Tag: Camping bye laws

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

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

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

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

(a)to use and manage the land; and

(b)otherwise to conduct the ownership of it,

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

So, well done the Access Team!

 

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

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

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

 

A change for the better

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

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

From: Claire Travis [Visitor Operations Manager]

Sent: 09 November 2015 09:18

To: Kenny Auld [member of Access Team];

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

Hi

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

Claire

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Dear Mr Kempe

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

Simon Jones
Director of Conservation & Visitor Operations

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

What needs to happen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The illiberal and unjust camping byelaws

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

The role of the Scottish Parliament

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

What needs to happen

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

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

  • The first is to repeal the provision in the National Parks Act, which preceded the Land Reform Act, to make byelaws controlling access and require that any byelaws controlling access should come under the provisions of the Land Reform Act.  This is important because although there is a byelaw making power under the Land Reform Act this was only ever envisaged for very specific circumstances (e.g to prevent disturbance to nests of terns on beaches during the breeding season) and where other measures, such as advisory signs, were shown not to have worked.
  • The second is that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to scutinise all proposals for camping byelaws put to the Minister of the Environment for approval.  The Scottish Parliament should be demanding it has the right to hear evidence about the alleged success of the camping byelaws before any decision is made about their renewal.
January 15, 2018 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Firkin Point camping Zone A March 2016 soon after the byelaws came into force – it was little better last week – hence the comment from Euan McIlraith “you would not camp there if you had the choice”

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

 

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

 

The operation of the warning system

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The position of caravans and campervans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parkspeak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Cost benefit analysis

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

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

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

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

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

 

Where next?

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

Interviews in programme (approx times into programme in brackets)

  • Roseanna Cunningham, Environment Minister “this is a right they cannot get around” (3.25)
  • Dave Morris on history leading up to final legislation and what issues are now(6.30)
  • Alison Riddell Scotways on continuing access issues (12.45)
  • Andrew Bachell (now Chief Exec JMT) on SNH role drafting legislation (23.45)
  • Discussion between reporters Euan McIlwriath and Mark Stephens on one of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park’s camping permit areas at Firkin Point:  “you would not camp there if you had the choice”
  • Cameron McNeish on politics around the legislation and since (37.01)
  • Jess Dolan Director Ramblers Scotland on making more people aware access rights (44.45)
  • Lauren MacCallum on Patagonia film on snow boarding and access (46.30)
  • Nick Kempe at Firkin Point (52.00)
  • Simon Jones, Director Conservation and Lea Hamilton, Ranger at Milarrochy Bay (1.02).
  • Dennis Canavan (1.13.30) on his amendment to include Balmoral in legislation
  • Bob Reid (past convener National Access Forum) on the legislation, planning and paths (1.20)
  • Andy Wightman on agenda outdoor recreation (1.24.30)
January 4, 2018 Nick Kempe 7 comments
Sign at junction south Loch Earn Rd with road to Edinample House 27th December.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Who approved the warning system?

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

 

The warning system and civil liberties

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

 

What needs to happen

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

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

December 7, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The camping byelaws and tourism

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

 

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

The camping byelaws and social exclusion

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

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

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

 

Omissions from the Update Report to Ministers

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

1). Number of campers affected

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

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

2) Numbers camping or campervanning with a permit

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

 

 

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

3) Cost Benefit Analysis

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

4) The implications of holding personal data

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

5) Enforcement and campervans

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

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

6) Outcome of Enforcement

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

7) Permit feedback and Complaints

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

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

8) Impact on organised groups

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

9) Camping provision

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

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

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

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

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

 

What needs to happen

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

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

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

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

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

December 5, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

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

 

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

Addressing access issues

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

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

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

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

Extract report January meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot 5th December

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

That Board paper also fails to refer to the LAF:

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

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

What needs to happen

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

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

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

 

Postscript on resources and neoliberalism

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

Information Intern

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

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

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

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

The main flaws in the proposed Loch Achray campsite

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

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

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

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

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

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

The grassy area east of the burn

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

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

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

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

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

Other concerns about the Loch Achray campsite

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

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

 

 

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

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

Extract from report to December Board Meeting

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

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

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

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

 

What needs to happen

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

The “consultation”

Extract from Flamingo Land/Iconic Developments consultation display

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

 

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

 

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

 

The main elements to the proposals

Extract from map showing proposals for Riverside site

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

 

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

Greenspace 

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

Drumkinnon Wood

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

The parkland along the River Leven

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

The pierhead

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

Viewing Tower

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

Transport

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

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

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

 

Are there any good elements to the proposals?

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Conservation

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

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

 

Public Enjoyment

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

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

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

 

 

Sustainable Economic Development

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

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

 

Sustainable use of resources

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

 

What needs to happen

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

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

November 10, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What needs to happen

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

October 31, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
Forest Drive is the grey road bottom right of map (its one way) while the Dukes Pass Rd lies a few hundred metres to the left of the map.   Map from LLTNPA planning portal.
Map showing location from planning portal

In September the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority submitted a planning application (see here) to itself as planning authority for a new campsite on the south shore of Loch Achray on Forest Drive in the Trossachs.    There is widespread agreement that new campsites with basic facilities are needed in the National Park.  So far the LLTNPA has been poor at delivering these.  It appears to have abandoned the excellent Five Lochs Plan (see here for example) which proposed a number of new campsites in the Trossachs and has also failed to deliver a new campsite this year on the south shore of Loch Earn.  This application therefore is welcome.   In this post I will look at what the LLTNPA has learned from its experience at Loch Chon and the camping byelaws to date.

The main camping area will provide for 9 out of the 17 proposed places

The area to the east of the burn is excellent for camping, being a well drained grassy sward.  It is owned by the Forestry Commission and has  previously been managed by Forest Enterprise as a Youth Campsite without facilities for Duke of Edinburgh expeditions and Scout groups.  Its far better for camping than most of the permit areas at Forest Drive (see here for example).  What is also good about the proposal is it allows people to camp by the Loch shore – a contrast to Loch Chon where the Park tried to force campers away from traditional camping places by the loch up onto the hillside.

