Tag: access rights

By Ross MacBeath

Perhaps, after all the publicity even Loch Lomond National Park Authority have conceded that many of the camping permit zones they created in the Trossachs are not suitable for camping.  This may explain why certain zones have been temporarily removed or do not appear on the permit booking system with the consequence that the LLTNPA has failed to deliver the 300 “new” places it promised within the camping management zones.


Forest Drive ‘C’ was removed on a temporary basis but has now been reinstated this is very unfortunate as the area has a high conservation value and should not be a campsite at all.

Forest Drive Zone ‘C’  Encouraging people to trample an ecologically sensitive area in a futile search for non existing campsites is as destructive as it contradictory to the term conservation.
This  zone is part of a greater area favoured as a breeding ground for lizards and through it’s wet aspect and vegetation, midges and ticks.

 

 

Forest Drive Zone ‘D’   – 24/02/2017

This zone has been removed from the permit booking system, a previous article on parkswatch having shown  zone ‘D’ as a wholly unsuitable area for camping being located in a recently clear-felled forest, with all the charm of a landfill site.  It has no viable pitches in an area no one would ever chose as a destination, never mind pay to do so, this is an affront to visitors.

 

 

Forest Drive Zone ‘K’ The 14 camping pitches credited to this zone have all been removed from the permit booking system.  This was a ridiculously extended zone with no viable pitches on the long narrow section to the side of Forest Drive, an area any self respecting camper would avoid in any case. The LLTNPA wrongly claimed that toilets were available at this zone.   The provision of parking for 14 vehicles was never described, other than to declare it was limited.

Forest Drive Zone N

I have not yet been able to find any details for Zone N.  It was shown on a LLTNP Map but it’s not clear how many pitches were allocated.  Working backwards the total for Forest Drive was supposed to be 72 and there are 62 at other zones giving us 10 pitches missing which are presumably accounted for by Zone ‘N’ and Zone ‘A’ if there is one – it has never appeared on any map.

Altogether this gives a total of 26 Pitches missing from the booking system at Forest Drive alone and of course their are a significant number of other zones just not suitable for camping.   Significantly, not a single one of the zones for Trossachs Rd includes photographs of what the ground looks like, unlike other areas of the National Park.

 

Other non-functional permit zones identified so far

 

Loch Achray South – has owner’s permission been given to use this site?

 

Tripple Locked Gate excluding visitors from 4 PitchesPotential campers and visitors have been locked out of the 4 pitches at south Loch Achray with a triple locked metal gate.  The clear message is access for visitors is not permitted at this time and its fair to conclude this zone is Out of Service.   Whatever the case,  it should not be locked.  The locks raise questions about the right of visitors to access this area.

Loch Venacher North, Zone A, also locked

Loch Venacher North Zone A is also locked, another 4 pitches denied to campers on top of the 30  described above.  Its possible therefore there has been no agreement with the landowner however it may also be due to the zone being unfit for use.

Photo on left from LLTNPA website 4/5/17 showing how attractive the zone is for camping – you can just see the locked gate.

 

 

Locked gates and the Right to Roam!

This raises the question of what is going on with greater access to the National Park.  It was never anyone’s understanding that Permit Zones were for paying customers only nor that they were intended to undermine the general right of access for other activities.   Now all visitors are being excluded with locked gates without explanation – a clear denial of access rights which the National Park, as the statutory access authority, was set up to uphold.

 

Which ever way you look at it the required 300 pitches have not been provided!

 

Add these pitches to the unusable ones on West Loch Lomond and the disaster at Loch Chon and its quite clear that the LLTNPA has failed in its commitment to Scottish Ministers to provide 300 new camping places by the 1st March.   Roseanna Cunningham, SNH and the LLTNPA auditors at West Dunbarton Council take note!

 

A number of organisations and public bodies only supported the camping byelaws on the basis that sufficient camping places were in place BEFORE the byelaws came into effect.   When are those organisations going to start speaking out?

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

 

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

 

campervans at Tarbert

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

And over to the Cairngorms National Park Authority

 

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

Ledard Farm, owned by Councillor Fergus Wood, situated by the start of the popular southern approach path to Ben Venue (heads up by Ledard burn to left)

At the beginning of March Councillor Fergus Wood, owner of Ledard Farm and a member of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, submitted a planning application to develop a small camp and chalet park on the shore of Loch Ard.   Some of the documents associated with the application were published on the LLTNPA website in the second half  of March (see here).   While there is a need for more campsites in the National Park and there are several positive aspects to this application, it does raise a number of serious questions about the relationship between Board Members personal interests and the public interest and how this is being managed by the LLTNPA.   This posts explores the issues.

 

The positives

The proposed campsite will be accessed off layby (right of photo) and be located by line of trees which are growing by the Ledard burn

On entering the Trossachs West “Camping Management” zone, what is striking is that most of north shore of Loch Ard is uncampable – though not in the mind of Park officials who are so divorced from reality that they believe people can camp on rocks and in water,  About the only good place for camping on the north shore is in the fields in front of Ledard Farm which are owned by Cllr Wood.

Most of the north shore of Loch Ard is uncampable and was hardly ever used for camping – it did not stop the camping ban being extended to cover this area though, more evidence irrationality of the LLTNPA proposals.

Cllr Wood, unlike other Board Members, is obviously not against camping.  Indeed, the proposed campsite will be in full sight of his house.  What is more the LLTNPA, who claim they have been trying to persuade private landowners to develop new camping provision within the National Park, have had almost no success in doing so.  Cllr Wood, therefore, by submitting this application is setting an example to other landowners.   He is clearly not part of the NIMBY brigade – the contrast between what he appears to want to happen on Loch Ard and the exclusion of campers from the area around Loch Venachar House, the residence of the former convener Linda McKay, is striking (see here).

The Trossachs West management zone runs from Loch Ard to Loch Arklet and contains only two official places to camp and no campervan provision

 

What is also the case, if you accept the logic of the camping byelaws and the LLTNPA’s attempt to ban camping under access rights from the lochshores, is that Cllr Wood’s proposal addresses a serious shortfall of places to camp in the Trossachs West “camping management zone”.  Apart from the con at Loch Chon – where the LLTNPA has made no provision for campervans – the only other place people are allowed to camp (campervans can stop off as long as its on what counts at the verge of a road) is the permit area on the southern side of Loch Ard (which according to someone who visited and commented on parkswatch was not fit for use on 1st March).   Under the logic of the camping ban therefore, and I expect the LLTNPA to make this argument in their evaluation of the planning application, the proposed site helps reduce a shortfall of places to camp in Strathard.

In landscape terms there are questions about developing a campsite here – its a more open site than the site plan (above) illustrates suggests – and yet another chalet development would appear inappropriate.  However, the use of the word “chalets” appears misleading if the photos on the plan illustrate what is intended (camping pods would be a more appropriate term) and there are, in planning terms, a number of positive aspects to this development.   First, Cllr Wood has included accommodation for a site manager in the reception building, a contrast to the tourist developers in Balmaha who have failed to provide sufficient staff accommodation (see here).   This is also something the LLTNPA made no provision for at Loch Chon, their 26 place campsite just up the road.    Second, the planning application states the proposed toilets will be available for public use – a boon for walkers setting up Ben Venue – and a positive step to addressing the lack of public toilets in the Park – the number one issue that came up on visitor surveys until the LLTPNA stopped asking about this.   It would be good if the toilets could be open all year, unlike the LLTNPA’s own facilities.

 

Cllr Wood also set an example to other Board Members when, at the Board Meetings in both October and December 2016, he declared an interest “as a result of a potential future planning application” (the one that is now being considered by the LLTNPA) and then left the meeting for the “Your Park” items.   This was the first time I had heard a Board Member declare an interest and then decide they should not take part in discussion.  Cllr Wood’s actions contrast with those of his former convener, Linda McKay, and Board Members Martin Earl and Owen McKee, who not only failed to declare they owned property in a management zone at the meeting in April 2015, which approved the camping byelaws (Cllr Wood was not present at that meeting) but appear never once to have left a meeting.    What is highly ironic is that the one Board Member who has shown himself NOT to be a NIMBY has excluded himself from meetings but other Board Members who live in the camping management zones have contributed to the LLTNPA narrative on campers (irresponsible louts who always leave a mess) which has fed NIMBYIST views and never once recognised this as a conflict of interest. In my view, Cllr Wood’s action rather shows up the corruption at the heart of how the camping byelaws were developed.

 

Private interests and the public interest

 

Although Cllr Wood appears to be well ahead of most of his fellow members on the LLTNPA Board in being open about his interests, the planning application provides a number of reasons for the public to be concerned.

Extract from planning application for Ledard farm campsite as it (still) appeared 10th April

First, the application clearly does NOT state Cllr Wood is a Board Member.  Now I am sure this is just a mistake, but the whole point about including this section on all planning applications is to ensure transparency.  Board Members should be checking what is submitted in their name – it appears Cllr Wood has failed to do this and what’s more LLTNPA staff have failed to pick up the error in the ten days it took for them to publish the form.    Board Members have had endless training in declaration of interest over the last year and still neither they nor Park officials appear to be able to get even the basics right.  I am afraid its yet more evidence about basic failures in governance at the heart of the LLTNPA.

 

Second, and I believe significant, the application shows that that LLTNPA staff provided pre-application advice to Cllr Wood back in September 2015.

 

This raises two questions.

 

First transparency.  There is no information on the LLTNPA planning portal about what advice was given to Cllr Wood prior to this application (despite the reference number) but its not unreasonable to suppose the current application reflects advice from Park officials and they are therefore likely to recommend to the Planning Committee (all applications by Board Members have to be decided by the Committee rather than officials) that the application be approved.   Its in the public interest therefore that all communications from Cllr Wood or his agent and the LLTNPA’s responses should be publicly available to ensure Cllr Wood, as a Board Member, was not being favoured in an way.    Related to this, any consideration of the application also needs to state clearly whether there has been any discussion between the LLTNPA and Cllr Wood about financing the costs of this proposed development, whether this Cllr Wood was asking for financial assistance from the LLTNPA or conversely if the LLTNPA put any money on the table.

 

Second, the date of the pre-application advice, September 2015, tells us Cllr Wood has been considering this application for sometime.   While the two public Board Meetings which considered the camping byelaws pre-date that, in 2016 there were no less than six secret Board Meetings, four of which considered the byelaws and camping development plan.   As a result of an FOI request I have ascertained that the LLTNPA did ask for declarations of interest at these meetings (see here for example) BUT, because the LLTNPA claims no minutes are taken of these meetings, its not possible to tell either who attended or if they declared an interest.   This is wrong.   It also betrays the double think  behind how the LLTNPA operates,  on the one hand they claim these secret Board Meetings don’t take decisions but then at the same time they ask Board Members to declare interests at those meetings.   There is no way of the public knowing therefore if Cllr Wood took part in the secret Board discussions about campsite plans about which he had an interest or not.   This should be a matter of public record.  It would show either that Cllr Wood did the right thing from the start, and did not take part in these discussions, or else that his departure from public meetings was for show and that behind the scenes he had been contributing to discussions which impacted on his private interest.   There is therefore a serious issue here about the public interest, which while in this case is about Cllr Wood, is actually much wider than that, its about all Board Members and how the LLTNPA Board should operate.

