a woodland strategy and a target to increase the proportion of people getting to the National Park by other means than cars) if you look past the pretty photos and graphics, there is still no ambition.  The proposed outcomes remain more or less unchanged and are mostly difficult to disagree with, even if the purple prose occasionally overreaches itself and  becomes ridiculous (e.g the Park statement from the cutting above that says it will support projects that enhance opportunities to enjoy landscapes and then cites the works on the Rest and Be Thankful and proposed A82 upgrade as examples of this).  Most of the outcomes however contain no clear commitments to action and are as a consequence vague aspirations rather than outcomes.   It is almost impossible to work out from the Plan what the LLTNPA and their partners actually propose to do.

 

The LLTNPA’s indicators of success

A good sense of this is  given by the LLTNPA’s choice of key performance indicators:

Commentary

  • 2000 hectares of woodland expansion sounds good until you look at the area of the National Park, 1,865 square kilometres or 186,500 hectares.   That’s an increase of just of 1%,  almost all of it already accounted for by work already planned in the Great Trossachs Forest National Nature Reserve.
  • The target to increase the percent of protected nature sites in favourable condition from 76% to 80% is woeful  – here we have a National Park that appears to think its acceptable for protected natura sites to remain in unfavourable condition indefinitely.   This is simply not good enough but tackling this would mean tackling landowners and that is something this National Park won’t do.
  • The commitment to 25% of all new Homes being affordable,  means the LLTNPA wants 95 new affordable homes over the next five years.   Affordable is not the same as social housing.  This target will do almost nothing to help younger people move back into the Park – the LLTNPA is concerned about the ageing population – or enable people working in the tourist industry to obtain somewhere secure to live.
  • The target to increase the proportion of the public reporting a good quality experience is vague and meaningless.  Elsewhere the Park talks about the importance of SMART targets and then doesn’t include them in its plan.
  • The number of young people the LLTNPA wish to have an outdoor learning experience in the National Park, 2500, is truly pathetic (think 1.5m people  living Clyde Conurbation, that’s about 1% of school age children.  When I was on the Board of SNH in the discussions leading up to the creation of the National Park the aspiration was for EVERY school age child in the Glasgow conurbation to have an outdoor learning experience in the National Park.

And so on…………………………..

 

An alternative vision

I believe its time to call for end to this type of meaningless plan and to start developing alternatives.   Below are some ideas which could  be the starting point for an alternative vision to inspire people and give hope for the future:

  • Wildlife.  Re-introduce beavers (if they don’t make their own way from Tayside as appears increasingly likely) and develop ways to enable the public enjoy their presence (video links etc). When Michael Gove, no less, this week announced the re-introduction of beavers into the Forest of Dean, why cannot Scotland’s National Parks’ do the same?  After this, look at Lynx.
  • Wildlife. End persecution of native species, such as foxes and crows, so the National Park starts to live up to its name and the wildlife that exists is not limited to what landowners tolerate.  Enforce cross compliance between provision of public subsidies for land use and species protection.
  • Conservation.   Shift forest practice in the Argyll Forest Park from being primarily industrial, with the disastrous consequences that has – e.g all the larch are dying from pythopthera ramorum –  to being conservation based.  Get rid of the monolithic sitka plantations and replace with maixed woodland which would enhance the landscape, help wildlife and provide more local jobs.
  • Landscape enhancement.  Develop a plan to address existing blots on the landscape, including burial of existing powerlines and removing  tracks to hydro schemes.  New roads and road improvements should be tunnelled (as happens commonly in Europe).
  • Wild Land and re-wilding.   Stop developments in Wild Land Areas (Cononish gold mine) and   re-wild the area south of Ben Lui and Ben Oss, the largest area of core wild land in the National Park, by burial and removal of hydro electric infrastructure.
  • Land Ownership.  Identify all landowners in the National Park and analyse where the benefits of landownership are currently going (eg imuch ncome from many hydro schemes which the public pays for ends up in the city) and from this develop plans how land-based income streams could be re-invested in the land.
  • Land-ownership and community right to buy.  Where benefits of landownership are not being reinvested in the National Park and local communities, encourage local community buy outs/assets transfers.
  • Sustainable economic development.   Develop proposals for alternative forms of land-use which are compatible with the statutory objectives of the National Park (e.g the type of Forest initiatives promoted by Reforesting Scotland and which are conspicuously absent from the National Park.)    Stop developments, like Flamingo Land, which are not.
  • Outdoor recreation. Support/facilitate the creation of permanent jobs which support the right of people to enjoy the National Park (e.g in path construction and maintenance, pier maintenance etc).
  • Outdoor recreation and visitor management.  Focus on provision of facilities and services (including far better public transport) rather than on behaviour management.  Allow the camping byelaws to lapse at the end of the three years with the focus of camping management zones becoming the provision of infrastructure rather than trying to control people
  • Culture and history.  Promote the history and culture of the area as well as viewpoints.  For example, new cultural and history centres could be created at places like Balloch and Tyndrum, while far more attention could be given to raising awareness of the many historic sites in the National Park.
  • Re-open outdoor centres to enable the children and young people of the west of Scotland to experience something of the National Park while still at school.

Lot’s more is possible!

And in response to the argument that there is no money to do this, create it!   When Edinburgh is now seriously trying to promote a tourism tax to fund infrastructure there, why are our National Parks so far behind?   According to the National Park Plan Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is now a world class tourism destination……………so get those tourists to contribute something!  The Park has in effect taxed campers – most of whom are from the the poorest sections of society – £3 for the right to put up a tent in a grotty area, so why not  those staying in other accommodation?  The National Park should also be supporting the creation of a rural investment bank that could provide money for community buyouts and help finance new forms of economic development.

The LLTNPA’s Boards approval of a 5 Year Partnership Plan should not prevent ideas such as these from happening.  The Plan is so vague that most of the suggestions here could go ahead, if there was the will.   With our current governmental structures  imploding under neo-liberal ideology and austerity there is an opportunity for change and people need to start developing alternatives.

December 9, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
Map of Flamingo Land proposal showing Drumkinnon Woods

This post takes a look at the current Flamingo Land proposal for the riverside site (reddish area above) against the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority’s policy for the area, as set out in various plans.   This reveals several shifts in policy in the last year.

The National Park Development Plan, approved by the Scottish Government earlier this year, included this map for Balloch.  NO development was envisaged for Drumkinnon Woods.  The Flamingo Land proposal for woodland walkways and holiday lodges in those woods is therefore contrary to the Development Plan.

Why are Flamingo Land therefore proposing to develop Drumkinnon Woods?   Well, they know the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority is under significant pressure from the Scottish Government to ensure development of the Riverside Site and certain other sites in the National Park to promote economic development.  That pressure was reflected in the DRAFT National Park Partnership Plan which contained this commitment:

The word “Delivery” is very strong and meant the LLTNPA was committing itself to complete developments in Balloch within the next five years.  It put Flamingo Land in a very strong position because, if they threatened to walk away, the LLTNPA would miss its target with all the repercussions that would have for its relationship with the Scottish Government.  It was an invitation to Flamingo Land to ignore the Development Plan.

It was a pleasant surprise therefore to see this in te revised National Park Partnership Plan to be considered by Board Members on Monday:

 

Instead of delivering key sites, the Plan now says the LLTNPA  will “support” developments.  What’s more the extract for Balloch (left) places the focus on the vision developed in the charrette (a community developed plan) and that again only proposed development for part of the Riverside site (see below).

Now the change of wording may only be because, having sat on the interview panel which selected Flamingo Land as the preferred developer, the LLTNPA might be open to legal challenge if it explicitly committed to delivering a development on the Riverside Site. It does however create the possibility for alternative plans to be developed.   A small positive step in the right direction.

The Charrette vision looks very different to Flamingo Land’s current proposal

Critics of the Flamingo Land proposals however need to appreciate that the LLTNPA has a history of fitting policy to developments (ignoring policy on wild land, landscape, nature designations to allow developments to go ahead) rather than ensuring developments fit with policy and planning objectives.   The challenge at Riverside is to ensure the LLTNPA sticks to its policy and statutory objectives.

December 7, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority will, at its Board Meeting on Monday, consider an “Update Report” for Scottish Ministers on the operation of the camping byelaws in their first year.  There is a cover paper (see here), the Report for Ministers (see here) and appendices (see here).  The basic line the Park has taken is they are only providing an “operational update” and its too early to evaluate the byelaws:

I disagree.  It is not too early to clearly state what has been really happening and the Board has a duty to ensure that Scottish Minister are properly informed and are fully aware of the major flaws in the camping byelaws.    This post considers the facts and issues which have been omitted from the report but starts with a critical look at some of the content, particularly that which casts new light on the people who have been affected.

The camping byelaws,  east Loch Lomond and the West Highland Way

The report to Board Members starts with a lie and an attempt to re-write history:

The lie is that the East Loch Lomond byelaws were introduced to tackle “over-use”:  there is not a single mention of overuse in the Review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws submitted to Ministers in 2014 Review ELL byelaws.   The reason is the ELL byelaws were introduced as part of a package of measures to tackle anti-social behaviour.  These included the creation of a clearway between Balmaha and Rowardennan, byelaws banning alcohol and targetted policing and the byelaws were intended to be temporary.  The LLTNPA has never produced any  evidence to prove that it was the camping byelaws, rather than the other measures, which stopped people going for drinking parties on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond but, as soon as the clearway between Balmaha and Rowardennan made parking impossible, the parties became a thing of the past.  The camping byelaws could have been safely revoked but instead the LLTNPA has redefined their purpose as being about controlling numbers who camp.

90% average occupancy for camping places, given wind, rain and midges is extraordinarily high and indicates that at many times demand exceeds capacity and there is nowhere lawful for people to camp

The Update Report shows that “occupancy” rates of the permit areas on east Loch Lomond are far far higher than elsewhere in the National Park.  This is due of course to the West Highland Way, which attracts many backpackers each year, who, when they get past Drymen suddenly find their legal options for camping are severely restricted.  WHW walkers never did any harm but, like other responsible campers, have been victimised by the byelaws and now have insufficient places to camp.  The Board report brushes all this under the carpet and contains no plans to address the deficit in camping capacity or to ask WHW walkers what they think.

 

The camping byelaws and tourism

Fuller analysis of the permit data would, I suspect, show that many WHW walkers come from abroad.  16% or c1000 of the 6,129 permit booking were made by visitors from abroad and 24% by visitors from the rest of the UK.

 

What the camping permit data provides evidence of for the first time is that a high proportion of people who want to camp on the loch shores are tourists.  This has wide implications both about the message from the Park – “there are far too many campers” – which is disastrous for tourism, and for the provision of facilities.   Instead of committing to Ministers to take a proper look at this, the Update Report does a body swerve and avoids the issues.

The camping byelaws and social exclusion

The most interesting data about permits, however, is about where people had come from in Scotland.  Unsurprisingly, it shows most people come from the Glasgow conurbation, but also that:

This provides evidence, in the form of data, of what everyone with an interest in camping in the National Park has long known, that the majority of people who camp by the loch shores have lower than average incomes or, to put it another way, are working class folk from the West of Scotland.  The implication is that when the LLTNPA claims the byelaws are needed to reduce the number of campers, it is in effect saying that too many working class people from the Clyde Conurbation have been coming out to the National Park to enjoy a night out under the stars.  The LLTNPA has never looked at alternative provision for poorer people and as a result the byelaws are deeply discriminatory and socially exclusive.  We should now be able to work out the extent of that adverse impact.