Extract from plans

However, you can see from the campsite plan above that the LLTNPA is still wedded to the idea of fixed camping pitches and what is even worse they appear to wish to replace the grassy sward with bark.  That is not a traditional camping pitch, its suburbanisation.  The Park would be far better to abandon any idea of fixing camping pitches in this area and allowing people to camp where they choose.  This would also enable areas of bare ground to recover.  All the Park would need to do to manage this is to put up signs by worn areas asking people to choose a less worn area to pitch their tent (this is how it should be dealing with erosion throughout the Park – there is no need to ban people to protect vegetation).

Another positive is that this campsite is significantly smaller than Loch Chon.  At Loch Chon, Park Chief Executive Gordon Watson insisted (see here) that the minimum viable size for a campsite would be 26 – he reduced the numbers from 33 after pressure from the Local Community.  At the time Parkswatch said this was rubbish and Gordon Watson did not know what he was talking about.  That the Park is now proposing a 17 place campsite provides proof of this.  Its good someone has listened but don’t expect any apology to the Strathard Community.

Having visited the site, I do think the recreational community should have concerns about some of the areas where it is proposed to locate the other 8 pitches.

How many people would choose this as a place to camp?

Three of the places (far left of map above) are in woodland up on the hill well away from the loch.  To provide camping places here will require the creation of paths and pitches like at Loch Chon.  I suspect the main reason for these pitches is to enable the Park can claim to have provided a certain number of new camping places – its target, which it has failed to meet, was to provide 300 new camping places in the first year of the camping byelaws.

 

The LLTNPA appears to be repeating he mistakes it made at Loch Chon, which was its failure either to consult campers about where they are likely to camp or to check whether the pitches, as depicted on the map, were campable or not.   At Loch Chon many were too sloping or covered in tree roots to provide good camping places.  They also failed to provide sufficient space, with many only providing for a tent and no suitable space for sitting or cooking round about.   Unfortunately there is still no sign of the Park consulting campers about what type of camping places are needed but the LLTNPA at least needs to undertake thorough checks before agreeing to the three places here, including that there is sufficient space.  I would argue that its money would be better spent on creating camping pitches elsewhere, e.g. at Inveruglas, where the camping permit area is rough  and not good for camping at present, similar to these three places, but is much closer to the lochshore and the toilet (if it was opened).  If the LLTNPA  are going to engineer new camping places, they should consult campers about where best to do this.

Area on left (west) side of burn

On the low-lying area on the west side of the burn (upper centre part of site plan) the LLTNPA is proposing to provide a further 3 places.  This is much closer to the loch than the proposed pitches on the hillside but the edge of the lochshore here is boggy, the ground itself boggy in places and has become overgrown.  This perhaps explains why there is little sign of people camping here at present.  It could though potentially provide good camping places with some engineering.  While not designated as ancient woodland some of the fungi on the trees are fantastic.  I would like to see mimimal path creation,  with importing of hardstanding materials limited to the boggy areas., to keep it as natural as possible.

Looking up hill from camping area on east side of burn towards where disabled camping pitches will be located

The site includes proposals for two camping pitches suitable for people with wheelchairs (bottom of site plan).   Its very positive the Park is including facilities for people with disabilities, who are too often excluded from enjoying the countryside, but its unfortunate because of the very steep approach to the loch shore disabilities that people with disabilities will in effect be segregated from other campers (bottom two places in diagram).   I hope the places get used.  What the LLTNPA should be doing is consulting organisations representing people with disabilities to ensure it has got this right (there are no disability or recreational organisations on the list of those consulted).

 

The proposed facilities at the campsite

Evidence of site investigations at Loch Achray – September 2017

The LLTNPA appears to have learned from its Loch Chon experience and conducted more thorough site investigations for utilities prior to the planning application being submitted.   This is to be welcomed.  Six months after the LLTNPA had got a certificate signed at Loch Chon stating the work on the campsite was complete, there was still no water.  As a consequence bottled water had to be provided to campers for most of the year and the stench from the toilets was at times terrible – another own goal for Gordon Watson, the Park’s Chief Executive, who had claimed to Strathard Community Council that composting toilets don’t work properly.

 

However, having checked with the LLTNPA, I can confirm that at present there are NO plans for a chemical disposal point to be included with the toilet block.  This is despite the LLTNPA trying to encourage more campervans to Forest Drive.  The consequences are predictable.  At some stage someone in a campervan will empty the contents of their toilet out on Forest Drive (as has happened elsewhere in Scotland where there are no facilities).  If the Park and Forest Enterprise are going to promote Forest Drive as somewhere to stay, they have a responsibility to ensure the right infrastructure is in place and the Park Planning Committee should insist on a chemical disposal point here.

 

Another aspect of the application which needs to be changed is there is no provision for any campervans in the parking area.  While there are permit places for campervans on Forest Drive, none offer toilets and smaller campervans don’t have their own internal toilets – so why not allow them to stay here?  In addition, groups of people wanting to enjoy time away together often include both campervanners and campers.  The Park still appears to have an unwritten policy of trying to segregate the two – it was still impossible by the end of September to book to stay at Loch Chon if you were a campervanner despite there being lots of parking space there.   Its time the Park abandoned this approach which appears to have developed out of a desire to divide campers from campervanners in order to rule.

 

Finally, given all the publicity about the toxic effects of diesel, its very disappointing the National Park are proposing a diesel generator to pollute the atmosphere along with what may or may not be an aerobic digestion system.  If this behaves like the one at Loch Chon it will fill the surrounding air with a malevolent stench. There is no detail on the cycle time of the generator running times, fuel consumption or fuel storage and any bunded facility to prevent environmental pollution in the event of a spill incident. There is no detail on the effects of air pollution in the way of diesel fumes presents to the local environment the environment. The diesel generator is not eco friendly, and it is a missed opportunity for the National Park who claim to champion the environment to provide a solar/ wind powered combination. There was however a diesel generator at Loch Chon, even after the connection to the National Grid had been made and it appears that the LLTNPA may be trying to re-use equipment it has already bought.

Restrictions on vehicle access at Forest Drive

At present the gates to Forest Drive are locked at 4pm over the summer months which prevents people turning up on spec.  In addition Forest Drive is one way at present  and its about a 6k drive round Forest Drive to get to the site of the proposed Loch Achray campsite.   If the campsite is to be a success, both of these restrictions need to be changed.   I look forward to seeing proposals about two way access between the main road and the campsite – which would reduce carbon emissions and disturbance to other people staying along Forest Drive – and how current access restrictions could be lifted in the Planning Report when the application goes to Committee for decision.