 

The reason why its important to know about Cllr Wood’s involvement in Board discussions about the camping byelaws is they have an obvious impact on the financial viability of his proposed campsite.  Demand for the campsite will be influenced by where people can camp nearby and, while the planning proposal can be seen as a way of meeting a shortfall in provision locally, the converse to this is the way the West Trossachs Camping Management zone has been designed means that, if approved, people will in effect be channelled by the LLTNPA into Cllr Wood’s campsite.  This is most clearly seen in the case of campervans, where there is NOT one permit place for campervans in the whole of Strathard.  This means that any campervanner who did not know their rights would be likely to end up using one of the four motorhome places proposed for the Ledard Farm campsite, benefitting Cllr Wood.

 

Again, to give credit to Cllr Wood, he recognised this in respect of the planning application the LLTNPA made to itself for the Loch Chon campsite last year:

 

FW declared an interest as a landowner within a camping management zone in respect of item 4 North Car Park off B829 Loch Chon as he has an interest in loch shore campsite provision on his land. FW advised that he would leave the meeting for Agenda Item 4

 

While the minute shows Fergus Wood left the meeting, it also shows not a single other Board Member questioned the lack of motorhome provision at Loch Chon.   This I find very strange:  the effect will be to channel motorhomes to Cllr Wood’s campsite if his planning application is approved.   It seems to me that in order for the LLTNPA and its staff to avoid any suspicion of collusion in favour of Cllr Wood – and I am not suggesting he has had any part in this, indeed being pro-access the decision at Loch Chon might have been better had he remained at the meeting! – the LLTNPA need to open up the Loch Chon campsite to campervans.

 

The conflict of interest issues are even broader than this and concern Board Members contributing to the development of policies which have a direct impact on their own interests.   Whatever stage he decided he needed to leave meetings, Cllr Wood would appear to have taken part in policy developments that will facilitate his proposed campsite at Ledard Farm.  This is not just about the camping byelaws, although if he took any part in the development of the idea of camping management zones (before considering whether he should develop a campsite) that could be seen to have contributed to his private interests.  Its also about the development of the  Park Development Plan which was approved last year.  In that plan, planning applications for developments in the countryside will be considered in certain circumstances, one of which is if they contribute to the National Park Partnership Plan – which includes new camping infrastructure.   I somehow doubt Cllr Wood excluded himself from every Board discussion which has resulted in the current policy position of the LLTNPA which will be used to determine this planning application and which might benefit him.

 

Does this matter?   While I am sure Cllr Wood would claim at the time of those discussions he had no idea that he was going to propose a camping development at Ledard Farm, once he did start to think about this, it seems to me that a conflict of interest was created and the question then should have been not just about whether Cllr Wood would absent himself from specific discussions, but whether he should have continued to take part in more general policy development which impacted on his interests.

 

In a Public Authority with a different ethos, other Board Members might well have started asking questions and Cllr Wood might have, for example, stepped down from the Planning Committee.  This is the second major planning application Cllr Wood has made to the LLTNPA – the first was in 2013 for the Ledard hydro scheme.   Again, while he took no part in the meeting which determined that application, Cllr Wood had, as a planning committee member, been involved in developing LLTNPA policy and practice around hydro schemes.   Its possible to see this either as Cllr Wood setting a good example, doing himself what the LLTNPA was asking others to do, or as a conflict of interest.

 

In my view, its fine for Board Members to start practicing what they preach but, in any case where they might then benefit from this financially – in other words their business interests are clearly impacted on by the decisions being taken by the National Park Authority –  the only way they can remain squeaky clean is to step down.  While I respect Cllr Wood for his lack of NIMBYISM and preparedness to welcome visitors who may not spend lots of money, his business interests appear so entwined with what the National Park is doing that I don’t believe his current position is tenable.

 

With the local elections coming up, there is an opportunity for Cllr Wood to stand down voluntarily and for Stirling Council to replace Cllr Wood as one of their two nominees on the LLTNPA Board.  The much bigger issue however is how do establish a National Park Board which has a clear moral compass and sound governance.

Camping byelaw 10 and 11 provides for exemptions from the camping byelaws in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.  Camping byelaw 10 is for land (e.g campsites) and byelaw 11 for people.   The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority has used byelaw 11 to set up permit areas within the camping management zones  (except that many of these places are unfit for camping (see here) and (here)).   Byelaw 11 also allows people to apply for exemptions in other areas in the camping management zones.   At present though the  LLTNPA has only advertised this facility on its camping pages to groups  (see here) such as the Scouts and the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.

 

The reason for this, I believe, is not because the LLTNPA cares about young people being able to experience the countryside  – under the terms and conditions for the Loch Chon campsite people under 16 are banned from staying unless there is an adult with them while young backpackers walking the West Highland Way have been hit hard by the byelaws on east Loch Lomond –  but because the Scouts and D of E were very concerned about the proposed byelaws and the Park wanted to buy them off.  In fact the LLTNPA does not charge them for permits.  A clear case of divide and rule among recreational groups.

 

The camping permit areas created by the LLTNPA are of limited use to the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and the Scouts.  This is partly because one of the points of going on expeditions is to encourage young people to be self-reliant and being herded together with other campers in permit zones is little different to being on a campsite.  Its also because the permit zones may not fit with expedition routes.   The LLTNPA, having removed the right to choose somewhere to camp on the lochshores where no one else is present, if that is what you wanted to do, or to suit your journey (eg if you are backpacking the West Highland Way) has in effect reinstated this for formal youth groups.   If this is the right thing to do for youth groups though, and I think it is, it should be right for everyone else too.   The way the LLTNPA is managing exemptions for formal groups just exposes further the unfairness of the byelaws.

 

LLTNPA officers have, however,  set up a system where organised youth groups need to apply for exemptions at least four weeks in advance and each application is then advertised on the weekly planning list (though its not clear if anyone can object – under the Scheme of Delegation approved by the Board at its December meeting its up to officers to decide).   What the system does is extend control over youth groups even beyond what was explicitly stated in the byelaws.   Its also hugely bureaucratic – if you don’t believe this read the form that groups have to fill in Group-permit-application

 

The planning list shows there have already been two exemptions approved for Duke of Edinburgh expeditions and two more are in the pipeline.  Here is an example:

The application form states that the LLTNPA may apply further terms and conditions to exemptions over and above the provisions in the standard terms and conditions for permit areas.   Since breach of the terms and conditions under byelaw 11 creates a new criminal offence, what this means is Park staff can create even more criminal offences for youth groups – or in other words increase control over them.   Its like creating an anti-social behaviour order for youth groups (rather than individuals) which controls what they do and when.   While NO terms and conditions have been applied to the  exemption above,  they have  been applied to the other application which was approved – see left – although what these conditions are is not stated.  They should be.  Another case of Park staff developing controls in secret.

 

In terms of the fairness about how applications for exemptions are decided, I have not  been able to find anything on the LLTNPA website which says how they will do this, although procedures are meant to be in place:

Extract from Board Paper December 2016

The criteria should be public to ensure that the LLTNPA is not discriminating in favour of one recreational group against other recreational groups or users.

 

The criteria also need to be made public because local residents and businesses need to apply for exemptions (see here) if they want to avoid friends or staff committing criminal offences, such as where they sleep in a tent overnight a garden or in a caravan within the camping management zones.  Local residents need to know what criteria will be used to decide applications they might make and also to ensure there is not one set of criteria for local residents and another for visitors.

 

Before the end of March there had been more applications for exemptions (I know of at least five) than happened in any year of the east Loch Lomond byelaws.

Extract from Review of east Loch Lomond byelaws

Its quite predictable that the number of exemption requests under the new byelaws is going to escalate and it appears the LLTNPA has not thought through either the cost implications of managing this or how it will manage this fairly.  I don’t think it can.   Access Rights were and are fair.  They allow you to camp as long as you do this responsibly.  There never was any need for the LLTNPA to add to this, the existing criminal law was quite sufficient but the Park is now trying to micro manage people’s behaviour.

 

That they are doing so should, in my view, be seen as part of a wider programme of social control.   I have just been reading George Monbiot book of essays, “How did we get into this mess?”.  This has many has interesting things to say about the increasing social control of young people and the impact of their increasing exclusion from nature.   The camping byelaws and the way exemptions are being managed, with ever more controls being put in place, are a good example of this.   The National Park should have been a breathing space for people from the Glasgow conurbation, instead its becoming a highly controlled place.

Former bunkhouse at Balmaha transformed into a private residence for Wayne Gardner Young. Planning permission for change of use was applied for in 2011 but has still not been agreed.

The planning application for social housing at Balmaha on a site designated as Ancient Woodland raises some major issue (see here) which I hope to return to before it is considered by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Planning Committee.  Meantime, in order to understand the application, it needs to be considered within the wider context of land-use at Balmaha.

 

Since the National Park came into existence in 2002 Balmaha has been transformed into an upmarket tourist accommodation village rather than a place for people to live or, indeed, somewhere that people with less money in their pockets can stay.    This is happening because of planning decisions by the National Park.

 

The site of the former Highland Way hotel

Luxury Lodge in construction November 2016

The former Highland Way hotel, situated across the road from the Oak Tree Inn, closed in 2006 and a planning application for a Bar Restaurant and 13 holiday cottages on the east part of the site was approved in 2008.  The McKever Group, which owned it,  went into administration in 2009 but only, as far as I have been able to ascertain, after demolishing it  – leaving a wrecked site.  Wayne Gardner Young, the entrepreneur who moved into the former bunkhouse (top photo) and who had had grand plans with the LLTNPA for the West Riverside site in Balloch then acquired the eastern part of the site for a bargain price (see here).

 

In 2011 Wayne Gardner Young joined forces with Sandy Fraser, the owner of the Oak Tree Inn, who owned the land to the west of Balmaha House (where there is still a 14 place bunkhouse, the last place in the village providing basic accommodation).   Sandy Fraser had previously had a planning application for a shop and bunkhouse on the western part of the site approved but this had lapsed in 2009.   Together they submitted a planning application for a single development including 24 chalets covering both parts of the site in 2011.  This then stalled, although this did not stop Wayne Gardner Young from building foundations for a number of buildings and erecting a luxury lodge in 2014, all without planning permission being approved.

The very high specification storage shed – or as the LLTNPA described it Lodge No 15

 

 

Mr Gardner Young then applied for retrospective planning permission (2014/0238/DET) for this building – photo above – describing it as a storage shed. There is a good explanation of all of this in the report to Planning Committee in 2016:

 

 

 

In 2016 Sandy Fraser and Wayne Gardner Young submitted a revised application for the site, which included a restaurant, smokehouse and micro brewery and  20 Lodges, four less than the previous application.

The Buchanan Community Council objected, for a number of reasons, including:

 

Its worth reading the Committee Report (see here) to see just what convoluted arguments the LLTNPA used  to try and show that the development was in accordance with its development plan (pages 14-25).   None of the negotiations that took place with Wayne Gardner Young and Sandy Fraser are published on the planning portal so its only conjecture what happened but it appears that LLTNPA officers did try (they had got the development slightly reduced in size and also agreement to create a public path going through it) before recommending approval.