The inclusion of this data was at the suggestion of the stakeholder forum and while I am delighted the Park has done the analysis in this case, it should have been far more such work and reporting to the Scottish Government on the implications.  In my view, there is now sufficient evidence for Ministers to  consider an independent Equality Impact Assessment into the effect and operation of the camping byelaws.

 

Omissions from the Update Report to Ministers

The report contains the usual parkspin and speak (one of the co-authors is head of marketing) and glosses over all the difficulties of the first season of the camping byelaws.  This is best illustrated by what has been omitted from the Report.

1). Number of campers affected

There is no data provided or comparison made between numbers camping in the areas covered by the camping management zones before the byelaws came into effect and subsequently.  The LLTNPA has lots of data on this but has failed to provide it or to undertake any analysis despite its senior staff now consistently claiming that the purpose of the byelaws is to reduce the number of campers.   What is it that the LLTNPA senior staff do not want the Minister or the public to know about something it claims is so fundamental?

My suspicion is that in part this is because this data would show that the byelaws have impacted most on poorer people and their ability to enjoy the outdoors, with all the benefits that has for physical health and mental well-being, but I suspect it would open other cans of worms.

2) Numbers camping or campervanning with a permit

There has been no attempt to compare the number of people who have applied for permits, and thus are camping lawfully, with those who have not.  Anyone who has visited the management zones will know that considerable numbers of people have continued to camp outwith permit area and the enforcement statistics give some indication of the scale: The 828 people given warnings are likely to be mostly campers because the byelaws were never enforced against caravans and were found to be unenforceable against campervans.   This number excludes campers whose names were not taken by Rangers – one can assume the more sensible Rangers just asked people to move on without taking personal details – and those who were never caught.   We also know that despite the intensive Ranger Patrols less than half of people who camped with permits saw a Ranger:

 

 

Applying these considerations to the data, suggests that a reasonable estimate of the minimum number of  tents pitched without a permit would be over 2000 (compared to 4914 that had permits) and the total may have been very much more.   A clear estimate of the people unaware or ignoring the byelaws is fundamental to any evaluation of their effectiveness and a clear methodology for doing this should have been presented to the Board now: it cannot wait till three years time.

3) Cost Benefit Analysis

The Report fails to say anything about the costs of implementing and enforcing the byelaws despite some of this information being available in the financial reports which will also be presented to the Board on Monday.  The LLTNPA has never done a cost benefit analysis and more specifically whether instead of devoting resources to policing campers it might not be more effective to provide basic infrastructure and facilities.

4) The implications of holding personal data

The LLTNPA now holds personal data on the 828 people it warned for breaching the byelaws but has said nothing about what they are doing with this data (e.g are they sharing it with the police for enforcement processes) or the civil liberty implications (how long are personal details kept on the list and for what purposes).  The Board should have considered this – and I have previously criticised them for their failure to do so – when they were considering enforcement procedures for the camping bye-laws.

5) Enforcement and campervans

The only mention the Report makes of the effective collapse of the byelaws in respect of campervans is this:

Part of the justification for the camping byelaws was to control the numbers of campervans which the LLTNPA claimed were swamping the National Park and encampments of caravans which blocked laybys for months and were a major concern to local communities.  However, all this unravelled in part because Park staff, without approval from either Board or Minister, changed the wording of the byelaws so private roads were included in the exemption which allowed motor vehicles to stop off overnight.   This in effect allowed caravans and campervans to stop off overnight anywhere on the roadsides in camping management zones and totally undermined the byelaws.    The Update Report is silent on this fiasco and fails to discuss the implications which includes the fact it cannot legally charge campervans to stop on roads.  That is why its only commitment in respect of motorhomes is worded as follows:

6) Outcome of Enforcement

The report is silent about what has happened in the 10 cases referred to the Procurator Fiscal.  The outcome of those cases is likely to say something about the fairness and enforceability of the byelaws, which is again something which should be reported to Ministers.

7) Permit feedback and Complaints

Following my post (see here) questioning the positive feedback the LLTNPA had claimed to receive about the permit system, I requested the data behind that and also on complaints made about the byelaws.   Neither are included in the Update Report – I am due to receive that information this week, under FOI, too late to analyse before the Board Meeting.  Since my original post though two complaints, which the Park had failed to answer, have been featured on parkswatch (see here) and there is a question about how many more complaints have been made received but not recorded.

There is a wider issue about how the LLTNPA records other criticisms.  The feedback I have had is the November stakeholder meeting on the camping byelaws was poorly attended.  The reason I believe is that attending such events i pointless as long as staff continue to cover-up anything that contradicts their narrative that the byelaws have been well received.

8) Impact on organised groups

The Update Report says 12 exceptions were granted to groups to camp outwith permits areas (for Duke of Edinburgh expeditions etc) but no comparison is made with the numbers of organised groups previously camping in these areas.   If the LLTNPA asked the Scouts, DofE etc,I believe they would find that their bureaucracy has driven people away and hard-pressed teachers etc simply don’t have time to go through the process, which incidentally destroys any flexibility to change plans according to weather conditions etc.  These groups have been driven out of the National Park.

9) Camping provision

In order to allow the byelaws to go ahead, the LLTNPA committed to Ministers to provide 300 new camping places (although the 300 included the existing campsites at Sallochy and Loch Lubnaig).  The Update Report is written in a way to suggest that that commitment was met:

While I am still awaiting the data behind this claim, having 300 places available online is not the same as 300 places being available on the ground.  Regular readers will know that some of the camping permit areas are uncampable (and some since abandoned) and others have been unusable at times (for example when under water).   There are strong reasons to doubt therefore that the Park’s commitment has been met in practice.  There is evidence for this in the Report:

That additional places are being recommended because at times existing places have been unusable confirms there has been a shortfall, while:

confirms that some of the permit areas on Forest Drive were unusable.  The Update Paper avoids an open discussion of the implications of this and whether the LLTNPA really did meet its commitment.  I am pretty certain the answer is “no”.  More importantly, however, looking forward the LLTNPA promised to Ministers to increase the number of places it provided after the first year.  The Report contains NO evaluation of how many such places might be required or sustainable and the only commitment the LLTNPA has made to improved camping provision is the 15 place new campsite at Loch Achray.

There is no update on plans for other which might help reduce the impact of not just campers but all visitors whether this is provision of litter bins, toilets or chemical disposal points.   In effect the Update Report suggests the LLTNPA’s Camping Development Strategy has collapsed.

 

What needs to happen

Leading on from the first two bullets in para 7.3 quoted above, the Update Report lists the following further areas for “improvement”:

These areas clearly link to some of the issues raised in this post but which are not being properly reported to Ministers.    The lack of any firm commitments is not in my view accidental.

I would love to think the LLTNPA Board on Monday would send the Senior Management Team back to work on the issues raised here and come up with a concrete set of proposals for Ministers, but I suspect that won’t happen.  To do so would require the Board to admit to Ministers the flaws in the byelaws and that the previous Board might have got it badly wrong.

Part of what might be needed therefore is an alternative report to Ministers about the efficacy and implications of the byelaws.  This would be based on data and other evidence missing from the LLTNPA report and should  make recommendations as to what should happen.

More important than this however is that politicians, particularly in the west of Scotland, need to start speaking out for their constituents and to criticise the failure of the National Park to fulfil its statutory objective to promote public enjoyment of the outdoors.  The discriminatory impact of the camping byelaws on poorer people, with all the consequences that has for their physical health and mental well-being, should be a political issue.  Whlle the Scottish Government claims it is trying to reduce health and educational inequalities, it has allowed to LLTNPA to devote considerable resources to achieving the opposite.    That needs to stop and the National Park needs to change course and do what it was set up to do, which was to enable people to enjoy the great outdoors on their doorstep.

December 5, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Yesterday’s post on signage in our National Parks that contravenes access rights was published before I had read the Loch Lomond and Trossachs’s National Park’s response to an information request I had made for papers presented to the Local Access Forum this year (I received the response at the end of last week).   The photos above were in the report to the May Local Access Forum (see here) and show there are National Park staff who are keen to do the right thing. Well done them and I don’t want them to think that I was criticising them personally for all the anti-access signs you can find in the Lomond and Trossachs National Park..

 

The shame is that the LLTNPA does not get its large marketing team to publicise such good work – it might discourage other landowners from putting up signs saying “KEEP OUT HIGH VELOCITY RIFLES IN USE” –  while it has sidelined its Local Access Forum.  This post considers the issues which arise from this in a bit more detail.

Addressing access issues

One thing that struck me from the access cases covered in the LAF papers, including the Drumlean Case which went to court (and the paper on this May 17 Appeal Court ruling is excellent), is that all the actions by LLTNPA staff appear to be linked to complaints.  The implication is that unless the public complain, access and other problems are just tolerated.  This is not just an issue for National Parks, as David Lintern’s recent excellent post on Walk Highland points out (see here).  This attitude of “no complaint, no action” may explain, however, why no action has been taken against all the camping signs which have been up for years and are still unlawful under the camping byelaws.

You have a right to camp at Loch Lubnaig outwith the camping byelaw season

Either Park staff, including Rangers, don’t see these and others signs and blockages as access issues or, perhaps more likely, they are not allowed to address them without a complaint being received.  And the explanation for that is likely to be that if staff addressed issues without complaints, the National Park could be seen as being anti-landowner, whereas common sense says that this should be just about access staff doing their job.   Whatever the case, there needs to be a complete change in culture in the National Park so staff are able to proactively take up and address access issues.

When they are allowed to do so the first major problem staff face, as illustrated by the report in the LAF papers about the Auchroach case, is finding out who is responsible:

Extract report January meeting

This is not an isolated example.  In the case of the bright blue car abandoned south of Inverarnan for months(see here),  the LLTNPA claimed they could not take action because they did not know the landowner).  The camping byelaw papers also make it clear the Park sometimes does not even know who owns what bit of loch shore.    The LLTNPA,  after almost 15 years of existence, still does not know who owns significant chunks of land within the National Park.   A matter of public interest and a fundamental issue for land reform as well as one that wastes huge amounts of staff time.   One might have thought their Board would have made representations about this but instead silence or worse (the LLTNPA mad a submission to the Land Reform Review Group, which reviewed the Land Reform Act 2003,  but instead of raising such issues they made a submission  about banning roadside camping across Scotland).

Resolving access issues at present can take years.  I would like to have seen the LLTNPA in its new National Park Partnership Plan set out properly what resources (and changes to the law) are needed to secure and promote access rights in the National Park.   The draft plan going to the Board next Monday does not even mention access problems.   Instead, its contains pious statements saying how the National Park wish to encourage people (excluded groups to to visit) with absolutely awareness that everywhere you go now there are “No” signs.