 

Comments on the planning application

While welcoming the proposal for a campsite on Loch Achray, the planning application shows the Park has still not learned all the lessons it should have about campsite development and I have therefore objected to a number of aspects to the proposal.  This helps ensure these will be properly considered by the LLTNPA.  I would encourage others to do so.  You can make a comment online (here) – click on the comments tab.

October 18, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Overused camping area by Loch Achray. The National Park claimed the camping byelaws would reduce damage to vegetation by enabling camping to be controlled. The opposite has happened – by concentrating campers into a few permit areas this type of (minor) damage has almost certainly increased.

Following my post (see here) on why people should be sceptical about the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board paper which claimed the camping permit system had been successful, I have been passed information from two readers about complaints submitted to the LLTNPA.  Both concern Forest Drive and accord with what I saw when I visited there with Ross MacBeath at the end of September.  This is that the camping byelaws have made things worse, not better, for the great majority of responsible campers.

Complaint 1

The complainant has agreed I can publish the information on parkswatch but has asked I summarise rather than quote from their complaint.

While the person did not tell me what area they had booked, the description fits with what we saw in Zone I.

The person had booked to stay in a specific permit area by Loch Drunkie because they knew the area well, having used it in the past to launch their canoe and a canoed and had mountain biked around Forest Drive.  While on previous visits they had come across campers, they had never noticed any significant camping related problems. However, on their stay they found the area was covered by fire scars, litter, human waste and toilet paper, far worse than they had previously experienced and reported this to the Park.  They made a point of saying they would no longer choose to launch their canoe from the area because of the high risk of stepping in excrement and also that while they appreciated that people when they book are being advised about good practice (as set out in the permit terms and conditions) this is clearly not working.  They feared for what the sites will look like in future.

 

The Park used the existence of fire scars to justify introducing camping byelaws.  They clearly haven’t worked.  The metal barbecue (right photo) is good idea – perhaps it was brought in after the tree in the centre was burned?  Fundamentally though, forcing people who want to be able to enjoy a fire to camp under trees is asking for trouble.  People used to be able to camp on loch shores away from trees and the majority did so.  The byelaws are creating, not solving, problems.

All around the areas of strimmed and flattened vegetation in Zone I there were little paths into the bracken.  These invariably ended at heaps of crap and toilet paper.    This is not all campers fault.  The ground under the trees is covered with lots of roots and digging a hole deep enough to bury crap properly would not be that easy.  It should have been quite predictable that if you provide very few areas which are suitable for camping – and the vast majority of ground in each permit area at Forest Drive is totally unfit for camping ((see here for example) – that impacts would be concentrated.  Add to that a failure to provide toilet facilities and the LLTNPA have created a major problem.  Simon Jones, the Park’s Director of Conservation, acknowledged the problem at the last Board Meeting when he said that human waste was a major problem in certain places.  What he didn’t explain was the role the byelaws and the LLTNPA’s failure to provide facilities in creating this.

The irony is there is an FCS toilet block on Forest Drive.  The problem is its not in or near any camping permit area.  Despite there being flat areas in the trees near the toilet block which would be good for tents, camping is banned here – you would be committing a criminal offence to put a tent up within reasonable walking distance of the toilets!     The reason, it appears, is that neither FCS nor the LLTNPA want campers and day visitors to mix – talk about social apartheid – although recently a single campervan permit place was added to the carpark.  Lucky campervanner!   Just one hitch, if they have their own toilet,  there is no chemical disposal point.

 

If the LLTNPA and FCS want to concentrate people in certain places, as is happening at present, they should have a duty to provide facilities such as toilets.   Facilities should come first.  Towards the end of the summer the LLTNPA and FCS deliberately started to increase the number of campervan “permit places” on Forest Drive  and encouraging visits from campervanners but without any plans to  to provide chemical disposal points.   The LLTNPA has submitted a planning application  for a new campsite at Loch Achray and the toilets there will help but I can see nothing in the toilet block plans to indicate a chemical disposal point is included  (see here).

 

Complaint 2

 

I received this from someone involved in outdoor education and it concerned a DofE group.  The Leaders had apparently obtained permits for the group to camp at Loch Drunkie, with staff accessing the site by vehicle.    On arriving at the Forest Drive gate (which is locked after 4pm) one leader was trying to find the code for the gate on his phone when van full of people appeared wanting to get through as well.  They shouted out the code – “Park have never changed it, so we came once officially, then been coming whenever there’s good weather for a party.  Our friends are on their way”.

 

My informant went on:  “Needless to say the party went on into the early hours, despite repeated requests to consider the youngsters.  Tents & people all over the place.  The youngsters were moved on at first light to get them away.  Throughout the night, leaders phoned Park staff on the contact forms – ansaphone saying office closed till next day; police – no response, etc.  Leaders have sent in “feedback” to Park including videos and photos but heard nothing back.  The feedback system says: thanks for your feedback and Park will review things at end of the season.”

 

“This was the first time the leader used this particular site and never again…  He also said that at other private campsites there are stories of people, especially families arriving very late asking for a plot as they had abandoned their “official Park site plot” due to similar activities…

 

So a system designed to improve access to the “park” has instead succeeded in enabling free use for party / rave sites to the detriment of people’s peaceful enjoyment.”

 

I could not have put it better.  The problem always was and still is policing.  The byelaws have solved nothing.  What the LLTNPA need to do is ditch the whole permit system (except for where facilities are provided where it could be used as a campsite booking system) and concentrate on working with the police to develop a rapid response where problems occur.  This would benefit both local people – rural policing has been slashed – and responsible campers.

 

The future of Forest Drive as a camping destination

An attempt to create a camping place in the heather in Zone C

After promising Scottish Ministers 300 new camping places in the camping management zones and because they wanted to stop all camping along many loch shores, the LLTNPA persuaded FCS to provide a large number of camping places at Forest Drive.  This was to meet targets.   Most were totally unsuitable – as Ross MacBeath has described on several occasions – and a number of these zones have been removed from the Park booking system.  Other unsuitable areas remain.

Marker post for Zone M, on the edge of Forest Drive.