 

I won’t dwell here on the failure by the LLTNPA to take enforcement action in this case.  Development in Balmaha increasingly appears to be a free for all and a significant percentage of all planning applications appear to be made retrospectively (there is a fantastic project to be had on the history of planning in the village since the creation of the National Park).    The key point  in relation to housing and use of space in the village is that the development includes 20 new holiday lodges and just two flats for staff accommodation above the restaurant.  The Committee Report failed totally to consider whether these were sufficient for all the new staff required for the business and the LLTNPA made no requirements for residential accommodation to be provided on site.  There are parallels with the even bigger Torpedo site development at Arrochar which was supposed to create 300 jobs (see here) also without adequate provision for new accommodation for workers to live in the village.   The situation in Balmaha has been made worse because the LLTNPA  made it a condition of the planning approval that none of the 20 tourist lodges could be occupied permanently, in other words none could be used to house staff or people working in other businesses.   A great lesson in how to create an instant housing shortage.

 

The decision at the Highland Way Hotel site though simply worsens what was already a severe housing shortage, to which at least two other tourist accommodation developments have made significant contributions.

 

The Oak Tree Inn

The Oak Tree Inn, which is run by Sandy Fraser’s family, does not just provide accommodation in the Inn – certain modifications to which had planning permission agreed retrospectively in 2010 – it also provides accommodation in a number of houses on the south side of the B837 which is currently advertised at between £80 (for a single room) and £165 a night.

Info on Oak Tree Inn associated businesses and accommodation from their website

 

It appears this accommodation is in effect an adjunct to the Inn and, while I cannot find any planning applications that cover this, perhaps planning permission was not required?   Whatever the case, another section of the village appears devoted to the provision of luxury holiday accommodation.

 

Balmaha Waterfront

 

The third large existing tourist development in Balmaha is called the Waterfront and provides another 11 Holiday Lodges as well as a function centre (on what used to be a garden centre there).  Planning permission for this was agreed back in 2004 on condition that the site was concealed behind new woodland planting.   The owners have recently in 2017, having apparently failed to deliver the conditions of that planning permission (the site is highly visible from the road), applied to have it varied.

 

The cumulative impact of “luxury” tourist accommodation in Balmaha

 

As well as the three developments described above, the LLTNPA in 2011 approved the development of 19 holiday chalets behind the National Park Visitor Centre subject to a legal agreement.  Had this gone ahead it would have altered the proportion of tourist to residential accommodation even further.   Local objectors to the proposal to build social housing on the designated Ancient Woodland Site believe this should be used to provide the  social housing.   The site is, however, not on the market and strangely it did not appear in the Local Development Plan unlike the Ancient Woodland Site.  Its not clear therefore what plans, if any, exist for it.  A case for a community buyout perhaps?

As a consequence of all these tourist developments, none of which appear to have made adequate provision for the workforce which services them, there is a housing crisis in Balmaha.  The LLTNPA half acknowledged this this back in 2014 in its charrette report for Balmaha (see here) which informed the local development plan:

The community at Balmaha are concerned about development of holiday accommodation and do not want to see an imbalance created between local inhabitants and transient visitors. There are strong and active tourism based businesses in Balmaha, and there is a feeling that there is potential to manage existing visitor numbers better whilst improving the visitor experience and generating more local income

 

This acknowledgement did not stop the LLTNPA approving the Highland Way site development, creating further imbalance,  but by then they knew Forest Enterprise and the Stirling Rural Housing Association were riding to the rescue with the woodland site.    Because of the local housing shortage its not surprising that there has been strong support from people who work within the area that they should be provided with somewhere to live locally.   Its these people who appear to have turned up to the Buchanan Community Council meeting earlier this year and got them to agree to support the proposal to build social houses on the ancient woodland site.  One wonders, if they had been given a choice of site, whether they would have still supported the proposal currently on the table?

 

What appears to be happening in Balmaha in terms of spatial planning is that the provision of social housing is being shunted to the fringes of the village, rather than being integrated with tourist accommodation and other housing.  Maybe rich visitors and residents prefer most of the workforce to remain out of sight?   The Park’s decision making process however has also benefitted the new lairds pockets.  Instead of having to make provision for housing the workforce they need to service their developments on their own land, which would incur significant costs, the public sector is doing this for them.    Another case of the “taxpayer” subsidising business.  This happens in towns too of course but, in a small place like Balmaha, which is geographically isolated it becomes much more obvious.

 

Balmaha – a tale of developing social segregation and exclusion

 

What’s happening in Balmaha is not just about segregation of workforce and visitor, its about the type of visitor the village caters for too.   Balmaha is a prime stopping off point for walkers on the West Highland Way, the natural end point to the first day for fitter walkers setting out from Milngavie.  Yet it has no campsite, and despite all the flat ground, and representations to the LLTNPA, there are NO plans for one.  Bunkhouse accommodation is now minimal.  To make matters worse, the camping byelaws have been extended on east Loch Lomond, making it even harder to camp.  LLTNPA Rangers now, not surprisingly, spend much time chasing campers away from the village.

 

Meantime Sandy Fraser has been one of the most vocal public supporters of the camping byelaws on east Loch Lomond (see here).  In that interview he claimed campers intimidated other visitors when actually, most campers did nothing of the sort and those that did could have been moved on or charged by the police.   A few more may have left litter but how did that compare with the eyesore on the land he owned in the centre of the village?   One law for the lairds, another for everyone else.

 

 

 

The entrance to the site Sandy Fraser owns tells another tale.  Park Rangers walked past this for years – its clearly against the Scottish Outdoor Access Code – but they and their bosses did nothing.

I don’t know if the caravans in the upper photo are still there – they might have been removed once work started on the development – but if anyone was still staying in them, they could now be committing a criminal offence under the camping byelaws.   I am not sure Sandy Fraser or others in the local community appreciated this when they agreed to remove their opposition to the repeal of the existing Loch Lomond byelaws at their meeting in January:  the old byelaws had allowed locals to put up tents and sleep in vehicles within the curtilage of their buildings.  Still, the Park Chief Executive, Gordon Watson is recorded in the minute of that meeting as saying the new byelaws were better and it appears people believed him.

 

The new version of the byelaws makes sleeping overnight in a vehicle – and a caravan is classified as a vehicle as I understand it – in a camping management zone a criminal offence unless its on a road or is done by the landowner, their immediate family or a tenant with a lease of a year or more.   Landowners can no longer allow people to sleep in vehicles or put up tents in their own gardens.   The gate sign appears to indicate Sandy Fraser thought there was no public right of passage here (a private road is only classed as a road under the Road Traffic Act 1984 if there there is a public right of passage along it).  So, anyone apart from Sandy Fraser and his family, or a long term tenant, staying in a caravan on this development site would be committing a criminal offence unless they been granted an exemption by the National Park.

 

One good thing perhaps about the camping byelaws?  They could highlight which tourism accommodation providers are not housing their workforce properly.  (They should be checking every caravan in the Park that appears to be being used for housing purposes and forcing them to apply for exemptions).The likelihood of the LLTNPA ever enforcing this though appears small – the byelaws would probably collapse

 

The whole story of the Highland Way Hotel and other tourist accommodation sites in Balmaha shows how little power the LLTNPA has over the new lairds.  Or perhaps its the other way round?  It maybe shows how much power the new lairds have over the Park Authority.

By Ross MacBeath
View from 1 of 3 existing pitches in Zone B. This overlooks roundabout at entrance to forest drive Zones B and C.
Entrance to Forest Drive Zones B and C

Forest Drive

In order to stop people from camping by the loch shores and to meet their commitment to Scottish Ministers to deliver 300 “new” camping pitches, the LLTNPA had to find somewhere else for people to camp – so they leaned on Forestry Commission Scotland to use their land and have “created” no less than 76 permit places (just four of which are for campervans) along Forest Drive north of Aberfoyle.   In the past, the camping here has been mainly by Loch Drunkie, which has a few places close to the loch side which are good for camping, and the south shore of Loch Achray.   I went to have a look at the “new” areas and this post focuses on “Zone C”  so readers can understand the implications of what the LLTNPA is doing to campers.

Forest Drive Camping Zone C

The National Parks new maps of Zone ‘C’ indicate large expanses of open ground in a woodland locations with what looks like ample opportunity to choose a camping place by the waters edge or in among the trees.

 

Arriving just after 4 PM I  found locked gates, a now common occurrence in part of a park wide policy of denying access to visitors outside office hours.  Worse, it seems the code for exit is only granted if payment has been made through their permit booking system, effectively making access to our National Park on a pay as you go basis. Information on the Three Lochs Forest Drive page  states that “The drive is open to vehicles from Easter to October, daily from 9am”  The byelaws however started on of 1st March so this means there is a denial of access to 72 camping and 4 motorhome places until the 16th of April this year. Surely not!   Or maybe the LLTNPA just  need more time to get some camping provision in place at Forest Drive.

 

Access to Forest Drive and other gated facilities is in disarray

 

The Three Lochs Forest Drive page tells us access will be available until 4 pm and the exit gate locked at 5 pm after which a code is required to exit.  Other locations have different opening and closing times and the T&Cs for Loch Chon contradicts itself.  Confusion reigns and the National Park and Forestry Commission need to get their act together because at the moment it is the visiting public that is suffering through wasted journeys and uncertainties.  It is unacceptable to lock out visitors after encouraging them them  to drive for an hour and a half gain access to forest drive only to be turned away by a locked gate. Quite clearly visitors are being excluded from this area of the National Park at a time when access is most desirable, in the evening after work or as in this case, Sunday afternoon.

 

Camping Zone C

A Camping Zone without camping pitches

Camping Zone C is a short distance along a wider than expected compacted hard core road, not what the the term “Forest Drive” conjures up, more of a  superhighway.  The vista beyond the boundary sign, though beautiful, was clearly not the camping ground expected. The description on the LLTNPA  booking site warns of some “uneven terrain in places” but nothing like this.  In point of fact the entire zone is uneven in the extreme, except for a path that’s not indicated on their map. It’s is not an area one would choose to enter or cross if it could be avoided never mind to search out and use a camping pitch. A clear case of false advertising and  LLTNPA will find themselves challenged legally about this and many similar misrepresentations that comprise their  so called “camping provision”.

 

North West corner of permit zone 'C' with first perimeter post back right.
First view of Camping Zone C – a shocking place to camp

This entire zone is unsuitable for recreational camping

 

Not seeing anything that resembles a camping place from the road, I walked around the perimeter marked out by a line of yellow topped wooden posts.  This gives a view from the perimeter in to the Camping Zone and I hoped I would be able to identify potential camping places along the way. You can view progress by clicking on the grid below and scroll/ click through the gallery to view each image in turn.

.

Zone C view from North perimeter towards loch View from First perimeter marker pole towards South East View west to secon perimeter post View to centre of Zone C sowing nature of wooded area. Looing back to post 2 showing density of wooded are on north perimeter View west to the west end of loch South westerly boundary post, view alomg loch side toward east Loch shore line prone to flooding. Continuation of shore line towards the east showing slope and rough gound. Shoreline further towards east, very rough and slope down to lochside First sight of Pitch 1 from perimeter walk round Boggy area to the west of Pitch 1 Boggy area to the west of pitch 1, showing water depth.