Secrecy, the Local Access Forum (LAF) and the camping byelaws

The LLTNPA as an access authority has a duty to support the operation of a Local Access Forum and a statutory duty to consult it on access matters.  The LLTNPA closed down its LAF during the time when its Board was meeting in secret to develop camping byelaws (there was one meeting of the LAF a week before the formal consultation was issued by which time all had been decided).  Since the byelaws were agreed by Ministers the LAF has been resuscitated.

The LAF is now listed under the Board Committee section of the LLTNPA website (see here) and was scheduled to meet four times this year (although the website says it usually meets just twice).  Unlike other Board Committees, however, papers for meetings are not published as a matter of course.  By early Autumn this year no minutes for the 3 meetings that had taken place had appeared either, making it impossible to see what the LAF had been doing.  This was not the LAF members responsibility or fault, but the Park’s.

After I raised the matter with Park Senior Management I got this response:

We can confirm that the Local Access Forum met in January, May and August. With regards to the papers being on the website, all minutes are normally published once approved by the Forum. Unfortunately, due to an oversight, this did not happen earlier in the year, this has now been rectified and you will note that links to all minutes from previous years are available. The minutes for August will be published after they have been approved at the December meeting. Your query regarding papers has been passed to the Access team for consideration.

Now I don’t believe it either is, or should be, up to the Access Team to decide if papers to the LAF are published or not (although I suspect if the decision was up to them they would publish as it would help advertise the work they are doing).  The LLTNPA in its Publication Scheme, which was agreed with the Information Commissioner, said it would publish information on how it makes decisions: since the LAF meetings inform what decisions are taken on access, in my view papers to those meetings should be published.  The only way to get them though at present is by making an Information request, which I did.

Unfortunately, while I have obtained the papers, they are still not available on the LAF section of the website.  Nor is there any link under under the Freedom of Information section of the Park website where the LLTNPA publish some responses it has made to information requests:

Screenshot 5th December

The LLTNPA has not published A SINGLE RESPONSE TO AN INFORMATION REQUEST  since March.  By contrast, the Scottish Government has now committed to publishing ALL responses to information requests made to it as a result of cross-party political pressure.  There is NO reason why all our Public Authorities should not be doing the same.  For the record  EIR 2017-075 Response LAF shows there have been at least 75 information requests under the Environmental Information Regulations alone this year, while the screenshot above shows the Park has just published two of these.    The question is why?

My suspicion, based on the content of my information requests, is this is because  a large proportion are about access, including the operation of the camping byelaws.  If the Park published the information, it would undermine its own case that the byelaws have been going well.

The LAF minutes (now on website) and papers Jan 17 Access team update Jan 17 Generic LLTAF YP update May 17 Appeal Court ruling May 17 Access Team Update May 17 Core Paths Plan Review Aug 17 Core Paths Plan ReviewAug 17 CPP Review PaperAug 17 LLTAF CPP slides show that LAF members are trying to raise and address access issues, from car parking charges to access obstructions, even if the operation of the camping byelaws has hardly been covered.

As evidence of the ability of current LAF members to think critically this raised a smile:

Extract from minute (I don’t know PP who is a person called Paul Prescott).   Linda McKay is the previous Board Convener who erected a double height barbed wire fence round her house which has prevented people walking along the lochshore to the dam at Loch Venachar and appears to have been the force behind the byelaws.

 

The challenge LAF members face though is that if little of what they contribute is made public  they are hamstrung, and its very easy for the LLTNPA to sideline them.  A recent example comes from the Information Response I received from the LLTNPA which indicated the December meeting of the LAF has been postponed (which in turn means the minutes of the August meeting are not yet public).   As a consequence the LAF have been given no opportunity to contribute to the review of the first year of the camping byelaws or to offer comments on the implications for access rights of the report to Ministers which is to be discussed by the Board next week.

That Board paper also fails to refer to the LAF:

The review of the operation of the byelaws is being presented as a purely operational matter with no wider implications

It appears that once again the LLTNPA has excluded the LAF, a statutory consultee on access rights, from all consideration of the camping byelaws.  I believe that says it all (though I will post on the Report for Ministers later this week).   Until the LLTNPA connects with its own LAF, every recommendation or action it takes on the camping byelaws is worthless.   Meanwhile, the fact that it is the only Access Authority to have a place on the National Access Forum appears to me to be a national disgrace. (It hasn’t consulted the NAF properly about the implications of the byelaws either)

What needs to happen

Access rights need to be put at the centre of what both our National Parks do.

The LLTNPA appears to have some good staff who can take on and resolve access issues, as demonstrated by the Auchreoch case, but they need to be empowered to do so far more widely.  This will require both resources and a change in culture so that Park staff are able to start acting pro-actively.

The LAF needs to be put at the centre of what the LLTNPA does and should be doing to uphold access rights, instead of being sidelined as appears to be the case at present.  For that to work, the LAF has to be allowed to operate openly, be given resources to publicise what it does and be supported to ensure independent effective links are in place with partner organisations, particularly recreational bodies.

 

Postscript on resources and neoliberalism

I suspect the LLTNPA’s response to my concerns about secrecy covered in this post would be to say my suggestions are all very well but it has not had the resources to make information public.  As evidence for this it might cite its current advert for a one year Information Intern.

Information Intern

The advert shows that person will require a degree and be paid £16320 for a 37 hour week or £9.28 an hour.

Instead of making a coherent case to the Scottish Government about the resources it needs, the main function of the LLTNPA appears to be to manage austerity and join with other organisations in driving wages as low as possible with the excuse that nothing else can be afforded.  If the LLTNPA knew who the landowners in the National Park were and had analysed their wealth they would know this is not true.

December 4, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
Welcome to the Moor sign at Strone – when is a welcome not a welcome? When you are asked to keep to the path. CNPA logo bottom right.

In the month or so since my post on grouse moor propaganda and our National Parks (see here), on two further outings I have come across further signs which undermine access rights and are contrary to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.  What this illustrates is that such signage is a far from isolated problem and one that should be of public concern given one of the four statutory duties of our two National Parks is to promote public enjoyment of the countryside and that as Access Authorities both have a statutory duty to uphold access rights.   This post considers the issues further and makes some suggestions as to what our National Parks should be doing about this.

Another sign on the gates at Strone – apparently endorsed by the CNPA (logo top right).

 

The walker intending to walk up the Strone track by Newtonmore is faced with no less than four different signs, all saying different things!   The Welcome to the Moor signs recommends people keep to paths and tracks when possible, the large stalking sign recommends say that people can help by keeping to paths between 1st August and 20th October, while another sign (left) asks people to “stick to paths and ridgelines as much as possible”.

So, three contradictory messages – not a good start – but NONE of them reflect what was agreed in the Guidance for Land Managers on signage under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (see here).

 

The SOAC Guidance for Land Managers starts with the statement “Simple, positive signs play an important role in responsible and effective access management”.  Its neither simple nor effective to plaster a gate with lots of conflicting messages but the Cairngorms National Park Authority through endorsing two signs with different access advice has effectively endorsed this complex confusing approach.

None of the messages however are compatible with the SOAC which NOWHERE tells people to keep to the path (see letter to Strathy right).    Rather, its Guidance to Land Managers asks them to focus on informing walkers and other visitors about where estate management/shooting is taking place:

“Requests to avoid particular areas should
relate to specific days as indicated in the
Access Code. “

Requests and recommendations to people to keep to paths or tracks effectively undermine this as they are suggesting that it is better for people to keep out of vast areas of the countryside at ALL times.

In relation to stalking (there is no specific guidance for grouse moor management) the Code goes on to say:

 

“Requests should apply to the minimum necessary area. This will normally be the corrie or corries in which stalking is taking place, with the presumption that access can continue along adjacent ridges. If at all possible, the specified area should not include popular paths through glens or to major summits, such as the routes identified in the SMC guides to the Munros and Corbetts…………Conversely, signs which effectively prevent access to major summits (ie. Munros or Corbetts), or make general requests to avoid high ground, are not appropriate”.

 

The logic also applies to moorland.  Signs which tell people to avoid stepping onto moorland by keeping to paths or tracks are appropriate.

What the SOAC Guidance goes on to say is that where an estate is unable to provide specific information on where stalking is taking place, signs need to offer a number of option not all of which are about keeping to paths:

“Signs of this type could, for example, indicate to hillwalkers that “when stalking is taking place, you can help by:

  • using paths;
  • following ridges, and;
  • following the main watercourse if you have to go through a corrie.”

One of the Strone signs half uses this guidance by referring to paths and ridgelines (not corries) but goes beyond it by asking people to “stick” to these routes.

So what happens when the path and ridge ends?   Access rights do not terminate at the end or even the side of the path or track.   The CNPA really needs to step in, sort this muddle out and ensure access signage in the National Park reflects what SOAC says..

Sign just beyond one of the railway underpasses south of Ardlui featured in walking guides to Ben Vorlich

The signs in the Cairngorms National Park however are nothing as compared to those in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, a number of which have been featured on parkswatch (see here for example) and most of which have to the best of my knowledge not been removed despite being reported.    I came across another such sign yesterday.  The first underpass south of the Ardlui station says the next underpass should be used to access Ben Vorlich (sorry no photo of that sign) but when you get through that underpass you are greeted by the photo above.   This type of signage was supposed to be abolished by the Land Reform Act (and I am only surprised that no-one has ripped it down – I would have done if I had not wanted to feature it here!).

The sign is not an isolated mistake, above is the sign a friend and I came across on our return having walked down the fine bumpy ridge north east of Little Hills.   I wonder if the National Park paid for the wooden access pointer sign and what they think about walkers now being told to keep out?   The landowner has completely ignored access rights and the worrying thing is they appear to believe they can get away with it.  (I will report these signs to the LLTNPA and ask them to ensure they are removed).

 

What needs to happen

Initially, the Land Reform Legislation had a very positive impact and a number of long-standing access issues (e.g. the barbed wire covered locked gate at the bridge over the River Etive and many anti-access signs were removed).  However, what has since happened is that many access officer posts have been cut under austerity – so fewer and fewer people are being paid to uphold access rights – while landowners and our public agencies have started to ignore the legislation.  There is a real risk now that access rights are undermined which is why I believe its particularly important our National Parks get it right.

I don’t believe that people visiting the countryside should tolerate signage that abuses rights and believe that,  in the absence of effective action from our access authorities, people should consider taking direct action.   Markers pens and tippex would be a start!

Our two National Park Authorities, however,  need to make an explicit commitment to address these issues.  I would like to see the LLTNPA in their new National Park Partnership Plan due to be discussed by their Board next Monday setting a target that NO signs contrary to the Land Reform Act should be evident in the National Park in two years time.  That would focus staff on getting these signs removed instead of the current dithering.

Both our National Park also claim to be trying to agree estate management plans with landowners.  An explicit part of every such plan should be access signage.  Far better than an estate puts up no signs at all – as appears to be the case at Glen Feshie – than they are allowed to put up signage that undermines access rights.

There is no mention of access at all in this sign the only one I saw in a 20 mile round of Glen Tromie looking at tracks

I have in the last month visited Glen Feshie estate twice and so far not seen a single access sign.  People might ask how do you know you are welcome there?  Having talked to Thomas McDonnell, the Conservation Manager there, I know people are welcomed by the estate and he wants to promote access.  The attitudes of the estate are, however, as I think Thomas would acknowledge, irrelevant.  You, I or anyone else has a statutory right of access to land in Scotland and I think most hillwalkers know this.  They simply ignore unlawful signs.  The problem is for the uninformed visitor who does not know their rights who comes across a sign which may start by saying “welcome” but whose content is then all about “NO” or which explicitly tries to tell people to keep out.   Better there are no signs than signs like that.