The Rangers to their credit, just like at Loch Chon, have been doing a good job helping people move to more suitable areas of which there are about half a dozen on Forest Drive.   Unfortunately, due to the ban on camping elsewhere in the National Park this is concentrating use.

Some basic management measures like blocking off vehicle access to good camping areas and provision of adjacent parking would really help reduce impacts

The lack of basic infrastructure has then made the impact of this increase in use far worse than it need have been.

 

The fundamental problem at Forest Drive is that the LLTNPA has wanted it to provide over 60 camping places when in reality it can probably support half that number on a regular basis (excluding the new proposed campsite at Loch Achray).  Managers have forced staff to “create” camping places in wooded and boggy zones where no-one in their right mind would want to camp.   The sensible course of action now would be to abandon promoting  the rest of these unsuitable places and allow the few people who might want to go there to do so under access rights.

The only suitable place for camping in Zone C is very boggy and only likely ever to be used by people fishing

The LLTNPA  should then focus on creating facilities to support camping at the places which are good for pitching tents which are almost all down on the lochshores on flat turfy areas.   There are only half a dozen such places and it would be easy, for example, for the LLTNPA to install portaloos (as they do in English National Parks) in all these areas for next year.   That and a few rubbish disposal points would justify the Park collecting a small charge from people camping here.

New campervan places on Forest Drive
Who would want to stay here overnight?

The LLTNPA is now promoting Forest Drive as a destination for campervans.  I think this results from criticisms of the failure of the LLTNPA to provide for campervans and the impossibility of enforcing the byelaws against campervanners because of people’s right to sleep overnight in vehicles on roads.   What’s happening at Forest Drive – a large increase in the number of campervan places – can be seen as a desperate attempt to provide evidence to the Government that byelaws are still needed in relation to campervans.  Byelaws aren’t needed and the attempt to create new campervan permit places without any consideration of whether they might be good places to stay is just repeating past mistakes.

Zone E – its far better for campervans than for tents

 

However, the nature of Forest Drive, means that in some places it provides a very good campervan experience as shown by the photo above.  Hard flat ground which is poor for tents is just what campervans need.  Add in the view and  Zone E, and a few other places on Forest Drive, are potentially great places to stop off ovenight.

 

What the LLTNPA and FCS need to do is engage with campervan interests and work out what are the good places to stay at Forest Drive.  I believe they should then only sell permits for these good areas and if campervanners want to stop off in other grotty forest laybys for free they should just be allowed to do so.   If the LLTNPA/FCS added a chemical disposal point and drinking water provision at the existing toilet block or at the new campsite on the way out of Forest Drive small charges for staying in the campervan permit areas would be justified

 

The way forward at Forest Drive

While what has been happening at Forest Drive epitomises what is wrong with the camping byelaws and the Park’s failure to provide proper infrastructure, it does also suggest alternative solutions which would help people to enjoy staying out overnight in the countryside, whether in a tent or campervan.  Its about time the LLTNPA and FCS engaged properly with recreational interests to develop an alternative plan for Forest Drive instead of their managers trying to drive through top down solutions which don’t work in pursuit of meaningless targets.

October 2, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Photo credit – Scotland’s Nature

I was reminded a couple of weeks ago, in SNH’s regular e-newsletter “Scotland’s Nature”(see here), that there are some great people working for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Ranger service . What better for a group of refugees without money and after all they have been through to get out and experience the Scottish landscape?

 

This seems to me to be what the National Park Ranger Service should be all about, helping people who might not otherwise do so to enjoy and connect with the countryside.    To do this type of work well you need to combine the knowledge of a natural scientist with the people skills and values of a social worker.

 

The tragedy of the Ranger Service in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is that for most of this summer it has been diverted from encouraging people to get out and enjoy the countryside to policing campers.  With the end of the byelaw season, the staff’s permanent rangers can back to what I see as their rightful jobs.

 

Thankfully there have been many signs that many of the Rangers involved in Your Park have not lost their skills or values.   The main reason why the Loch Chon campsite has received positive feedback is because of the two Rangers who were stationed there when the Park’s plans to get a private operator to run the site collapsed.  “Booked a pitch which is underwater or sloping, no problem, you can find a better place here”.   They have not just ensured bottled water was available due to the failure of the public water supply, they have strimmed a number of areas to create better places to camp and been available to sort out a myriad of problems caused by the incompetent planning of the site.   I suspect none of this was in their job description but they deserve medals.  They have rescued the LLTNPA.

 

There is evidence too that Rangers know that checking permits is a  waste of their time and have stopped doing so (which incidentally is another reason why the Park’s data on permits is worthless).  Last week I was out at Forest Drive with Ross MacBeath and we got talking to an angler with a campervan who had bought a fishing permit  but had not been told about the camping permit system.    On site, he had spoken with a Ranger who had come round in the afternoon to give him the number to undo the Forest Drive gates which are locked at 4pm (another waste of Rangers time, why on earth is FCS locking people out of camping permit areas?) but not been asked for a permit.

 

While the LLTNPA has been trying, more or less unsuccessfully, to turn its Rangers into a private police force, austerity continues to bite.  Many many people, not just refugees but a sizeable proportion of the population of the west of Scotland, never get an opportunity to enjoy the countryside.  I remember talking at a seminar before the LLTNPA  was created that an indicator of its success would be when every school child in the Clyde conurbation was able to spend a week in both primary and secondary education enjoying the National Park.  Outdoor education for the many has since collapsed, despite the valiant efforts of people working in the field.

 

The LLTNPA could and should however be helping to change this.  Indeed I think this should form a key plank of its new Partnership Plan.    If its Ranger resource was freed up from patrolling and instead was given the mission to work with local authorities, instead of visits from primary schools etc being the exception, they could become the norm: the things that Rangers did every day.  Given continued local authority cuts, this would be quite a challenge but the LLTNPA has, I believe, in its workforce, people with the necessary skills and commitment. The LLTNPA could make this happen if it empowered its Rangers to make full use of their skills and determine how best they spend their time, rather than forcing them to drive around in vans all day patrolling.

 

The LLTNPA could also make the case for abandoned resources in the National Park, like the Ardlui Outdoor Centre, to be renovated (brought into public ownership) and used once more in conjunction with its Ranger Service.  That would help the Ranger Service meet its potential.