No natural pitches and the two created are not suitable as they stand

 

In the absence of any natural pitches big enough to take a tent, the National Park Authority have been forced into a botched attempt to create them to meet their requirements to deliver at least two pitches in permit zone C. Form a visitor perspective, you would expect to have a choice of at least 6 to 10 prime locations in a zone of this size

The two pitches are concentrated is a small area beside the path and it's true extents are shown in green.
Camping Zone C showing location of two pitches in green

The National Park Authorities Camping Permit Conditions state:

  • “Avoid pitching your tent on ground that is already trampled or has dying vegetation cover. Pitch on durable surfaces, such as gravel, and grasses.
  • Choose a safe place to pitch your tent.  Your choice of where to pitch your tent is at your own risk.”

Zone C – camping pitch 1

 

Pitch 1 is a semi natural pitch on at a loch side location. The pitch is bounded by the loch to the south, a bog to the west and a slope to all other aspects.  The area is constrained and was too small for a tent.

A small loch side area on a gentle slope, has been enlarged by cutting back heather to accomodate small tent with hazards.

Ground work in the form of cutting away a heather patch has been required to increase the area to allow pitching a small tent.  The works have been botched insofar as they have not removed the heather roots so regrowth will occur this season but more importantly, in cutting back the heather, the Park Authority have left sharp heather stalks which will hole any tent floor pitched upon it, not to mention the possibility of stabbing injuries to humans. The site slopes to the loch and is waterlogged.

Sharp spikes left after heather cut back to enlarge pitch - puncture hazard Heather spikes causing hazard

The water level is 2 inches below the camping surface making it wet and the shore line is soft and in danger of collapsing under human loads at the edge.  The loch is deep at this location and this poses a threat especially to children. The lack of level space to manoeuvre around any camping pitch is a issue.  This pitch is just not suitable for recreational camping except perhaps for the smallest of tents in dry weather and if  ground cover issues were resolved.  However this camping pitch breaches advice in the Camping Permit Conditions insofar as it does not constitute a safe area to camp.

Zone C – Camping pitch 2

 

It’s hard to understand who would believe the mere strimming of an area in this location would result in a serviceable camping pitch.  The Park Authority have chosen an area beside the existing path down towards the loch shore view point just off the main track.

Branch off path to pitch 2

They have cut a the heather back to form line through the dense vegetation which its easy to walk past.  It is not a path with a hard surface nor is it a typical worn path only a gap in the vegetation, it’s highlighted above with flash.

Pitch 2 - Heather cut back leaving 4 - 6 inch spikes in the middle of pitch

On reaching the end in this short ‘path’ there is a second area that has been trimmed back to reduce the height of vegetation in the mass of moss, heather and thick grasses that blanket the zone. It remains 6 – 8 inches thick and is not a suitable surface for pitching a tent and securing tent pegs to the ground is problematic. As before, the cut heather stalks have been left 4 to 6 inches long which would cause injury to any person and tent using this site.  The site is small and there is nowhere to erect a seat , use a stove  or lie down to relax.

Heather spikes pitch 2 Thick vegetation covering on pitch 2 - unsuitable for pitching tent or recreational camping

Cooking, even with a stove would pose a real fire risk and without firm ground as as stated in their own Camping Permit Conditions, recreational camping cannot take place.

Tick and Midge Haven

The nature of the vegetation cover interspaced with standing water makes this Zone an ideal breading ground for midges and ticks, the dense vegetation provides an insulated layer at root level that allows insect eggs, larvae, pupae, nymphs, or adults to overwinter in all but the severest conditions thus guaranteeing large insect populations in the summer months.  Not a place you would want to spend time.

Spectacularly failed, even when doing nothing.

 

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority and their board are responsible for misleading the public and other agencies on a massive scale.  It is clear they have failed to provide equivalent camping pitches for those camping out of cars.  The very campers they have banned from all their management zones. Its hard to imagine camping of any type being viable anywhere in Zone C.

 

Besides double counting existing pitches as new provision (Loch Lubnaig and Sallochy to meet their target of 300 new places) the LLTNPA are trying to muddy the waters by renaming out of car camping style as a wild camping experience both at Loch Chon and elsewhere.  They are doing this so they can justify the poor provision at Loch Chon, their failure to provide new facilities and for doing absolutely nothing to ensure there are viable places to camp in the locations they have decided to allow camping by permit.    We can see this from the images for zone C and the many other camping zones that are devoid of any places which it is feasible let alone good to camp.

 

It’s time for the Scottish Government to scrap these byelaws, the LLTNPA have spectacularly failed to meet their commitments and are not competent to manage camping.

By Phil Swainson

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

The rules governing Board Meetings

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Public Safety,outdoor recreation and access rights

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Parkspeak and the outsourcing agenda

 

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

 

What needs to happen

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Analysis of LLTNPA response by Peter Jack

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

The real reasons for the decision to close the Milarrochy slipway

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

What needs to happen

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

The LLTNPA Board paper in December included this statement:

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

What needs to be done?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Parkspeak

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

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

 

 

Parkspeak

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

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

 

 

Parkspeak

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

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

Obtained through FOI

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

 

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

19/01/17 Milton of Callendar farm

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

Parkspeak

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

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

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

 

Parkspeak

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

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

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

 

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

 

Parkspeak

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

 

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

 

 

Parkspeak

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

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

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

 

What next?

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

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

Alteration of the camping byelaws

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

 

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

 

The most significant changes are:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The meaning and likely impact of the changes in wording

 

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

 

Campervans and vehicles

 

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

 

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

 

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

.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Damage caused by fires and collecting wood

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Enforcement Policy

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What can be done?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A look to the future?

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What needs to happen

 

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

 

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

The downstream side of the Loch Venachar dam – an interesting place to visit that could be linked to a path along the river and the Invertrossachs Road

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Encampment

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

What needs to happen

 

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

Sign in centre of Balmaha (see below). Park Rangers have passed this sign on an almost daily basis for over 10 years but no-one from the LLTNPA ever thought to challenge it

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Addendum – email to LLTNPA convener

 

Dear Ms McKay,

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

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

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

The reason this statement is not true is that:

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

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

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

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

Yours Sincerely,

Nick Kempe

 

Extract from decision paper written by Gordon Watson, current Chief Executive, and presented at secret Board Meeting on 16th June 2014 and obtained as a result of an appeal to the Information Commissioner.

The above extract speaks for itself and confirms what most people already knew, the LLTNPA deliberately omitted the Loch Lomond Islands from the camping byelaw consultation because they thought if they did so, this might stop their attempt to undermine access rights because of the opposition it would create.   This extract and the minute of the Board Meeting of April 2015 both record that the islands will be next.

 

The LLTNPA is picking off recreational groups one by one.  The boating interests on the loch were first and they have just been told that the boat launching facility at Milarrochy will be closed from 1st April.  That leaves just one place to launch boats onto Loch Lomond – and this is meant to be a National Park that serves the people on the west of Scotland.    It appears likely that the Rangers that were deployed to help boats get onto the loch are to be redeployed in order to enforce the camping byelaws.     In other words, the various attempts to control recreational use are all connected, and people need to set aside their own recreational perspectives (which tends to divide motor boats from dinghy sailors and campervans from campers) and see the wider picture.   I would like to see recreational organisations unite against what is happening and not allow themselves to be divided by their differences.   This ultimately is about people retaining their rights to enjoy the countryside.

 

The extract is also significant because it provides yet more proof that the LLTNPA’s claim that the secret “Board Briefings” did not take decisions is complete rubbish.  Recommendations were clearly made and approved in a meeting that was not open to the public.      This is not how public authorities should operate and I will repeat my call that the new Convener, James Stuart, should abolish this practice as soon as he takes up post on 1st March.

Slide from the Secret LLTNPA Board Meeting on 9th September 2013 – the slide makes no reference to Linda McKay and senior’s staff’s unsuccessful attempt to try and change our access legislation earlier in 2013

I have been puzzling about the development of the camping byelaws by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park now for some time.  Back in 2011 when the east Loch Lomond camping byelaws were put into place, the then LLTNPA Chief Executive Fiona Logan made a number of statements (these are taken from BBC News Bulletin 10th March 2011:

 

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

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

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

 

Yet, less than two years later the LLTNP submission to the Land Reform Review Group advocated that the right to camp within a certain distance of a public road should be removed completely from access rights and that sanctions be introduced, in the form of Fixed Penalty Notices, for breaches of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.  This would have completely changed the Land Reform Act.   The LLTNPA proposals were rejected by the Land Reform Review Group which had been charged with reviewing how our access legislation was working in their Interim report of May 2013 and the LLTNPA proposals,  along with other access matters, were  referred to the National Access Forum for further consideration:

 

Members of the Group were given a presentation by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs
National Park which graphically highlighted their concerns………………
However, the general view is that most of the complaints about access will be resolved by better implementation of the Access Code and better visitor management rather than by modifying the legislation. This is the core business of the National Access Forum (NAF) . We therefore propose to share the evidence from the LRRG submissions with the NAF, invite them to review it and to
report back to the Group through our advisers.

 

Just four months after being told by the LRRG that there was no need for the changes in our access laws the LLNPA Board held its first secret meeting to consider using its powers as a National Park Authority to change the law.

 

There is no evidence, as far as I am aware, that the National Access Forum ever discussed the LLTNPA submission on camping or that the LLTNPA tried to engage the National Access Forum about visitor management in the National Park.     If this was not a conspiracy, I am not sure what would be.  No wonder the LLTNPA developed its byelaw proposals in secret because if they had done so openly they would have been seen to flout the recommendations of the LRRG.

 

What the Information Response I received last week  EIR 2017-004 Response LRRG and EIR 2017-004 LRRG Appendix A  shows is two things:

 

  • First, the submission which purportedly came from the Loch Lomond National Park Authority to the Land Reform Group was never considered by the Board (this conclusion follows from the Park’s declaration that it holds no information on meetings or communications between Board Members to discuss this matter).
  • Second, that Linda McKay, the Convener of the Board headed the delegation which met with the LRRG on 15th February 2013 to discuss the LLTNPA submission.  This also included Grant Moir, now Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park, Gordon Watson (current Chief Executive LLTNPA) and Bridget Jones.

 

What this tells us is that  Linda McKay was personally leading the case to change our access laws despite not having discussed or agreed this with her Board.  Just how far individual members of staff were willing participants in this is unclear but Grant Moir had previously said publicly he did not support any further extension of the byelaws.  The submission to the LRRG did say though that this might be reconsidered AFTER the review of the East Loch Lomond byelaws.   That review only took place in March 2014 so what’s quite clear is, that having told the LRRG there were no immediate plans to extend byelaws, someone in the Park then authorised staff to spend time working up proposals to do just that for the Board in September 2013.   That person, it appears, was Linda McKay, the Board Convener.

 

All the evidence therefore now points to Linda McKay, a Scottish Government appointee to the Board who is also a non-executive director of the civil service, as being the driving force behind the camping byelaws.  It appears therefore that she is also responsible for the secretive process that has led to them being approved first by the LLTNPA Board and then approved by the Minister for the Environment.