December 3, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
Flamingo Land is proposing more buildings the height of the Drumkinnon Tower along the shoreline at Balloch and to develop Drumkinnon Woods behind

There has been a lot of community activity in Balloch since Scottish Enterprise announced Flamingo Land had been appointed developer for the Riverside Site.  You can follow this activity and thinking through a number of Facebook Groups including “Balloch Responds”, “Friends of Drumkinnon Woods” and “Alternative Balloch – A Productive United Village”.

Recently people have been using these pages to articulate alternative visions for the future, complex arguments rather than social media soundbites.  To me, this is incredibly exciting.    While much of the thinking is not explicitly about National Parks as such and its focus more about an alternative vision for the area, the relationship between people and the natural environment is central to it.  As such it is helping to develop an alternative vision for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park which should be of interest to anyone who is interested in the future of our National Parks. .

Bruce Biddulph on Balloch and Tourism

Below is what Bruce Biddulph, who contributed a post on Drumkinnon Woods in the summer (see here), wrote on the “Alternative Balloch FB page” on 22nd November.  It is published with his permission.

“Here is, I believe, a fair summary of what is missing in Balloch, certainly from a visitor point of view:

History: Visitor’s receive practically no idea of Balloch’s history. In fact, none. Even although Balloch sits at the centre of Scotland’s entire history, and has a wealth of historic world class interests in this regard, little is evident to them, and it is not capitalised on. This is an area that is ripe for exploitation – and there is nothing wrong with exploiting that resource for a market value – tourists expect it.

Local Produce and Provision: Sadly Balloch’s stock has gone down over the past few decades.  More and more provision is ‘standard’. Its two hotels and the new inn are now part of groups. there is only one boatyard in the village and no sense of Balloch as an open harbour, which is perplexing to the visitor who sees the river filled with boats but no engagement for them. The supermarket dominates to the extent it has now taken in footfall and has not spread the benefits, worsened by its taking of the post office into its back wall.

Tourist mementos: Lacking. One high end gift shop. Lack of truly Balloch branded stock elsewhere. No “Scottishness” as expected by the visitor. Little in the way for the day tripper to take away or find curiousity about. Linked to lack of historical interest in village’s wider realm.

Accommodation: There may be issues with accommodation but from what I have heard it is that it is a struggle for B&B owners most the of the year Easily addressed if Balloch is made more attractive and has seasonal events created by its community of residents and businesses in co-operation with each other.

All of the above is easily achieved with no great masterplan required. Scotland has many government agencies tasked with assisting communities to grow organically and to be more sustainably productive. The missing ingredient in this is people coming forward as a community to demand their rights as a community to being enabled.

Balloch’s prime disadvantage is Lomond Shores itself. It brings people into Balloch by car, but not to Balloch village itself. Therefore people going to Lomond Shores tend largely not to go any further than the retail area and leave via their cars by the same route. There is no meaningful through route or encouragement to do so. This is why Riverside and Pier Road could have been used as extensions of Balloch village.

There is so much that is positive about Balloch it makes it the envy of all other places in the Loch Lomond area. The lack in Balloch is the community of residents and businesses working together for the common good and for the fostering of other businesses Balloch requires. The above does not even bring into the equation the sheer numbers of related business scattered in its environs and the Vale of Leven that could be accommodated in a linked up and sensitively created expansion of Balloch’s thoroughfares that enhance the village and riverside and protect its beauty and its open access to all. Alongside public realm that has at its heart the spirit of honest  provision for local and tourist alike. Balloch’s success lies in its fusion of free space, its location, and its history of largely providing what visitors want and expect. That provision is going down, its diversity is becoming threatened by homogenisation and the proposal from Flamingoland does nothing to address the main opportunities nor does it do anything whatsoever to grow a future in the hands of Balloch and Balloch-born businesses.

Friends of Drumkinnon Woods

I have not asked to republish this so have just included the link:

The Economics of Free Wild SpacesIt's a sad reflection of our times that to make a case for almost anything now,…

Posted by Friends of Drumkinnon Woods on Tuesday, November 28, 2017

 

Imagine the potential if our Public Agencies, instead of supporting large businesses, started to support local people and local businesses to develop proposals for the Riverside site based on the Park’s statutory objectives of conservation, public enjoyment, sustainable economic development and sustainable use of resources.

December 2, 2017 Nick Kempe 7 comments
The most obvious changes to the application is that the proposed sites for three pitches have been moved

Following my post on the proposed loch achray campsite, which received some well-informed comments from readers, further documents relating to the application have been uploaded to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Planning portal (see here).  The papers for the December LLTNPA Board Meeting confirm that Loch Achray is the ONLY “new” campsite development being worked on for next year.  This post considers what all this tells us about the coherence of the Park’s camping strategy which was supposed to be delivered in tandem with the camping byelaws.

The main flaws in the proposed Loch Achray campsite

My main criticism of the original application was that it included no chemical waste disposal facility – a no-brainer one might have thought when the LLTNPA and Forest Enterprise and trying to promote Forest Drive as a paying campervan destination.  Unfortunately, this has not changed and is, in my view, a fundamental omission.

Chemical disposal points do not cost much (see above) where other sewerage provision is being planned as at Loch Achray but this appears off the Park’s radar.  Its well past time that the Park started putting in place proper facilities for campervanners who do not want to stay in registered caravan sites.

The more recent planning documents for Loch Achray raise a further concern, that the LLTNPA is proposing to create ARTIFICIAL camping pitches.   In one place the papers refer to:

Camping on bark is horrible and describing it as traditional is simply “parkspeak”.  However, it appears that the current proposal is for rubber pitches on raised sand beds:

Diagram showing rubber mats held down by pins over 150mm of compacted free draining sand with a vegetated embankment round the edge to hold the sand in place

No-one from the Park appears to have asked any campers whether they like camping on artificial mats – although I guess if people were asked they might suggest their use on some of the sloping pebble beaches which the Park has designated as camping permit areas!

The grassy area east of the burn

Just why the National Park is wanting to create 9 artificial places on this beautiful grassy area where people have been camping for over 30 years is not explained.

The creation of fixed pitches here is control freakery. It appears the Park  cannot bear the thought of people being able to choose where they camp, picking a suitable spot according to the conditions.  This is contrary to the spirit of freedom to roam.   While the Park has said it wishes to develop basic campsites that promote the wild camping experience, paradoxically it appears it cannot abide anything basic and feels compelled to adopt suburban solutions for a National Park whose fundamental purpose is to enable people to enjoy nature.

While some work might be required to create the 3 camping pitches on the west side of the burn, where the land is boggy and overgrown, this could be done without rubber matting.  NO artificial pitches are needed in the largest camping area on the east side of burn.

The Park is once again, just as at Loch Chon, destroying  vegetation through the creation of formal camping pitches.  At the same time in their report to the December Board staff claim they are trying to measure vegetation recovery in places where people used to camp in order to evaluate the success of the camping byelaws.  The Park appear blind to their own hypocrisy.

The Park’s concession to wildness is that instead of creating artificial paths over the grassy area, they are prepared to let this happen naturally (see left).   There has been camping at Loch Achray for 30 years without paths developing here so why they should do so now is unclear.

Other concerns about the Loch Achray campsite

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency have objected to the planning application because of the risk of flooding.    I did wonder briefly if theartificial pitches were a response to SEPA’s objection   but there is no mention of this in the lengthy justification the Park has commissioned (two large to upload here).   I do feel sympathy for the Park about this.   Readers had pointed out the Loch Achray site was under water at the beginning of October but the report confirms this was caused by the opening of the Loch Katrine sluice gates, a rare event and manageable.  While Scottish Planning policy is to avoid placing any developments on flood plains, this campsite is supposed to provide a wild camping experience.  What’s more none of the infrastructure, apart from the artificial pitches, is located on the area that floods.  Still the Park is now having to install a paraphernalia of flood guages and warning signs to get this through the planning system.  It could have avoided many of these difficulties if the Guidance on Visitor Experience which its Planning Committee approved earlier in the week had addressed these issues (I will come back to this but it failed to do so).

The Park also now appears to be proposing the campsite is staffed 10 hours a day:

 

 

This is madness which appears driven by the need to get SEPA to withdraw their objection.  The Loch Achray site is actually much better and safer for camping than some of the camping permit areas created by the Park which are regularly underwater and unusable (e.g the beaches at Firkin Point).  The difference though is the permit areas never required planning permission.  More hyprocrisy from the LlTNPA and other agencies.  Should SEPA not have been objecting to many of the permit areas because of their flood risk?

The cost implications of this staffing are signficant.   10 hours at even £10 per hour (minimum wage plus on costs) is £100 a day.   17 places are planning and lets  the campsite does twice as well as Loch Chon, which was always too big and is more remote and whose occupancy is as follows:

Extract from report to December Board Meeting

So, 44% occupancy – call it 8 places at £7 a night.  That is £56 income.  So, if staff are here 10 hours a day that is going to leave a minimum net cost to the Park of £44 each day (setting aside all the other running costs, from power supply to vehicles for the staff concerned).  In reality it will probably be far far more than this and for what?   What the Park have not yet appreciated, because they have never done a proper cost benefit analysis of any of the Your Park proposals,  is that it would be far better use of resources to let campers supervise themselves and just service facilities (whether toilets or bins) than it is to try and police campers (which should be a matter for the police).

The response to SEPA also raises questions about when this campsite will be open:

This makes it sound as though, just like Firkin Point, the Park  toilets won’t be available for use at the start of the camping byelaw season on 1st March.  Its also unclear whether the statement that the tourist season runs till October means the campsite will close on 30th September, as Loch Chon did this year, or at the end of October.  In my view ALL the Park’s facilities such as toilets should be open year round.

To end this consideration of the Loch Achray campsite planning application on a positive note, one excellent document has been added to the Park’s planning portal: a “soft landscape” specification (see here) for revegetating and planting trees in the area around the carpark.  This was from a Sarah Barron, whom I assume is the Park’s ecologist.  Its very detailed, leaves nothing to chance and sets the sort of standard the Park should be applying to this sort of work everywhere – hydro schemes come to mind.    The Park has some excellent knowledgeable staff, the problem is that best use is not being made of their expertise.

 

What needs to happen

The concerns described here  about the design and opening times of the Loch Achray campsite could easily be sorted out if the LLTNPA had the will and consulted properly with recreational interests instead of thinking it knows best.   Given their general reluctance to do this I hope people will object to the application, the main things to object to being the lack of a chemical disposal point and the proposal to create artificial camping places.

My greatest concern however is that this is the only concrete proposal for a new camping facility in the National Park in the next year.  Now, I know that austerity is really biting but if its budget custs which are preventing the Park from doing more they should be saying this loud and clear.  They promised delivery of new camping infrastructure as part of the Your Park plan and so far have delivered very little.   There are lots of small things the Park could do, for a lot less cost than the Loch Achray Campsite, which would make a real difference.