The former Outdoor Education Centre at Ardlui – the buildings were leased by West Dunbartonshire Council.

 

October 1, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The facilities at Loch Chon campsite are now closed – photo credit Ross MacBeath

On Friday to mark the end of the camping byelaws – you were a criminal if you pitched your tent without a permit on Saturday but from past midnight could camp in the same place scot free – Phoebe Smith has a piece on Radio 4’s “You and Yours”   http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b095ptx2.  (It runs from 28 mins 10 secs to 35 mins).   Don’t be put off by the howlers, “lakes” for “lochs” and Balmaha described as a town, the rest of the content is quite good – Phoebe Smith loves camping and says so.

 

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority took Phoebe Smith out to Balmaha.   After repeating the claim that there were far too many campers,  the Park’s Director of Conservation Simon Jones  went on to say large numbers of campers created certain problems such as litter and human waste and that the byelaws were addressing these, before correcting himself mid-speech and admitted human waste is still a problem.   This was a public admission that the byelaws have NOT addressed the problems the Park claimed they would solve.   This should not be a surprise. The problem has never been numbers, which have been concentrated on a few weekends a year,  it has been the lack of facilities for campers and other visitors.  By trying to concentrate campers in a few places through the permit system without any new facilities, all the National Park has done is concentrate impacts, the opposite of what it claimed it was wanting to achieve.

 

The LLTNPA then wheeled out Sandy Fraser, owner of the Oak Tree Inn (they use him most time they want someone to speak out in favour of the byelaws to the media), to talk to Phoebe Smith.   Powerful stuff to anyone who did not know better: people “really didn’t want to live here any longer”, “it was a no go area” and the introduction of the east Loch Lomond byelaws was “like a light switch, night and day”.  Now, I always believe money speaks louder than words, so I took a look at the accounts of the Oak Tree Loch Lomond Ltd, which was formed in 2009 and is described as a restaurant business:

 

Year till 31st Oct 09/10   10/11     11/12 12/13
Net current assets £86,785 £169,623 £265,883 £363,898

 

The accounts are abbreviated, so don’t show what contributed to profit and loss for the year, but the total profit and loss feed into the “net current assets” line at year end.    If people had stopped coming to Balmaha, prior to the east Loch Lomond byelaws being introduced in June 2011,  one might have expected the first year of the new company to have been disastrous financially.  Instead, the accounts show assets increased to £86,785 of which £76,785 came from profit.  Hardly a sign that people were no longer coming to Balmaha.  Moreover, the introduction of the byelaws in June 2011 did not mark a massive jump in profits.  I think we can take Sandy Fraser’s claims with a very large pinch of salt.

 

While there were undoubtably some problems associated with camping and drinking at Balmaha prior to the byelaws coming into effect, I think these need to be seen in perspective.  The main problem Sandy Fraser cited in the interview was that about once every three weeks people took the Oak Tree Inn benches and umbrellas down to the beach beyond Balmaha pier.  Extremely irritating I am sure, but did this justify the removal of access rights?   And what role does Sandy Fraser think the introduction of alcohol byelaws on east Loch Lomond by Stirling Council also in 2011 have in stopping this happening?

 

In terms of objective evidence about what changes had happened, the Park commissioned some research from Keep Scotland Beautiful which it eventually provided  under Freedom of Information.  It has never published this research or considered it at a Board Meeting, presumably because it makes uncomfortable reading:

The research does show the condition of sites on east Loch Lomond in 2015 (which was when the survey was undertaken) was better than in the other management zones but not that much better.  Not the miraculous improvement claimed by Sandy Fraser.   And this despite the camping ban, the alcohol ban and the clearway which prevents people visiting many of the places they used to go to.

 

Looking at the Keep Scotland Beautiful data in more detail,  one site on east Loch Lomond that has really improved is the beach north of the pier at Balmaha which sits under the metal bridge and which used to be use for partying (hence why it was selected for the survey).

Note, no alcohol related rubbish was found but this could as well been the result of the alcohol byelaws as the camping byelaws

So, maybe Sandy Fraser has a point, the environs of Balmaha have improved a bit – something everyone should welcome.  The question though remains, why were byelaws ever needed to do this?  The site under the metal bridge is small and very visible, hence easy to police by rangers but if easy to police by rangers, why not the police?   What should have happened is each time his benches went, Sandy Fraser should have phoned the police.   Its the adequacy of policing in rural areas which is the real issue, not camping.

Wayne Gardner’s new development of Luxury Lodges at Balmaha (Sandy Fraser is in partnership Wayne Gardner and will be developing another part of the site).

There are however, I believe, other agendas at play.  The evidence shows that Balmaha is being turned to a luxury tourist destination with prices to match.   My impression is campers don’t fit that image.   Hence why, despite the considerable area of flat land to the south of the village, there is no campsite.  Hence why the camping byelaws were extended down to the mouth of the Endrick, again without any evidence of problems.  Camping is just not part of the agenda of the new lairds of Balmaha.   If they understood the access legislation however they would know land can be exempted from access rights (under Section 11 of the Land Reform Act) without any need for byelaws and this could have been used to stop people camping within villages in the National Park.

 

The lack of publicity for the end of the byelaw season and the Park’s closure of facilities

 

In contrast to the launch of the byelaws in the Spring, there is NO publicity on the Park’s website and no news release to say people announcing they are now over and people can now camp freely again under access rights.  This probably explains the lack of media coverage in Scotland (please contact parkswatch if you have come across anything).  The explanation, I believe, is that if the LLTNPA had reminded the media the byelaws were over for the year, they might just have been asked some awkward questions, including what the byelaws had achieved.  Better then not to mark the occasion and hope no-one noticed.

 

While some people may have realised that the byelaws ended on 30th September, I am sure most  will not have realised that Loch Chon campsite is also now closed.    This is incomprehensible.  Here is what staff told the Board just a few weeks ago:

 

Loch Chon campsite has now been operating for six months and continues to be popular with visitors, with some weekends coming close to operating at full capacity. The total nights booked up until the end of August was 1160 with an average stay of 1.5 days. These bookings were representative of 1843 people; 1362 adults and 481 children

 

Now, leave aside everything which was wrong about this campsite (too many places, fixed pitches in the wrong places, no water supply and a toilet block which stank as a consequence) people visited because at least there were some facilities and, its one of the few lovely places where you are still allowed to camp.   Why then, having paid well over £345k for this campsite, close it just because the byelaw season  is over?   If there was such demand, surely it would be worth keeping the campsite open for at least another month and leaving the toilets open after that?