 

The timeline is as follows:

  • 2011 introduction east Loch Lomond camping byelaws
  • October 2012 – January 2014   Call for evidence LRRG  – LLTNPA submit response
  • 15th February 2013 LLTNPA meeting LRRG led by Linda McKay
  • 20th May 2013 Interim Report form LRRG referring LLTNPA and other submissions to National Access Forum
  • 9th September 2013 first secret “Board Briefing” session to discuss camping byelaws
  • 28th October 2013 most of secret “Board Briefing” session taken up with camping byelaws
  • December 2013 Board Meeting – Visitor Management paper (first time visitor management plans raised publicly, camping just one of number of issues)
  • 17th March 2014 Board Meeting.   Review of East Loch Lomond byelaws signed off and sent to Scottish Government
  •  23rd May 2014 Final report LRRG – proposes no changes to access legislation (just as the LLTNPA was undertaking intensive drive community organisations in the LLTNPA to get them on side for the byelaws)
  • October 2014 launch Your Park consultation proposing byelaws

 

The former torpedo range by Arrochar is just one big rubbish dump – is the LLTNPA ever going to do something about this?

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park has been nominated by BBC Countryfile presenter as National Park of the year (see here)  There are four other nominees, South Downs, Peak District, Snowdonia and Yorkshire Dales.  The LLTNPA was quick to get in on the act, issuing its own press release and then arranging for this motion to be lodged in the Scottish Parliament: 

 

Motion Number: S5M-03569
Lodged By: Dean Lockhart
Date Lodged: 22/01/2017

Title: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

Motion Text:

That the Parliament congratulates everyone at Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park on it being shortlisted for the title of National Park of the Year 2017; notes that it is the only Scottish park in the final of the competition, which is run by the BBC Countryfile magazine; understands that the competition, which is in its sixth year aims to celebrate the importance of the British countryside and its people, nature reserves and heritage attractions; notes that the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs park covers over 720 square miles and includes 21 Munros, two forest parks and the Great Trossachs Forest, which was recently been named the UK’s latest and largest national nature reserve; understands that the park is renowned, not only for its undoubted beauty, but also as a living, working landscape that offers a home to unique wildlife as well as providing a range of activities for visitors and locals alike, and wishes all of the nominees, and the rest of the UK’s national parks, continued success.

 

This interest in National Parks in the Scottish Parliament is a positive thing.  However, both the motion and the Countryfile nomination confuse the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, the place, with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority,  the body responsible for  running it.   They are quite distinct.

 

While National Parks, as places, change a little each year, this is not  enough to explain why a National Park should be nominated one year rather than the next.  If thought, the Award, is supposed to be about the performance of National Park Authorities, there is no information provided by the BBC to enable people to compare how each of the National Park Authorities nominated for the award are doing.  The result is people will vote for the place they like, rather than what any National Park Authority is doing.   This will suit the LLTNPA, which does not like its performance to be scrutinised, and will be hoping that everyone in Scotland will vote for it simply because its a nomination from Scotland.

 

Before rushing headlong into supporting this piece of marketing, I hope our MSPs will consider the  LLTNPA’s performance in 2016.  The LLTNPA has a large communications team of, I believe, 8 staff to sing its own praises, so here I will only list some of the things they try to avoid mentioning:

 

  • In April the Standards Commission found against Board Member Owen McKee, the planning convener who traded in Scotgold Shares after the Cononish goldmine was approved.  Unfortunately the Standards Commissions did not have the powers to investigate how the Board covered this up.
  • The destruction of landforms and landscape in Glen Falloch, on an industrial scale, in order to construct new hydro schemes reached its apogee.  With staff having previously reversed the decision of Board Members that all the access tracks should be removed, these tracks now form permanent scars on the landscape.  The LLTNPA has failed to enforce its own standards for hydro schemes, including landscaping, colour of material used and width and design of access tracks.
  • The LLTNPA conducted a community planning consultation in Balloch – called a charrette, funded by the Scottish Government – without telling the local community that a company called Flamingo Land had been appointed to develop the large Riverside site and that as the National Park Authority it had been on the selection panel for that developer.
  • The secret and unaccountable Board Briefing sessions LLTNPA continued throughout the year –
  • The LLTNPA’s promise that it would provide new camping places if the camping byelaws were agreed collapsed.  The Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan, which included specific plans for campsites, along with the Stakeholder Group which contributed to it,  appears to have been abandoned entirely.    It has been replaced by a series of vague promises that the Park is continuing to work to develop new campsites in the proposed camping management zones.
  • Instead the LLTNPA committed to spending £345k on a new 26 place campsite at Loch Chon, which is inaccessible to anyone without a car, and where there is little demand.  The campsite was totally overspecified, which explains the cost, and the only justification for spending this money was so the LLTNPA could satisfy a promise to the Minister that they would develop new camping places before the camping byelaws commenced.
  • The LLTNPA developed a new permit system to control camping in the management zones which had not been subject to public consultation and then failed to consult its own Local Access Forum, a statutory consultee, on the implications for access rights.   Freedom of Information requests demonstrated that the LLTNPA’s decision to “create” 300 places where people could camp, was not based on any evidence about the impact of campers.
  • The Scottish Information Commissioner forced the LLTNPA to make public all but one of the slides that had been presented at the Secret Board Meetings which decided the camping byelaws and was investigating the failure of the LLTNPA to declare all the information it held about these meetings at year end.
  • The LLTNPA diverted a considerable proportion of its resources into a single issue, how to ban campers, and consequently failed to progress many far more important matters.  This was epitomised by the non-appearance of the new Park Partnership Plan (the Cairngorms National Park draft plan was consulted on over the summer) which is due to be signed off by Ministers in 2017
  • One year late, the LLTNPA published the Keep Scotland Beautiful litter audit.  During the course of Board Meetings it emerged that once again the LLTNPA had again failed to take any meaningful initiatives with its local authority partners on how to address litter problems in the National Park.  The litter strategy, promised in the Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan, is now several years overdue.
  • The LLTNPA planning committee refused to delay consideration of a planning application for housing next door to their HQ in Balloch until after the community planning event and instead approved the housing plans.

 

This is not intended as a balanced appraisal, for that one would need to add some positives and then look at how the overall scorecard squared with the performance of the other National Parks nominated by John Craven.  However, information like this needs to be put into the public arena if we are to have any chance of our current National Parks improving and meeting the objectives for which they were created.     Our MSPs, instead of accepting the marketing hype issued by the LLTNPA,  should start scrutinising what it is actually doing.

Signs at Loch Long carpark close to start of path to Cobbler – the Council FOI confirms that the Council has passed an order banning overnight stays and camping at this car park

Following my piece on the rights of people to stay overnight in vehicles within the proposed camping management zones so long as their vehicle is on a public road, its verge or a layby provided by the Roads Authority (see here),   I have had a speedy response from Argyll and Bute Council to my information request, which is much appreciated:

 

  1. The roads under Argyll and Bute Councils (ABC) control (as the Roads Authority) can be found at the following link https://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/sites/default/files/public_list_of_roads_-_argyll_bute_council_area.pdf.
  2. Within the extent of the proposed by-law as defined on the plan provided, there are no clearways or planned clearways on ABC controlled roads.
  3. There are no provisions that prohibit overnight camping within laybys on ABC controlled roads within the plan provided. 
  4. There are three ABC controlled off-street car parks within the proposed camping management zone.  These are Luss Car Park, Luss and Glen Loin Car Parks 1 & 2, Arrochar.  The Orders for all three car parks prohibit overnight camping.

 

What the response to questions 1,2 and 3 say is that there is no reason you should not stop overnight in your vehicle or caravan on any of the roads which are the responsibility of Argyll and Bute in the West Loch Lomond Management zone.     I believe the LLTNPA now needs to produce maps with all the Argyll and Bute roads marked, as the PDF list supplied by Argyll and Bute is too complicated to follow (the roads within the West Loch Lomond management zone are listed on pages 29 and 42-44) along with Transport Scotland’s roads and laybys so people know where they can stay lawfully overnight in vehicles without fear of prosecution under the byelaws.

The provision planned by the LLTNPA in the west Loch Lomond camping management zone

 

The LLTNPA has stated under FOI that it does not know how many places there are for campervans in existing campsites and, out of the 20 allowed for permits across all four management zones, there are only 9 on west Loch Lomond despite the dozens of campervans that stop off there.   Its proposed signage is also totally unclear (see here) and if  people don’t know where to stop,  the safest thing to do (in terms of avoiding any risk of prosecution) is to stop off in one of the villages.   What will predictably happen is that there will be an influx of campervans to villages which will add to the chaos which is already taking place at Luss (see here).

It does not require many predictive powers to forecast that people will ask why pay and go through the hassle of trying to obtain a permit to stop off at Inveruglas or Tarbert carparks (where the Park wants to install barriers) if you can simply go into Tarbert and park on the street?  While most responsible campervanners would prefer never to do tha,  if the Park carries on the way it is going, that predictably is what will happen.   One wonders if Simon Jones, Director Conservation and Gordon Watson, Chief Executive, explained these consequences of the byelaws to the local community councils who they visited once more towards the end of last year?    You only need to look at the map above, note the lack of campervan provision in Luss, and see the temptation of people to park up on the road verges round the village – its a nice place, off the main road and quiet – but it will simply add to the current chaos there.  One wonders too if the LLTNPA has consulted any of the Local Authorities about the potential consequences of the byelaws to them as the Roads Authority?

Slide from secret Board Meeting April 2015 before the meeting that approved the byelaws

One reading of this slide is that the agenda of the LLTNPA was to try force campervans into carparks in the villages in order to take financial advantage of them.   The question is have they asked local residents about this?  The main concerns of many residents was people camping around settlements, a problem which could have easily been avoided without any byelaws, if the LLTNPA had used the access legislation (rather than the National Parks legislation) to exempt village settlements from camping rights.    The LLTNPA has chosen instead to try and ban camping and campervanning outside the villages and consequences of road legislation is that this will force campervans into the villages.   The LLTNPA though does not have to worry about that though because its the Roads Authorities which need to pick up the pieces.

 

Taking Arrochar as an example, where there is no provision for campervans and where the LLTNPA as planning authority was responsible for the loss of the lovely campsite at Ardgarten (it granted planning permission for it to be converted in luxury lodges), no-one unless desperate (e.g their car has broken down) would want to spend the night on the main road, the A83, or its verge.  So where else could you stay?   The obvious place is the FCS carpark at Ardgarten where there is a toilet and it would have been very easy to create places for campervans – the FCS however is on a mission to stop all overnight camping in its carparks.   Apart from the village itself though, if you look at the Argyll and Bute list of roads, on page 43, however, you can see that Torpedo Range road (which leads to the pier in bottom left of the zone map below) is a designated public road and its also very little used.  This is in part because the old Torpedo Range is a complete and utter eyesore and no-one wants to bring attention to this!  (Yes you might ask, why on earth has the LLTNPA made such a fuss about campers when places like this blight the Park).    Still, if you have driven up in your car from London, Mick Fowler style, to do a route on the Cobbler the next day and you plan to sleep in your vehicle, knowing you can stop here quite lawfully would be helpful and might provide an incentive not to park up in the village.  There are many examples like this across the Park which will become clearer as the Roads Authorities make public what roads they manage and therefore where you can legally stay overnight in a vehicle.

 

If you did just pull off the main road onto any of the side roads in the village, unlike campers, there would be no need to worry whether you were still in the management zone or not because as long as you were on a public road the staying overnight would be quite legal.    Apply this analysis to all of the roads in the proposed management zones and you can see there are dozens of places you could stop off quite legally.