November 28, 2017 Nick Kempe 6 comments
Arrow shows location of Woodbank Inn relative to the proposed Flamingo Land development

Yesterday the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority planning committee considered a planning application from David McCowan, an elected Board Member and member of the Planning Committee (see here).  David McCowan represents the people of Balloch and West Loch Lomond and the planning application was to build a three storey extension onto the Woodbank Inn, on Balloch Rd, at the back of the Riverside/Flamingo Land site in the area he represents.

 

In contrast to the planning applications involving former Board Member Fergus Wood (see here) and (here) everything has been done by the book.   David McCowan declared his interest fully on the application form from the start, whereas in Fergus Wood’s case the original application form dated 3rd March was changed by LLTNPA at a later date as a result of a request from his agent (see here for full letter):

 

Instead of revising the date on the application form to reflect the change, the LLTNPA inserted the declaration they received on the 10th April into a superseded application form dated 3rd March which was given the date 13th March on the Planning Portal.  So, the good thing about the David McCowan application is it helps show up the failures in governance around Fergus Wood’s campsite application (which I have asked the LLTNPA to address).

 

While there were a number of objections to the application by residents who will also be impacted on by the Flamingo Land proposals – they must feel hemmed in from all sides – I will not consider the merits of the application here, only its implications in terms of Board Member interests and accountability.

 

Now I should say here David McCowan is one of few members of the old Board I have time for.  He is one of two locally elected LLTNPA members who makes any contribution at meetings, has consistently spoken out about litter problems in the Park and argued for a much broader approach than the one that has treated campers as the cause of every problem.   He has also been good enough, since James Stuart became convener, to come over and speak to members of the public after Board Meetings.

 

David McCowan’s application to extend the Woodbank Inn, however, raises issues about his ability to represent his constituents in future.   This is not about the Woodbank Inn application in itself, but rather about the relationship between his business, this application and the proposed development of the Riverside Site by Flamingo Land.  For in making the application, David McCowan must have made some judgement about the potential impact of Flamingo Land on his business which in turn must affect his ability to participate in any discussions about the merits of the proposed development of the Riverside Site.   On the one hand, if he supports the Riverside development, the suspicion must be that he is doing so because he thinks Flamingo Land will attract more people to Balloch and that will benefit his business.  On the other hand, if he opposes the development, that will be interpreted as him not wanting a competitor to his business.  In other words, by making this application – even though its to his credit that this has come before rather than after the Flamingo Land application – I don’t see how David McCowan can objectively participate in the Flamingo Land deliberations.  Whatever his motivation, there is scope for complaints to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards from all sides while the Board Members Code of Conduct makes it clear that Board Member interests must not affect the planning process.

 

If you accept this logic, this means David McCowan cannot take further part of the decision-making process in what is likely to be the biggest single development proposal which will ever effect his constituents.   Its arguable too that making a planning application is not the crucial factor and just through owning this business on the very edge of Flamingo Land he has an interest such that he should not participate in discussions.   David McCowan’s interests therefore raise fundamental issues  about democracy and accountability.   A key question is whether residents of Balloch have a right to expect their locally elected member should  listen to and then represent their views on the Riverside Site (accepting that local opinion may be divided) without being affected by his own interests?   If you think they should have that right, the logic seems to me that if David McCowan can no longer represent his constituents.    This is not just about the Flamingo Land Planning Application, its about the National Park Partnership Plan which is due to be discussed at the December Board Meeting:  one of the key targets in that is the development of the Riverside Site.

 

The simple solution would be for David McCowan to resign.  Even though it may now be too late for an election to be organised before Flamingo Land submit their planning application, it should be possible to hold an election before the application goes to Committee.  Alternatively he could decide to stay in post till July, when local members are up for election, and either stand down then or let the electorate decide.   The problem with this option is that its hard to see how he can effectively represent his consituents between now and then.   This then raises the question of what rights local constituents have if they are not happy with David McCowan’s ability to represent them and in particular whether they should have a right to recall him as their representative.  This is not a legal option at present but I think it should be,  not just for National Parks but for all elected representatives.  At present a very limited power to remove elected representatives exists where they have been convicted of certain criminal offences but I think it should also cover situations where a members interests prevent them from serving their electorate (Kezia Dugdale heading off into gameshow land is another possible example).

 

While I do not know David McCowan on a personal basis, I have now talked to him briefly on a couple of occasions and as well as finding him likeable have had respect for him up till now.  While I suspect he may have thought about some of the issues raised here, unfortunately I don’t he think he sits on a Board which has as yet developed a strong ethical sense.  The old Board tried to cover up the Owen McKee case (see here) and the new Board at present appears to be sitting on the fence as regards whether any action should be taken against Fergus Wood.  I am not sure therefore there is anyone on the Board with whom David McCowan could talk through the issues described here.  I hope this post will prompt him to think further about his position,  prompt the Board to openly discuss the issues raised and prompt the local community to consider and express what they want from their local representatives.

 

One question I believe local electorates need to consider more are the implications of people with significant business interests within the National Parks serving on their Boards.   While I am not equating David McCowan in any way with either Owen McKee or Fergus Wood, all three were democratically elected to the Board (while Fergus Wood of course was also removed from the Board when his local electorate chose to vote for other candidates in the Council elections earlier this year).    Business people may or may not make good local leaders but the challenge is how can their personal interests be kept separate from the interests of the National Park and the people they represent?

November 23, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Upper section of tracks in Coilessan Glen. Neither FES nor LLTNPA appear concerned about the landscape impact of the track works here. If these were not deemed forestry tracks, I believe the LLTNPA would have required a full landscape impact assessment.

Since my post in June (see here) on Forest Enterprise’s  “upgrade” of the Coilessan Glen forest track, I have been trying to get to the root of what has gone wrong.  First I established that no planning application or prior notification had been received by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, then I took the matter up with  Simon Hodge, Chief Executive of Forest Enterprise Scotland.  I believe my correspondence with him shows there are serious issues about how the Forest Estate is being managed in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and will highlight evidence for this in this post (you can view the full correspondence below).

The Prior Notification System and the track upgrade

Forestry Tracks are, under planning legislation, classed as permitted developments but under the Prior Notification System all new or alterations to existing forest tracks are supposed to be notified to the Planning Authority.    FES is usually good at doing this, and indeed has now done so for two small changes to the track in Coilessan Glen.  However, they disputed my claim that all the track upgrade and other works needed prior notification, claiming these were “maintenance” rather than alterations.

In response I sent them some photos:

View of track extension from below

FES response to photo:

In plain language this is an acknowledgement from FES that the works included a new section of track which they should have notified to the LLTNPA under the Prior Notification System.  However, they try and excuse this failure by saying they had told the LLTNPA about a new section of track in Coilessan Glen but in a different place, 250m away!  Imagine someone trying to justify building a house in one place on the grounds that the planning authority had accepted this in a different location!

The LLTNPA’s response to that Prior Notification (link to full letter below under correspondence) is telling:

 

Another view of the track extension

This extension is according to standard FES designs and therefore its reasonable to say that the original 250m away would have had a similar landscape impact.  Yet the LLTNPA was quite happy to state in response to the Notification that such extensions do not raise “any significant landscape” concerns.   I don’t think any recreational walker would agree.  The works have had a serious adverse impact on the Cowal Way.  The LLTNPA needs to ensure its staff and Board Members get out more and review their policy in this area.  I know the LLTNPA and other public authorities are strapped for resources but this is simply not good enough for a National Park.  At least according to the correspondence FES and LLTNPA have now met to discuss what to do about this section of track.  Now both need to explain publicly what they will do to restore the damage to the National Park landscape.

FES response to photo:

By saying this, FES seem to be trying to imply that this work to reinforce the side of the track is not an alteration but maintenance.  They have however accepted, by calling in the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, that the works could have  serious ecological implications (with silt eroding into the river).  Reason enough one might have thought to notify the LLTNPA.

Apart from the technicalities of the failing Prior Notification system, the substantive issue is that FES has trashed what would otherwise be an attractive section of river.  In the current Ardgarten Forest Design Plan (which is not publicly available although FES are now publishng new forest plans as they are agreed) all the main riparian edges in Coilessan Glen were designated for native woodland.  Good plan, shame its being ignored.

Evidence that FES had altered the track and extended it beyond its existing footprint

FES response to photo:

The evidence shows that what has been done is more then vegetation removal.  Scottish Government Guidance on tracks and the Prior Notification system SG FinalGuidance june 15 Smith et al 2014 states:

 

“The distinction between”alteration” and “maintenance” may sometimes be difficult to determine. Maintenance‟ work could include routine repairs to private ways such as filling potholes or clearing drainage channels or replacing culverts in line with recommendations and guidance by SEPA to comply with good practice.

Work such as resurfacing to provide a materially different road surface (for example replacing loose gravel with tarmacadam), or to widen or extend a track, would generally be considered an “alteration‟.

 

While I believe the Coilessan tracks have been altered, whatever the Prior Notification technicalities the substantive issue is why FES is allowed to do work like this in the National Park?  The slope is too steep, will erode rather than re-vegetate and contrary to good practice (such as contained within the LLTNPA Guidance on Renewables).   The LLTNPA should be demanding that Forestry Commission Scotland, which agrees the standard specifications for forest tracks, to review them to ensure they are fit for National Parks (and other areas of landscape importance in Scotland).

FES response to photo:

Accepting FES assurances that the work is not complete, it is  disturbing that National Park Officers apparently have deemed the work at Coilessan acceptable.  Do they not even think further monitoring is required to see that any restoration work by FES is acceptable?    I would like LLTNPA Board Members to go out – preferably in the company of people who have an interest in our landscape and nature conservation in our National Parks –  take a look and re-think.

FES response to photo:

So, quarries can be built and extended in National Parks outwith the planning system.  I am grateful that FES sent me the letter from FCS EIA101 Ardgartan Quarry – even if it basically attributes responsibility for this to them –  although they have made no mention of the mitigation measures which FCS said needed to be agreed with the LLTNPA and are not anywhere public on the Park’s planning portal.   While I will pursue this, the substantive issues is that  quarrying does not have to look like this.  Here is an alternative example from the Cairngorms National Park I came across last weekend:

Borrow pit in Glen Tromie on the Glen Feshie Estate. The photo accentuates the track up the slope, which is hardly visible from other angles.  Ignore too the heap of aggregate and foreground and note how vegetation has been replaced on the quarried slope even though, just to the left, the borrow pit is being worked.

In Glen Tromie (which I will blog about in due course because of the positive lessons there for the rest of Scotland) the estate are restoring the quarry as they go, a complete contrast to FES.  The contrast in how the land is being treated and landscape respect is in my view stark.