 

How too does the decision to close Loch Chon fit with the fact that the other two campsites the Park is involved in, at Sallochy and Loch Lubnaig, are both open till the end of October?  The answer is that other people operate those campsites, with no cost to the Park, but the Park has had to deploy two (excellent) rangers at Loch Chon to keep it going.

 

It makes me suspect the Park will now have also reverted to its previous practice of closing the toilets and carpark at Firkin Point.  If so, the public should treat all claims by the LLTNPA that it wishes to improve infrastructure, with scepticism.     The Park should know that human waste, about which it claims to be so concerned,  biodegrades more slowly in winter than summer and is a strong reason why all toilets operated by the National Park should be open year round.    Infrastructure is needed 365 days, not just over the summer and not just so the Park can claim to Scottish Ministers it has done something to provide for campers.

September 27, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Marquee, slate bay, 26th August, by Camstradden within the West Loch Lomond camping management zone.  There is no record I can find of Luss Estate or the Loch Lomond Arms hotel who run weddings here of applying for an exemption from the camping byelaws..

The Your Park paper update paper to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board on 18th September (see here) contained a very short section of enforcement of the camping byelaws.

While the LLTNPA has reported that 7 cases have been reported to the Procurator Fiscal since the byelaws came into effect, what they did not say is how many breaches of the byelaws have NOT been reported.  From my observations, dozens of tents and shelters have been erected outwith permit areas let alone the hundreds of campervans parking overnight outside of permit areas before the LLTNPA’s attempt to prevent people from exercising their legal right to sleep in vehicles on the road network collapsed.  The LLTNPA has also never publicly explained what methodology, if any, it has implemented to record breaches (it used to count tents and fires and record these in its ranger patrol records) or how many such breaches it has identified.    On top of this, if there is to be any proper evaluation of the effectiveness of the byelaws, it needs to estimate the number of tents and shelters which have not been recorded by its Rangers.

The methodology is important because, for example, under the byelaws its an offence not just to camp but for any form of shelter to be set up between 7pm and 7am.  While its quite easy to erect and dismantle light shelters within a day, I am certain the marquee in the picture above, even if was not used after 7pm, stayed up after that time.    What’s more – just as with the Luss Games (see here) – I cannot find any record of an exemption being applied for.  So, if the report on the first year of the byelaws which the Park intends to submit to Minister is to mean anything, it needs to record not just numbers of tents but the different types of shelter and the details of all exemptions which have been granted.

 

Park Rangers drive past Slate Bay every day on their way out from the Park HQ at Balloch.  If this ground has not been granted exemption by the Park as a campsite and specific exemptions not applied for and granted, how many times have they recorded marquees here?  How many times have they then talked to Sir Malcom Colquhoun of Luss or the Managers of the Lomond Arms Hotel who appear to be involved in these weddings (see here) and told them they needed to apply for exemptions and tried to educate them about the allegedly serious impact which the Park claims tents and shelters have on the natural environment?   Has anyone reminded the Sir Malcom that the reason why the byelaw management zones extend south of Luss and round his house was because the local community, of which he is a part, called for this?   What is the difference between Mr Trout, who has been referred to the Procurator Fiscal (see here), retreating to his shelter in a storm and wedding guests taking shelter from the rain under a marquee?

And its not just marquees……………tents at Slate bay on 2nd September

Actually, there is no difference.  Its pretty obvious that it is who you are, rather than whether you have broken the law, that determines whether the LLTNPA will refer you to the Procurator Fiscal or not.   Can you imagine Park Rangers asking Sir Malcom Colquhoun to dismantle these tents and shelters shortly before a wedding and then, when refused, calling the police?   I think not, but anglers are different, especially if they speak with the “wrong” accent.

Slate Bay, is the large bay opposite Inchtavannach.  Camstradden House, the home of Sir Malcom, is on the north side of the bay.

The byelaws would,if applied properly, not just make criminals of people camping according to Scottish Outdoor Access Code but many local people and businesses.  These examples show just how ridiculous and unfair the byelaws are.  The answer is not to try and make the exemption system work.  All that has done has produced more bureaucracy and another set of figures the Park should be providing is how many Scout and DofE groups applied for “free” exemptions – free apart from the hassle and bother?  Judging by the number of applications listed on the weekly planning lists – not many – there appears to have been a collapse in the number of expeditions involving young people to the National Park.

Since the beginning of August until this week just ONE camping byelaw application has been recorded on the Park’s weekly planning lists and that ironically for an old campsite, where camping is now banned.

 

Whether or not the Park reports on what is really going on, the truth will eventually become widely known and when it does, the byelaws will collapse.  These are bad laws and I do not see how, when there appear to be such glaring breaches by the great and the good, that the Procurator Fiscal  can possibly justify taking action in the cases referred to them.  Simon Jones the Park’s Director of Conservation told the Board Meeting he had spent lots of time talking to the PF but not what this was about.  This indicates that LLTNPA staff are finding enforcement far more complex than they ever imagined but the Board unfortunately do not appear yet to have appreciated the implications.   Its time that recreational interests started to prepare a case for the Justice Minister about the fundamental flaws in the operation of the byelaws.

 

What needs to happen

The LLTNPA must:

  • publish its ranger patrol records for this year as soon as the byelaw season ends on 30th September.
  •  provide a list of exemptions that have been granted to the byelaws and why together with an analysis of why the system is not working.
  • make public all rules and instructions to staff about enforcement of the camping byelaws

and use this to inform the drafting of its report to Ministers and whether a change in direction would do it less damage than continued attempts to gloss over how the byelaws are failing.

 

September 24, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Herald Thursday. There was a further article and leader comment on Saturday.

The debate about visitor numbers, which started this summer with reports of visitors “swamping” Skye and the North West Coast, has moved to the Outer Hebrides and the current focus is on “motorhomes”.  However, unlike in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park where the numbers of visitors are treated as a problem,  in the West the increase in visitors is generally seen as a good thing.  The challenge, as Alasdair Allan the local MSP said, is that infrastructure has been unable to keep up with demand.   In suggesting that a levy be imposed on campervans to fund the infrastructure, he has opened up the debate.  The Herald, at the end of their leader on Saturday, reflecting on that debate concluded, rightly I believe:  “Getting the infrastructure right is the solution: who pays for it is the problem”.