 

This is all fine if you need to stop overnight for safety reasons or you are just on your way somewhere else or have arrived after dark and are not bothered by the view.   However, it does not address the fundamental issue, which is that most people in campervans want nice places to pull  off the road.  A large percentage of the people who have campervans, are just like campers (indeed many are ex-campers) they want a view and to experience nature.     That’s what the National Park should be all about but unfortunately the LLTNPA has completely lost sight of this in its obsession of how to deal with a few irresponsible campers (and campervanners) and its failure to provide facilities.

Slide presented at secret Board Meeting in September 2014.   What do the dots mean?  Surely somebody in the Park must know?

After the Information Commissioner forced the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park to make public the slides that had been presented to the Board in the secret Board Briefing Sessions I asked follow up questions about three of those slides, including the one above.  The answer was unsatisfactory EIR 2016-062 Response, so I asked for a review of my request and yesterday received a response EIR REVIEW 2016-062.

 

The answers tell us a lot about the secretive way the Park operates and the conspiracy to undermine access rights:

  • The LLTNPA is simply refusing to tell me (or you the reader or the public) what the different coloured dots on the map of Loch Voil mean.   The FOI Act only requires the public authorities to provide written information, not to explain this information – a weakness in the law demonstrated by the slide above.  So, the slide is supposed to provide to the Board a detailed example of what the Park staff were proposing for Loch Voil  but the Park staff are now refusing to say what this was  (was this campsites, toilets, carparks, signs?).   The Park’s Chief Executive Gordon Watson must know what this means, along I would think with a whole number of Board Members who were at the session, but rather than just be open, it appears the LLTNPA would prefer to keep this secret.  What is there to hide?
  • Much more significant politically is that the Park has now stated quite clearly it has NO information on how it has worked out the number of camping permits.   So, the 300 number, which is the total number of camping places and permits the Park has agreed for the four management zone is totally made up.   Its obviously not based on any evidence of camping impacts or carrying capacity of the land.   It appears the number could have been 500 or 100 so why 300?.   My best guess is the Park has decided this number which would sound ok to Scottish Ministers and is the least it could get away with.  The public and Scottish Government need to realise there is no rationale for this, whether its the Park’s decision to allow just four camping permits along the Invertrossachs shore on Loch Venachar (which just so happens to be where their current Convenor, Linda McKay lives and which was a popular place for camping) or not a single permit along the A82 north of Inveruglas.
  • The response to the third question is interesting because although the Park has dropped any reference to peak weekends, it showed it never had an definition of what these were anyway.  I think its further evidence to show the LLTNPA has tried to create a new terminology to describe camping and campervanning and persuade people into supporting its proposals that is based on a whim, not fact.

 

 

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board meeting in December failed to consider or scrutinise the proposed on-line booking system for permits (see here) so I  submitted a number of Information Requests.  This post will consider the information I have obtained on the proposed electronic booking system for campsites and permits, including the cost  (see here) and how the booking system is likely to operate as set out in the specification in the final section of the tender document.    The way the booking system will operate has significant implications for access rights.

 

First, the costs.  The response provides further evidence (see here for car park charging example) of the complete incompetence of the LLTNPA when it comes to procurement of infrastructure.  The Park thought it could buy an all-singing and all-dancing electronic booking system for one year for between £10-£20k.  Anyone with a bit of basic common sense should have been able to tell them that the requirement in the tender document that the “Supplier must be able to provide a technical support hotline between 9am and 5pm, five (5) days a week between January and October” in itself would have cost more than this.  Or was the Park expecting the technical support to be farmed out to somewhere in Asia where people get paid peanuts?    Couple this with designing/adapting software, meeting Park staff, training etc and its not surprising therefore the lowest tender return was £37k and the highest £72k, i.e way over the Park’s estimates.

 

This matters for two reasons.  First, its not just the booking system but also the cost of new campsites (£345k for Loch Chon), the cost of signage (£100k for an inadequate set of signs), staff time,  in fact the whole Your Park “project” that the LLTNPA has failed to cost properly.   Some of this is due to the incompetence of staff but some also is due to a failure of the LLTNPA Board, despite all their secret meetings, to think through the financial implications of the camping byelaws.  This failure is something the Park’s Auditors and Audit Scotland should be investigating.   The second reason this matters is that there has been no cost/benefit analysis of the proposed byelaws.    One of the main original justifications of the camping byelaws on east Loch Lomond was that if the Park could prevent problems happening it would reduce costs.   In fact Ranger Patrols increased on east Loch Lomond, because of the need to chase away all those pesky West Highland Way backpackers, and I believe the new permit system will increase those costs even further.    The time required to check permits and see if campers are in the right place (see below) will be significant.   As I have said before, more and more of the LLTNPA resources are being diverted into policing the unpoliceable without any consideration of the alternatives.

 

Civil liberty implications of the booking system

 

The tender document shows  the LLTNPA, in order to operate the byelaws, is going to be collecting and keeping a wide range of personal information on people.  This contrasts to the current position where, under access rights, people can go to the countryside and not tell anyone who they are and where they intend to go.  In effect the Park is proposing to remove  civil liberties and the right to freedom of movement and replace this by an extensive surveillance system.

 

The core data the Park will be collecting on people, which in parkspeak is called “Customer information”  – if you are being forced to apply for a permit to camp in what sense are you a “customer”? – will include the following (with the ability to add additional fields):

 

a. Contact name: first, last, title;
b. Phone numbers: mobile, home, business, other;
c. Email address;
d. Mailing address;
e. Billing address for card transactions;
f. Preferred method of contact;

 

What’s not clear yet is what will happen if people are unable to fill in these basic fields (e.g you are homeless or have no email) or don’t want to give this information to the LLTNPA.    This though is just the start:

 

6. The system must capture the following information for each booking;
a. Customer name;
b. Date of arrival and departure;
c. Method of arrival; (car, cycle, foot, boat, other)
d. Vehicle registration number if arriving by car;
e. Amount paid and payment method (e.g. cheque, credit/debit card or cash)
f. Number of adults and children in group and ideally age ranges
g. Description of tent; ( make, colour)
h. Acknowledgement of site rules;

 

So what business of the Park is it to know HOW people  intend to travel to the campsite or permit area?   Why do they need this information, is it because the next thing the LLTNPA want to do is control how people travel to campsites and permit areas? (There’s reason to believe so, see below)  What’s going to happen if someone changes their mind and decides to travel by car instead of bike – will they have to make a new booking?   What’s going to happen if there is a group, a couple of whom have cars and  haven’t decided or change their mind at the last minute of which car they want to use?   Why should people tell the Park the make and colour of their tents and what happens if people have not decided what tents to take?

 

Its easy to see why the Park want to collect this information, they think it will make it easier to enforce the byelaws (“ah, I can see an green vango on pitch x, that looks like the right person is staying there, no need to check the permit”).  Unfortunately for the LLTNPA, people do not behave in the predictable ways the Park wants.  One of the beauties of access rights is there is no-one watching you or there to object if you change your plans.

 

The tender suggests that the LLTNPA is intending to keep ALL the data required by the booking system, including  personal information:

 

At the end of the contract, Supplier must make all data available to Park Authority in a format agreed with the Park Authority. 

What is more it makes it clear that:

 

Customer information may be used for byelaw enforcement purposes so the system needs to incorporate an appropriate form of verification of customer information.

So, not only will people have to provide far more information than they would making an online booking to a normal campsite (who rarely ask for number plates let alone colour and make of tent) they will have to prove this information is correct.  How?  Will people have to scan in a form of i.d?

 

What the Park has also failed to explain  is how all this information on campers will be used for enforcement purposes.   To give an example, Park Rangers visit a permit area one morning to find a signficant mess, indeed criminal damage has been caused  – the other campers in the area say it was not them but two people in a green vango nemesis who got up and left early.   Is the Park then going to search the database for all people who have previously registered a green vango nemesis tent when booking a permit and use this to try and catch the people?   We simply don’t know.  The scope for the Park to mis-use this data seems enormous and they have given no indication of why they should be trusted with it.

 

The further erosion of access rights

 

The tender specification  has a section called “Campsite and permit area information” which interestingly at present contains NO provision to book campervans and which has further implications for access rights:


c. Maximum number of vehicles allowed;

 

Vehicles are not covered by our access legislation but by the road traffic acts.  Indeed roads, verges and laybys are specifically exempt from the camping byelaws so there is nothing to stop people leaving their vehicles on the “road” by a campsite or permit zone as long as this is not prohibited under other legislation (see here).    The Park though appear to be planning to refuse permits once the “maximum number of vehicles allowed” have been booked which is no doubt why they are wanting to know how people intend to arrive at a permit area   In my view, this would be unlawful because even if a permit area has no formal parking places or what off-road car parking places there are  are fully booked, the Park have no power to stop a person travelling to the permit area by a vehicle and leaving it on the verge of the road (unless a clearway order is in place) or an official layby.


e. Pets allowed or not;

 

Similarly, the LLTNPA only have the right to limit pets – though why would they want to do so? – on formal campsites, not in permit areas.   There is no provision to ban or control dogs or other domestic animals that would count as pets in the byelaws and under the Scottish Outdoor Access Rights “Access rights apply to people walking dogs as long as their dogs are kept under proper control”.  Anything in the booking system therefore that suggests that people are not allowed to bring pets to a permit area would be in contravention of access rights and  again opens the LLTNPA to legal challenge.


h. Arrival time and instructions;
i. Departure time and instructions;

j. Specific clean up requirements;

 

Currently under access rights if a person arrives at their intended camping location early, it does not matter and if its bucketing  with rain they just put up their tent and that’s that.  Now, if a person turns up early they potentially commit an offence.    It will be interesting to see if the LLTNPA try to add anything to “instructions” beyond that contained in the camping provisions of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.  The field for “specific clean up requirements” suggests they intend try and do so.

 

What next?

 

I hope this analysis has shown that the implications of camping byelaws, as illustrated by outline of the camping booking system,  are far more complex than the LLTNPA has indicated to date and that they have failed to consider these implications properly.   Its not just the LLTNPA Board has failed to consider this properly, the Local Access Forum, a statutory consultee, has been given no opportunity to do so – amazingly, at their last meeting on 4th October, just weeks before the camping development strategy and permit system was to be considered by the Board, the Your Park section of their agenda consisted of a “verbal update”.     The LLTNPA has continued to disregard the role of the LAF as statutory consultee and I think its long past time that they were removed from the National Access Forum  and that the National Access Forum subjects the LLTNPA proposals to proper scrutiny and produces a report on their implications for access rights.   Much as I would like the Scottish Government to do the same, at present they seem blind to the implications for access rights though I have hopes that with public pressure,the Scottish Parliament will eventually wake up as to what is happening.

 

 

The Beauly Denny – aside from the visual impact of the powerlines, is ground “restoration” like that in the foreground acceptable, let alone in a National Park?

The entire edition of Out of Doors on Saturday was devoted to National Parks, in the USA and Scotland http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b087tgv4#play.   This gave critical coverage of our National Parks, in which the presenters Euan McIlraith and Mark Stephen were, in their inimitable style, raising questions about what National Parks should be for.  This is to be welcomed.   There are interviews with Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Chief Executive,  Gordon Watson, at 7mins 50 secs, a discussion on east Loch Lomond from 1 hour, 5 mins and 50 secs and an interview with Grant Moir, Cairngorms National Park Authority Chief Executive, at 23 minutes.