 

The new Prior Notification for a 70m section of track in Coilessan Glen

 

At the beginning of October, FES submitted a Prior Notification to the LLTNPA for further work in Coilessan Glen – to “straighten” the section of track beyond the bridge in the photo above.  The response of the LLTNPA was that this did not need Prior Approval (see here) because:

Leaving aside the implication that any forestry road deemed commercial can go ahead in the National Park without any consideration of landscape or conservation issues, the LLTNPA has failed to properly consider the issues as this extract from the second FES letter shows:

First, FES are now claiming the track is needed in case there is a need to fell larch trees in an attempt to prevent the spread of Phytopthera Ramorum, a disease that is decimating larch plantations across the UK and not for normal commercial forestry purposes.   Second, FES are not proposing to remove the old track but to leave it in place, so there will be two tracks at this point in the glen for what appear to be spurious reasons.  (I had been rather hoping they might use the opportunity to reduce the old track to footpath width so improving the walking experience on the Cowal Way).   So why did the LLTNPA not ask what was happening to the 70m section of old track before simply approving the new one?   If this is anything to go by it appears the LLTNPA are simply rubber stamping FES Prior Notifications without any consideration of the landscape or conservation implications.

 

What needs to happen

The issues raised here are much broader than the track in Coilessan Glen and have implications for the whole of the Argyll Forest Park.   When the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park was originally proposed, Cowal was not included, but this changed as a result of local pressure.  Part of this was because local people thought a National Park might be a way of changing how forestry was managed in the Argyll Forest Park.

Initially the LLTNPA did take an interest in Argyll and a new forest framework was produced lltnpa woodland framework action area 3. (This is not publicly available – the FES appears to have just one copy – but I am very grateful for the FES planning section for copying the relevant part of this and sending it to me by return without an FOI request).  While this did not propose a radical change of direction – it clearly states that commercial forestry would predominate – it did set out some aspirations and suggested areas for change (on some of which there has since been progress).  The problem is that the thinking behind the framework has never been reviewed or developed despite opportunities to do this, mostly recently in the draft National Park Partnership Plan consulted on earlier this year.

The most important thing that I believe needs to happen therefore is that the new National Park Partnership Plan should commit both the LLTNPA and FCS/FES to a public a review of Forest Management  in the Argyll Forest Park and how this meets the National Park’s statutory objectives.  While the spread of Phytopthera Ramorum – a conservation disaster which I will come back to – is another reason to do this, the failed operation of the Prior Notification system in Coilessan Glen and the landscape and conservation impact of track works there should in themselves be sufficient.  It will be interesting to see if the final National Park Partnership Plan due to be presented to the LLTNPA Board in December says anything meaningful about changing forestry practice in the Argyll Forest Park.

Addendum – correspondence with FES

  • 30/08/17 Email (see here) and link to my June post sent to Simon Hodge asking if agreed the Coilessan track works should have been notified to the LLTNPA
  • No acknowledgement
  • 19/09/17 Polite reminder sent (see here) with my MSP, who everyone knows as Nicola, copied in.  Hey pronto, immediate (same day) acknowledgement
  • 22/09/17 Response claiming Prior Notification not required as work within “footprint” existing tracks, that the final “running track” would be narrower and that the tracks were needed to control Phytopthera Ramorum  Final response to Mr Knowles
  • 02/10/17 Follow up letter sent with photographic evidence disputing FES claim that works within existing footprint Letter to Simon Hodge, Coilessan 171002
  • No acknowledgement
  • 17/10/17 Polite reminder sent (see here), noting further issues raised by recent notification to LLTNPA of work to straighten a section of track in Coilessan Glen, with my MSP once again copied in.   Hey pronto, acknowledgement!
  • 25/10/17  Response (see here), treated as Information Request, with two attachments: the first the LLTNPA response to a prior notification in 2016 for a new 50m section of track at Coilessan (on planning portal) (see here); the second, the response from Forestry Commission Scotland EIA101 Ardgartan Quarry saying an Environmental Impact Assessment was not needed for the quarry which has been used to source material for the tracks
  • 10/11/17 provision of Ardgarten Forest Plan (document too large to provide on website) and lltnpa woodland framework action area 3 by FES planning department.

 

The timing of the responses from FES is a neat illustration that when it comes to senior personnel in public authorities its not what you say that matters but who you know.

 

November 20, 2017 Nick Kempe 7 comments
Extract from Flamingo Land/Iconic Developments consultation display

On Friday I went to the first of the Flamingo Land consultation events at Lomond Shores in Balloch.  I was not sure what to expect partly because the proposals have been developed in secret (see here) but also because – like many people I suspect – I don’t think like a developer.   The display of the proposals – they are now all online (see here) – made it clear Flamingo Land want to develop ALL the land they and we/Scottish Enterprise own to create a holiday resort.  This is encapsulated in their portrayal of the “site wide experience” (see above) but there was already a big clue in the name of their development vehicle, “Iconic Leisure Developments”.

 

I left Lomond Shores thinking that the only way the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority can only approve the development of this holiday resort if they ignore all four of their statutory objectives, conservation, public enjoyment of the countryside, sustainable economic development and wise use of resources.

 

The “consultation”

Extract from Flamingo Land/Iconic Developments consultation display

While the detailed design plans for each component of the development may well be at an early stage,  Flamingo Land’s statement that it will submit an application for Planning Permission in Principle (see here) early in 2018 means the main elements of the proposal have already been decided.  If an overwhelming majority of consultees object to one or more elements of the proposal, there is no time to develop alternatives.  In addition, most parts of the Environmental Impact Assessment must either be well developed or complete by now but all of these have been withheld until the planning application is submitted.   So much for the Scottish Government’s commitment to “co-production”.  On the one hand they support community planning events, which included the Balloch charrette (see here) earlier on this year,  but at the same time they allow developers and “the market” to carry on as they always have.

 

Something is very wrong when consultation and involvement for what is an extremely large development in a National Park – and remember the emphasis now is on consultation prior to any planning application being submitted – is limited to a handful of days when the public can view an exhibition and are given the opportunity to comment on this.    Those attending were hit with a chocolate box of  new proposals from a mono-rail and aerial walkways to outdoor swimming pools and, while given the opportunity to ask questions of the team of consultants present, after this tasting were asked to give an immediate response.  While I overheard and took part in a number of very interesting discussions, there was no real opportunity to think or talk through the implications let alone offer alternatives.

 

There is another, and final, consultation event Monday 4th  December but at least the consultation questionaire is now online which gives people a little longer to consider how to respond.

 

The main elements to the proposals

Extract from map showing proposals for Riverside site

The two key big ideas developed in the Balloch Charrette, for a walkway along the River Leven connecting the town to Lomond Shores (about which I was sceptical) and a bridge across the mouth of the River Leven to connect Lomond Shores with Balloch Country Park (and therefore the countryside) have both been dropped.   Both proposals were about improving the public realm but neither would have brought financial benefit to the developer and its almost certain money is behind this raising the legitimate question as to what appointing a private developer will bring to Balloch.

 

Instead, the proposals appear to about using every available inch of space on the site to make money for Flamingo Land.

Greenspace 

While Flamingo Land are claiming to be preserving this, every element is to be intensively used, as you can see by the number of lodges in the proposals map above.   Just why this number of holiday lodges are needed at Balloch is not explained.

Drumkinnon Wood

This is very well used by the local community, but the proposal is for it to become one of the gateways to the development via an aerial walkway (4) which conveniently by-passes Loch Lomond Shores, as well as providing (from a count) 31 holiday lodges, some of which apparently may be up in the trees.  Along with this is a Forest Adventure Area” (3) and Children Area’s (5).   How this will leave any room for nature in what is an Ancient Woodland Site is not explained.

The parkland along the River Leven

This is to be filled with another 39 (again my count) Holiday Lodges (that makes 70 Lodges in all) but is also site for a new monorail linking the station to the Flamingo Land visitor hub.  This is private transport to take people to a private development,  quite a contrast to when the public railway took people to the edge of the loch in Balloch’s heyday.  While Flamingo Land are saying that none of the lodges will be fenced off, I think people will be left feeling intensively uncomfortable about intruding on private space if they step off the path which forms part of the John Muir Way.  The proposal changes what was a path through parkland into a path through a glamping site giving people every incentive to take the monorail.

The pierhead

The land at what is described as the pierhead (7 in diagram above), which currently offers the best views over Loch Lomond, is being proposed for intensive development which may be as high as the Drumkinnon Tower.  This includes a 60 place luxury hotel and an indoor water sports development.

Viewing Tower

For those who who not want to pay for the resort facilities to enjoy the views, the proposal is for a viewing tower behind the development so people can pay to look out over the hotel and watersports facility to see Loch Lomond.   This is I believe privatisation of a public good, made even worse because the design of the resort is such that there is nowhere else people can go to enjoy the views and nature.  This might have still been possible if a bridge was constructed over the River Leven into Balloch Country Park and if Drumkinnon Woods had been left as a space for informal recreation.

Transport

While the proposal claims to put walking and cycling at the heart of the development,  current roads and parking are basically to remain as they are, except for the Lomond Shores overflow carpark which is to be taken over for people staying in Flamingo Land accommodation despite current shortages.  Locals and visitors can therefore expect parking to get worse at peak periods.

The Ben Lomond Way behind the Drumkinnon Tower separating Lomond Shores from Drumkinnon Wood (photo from day of consultation event).  The lack of people tells you everything.

There are currently two roads to the the Pierhead area, Ben Lomond Way and Pier Rd. These see little traffic except when people are trying to access the Park operated public boat launching slipway, the only one left on the loch, and a parking area which is distinctively suburban.   The roads and carpark segment the site with the result that walking from Lomond Shores to the River Leven is not a good experience.   With a bit of radical thinking, consultation with boat users on their needs and alternatives and some expert input there must be opportunities to remove one of the roads  and the parking area improved.  Instead, the suburban blight is left at the heart of what is supposed to be an iconic development.  Another opportunity missed.

 

Are there any good elements to the proposals?

I thought there were two elements to the proposals that might enhance the National Park, rather than undermine its core purpose, and both were well away from the loch shores.

Extract from Flamingo Land/Iconic Developments consultation display – Station Square

 

The charrette identified the space by the bridge over the River Leven as needing improvement and the ideas Flamingo Land has produced appear informed by this (helped I think because there has been some involvement in other stakeholders such as Sustrans in how this part of the site might be developed).   Is a big developer needed to do this?  It seems to me the sort of proposals being made for this space could, with a little vision from our public authorities, be implemented by a Community Development Trust.   This could, for example, provide a bridge between people in the local community and effective use of the proposed outdoor performance space.

The other part of the proposal I liked was for the land in front of Woodbank House, basically a public space for people to enjoy themselves without having to spend money.   Not a natural landscape but not incompatible with the objectives of the National Park.

 

How do Flamingo Land’s proposals fit with the statutory objections of the National Park?

Conservation

The proposals are to jam pack the areas of ancient woodland on the Riverside part of the site with developments so they became a version of Go Ape.   That was not appropriate for Pollok Park in Glasgow and is not appropriate for a National Park.

In landscape shores, what can be seen from a sixth storey hotel bedroom, will equally be seen in the opposite direction.  Since the 1980s the woodland setting on the west side of the mouth of the River Leven has been progressively destroyed, first with Lomond Shores and now by the Pierhead Proposals.   The most intensive part of the development is in the wrong place.

 

Public Enjoyment

While the shoreline between Lomond Shores and the Maid of the Loch does not offer a quality experience in terms of the immediate environs, the public have a right to walk along most of shore and enjoy the views.  This space, if the proposals go ahead, will effectively be privatised while the ability of local people to enjoy Drumkinnon Woods will be severely compromised.