 

What the Herald failed to say was that if our National Parks had been working and being doing the job they were set up to do, they would now be providing a model of how to do this.  Moreover, the case for further National Parks, including that mooted for Harris, would be unanswerable.

 

Unfortunately, there is almost nothing that people on Skye and in the Outer Hebrides can learn at present from our existing National Parks.  Both seem keener to ban visitors than welcome them.  The Cairngorms National Park Authority has suggested byelaws to restrict access could be used to allow the An Camas Mor development to go ahead (see here), while the constant refrain of LLTNPA  Chief Executive Gordon Watson over the last year when asked to justify the camping byelaws has been  that the numbers stopping off in campervans and tents are too great.  The LLTNPA’s original provision for campervans under their camping permit system was a measly 30 places, with not a single campervan allowed at their new Loch Chon campsite despite all the parking space there.   The LLTNPA’s attempt to limit the number of campervans has now fallen apart because of the legal right people have to sleep in vehicles by the road but this has left a policy vacuum.

 

The policy vacuum  provides an opportunity for the LLTNPA to change direction.  Instead of trying to stop and control visitors,  they should be focussing on what infrastructure is needed to support them.   There was no open discussion of this at the Board Meeting earlier this month, although a reference in the Your Park update report that staff were looking to upgrade facilities at Firkin Point and Inveruglas suggests they may now be moving in the right direction.

 

The basic elements of the infrastructure the LLTNPA needs to provide for campervans should be quite obvious – chemical disposal points, places to leave rubbish and drinking water.  When asked for a list of chemical disposal points in the National Park earlier this year, the LLTNPA knew of none outside formal campsites (see here) and could not even say which campsites had chemical disposal points.  The LLTNPA needs to start acknowledging that the lack of facilities for campervans and the lack of public information about this as a problem and also that it has the primary responsibility to sort this out.

 

The contrast in levels of understanding and understanding between the LLTNPA and  the west is striking.   Alasdair Allan MSP was able, without apparent difficultly, to identify the lack of facilities, chemical disposal points and capacity on ferries as a challenge.    Imagine what the Western Isles could have learned if the National Park had installed chemical and waste disposal points for campervans at the toilet facilities along the A82,  (Luss, Firkin, Inveruglas, Crianlarich, Tyndrum) and made these available 24 hours a day.  Imagine too what the Western Isles could have learned if the LLTNPA had used its large communications and marketing team (there are at least 8 staff) to engage with campervanners about the infrastructure they would like to see in place and then disseminated the results across Scotland?  That could have informed provision of infrastructure everywhere but instead the LLTNPA uses that team to produce glossy materials telling people what they are not allowed to do and where they cannot go.

 

To take the contrast further, tourism chiefs on the Western Isles have criticised Mr Allan’s proposals for a ferry tax on motorhomes because it might put people off visiting.  In the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park tourism businesses piled in to support the byelaws banning visitors in the mistaken belief that you could force people to use commercial sites.   Funny how all those free marketeers want to constrain choice.    A study by Outer Hebrides Tourism has found that people in motorhomes, who are not forced to go anywhere in the Western Isles, on average spend £500 per visit.  Both the tourism chiefs and Mr Allan know that the increased number of visitors in motorhomes is good, the debate is just about how to fund the infrastructure and whether tourism taxes would put off tourists.   The contrast with the LLTNPA  is that in all the papers that were developed to try and justify banning campers and campervanners, there was no tourism impact development and never once did the LLTNPA consider the impact on the local economy.  The LLTNPA should acknowledge in their report to Ministers on the byelaws in December that this was a mistake as has been their attempt to limit the numbers of tents and caravans to 300 (which was an arbitrary figure which has never been justified).

 

The final contrast between the west and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park about the infrastructure debate is the level of political involvement.   Its not just Alasdair Allan that is involved, Kate Forbes the Highland MSP has facilitated meetings on Skye with local councillors and the tourism minister to discuss what needs to be done to support visitors (see here).  In the Saturday Herald Leader of the Western Isles Council, Roddie Mackay, was quoted as saying “The council is exploring all options that could increase investment in infrastructure required as a result of the undoubted success of RET (the Road Equivalent Tariff which has reduced ferry charges) and tourism”.  Contrast this with the LLTNPA where local MSPs and councillors, including those on the LLTNPA Board, have been notable for their silence on the need for improved infrastructure and investment.

 

A recent example of this political silence came at the LLTNPA Board Meeting last week when a Board Member referred to visits from large cruise liners which come to the Clyde and then send busloads of passengers to Luss.  This was interesting – same issue as in the Hebrides – and helps to explain why visitor infrastructure at Luss is creaking.  Not one idea was proposed however on how to rise to this challenge and opportunity.  Instead, there was a bizarre discussion about how difficult it was to get agreement from Luss Estates, the Park and the local Council about who should pick up litter where around the Luss carpark.   

 

What needs to happen

Our National Parks should be aspiring to provide models of excellence for how to support visitors, not ban them, and focus the resources which they have, which are far greater than are available on the west coast, on getting infrastructure right.

 

As part of this the LLTNPA should be committing to develop a proper plan for the infrastructure needed to support campervans in the first year of the forthcoming National Park Partnership Plan 2018-23.  This should include a commitment to engage openly  people using campervans and local communities  to the right type of infrastructure and in what places.  Some of this should be easy, for example adapting existing facilities, some more challenging, for example installing new public toilets and disposal points (eg at the carpark at the foot of the Cobbler).  I will consider how this could be funded in a future post.

September 20, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Just what we want to see in the National Park, hill tracks so broad that people can walk five abreast! One reason why the Loch Lomond National Park Authority is dysfunctional at present is its marketing department appears unaware of the Park’s own policies – hill tracks where they exist should be quadbike width – and produces glossy brochures without reference to its own staff.

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board Meeting on Monday (see here for papers) was far more open than meetings in the past but showed the Board still has a considerable way to go.   The fundamental issue is that most Board Members appear to have little idea of why they are there.  It was telling that under Matters Arising, there was not a single question about where the Board goes now the Scottish Government has rejected its suggestion the Board be reduced in size (see here).  This was an ideal opportunity to continue the discussion from the last Board meeting about the function of Board Members but ostensibly the matter is now being treated as closed.