 

The photo above is to illustrate the excellent question to Grant Moir by Mark Stephen who observed that in travelling up the A9 corridor on entering the Cairngorms National Park you “are hit” with pylons and asked whether this gave the wrong message?   While Grant explained the CNPA had adopted a policy of no large wind turbines in the National Park, and that national priorities had overriden the objections of the CNPA to the Beauly Denny powerlines, he said nothing about whether the CNPA was happy with the quality of the work.    The standards of ground restoration in the Drumochter appear all to similar to those in Glen Bruar (see here) and (here).   A question for another programme maybe?

Our National Parks in context

 

The programme raised questions about what is perhaps the primary reason why our National Parks struggle so much at present, landownership. The contrast was made between Scotland, where much of the land in our National Parks is privately owned, and other countries where most land in National Parks is in public ownership.   The programme did point out that in the USA rights of access are very different to Scotland and therefore part of the need there for public ownership is to enable public access.   It also described the very interesting case of Point Reyes National Park in California, where in order to save land from development, it was purchased from farmers and then leased back to them.   While suggesting this might be a model for Scotland, it did not explore the implications – too “political”  for the BBC – indeed while a comment on Facebook that our National Parks are managed for landowners was read out it was accompanied by the comment “oh that’s rather political”.

 

Why not though nationalise all the hunting rights in our National Parks and then only lease back hunting rights to owners who were prepared to meet targets for deer culling and change the way grouse moors are managed?     The programme also gave lots of other ideas that could be considered for our National Parks such as the way the US parks manage “visitor density”.  Instead of making it up as they go along, as is happening in the LLTNPA, they could be learning from abroad.   Neither interview with our National Park Chief Executives gave any suggestion that this was on their radar.  If we want proper National Parks they need to be far less insular.

The usual parkspeak

 

Gordon Watson has got away with misleading statements to the media ever since he became LLTNPA Chief Executive and repeatedly claimed that the east Loch Lomond byelaws were responsible for an 81% reduction of irresponsible there when the police statistics were for a wider area.    In a recent interview  on Good Morning Scotland he claimed that the Loch Chon campsite was all about providing facilities for lochside camping when its quite clear that the campsite has been specifically designed to stop people camping by the lochshores (see here).   The best example on Out of Doors was his statement that the “measures we are taking are purely about heavily used areas”.  How then Mr Watson can you explain why you extended the camping byelaws to areas which are not so heavily used, as shown by the maps that were presented to the secret Board Meetings in September and October 2013 (see here) or why the LLTNPA are now building a large campsite at Loch Chon, where currently very few people camp?      Gordon Watson also ducked a number of key questions including why the LLTNPA is trying to get FCS to raise its camping prices at Sallochy from £5 to match the £7 it wants to charge to pay for its development at Loch Chon.

 

“No National Park is anything without the people who visit them” (Mark Stephen)

 

While the presenters did not pick up on the detail of Gordon Watson’s claims – another was “it has to be realised that access can be damaging to the local environment and communities” (where is the evidence for this?)what they did very effectively was to describe what its like on east Loch Lomond nowadays:

 

“We drove up from Drymen, just about every space where conceivably you could park, had a sign saying “no parking””.

“You know you are in a National Park by the number of signs saying no”

 

They then  effectively mocked the current rules for managing visitors at Sallochy where they pointed out there are NO signs everywhere, no parking, no camping, no alcohol, no fires right next to signs that say but you can camp here, you can have a fire if you pay etc.   They point out this is “very draconian”.   Its worth a listen.  Then, when Mark Stephen put to Gordon Watson there are lots of no signs, after first trying to dispute this he came up with the extraordinary statement that “some signs are put up by landowners that shouldn’t be there”.  And whose job is it to ensure that there are signs that shouldn’t be there are taken down – the National Park Authority?!   I enjoyed some of Gordon Watson’s other comments too, on wear and tear caused by visitors, including there is a “lot of human waste, however much you dig it in”.   Gordon Watson keeps repeating this stuff when it appear to have been his decision to stop the programme of toilet installation planned for the Five Lochs Area.     The mockery of the presenters was completely justified.

 

Knowing the LLTNPA  I suspect what they will now do is submit a complaint to the BBC – I learned recently that when the Guardian ran a piece by Patrick Barkham against the byelaws the Park’s bloated media team submitted  a complaint – so I hope readers interested in the byelaws will listen to the programme and let the BBC know what you think.  You can also, if you believe any of Gordon Watson’s statements are misleading, submit a formal complaint to the LLTNPA.

 

A couple of other things that struck me from the programme

  • The first clip with Gordon Watson was about what National Parks are for.  His answer was primarily visitor management and then he referred to development and promoting tourism related businesses.  What is interesting is that conservation was not mentioned.  I think that is an accurate reflection of where the LLTNPA is – conservation, which is supposed to take precedence over other National Park aims, is only considered in relation to visitor impacts which are minor compared say to all the hydro tracks that have been created in the National Park
  • Grant Moir was much better at putting development planning – the question he was asked about – into the wider context of the statutory aims of the National Park.  However, what struck me was how accepting of the rules he is so he explained clearly that most housing in the National Park is being delivered by housing developers who have bought up land and that a quarter of this is for affordable housing because “that is the standard”.   But hang on Grant, I wanted to say, your own Park plan clearly shows wages in the CNPA are well below the Scottish national average (which is low enough as it is) so how on earth will abiding by this standard address the need for affordable housing in the CNPA?
This slide from the secret Board Meeting of 6th September 2013 shows two interesting things. The first is that the LLTNPA was originally considering banning camping and campervaning along roads throughout the whole of the National Park – a proposal it had put to and which had been rejected by the Land Reform Review Group earlier in 2013. The second is that this would have resulted in camping being banned in 11.2% of the National Park.

In early December the Park released to me slides which were presented at secret Board “Briefing Sessions” held on 6th September (see here) and 28th October 2013 (see here).   These provide further evidence for how the Park developed its fatally flawed camping byelaws were developed and should be studied by everyone who cares or is involved in access rights in Scotland.   The slides are an education in how not to approach access issues.

 

Before considering the slides from these two meetings, its worth considering why it has taken the Park over a year to make them public since I first asked for all written information about the Board’s involvement in the development of the byelaw proposals.   First, the Park failed to tell me about these two meetings when I first asked for a list of all meetings which had considered the Your Park proposals.  The Park’s subsequent excuse for this was that I had asked for information relating to the Your Park proposals and it was only after these meetings that the Your Park terminology – parkspeak – was developed!  You only need to take one look at the slides to realise the Park was wanting to ban camping from September 2013.  Second, while after the LLTNPA had released a list of all topics discussed at  secret Board “Briefing Sessions” since 2010  (see here), it was clear these two meetings had considered camping, staff claimed they held no written infomation pertaining to these meetings.   I challenged this in November, after evidence emerged that the Park had withheld information from the Information Commissioner (more on this in due course when the Commissioner has finished their investigations), and, low and behold,  the LLTNPA suddenly found it did have written information on these two meetings after all!   I am still not convinced they have released all of it – Page 11 of Appendix A for example is a blank slide  – and have written to the Park asking them to explain anomalies.    What all of this shows is that the LLTNPA’s claim to operate in an open and transparent manner is complete rubbish.  I believe there there needs to be a systematic external review of how the LLTNPA operates and how it has subverted basic principles of good governance.

 

Back to the slides………………..!

6th September 2013

This was the second slide presented to the Board on “Camping Management – new approaches”.   Shocked, so you might be, but most campers do not behave anything like this.  Abandoned tents, as the latest Keep Scotland Beautiful Litter Audit shows (see here),  are a rare occurrence compared to the total numbers camping.  My best estimate from this data, and its the best estimate there is given the Park has never made any attempt to assess this, is that tents are abandoned in c1% of camping trips.  And in most cases of abandoned tents the mess is not anything like what is pictured.   What is important about this slide therefore is that senior Park staff  set the Board off on the wrong course, they presented the litter problem as being inextricably linked to campers.  The slide was a complete misrepresentation of the truth.  The Board appear to have been convinced ever since that if  only they can manage camping all the Park’s litter problems would disappear.   This was the wrong starting point.  The result has been the LLTNPA Board, in all its secret Briefing Sessions FOI 2015-021 Response Appendix A – meetings that discussed ban, has never considered the numbers of responsible campers and campervaners or their rights.    There is nothing either in any of the slides presented to the Board in all the Briefing Sessions that took place that shows they ever considered the framework for access rights agreed by the Scottish Parliament (e.g. the role of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and the existing criminal law) and how this could be applied to visitor management in the National Park.  That should have been the starting point for any discussion.  Having started in the wrong place, the Board have been on the wrong course ever since.

6th September 2013 – note how the slide presents camping numbers under the heading “camping pressures”.  This conflates two entirely different things because its possible to have large numbers without pressure and small numbers that have considerable impacts.

This slide contains far more useful information than anything that was presented in the Your Park consultation.    I thought it strange that the Park had never presented an analysis of the data it held for the Your Park consultation and that I had to obtain the Ranger Patrol records (on which this map must have been based) through a Freedom of Information request.  Those records disproved many of the Park’s claims.   What this slide shows is that the Park had actually conducted an analysis of the data it held but then appears to have decided to suppress that information.   I think there were three reasons for doing this.  First, the slide undermines the Park’s claims, which continue to be parroted by the LLTNPA Chief Executive Gordon Watson, that the byelaws were needed because of the sheer number of campers.  The slide show that there were relatively few areas where camping was high.   Second, if you compare this slide with the camping management zones approved by the Scottish Government (left) it shows graphically that the actual camping management zones cover many areas where there is very little camping.  The reason for this is explained by the slide at the top of this post on Options – the intention of the Park has always been to stop roadside camping and campervaning whether or not there was any evidence of problems or alternative solutions.  That I believe remains the LLTNPA’s ultimate aim which is why the current byelaws encompass as many roads as the LLTNPA thought they could get away with.   Third, the slide shows that the LLTNPA  has always known the Loch Lomond Islands were one of the most popular areas for camping – and therefore under its own warped understanding that equates numbers with pressure – should have been a priority for it to tackle.  It knew though that if the walking community and the boating community joined forces, it would lose the argument for byelaws, so it decided to introduce byelaws in stages.   The LLTNPA Board Minutes from April 2015 record that the islands will be next.  More evidence of how manipulative this National Park Authority is.

 

This slide shows that in their first debates there was some attempt by the LLTNPA to put camping into the wider context of visitor pressures.  This should have been the starting point for a discussion on how best to allocate resources for visitor management as a whole, not just camping, but footpaths (Arrochar Hills and West Highland Way), litter facilities, parking places etc.   Unfortunately, and we don’t know why, the LLTNPA quickly abandoned any attempt to look at visitor management in the round and focussed purely on camping.

 

This slide clearly shows the LLTNPA were considering byelaws from September 2013 as the main solution to visitor management.  Yet the public paper on Visitor Management presented to the Board Meeting of December 2013 gave almost no indication of this – it talked of a broad range of measures – while LLTNPA staff, when they met recreational organisations in late summer 2014, never made any reference to byelaws and were still claiming a broad sweep of management proposals.   The Park therefore spent almost a year preparing to consult on its plan to introduce camping byelaws while deliberately keeping the recreational organisations – including its own Local Access Forum, a statutory consultee – and the wider public in the dark.