This is part of a wider process about control of space:  the camping byelaws for example, which prevent people from camping where they always have done in direct contact with nature, have been used to channel people to commercial campsites.  The commercial success of the proposed camping pods at Flamingo Land will depend on the continued ability and commitment of the LLTNPA to the camping ban.

Moreover, the Park’s statutory duty is to promote enjoyment of the special qualities of the Park, not to promote indoor leisure developments or intensively used tree top walkways.   I have been to Landmark in Carrbridge a couple of times, and while I have never much wildlife there,  at least you get the feeling that you could step outside the centre, away from the crowds and aerial walkways, and see something in the neighbouring woods.  At Flamingo Land there is no space left for nature or for people to enjoy it.

 

 

Sustainable Economic Development

Without detailed design plans, its not possible to tell yet whether the development will be sustainable in terms of issues such as use of materials and energy or how many and what type of permanent jobs it will create.     One can at this stage question other elements of sustainability.    Apart from the claim that Abellio is interested in improving the train service, all the indications are that the development will increase traffic to an area which already groans under the number of cars. The bigger issue though is about sustainable tourism and why people would wish to stay in a Flamingo Holiday Lodge or hotel at Balloch for a week?

The idea of promoting Balloch as a gateway to the National Park makes sense but people tend not  to linger in gateways for long (unless forced to do so, for example by the camping ban) and the  pattern of tourism to the countryside is changing to short stays.   There is not one element of the proposal that I can see that is about enabling people who book accommodation to travel out to experience and enjoy the National Park.  Instead, its about keeping people in the resort and getting them to spend money, not on enjoyment of the natural qualities of the National Park but on amusements.   How it contributes to the development of sustainable tourism in the National Park is something therefore the LLTNPA needs to answer.

 

Sustainable use of resources

Again, its too early to tell but to me the outdoor swimming pool area, no doubt heated, tells a tale.

 

What needs to happen

We need to remember that the Riverside element of the proposed development is publicly owned.   Our Public Authorities however are so wedded to the tenets of neo-liberalism – that only the private market can and should deliver developments – that they are happy to promote a development which is, judging by how it matches the National Park’s statutory objectives, to be in the private not the public interest.

A different approach is possible starting from the idea that publicly owned land should be used to deliver public goods in partnership with local people and other stakeholders to meet the statutory objectives of the National Park.   There are two ways this could happen.  The first is if the LLTNPA were to start upholding its statutory objectives rather than promoting/acting as a facilitator for inappropriate development.  The second would be if the local community were to launch a bid to takeover some or all of the site (just like the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust intend to do at Cairngorm).  Combine the two and you could develop a much better alternative to Flamingo Land’s offering.

November 17, 2017 Nick Kempe 23 comments
The Cononish gold mine as it looked on a dreich day in May – the same day as the pre-consultation event in the Tyndrum Village Hall

The failures in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park’s consultation system

A couple of weeks ago, at the Scottish Wild Group AGM, I was told that a planning application  had been submitted back in August for the new proposal for waste storage waste from the Cononish Gold Mine (see here).   The formal consultation period lasted 28 days and, while I have spent a few days feeling bad that I had missed this and failed to advertise what is being proposed, what I have realised is very few other people knew about the application either.  That is until Scotgold placed a story in the press earlier this week presenting the application as a done deal (see here for example).

 

This demonstrates a fundamental flaw in our planning system.  There was no a single objection on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority planning portal (see here) until I lodged one on Wednesday.  Although this was outwith the formal consultation period, because the application has not yet been determined, you can still lodge comments and I would urge anyone with an interest to do so.

 

The lack of public comment until this week – there are three letters of support which all appeared on the same day – is not I believe because people don’t care about what is being proposed.   There there were significant number of objections to earlier applications.  The reason is that either people don’t know what is being proposed or don’t understand.  I have checked and it appears that neither the Ramblers nor Mountaineering Scotland were informed about the application even though the Ramblers Scotland tweeted a photo of an unlawful Scotgold anti-access sign at the weekend (see here).  (The sign is unlawful because its placed far beyond the current working site boundary).   It should be the business of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority as Planning Authority to make sure that recreational organisations are informed.  When the LLTNPA consults RSPB as a matter of course (they did in this case and every hydro application I can recall) – a good thing – why cannot they also consult the Mountaineering Council about similar developments in the hills?

 

It took me a couple of hours to understand how the 147 documents then on the Park planning portal relate to each other.  There is the main Environmental Statement  then a jumble of appendices and supporting documents which unfortunately don’t appear in the right order.  After scrutinising this I realised the first two appendices to the Environmental Statement, the Pre-application Consultation summary and Consultees responses, appear to be missing from documentation:

 

I have asked the LLTNPA to make these missing appendices public.  There seems little point to the current emphasis the Scottish Government puts on open and transparent pre-consultation if that is not reported.  I look forward to seeing the responses scotgold has made to the questions I and a friend made when we visited the consultation event at the village hall, which were all about how much more mine waste was going to be dumped on the hillside and the reasons for this.

 

What’s going on at Cononish shows is that there are major democratic deficits in our planning system.  This suits Developers and, it appears, the LLTNPA, because it avoids planning proposals from being subject to external scrutiny.   Its really important that  the public demand that the Scottish Government address these failures in the forthcoming planning bill.

 

The main reasons why the new planning application must be refused by the LLTNPA

Its not clear how much of the 8000 tonnes of waste was stored in these bags when this photo was taken in May – but in visualising the impact of the waste of the new planning proposal assume there is 7000 tonnnes in the bags and consider what 100 times this amount of waste would look like.  That gives an idea of how much waste is to be dumped – sorry sculpted – onto the slopes below the mine.

Scotgold already has planning permission for the gold mine, subject to certain conditions, and earlier this year Scotgold they were given an additional permission to start work on processing 8000 tonnes of former mine waste to extract gold. For the waste pictured above thas produced ten one ounce rounds which the press reported this week were auctioned for £46k, a mark up on nearly 400% over current market price.  I will come back to how any of this can be considered sustainable economic development or sustainable use of resources in a future post.

 

Here I will focus on the two key differences from the earlier planning application.  The first is that far more waste will be dumped outside of the mine.  The original approval included the following conditions::

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

 

The key bit is under point 5, the  amount of waste to be stored outside the mine was limited to 400,000 tonnes because of the sensitivity of the National Park.  Since the original application, the areas of the gold mine has been included in the Ben Lui Wild Land area so any protection of that sensitivity should be even stronger than before.

 

In my posts earlier this year, I drew attention to the fact that that amount of waste Scotgold wanted to dump outside the mine had increased to 530,000 tonnes of tailings.  It now that this was a vast undersestimate and that in addition to this scotgold wants to dump another 170,000 tonnes of unprocessed rock waste outside the mine.  That makes 700,000 tonnes of waste in all, a 75% increase in the amount of waste that is to dumped on the hillside outside the mine.   Nowhere in the application is this enormous increase clearly stated.  It appears no-one wants the public to know.  One consequence, if this is approved, is that the waste is now going to be disposed over a far wider area than would be needed if it was limited to 400,000 tonnes as previously.

 

It appears money has driven this change.  It would cost far more to replace waste back in the mine because the construction of tailings dams requires large up front capital investment.  So the new plan is not only to avoid replacing waste back into the mountain, its to create 10 tailings stacks of approximately 72,0000 tonnes each.  The second main difference to the earlier proposal.   This represents one full year’s worth of waste if new mining machinery is installed, 6 months if its not.  The stacks will be up to 10m high and moulded into shapes Scotgold claim will resemble moraine.

Extract planning application

One of the interesting things about this is the current proposal is claimed to be much better in landscape terms than the last one – an admission that the tailings dam as approved would in fact have had an adverse impact on the landscape in a sensitive area  (and therefore should have been refused by the LLTNPA!).  This time though we are told there will be no adverse impact, even though almost twice the amount of mine waste is to be spread over the hillside.  I am sceptical and so should the LLTNPA.

The reason for this is that in order to extract the gold, the quartz ore need to be crushed until it becomes sand and it is this sand which will make up the bulk of the stacks.  Now while you find sand in glacial moraine there is also lots of rock and finer particles – silt which goes to make clay – which helps bind the whole lot together.    However, if you place sand onto what is a pretty wet hillside – it was sopping when I visited in May – it would all wash away which is no doubt why originally a tailings dam was proposed.   Scotgold’s proposed solution to this – although storing sand is never acknoweldged as far as I can see to be a problem –  is to use the rock waste which was to be left in the mine to line the ground, put a geo-textile on top of this and then mould the sand on top of that.    Here are the design criteria:

Now it doesn’t take an expert to see that there are potentially two major problems with this.  The first is there is nowhere I can see that any consideration is given either to the life span of the membrane or what happens when it breaks down as it eventually must.  A reasonable assumption is that when this happens the stacks of compressed sand will start to be eroded away from beneath.   I suspect by then scotgold will have long gone leaving the public to pick up the tabs for preventing an environmental disaster.

 

The second is there is no proper consideration that I can see of whether it is possible to revegetate heaps of sand in the Scottish Hills in such a way that they will be able to withstand the erosive force of water from above or from the sides.  The re-vegetation plan is to store turfs, up to 30 cm thick and then use them to cover the stacks.  How well these will take on dried sand, which should drain quickly and is different in composition to current soils/peat is unclear.   Cononish, as the chart helpfully shows, has over three metres of rain a year.  Some of that may run off the top of vegetation but some of it will seep into the dried out sand heaps.   What will that do?   And even if the vegetation does take and provides a waterproof seal, what happens if deer get into the enclosure and start to erode tracks over the mounds?    It seems to me there is a high and predictable risk of wash outs of the tailing stacks. And that’s without considering the risks of the Alt Anie changing course by more than the 30m safety zone or of other burns running between the stacks which could be subject to flash floods.  That sort of scenario lead to catastrophic wash-outs.

 

I find it strange that neither SEPA nor SNH in their responses – and they have a duty to protect the River Tay Special Area of Conservation  have asked critical questions about the risks associated with the current proposals or for evidence that the proposed techniques work in very wet climates such as Tyndrum.   Perhaps they think its ok for 530,000 tonnes of sand potentially to wash into the river system over say the next 200 years?   Smaller heaps, with less material as originally agreed, would of course reduce the size of this risk.

Hummocky moraine in Strathfillan below the gold mine. The slopes of many of these moraines considerably exceeds 30% but they have held together for thousands of years because of the mix of materials within them, blocky till set within a matrix and sand and silt which often sets like concrete.

I am no expert on erosion risks and there is some technical documentation in the application which relates to this which needs to be explained in lay terms as well as properly scrutinised.  However, from a scan of the documents – there are 100s of pages of engineering documentation – there is some information in the application which suggests storage of sand is problematic.  This indicates there are high risks of sand sheering on slopes of more than 30 degrees.  This is why the proposed stack heaps do not  resemble natural moraine (for an example see above) but are to be moulded across the hillside.

 

 The Landscape impact of the tailings stacks

One of the landscape visualisations. You can hardly see the enormous green shed below the mine or the tailings. The white/grey patch below and right of the mine represents an unrestored tailings stack.

The Environmental Statement contains a number of visualisations of the landscape impact from different angles (see above).  These without exception make the tailings stacks disappear into the hillside.  Maybe they will, but there are reasons to be sceptical:

 

  • All the visualisations are from a distance and none show what a 10m high stack will look like from close up either before or after restoration.
  • The photos are all browns, a depiction of the area in winter.  However, because the stacks will be well drained their vegetation is likely to be very different to the surrounding peaty slopes and therefore stand out from it.   How this might look is unclear.

 

There are no depictions of how the sand heaps will look when they start to erode away as eventually they must.

 

The landscape impact of the buildings and spoil around the mine is not really covered but is already having a significant landscape impact.  The assumption seems to be blots on the landscape, as long as developers can claim they are temporary (in this case it will be for over 20 years not for all time, are perfectly acceptable in our National Parks.

 

The wider implications of this application

Cononish is not the only potential goldmine in the area and scotgold, when trying to talk up its prospects to attract investors, claims there is potential for several other mines in the area.  So what will the cumulative impact be of potentially millions of tonnes of mine waste sculpted onto hillsides around the Tyndrum and Glen Orchy hills?

 

What needs to happen

The LLTNPA needs to subject the new planning application to  critical scrutiny and in particular make a clear statement about the sustainability or not of the tailings stacks.

 

If the erosion risks can be addressed, in terms of the existing planning permission, it might be better for 400,000 tonnes of waste to be stored in a stacks rather than in a tailings dam.  However, the LLTNPA needs to draw a line under the amount of waste it will allow to be stored on the hillside and this should not exceed the existing limit.

 

November 10, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

In order to ban camping and get the camping byelaws approved, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority misrepresented and grossly exaggerated the impacts campers were having on the loch shores.  They did this by promulgating multiple images of irresponsible campers while ignoring their own data and misusing police data which put the problems in perspective.  Among the things the data showed was was that littering was was a far more widespread problem than the LLTNPA suggested, i.e campers were far from the only cause of litter,  and that the proportion of irresponsible campers and campervanners to the total was very low.   What was needed to address problems associated with a few campers was a targetted response, not a blanket ban.

 

What the camping byelaws attempted to do, however,  was is to remove the rights of the many because of the actions of the few.  If we took the Park’s approach to people’s rights – that its ok to remove a public right if anyone abuses it – we would end up with no rights at all.   If you applied the Park’s approach to campers to littering along the A82, all drivers (most of the litter is chucked out of car windows) would be banned with permits then being issued to people who signed up to the Park’s terms and conditions for using the A82.  Totally absurd but that is what the Park has done to campers.  The LLTNPA has an opportunity to address that absurdity when it considers a report to the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham at the next Board Meeting on 11th December.

 

Regular readers will know that Parkswatch has been trying to expose how the byelaws are really working ever since they came into operation in March.   In order to try and prevent the manipulation of data which took place in the Your Park consultation, after the camping “season” – as the Park now describes it – ended on 30th September, I therefore asked for data about the operation of the camping byelaws and ranger patrols to be made public before the Board meeting.   What I wanted to do was to try and inform the official review of the first year of the camping byelaws.

 

This week, after various correspondence, the LLTNPA EIR 2017-070 Update declined to provide the data they hold, claiming they needed more time to assemble it and that they would give this to me by 7th December.  This is just four days before the Board Meeting, or the day when under Standing Orders the Park need to make all Board Papers public anyway.   This stinks.

 

Earlier this year, I made a similar request for data up until the end of June.  The data request was submitted on 3rd July, a clarification made on 11th July and the Park provided me the information on 2nd August (albeit in a pretty unusable format).   In other words they were able to process the data in 4 weeks.  They are now claiming they need over 8 weeks to process the same data.    Its actually more than that because  my original data request was not on 11th October, as stated in their letter, but on 2nd October EIR 2017-055.  

 

All that is required to make the data public is for the LLTNPA to remove the columns with personal data (people’s names and contact details) from the spreadsheets they hold on the booking system.  Indeed they need to do this in order to provide the Board with any sort of proper analysis but are now saying this won’t be ready until after that Board Paper is published.  This is complete tosh and a fundamental failure in terms of being accountable to the public.  Clearly what senior staff are wanting to do is once again con Board Members into approving a report on how well the byelaws are going without providing them with the full picture.

 

Also this week, after a reminder, I did get a partial response to the last two questions in my information request (above):

 

“I refer to your email of 11th October 2017, in which you asked why the Loch Chon campsite was currently closed. The first season of the new camping management zones and byelaws is over, so the campsite has been closed to allow for any required maintenance to be undertaken over the winter season. The camp site will re-open next March.

 

Comment: I had asked for all information about the closure of the Loch Chon campsite but instead have been told the campsite is closed because the camping byelaw season is over.  I don’t recall any public decision that LLTNPA  campsites should only be open to the end of the byelaw season.  Moreover, both Sallochy and Loch Lubnaig campsites are open until the end of October.  All this says is its closed because its closed.   Whatever happened to the idea that what is important is the LLTNPA puts infrastructure in place to support people enjoying the countryside?  It appears that senior staff have no real interest in improving facilities for campers in the National Park.

 

You had also enquired about when the Police Scotland Operation Ironworks report is due.  We anticipate that we should receive this report from Police Scotland by the New Year.”

 

Comment: so the information that was seen as crucial to the justification of the camping byelaws, Police statistics on Anti-social behaviour – the Park wrongly claimed the camping byelaws were responsible for an 81% drop on anti-social behaviour on east Loch Lomond – is not even going to be available to the Board before its takes a decision on its review report to Ministers.  What that says is that senior staff are just not interested in data or any information which could potentially contradict and disprove that their propoganda that the byelaws have worked well – even they no longer claim the byelaws are an outstanding success.

 

What needs to happen

The Board’s review of the first year of the camping byelaws will be a farce unless this includes a proper consideration of all the relevant data.  By proper consideration I mean it should have been subject to public scrutiny  and engagement with stakeholders before any decision.  A fair and balanced report would include among other things the following:

 

  • A public explanation for the collapse of the byelaws in respect to campervans and the reasons for this (see here)
  • An analysis of the total number of people reported camping in 2017 compared to previous years and implications of this (eg ability to enjoy outdoors, displacement elsewhere)
  • Adherence to the byelaws, including the numbers of campervans ignoring the ban before it officially collapsed, the numbers of tents found outwith permit areas (and whether they were doing anything wrong), numbers camping or campervanning in permit areas without a permit and the extent to which landowners are breaching the byelaws (see here)
  • The resources the Park has devoted to trying to get the byelaws work, particularly numbers of Ranger patrols, how rangers were used to enforce the byelaws and how this changed during the year as well and the impact this has had on other areas of work and the workforce.
  • As part of this, the expenditure on signage and analysis of how effective this has been
  • Analysis of the number of exemptions applied for under the camping byelaws (very few) and the impact that the byelaws have had on DofE, Scout Groups etc which have now basically decided to avoid using the National Park.
  • A summary and analysis of all complaints received into the operation of the camping byelaws and how this relates to the alleged positive feedback on the permit system (see here) (senior staff failed to refer to the existence of such complaints in the report presented to the Board in September).
  • A comparison of the number of abandoned campsites compared to previously (the LLTNPA while presenting lots of photos to illustrate abandoned sites did not say how many campsites had been abandoned or what resources were needed to clear these up).
  • The number of permit places actually available day to day during the byelaws compared to the 300 places promised to the Scottish Government taking account of the overall fitness of each permit area for camping (many are unusable and some have now been abandoned) and factors such as flooding.
  • The work the LLTNPA has undertaken to make it possible to camp in certain permit areas and the extent to which this has been successful
  • The reason why certain permit areas have now been abandoned
  • The consequences of trying to force campers into a few places (see here)
  • The impact of campers within wider context (litter etc).
  • Total expenditure to date on the Loch Chon campsite compared to original budgets, evaluation of the problems caused by poor planning (stench from toilets due to inadequate water supply, unuseable pitches etc) and .
  • Progress – or rather lack of it – on infrastructure which would help reduce impact of campervans and campers (waste disposal points etc) as well as the Park’s commitment to create new campsites

 

I do not believe such a report can be produced without engagement and consultation.  The LLTNPA at its next Board Meeting therefore needs to agree to delay the submission of its report to Ministers on the operation on the byelaws until it has made public all the information it holds and allowed this to be subject to public scrutiny.

 

I will now submit a formal review of the LLTNPA’s decision not to make crucial information for the evaluation of the camping byelaws public at the present time.  There is a formal stakeholders meeting next week and I hope the stakeholders there will join the call for all this information to be made public so they also can analyse it and provide proper feedback to the LLTNPA.

November 5, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Extract from Scottish Wildlife Trust magazine which dropped through my letterbox this week

While I would love our National Parks to be litter free, when litter is getting worse everywhere in Scotland (see here), any attempt to reduce litter which does not take account of the wider context is almost certainly doomed to failure.

 

Yet that is what the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority did when it tried to blame littering in the National Park on campers and campervanners and came up with the counter-productive idea that the way to address the litter problem was to ban and control these activities through the camping byelaws.   I say counter-productive because the LLTNPA has been attacking the very people who should have been its strongest allies in tackling the litter scourge.  For its the people who enjoy being out in the countryside – who camp and fish among other activities – who probably have the most developed anti-litter ethic in Scotland.  Think of “leave only your footprints, take only the air”. Hillwalkers, wild campers and other such recreational visitors are not perfect, of course, but most are a great deal more litter aware than the rest of the population.

 

What’s more a small but significant proportion of outdoor recreationists pick litter up.   I bumped into two fell runners on Ben Lomond a couple of months ago and jogged down with them.  Normally I don’t pick up litter when running – it interrupts the flow – but these two stopped to pick up every piece of litter they saw on the way down.  So, so did I.  The Scottish Wildlife Trust initiative near Ullapool (see above) is a wonderful example about how our public authorities could harness this goodwill from people who enjoy the countryside and use it to make our countryside litter free.

 

Imagine what might have happened if instead of trying to ban campers, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority had provided litter pickers and made it easy for responsible campers to pick up litter left by others?   Litter pickers remove much of the unpleasantness and health risks associated with picking up litter and would therefore encourage more people to clean up.   That might have truly helped to “transform our lochshores” as the LLTNPA claimed it wished to do.  Before however the LLTNPA could copy the Highland/SWT initiative,  it needs to ensure all its member local authorities follow the example of Perth and Kinross Council and not just provide adequate numbers of litter bins but ensure these are emptied regularly.

 

While our National Parks could probably do more to prevent the main source of litter, which is packaging, by themselves they can never change the social attitudes which makes littering acceptable to a large proportion of the population.  What they could do though is set an example and harness the support of the people who do care and who are most likely to influence others.  If you are an unaware member of the public walking along that beach near Ullapool and see someone using the litter picker, I suspect that might make you think twice before dropping litter.  Clean places help but so does the example of your peers.  Its the same in our National Parks.  The LLTNPA could be leading on this but to do so credibly it will need to re-think its whole attitude to camping and other recreational visitors, start treating them as partners rather than problems and seeking their ideas.  The litter picker initiative is just one example how the National Park could make a difference.