The title slide for the secret Board “Briefing Session” in October 2014 is interesting because it shows while the focus of the Board was on camping management, they were considering byelaws that could be applied to all visitors, not just campers.    This potentially could have resulted in an even more drastic curtailment of access rights.  I think this arose from the LLTNPA submission to the Land Reform Review Group where they had proposed the introduction of Fixed Penalty Notices for any breaches of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, a draconian measure which had been rejected by the Scottish Parliament as being unworkable.

This slide provide further evidence that the second meeting did at least consider camping within a wider context before deciding to focus simply on camping.  It also shows that the LLTNPA had done work on campervans at an early stage and clearly knew the numbers – note the symbols for carvan/motorhome pressures –  which makes its current failure to provide for campervans even more telling (just 20 places across all the management zones (see here).

This shows is that right from the start the Park was considering how it could enforce a ban on camping and campervans before there had been any public debate on whether this was an appropriate way forward.

This slide shows that the Park had from an early stage anticipated many of the objections that would be made during the Your Park consultation process.  Instead of engaging on these issues, which might have resulted in alternatives solutions (e.g fishing permits could have been used to reduce the impacts from fishermen camping), the Park decided to go ahead with its own preferred solution – to ban camping – which it settled on in a remarkably short period of time.  All the subsequent “consultation” was focussed on “persuading” people and organisations to agree with its own point view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This slide provides more evidence of how the LLTNPA had decided what it wanted to happen right from the start and mapped out the process by which camping and campervanning would be banned.  While the process has taken two years longer than planned, the important point is that the Park had decided what to do and how before this was considered by any public Board Meeting.  This is not how National Parks or any public bodies are meant to operate.  Decision making is supposed to be in public, in fact my understanding this is a legal requirement.  It clearly wasn’t observed and is another reason why the Scottish Government should reject the byelaws.  By approving them the former Minister, Aileen Mcleod, in effect undermined basic standards of good governance in public authorities.  Its not something her successor, Roseanna Cunningham, should accept.

The Board rightly told staff there need to be signs telling drivers not just when they are entering a camping management zone but also when they are leaving it.

The implementation of the camping byelaws dominated the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board meeting last Monday, with discussion taking place across a number of different agenda items.  This is a reflection of what is happening to our National Park, its allowed all its resources and efforts to focus on one issue, and because its taken the wrong path its now perched on a big cliff.     There was an indication some on the Park Board now recognise the dangers, when they elected James Stuart at the end, 9 votes to 8, as the new convener. James in his election statement (see here) had said it was time to start looking at wider look at what the Park is doing (a veiled criticism of how the Park is currently run).

 

I am not sure though James Stuart or most of the rest of the Board fully appreciates what a mess the Park has got itself into.   I sent the questions I believe the Board needed to answer (see here)  before going ahead with the new byelaws to Linda McKay, the current Park convener, and Gordon Watson before the meeting.   I have no idea if McKay and Watson shared them at the secret meeting the Board appears to have held that morning.    (The evidence that there was was a secret meeting is first that the visitor register showed most of the Board had signed into the building about 10am that day and second that Martin Earl – good for him for being open on this – made a reference to a Board discussion earlier in the day.  That the Board continues to have secret discussions though in the morning about items it is going to discuss in the afternoon is I believe totally wrong).

 

Will the permit system be ready for the start of the byelaws on 1st March?

Two questions I had identified were explicitly asked about this under the Your Park agenda item:

  1. David McKenzie asked if the permit system would be up and running on time?  Staff gave assurances it would, and what is more said it would be fully tested, even though the the IT developer was only given the contract on 1st December and staff said that the detail of the permit system was in the process of being handed over (another 12 days lost).
  2. The second question, also from David McKenzie, was whether there was a date for fixing broadband gaps in the Park to enable campers to book permits.  The answer to this was a feasibility report is due early in January along with an estimate of the costs of fixing this.   While there was then discussion about how good this would be for local communities many of whom cannot access broadband or mobile phone coverage at present, there was no discussion of what will happen if there is not comprehensive coverage by 1st March.

Now I  think its fair enough that Board Members should accept staff assurances that the electronic booking system will be fully up and running and accessible from all the campsites and permit places in the camping management zones by 1st March.  Staff had already stated very clearly in the presentation on the Board paper that the project is “on track and on budget”.   However, if it turns out that this is not the case, staff need to be made responsible and heads should roll.

 

How will campers, campervanners and drivers know where they can sleep overnight?

The Board Paper proposed 3 types of signage:

A crucial weakness in this proposal was revealed when a Board Member asked staff what signage there would be to show drivers they had LEFT a camping management zone – this is a critical question (which I had missed in my critique of the proposed signage(see here)).     The initial response from staff was that there was no money for more signs and they did not want to add to clutter.   A number of Board Members then made the point that this was unacceptable and drivers  needed to know when they had left a camping management zone (otherwise for example people driving up the A82 could end up in Fort William still not knowing if they would become a criminal if they camped by the road).   This meant placing clear signage that drivers could read that would indicate that they were leaving the management zones.   Well done the Board!   Unfortunately, as I understand it, no clear decision was then taken and it was left that staff would go away and reconsider.

 

After this excellent start, there was limited further discussion of other signage issues and the following key points were not addressed:

  • How will people who realise they are in a camping management zone but decide to walk to the edge of it to camp know when they have reached the boundary?  None of the proposed signage appears to have maps showing the boundaries as the illustration (left) for Inveruglas shows.  The sign is legally wrong because it implies the whole area pictured is in the camping management zone whereas access rights I believe apply top left and is misleading unless the boundary is depicted.  It appears designed to try and force people into permit areas where they will be charged to camp.
  • How will people know that stopping overnight is banned?  The signs for drivers simply say you are entering a camping management zone – that tells you nothing – its only the signs for walkers on the zone boundaries (left) which clearly tells the public they can only camp where permitted.   There is no signage proposed which says “stopping overnight here is a criminal offence”.  Unless the “area signs” showing where you can camp are placed in every possible camping spot in the management zones people will not know they will be committing a criminal offence by stopping off overnight.
  • Conversely, there is no signage proposed telling people with vehicles where they CAN stop off legally (since staying overnight on the public road network including laybys, is exempt from the camping byelaws).  How will people in vehicles know which laybys are exempt.  There needs to be a sign by every one where camping is allowed.

 

While I was encouraged the Board picked up on the need to know when one is leaving a management zone,  the problem is far far greater than they identified at the meeting.   People have a right to know exactly where they can and cannot camp or stop off overnight in vehicles but the proposed signage doesn’t tell the public this.   As long as it doesn’t, the byelaws will be unenforceable.  All anyone has to say is that the signage wasn’t clear and any Court case would collapse.    The Board’s failure to understand this goes back to the flawed review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws, which attributed all improvements there to the camping byelaws.   This took no account of the impact of the road to Rowardennan being a dead-end, which limited the amount of traffic, or a clearway, which prevented vehicles stopping day or night under road traffic legislation.   Provision of adequate signage in new management zones is a far more complex matter and this has been neither properly considered nor budgeted for.

 

The byelaws are unaffordable

While staff claimed the byelaws are on budget, the Board papers and questioning by Members revealed a rather different situation:

 

  • The £100,000 signage budget is all earmarked so there is no further money to provide the signage that is needed.
  • There is no cost as yet for plugging the gaps in mobile phone reception to enable people to book permits on their phone.  There doesn’t appear to be a budget either.
  • The Scottish Government has given a further capital grant of £85k towards a budget of £120k to scope the installation of further facilities at South Loch Earn and Forest Drive.   This indicates the Park has not the funds to do this.  Unfortunately no-one on the Board asked why £60k had been needed for south Loch Earn when they had previously seen at secret Board briefing sessions on more than one occasion a campsite design for Loch Earn (see here) – but perhaps that was just an artists impression?   In fact why the Park spends anything like this money on a feasibility study when when a top of the range composting toilet can be installed in a remote location for £30kl I am not sure but the Park’s insistence of putting all its resources (£245k this year) into the campsite no-one wants means it has no money to develop resources where they are needed.
  • What Board Members did uncover though was that while giving with one hand the Scottish Government is likely to take back with the other c£45k that the Park had earmarked to be spent on cars – so what you might think?   Well, this budget was for vehicles to enable Rangers to patrol the camping management zones as promised to local communities!    Since the byelaws are unenforceable anyway, the Government would be well advised to take this money back to stop further waste.
  • Then there was  the budget line that showed that professional fees were £138,233 compared to budget of £75,900.  How much of this related to the camping byelaws?
  • In fact the Your Park budget was overspent and is under considerable budget pressure.  The only reason the Park’s overall budget is balancing is because of a large underspend on staffing.  Now I had revealed previously the Park’s Commercial Director had gone (he was on a big salary, c£60 from memory)  and under the organisational update item Colin Bayes asked why under the Human Resources heading why there was no reference not just the commercial director going but all the Project Manager for Your Park!  Gordon Watson, the CEO, replied that it was not usual to deal with staff matters under the organisational update – so why then Gordon have a heading on Human Resources?    I think Colin Bayes was absolutely right to reveal this and also that the Park had put in what he thought was adequate cover.   Whether this is the case or not I think time will tell but to me it looks as though the Park is being pressed and the pips are beginning to squeak.
  • The financial pressures I believe explain the recommendation in the papers that the charge for camping at Loch Chon and Loch Lubnaig should be £7 per person over 16 per night.  No-one on the Board questioned the impact of this of people from Glasgow with very little money who have previously camped for free.  That was very disappointing.  What then happened surprised me.  Linda McKay, the convener, asked staff if Forestry Commission Scotland were going to raise their charges at Sallochy to £7 as she expected uniform pricing for similar facilities provided by partners.  In fact Sallochy will have cost lots less to construct because it has composting toilets and there is no reason to penalise campers because the Park is incapable of producing affordable infrastructure.     Board Members did though question Gordon Watson how much money they would raise from the permit system – he, rightly this time, said this was impossible to predict.  I suspect the financial sustainability of the whole Your Park system hangs in the balance.

The questions that were not asked or discussed by the Board

For the record, here are some  the questions which I think the Board should have, but failed, to discuss.

  1. What consultation has taken place on the permit systems with the Local Access Forum, a statutory consultee?
  2. Will personal data be held on campers?
  3. If so, how will personal data be used?
  4. If so, what procedures are in place for people to correct that data and appeal against any actions taken by the Park?
  5. What will be in the terms and conditions that apply to permits?  How will this be enforced?
  6. Given the Park’s claims they don’t want to discourage campervanners, despite providing only 20 places across all the management zones, what is the Board going to do about this by 1st March?
  7. What procedures are going to be put into place to enforce the byelaws fairly and transparently?
  8. Why are there no procedures to govern how staff will vary the number of camping permits in camping management zones?

 

While I welcome the fact that Board Members have become more prepared to speak out and think for themselves, as is evidenced by some of the debate and contributions last Monday, they have allowed themselves to be corralled on the edge of a big cliff and show little sign as yet that they need an alternative plan.