 

Among the welcome signs of change at Monday’s meeting were:

  • The meeting time was changed to the morning which meant there was no time for the secret pre-meetings which used to take place under previous convener Linda McKay.
  • As a consequence there was more public debate, including on issues where Board Members previously appear to have been gagged.  For example, questions were asked about why plans for the National Park’s properties at Balloch, the Gateway Centre, and Luss Visitor Centre were so far behind schedule.  Even the financial consequences were touched on, both losses and costs, and while Chief Executive Gordon Watson was very reticient in his response, the good thing is more Board Members seem prepared to discuss these issues in the open.  I hope this creates an opportunity for the Board Members representing those local communities to engage with them on what is going on.
  • James Stuart, the new convener, reported to the Board he had spent a lot of time meeting stakeholders, including people who disagreed with what the National Park had been doing, and made it very clear he thought such engagement essential.  He even pointed to Ross MacBeath and myself in the audience and said he had had a constructive meeting with the two of us and Dave Morris on camping!  He reported on a meeting with SNH who were keen to develop far closer working – there has been a stand-off over the last few years where the Park has tried to do things itself without using expertise of SNH, for example on how to engage with recreational users, which contributed to the camping byelaw disaster – and the long delayed meeting with the Cairngorms National Park Authority is now going ahead.   The message was that James Stuart really does want the LLTNPA to work in partnership not isolation.   There was no rush from Board Members volunteering to get involved in this although my view is if the National Park is to change course, other Board Members need to start engaging too and means different people need to take on different roles.

 

While the meeting was conducted in a far more open manner than in the past two local people,  commented on the lack of meaningful discussion.   (Its well worth reading Trevor Scott’s account of the meeting (see here) on the Balloch Responds Facebook Page).  They were amazed when we told them the meeting was a considerable improvement to what used to happen!.    I think though they identified the main problem with the meeting:  the Board was not being asked to take any meaningful decisions and as result the meeting was over in under two hours.

 

This was despite  two very important matters being on the table, the “Your Park” progress report and the National Park Partnership Plan.   The way the reports on these subjects were drafted though suggests that it staff, not the Board, who are at present taking the decisions.

 

The camping plan and camping byelaws

Board Members were not invited to take any decisions about the Your Park plan, instead an update report (see here) was presented:   a  report for Ministers on the first year operation of the byelaws will be brought to the December meeting for approval.    I will analyse in further posts (see here for issues with the data presented in the report) the content of the paper including the Park’s failure to deliver additional campsites and the serious problems with the permit areas (all of which were glossed over)  and here focus on the Board reaction to the paper.

 

The first good news was that Colin Bayes, who chairs the LLTNPA delivery group (of Board Members and senior staff), announced that after meeting Ross MacBeath, Dave Morris and myself he had been out to see most of the permit zones with staff and Board vice-convener Willie Nisbet.  He acknowledged that there were some serious issues and that these are now being addressed. A positive development although it would have been good if staff could have been as open about this in their paper. Its possible that its as a consequence of Colin’s visit that some camping permit areas have now been removed from the booking system.

 

Also positive was Billy Ronald’s question – first time I have heard him speak – asking why anglers cannot buy a camping permit in local shops along with their fishing permit?  The answer from staff was that if the Park allowed paper permits to be issued by local shops, they could not control numbers and as a consequence more people might end up camping in a specific permit area  than Park staff have deemed sustainable.   No Board Member thought to follow this up by questioning the justification for stopping anglers from camping in the places traditionally used for fishing but which are outside the new permit zones or by asking staff how they decide what numbers are sustainable.

 

Most significant though was the statement from former Councillor James Robb,  that the clarification that the Park had “overreached its powers” – his phrase, not mine –   in trying to ban campervans from laybys was useful.   Now the Park has never publicly admitted this although it appears from Cllr Robb’s comment that it has briefed Board Members.   There was no single reference to campervans or the LLTNPA overreaching its powers in the update paper.  Indeed the LLTNPA has refused to clarify with parkswatch whether campervans are still included in the byelaws outside of laybys and if so where (see here).    It appears that the LLTNPA is still trying to cover up the extent of the campervan fiasco, including how they and Scottish Ministers approved camping byelaws which were legally unenforceable.  More importantly, they have not started to grapple with the question of fairness: if there are now no or limited controls on campervans and caravans, what is the justification for continuing with the byelaws?  I would suggest that this is the fundamental question that needs to addressed in the report to Scottish Ministers.

 

Councillor Robb also asked staff members to take him through the process of referrals to the Procurator Fiscal (7 people have now been referred for prosecution).   This was a very good question – one which the Park have refused to answer under Freedom of Information claiming it would interfere with law enforcement – and I was not surprised when staff failed to respond.   Cllr Robb then tried to talk through the process himself and asked whether when a person refuses to apply for a permit when camping in a permit area, they are then issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice?   This was a clanger of immense proportions.   Gordon Watson  had to explain to him there are NO Fixed Penalty Notices (which can only be used for civil offences) under the camping byelaws.   Here was one Board Member who had approved the camping byelaws without apparently appreciating that they would criminalise people (fines of £500 and a criminal record).    After 13 secret meetings to develop the byelaws, I find it staggering that staff had not properly briefed Board Members on this.  This points to the fundamental issue, there has been no-one on the Board with sufficient knowledge and understanding to ask basic questions like “is it really right we criminalise people simply for not being in possession of a camping permit?”.

 

There was evidence that other Board Members still have their heads in the sand.   Petra Biberbach, the convener of the planning and access committee, commented that she thought the data in the update paper was excellent.     Neither she or any other  Board Members thought to ask about what negative feedback there had been to the camping byelaws and what data existed on this?   This is despite it being clear that changes to the permit zones for example have resulted from complaints and public criticism.    Former Councillor and retiring Board Member Bob Ellis went further and said he was very heartened by the report, had only had positive feedback from campers (its good he is speaking to campers but those he has engaged appear to be a completely different subset of campers than those I have talked to), thought the report showed the camping byelaws were a great success and was proud to have been part of it.

 

To be fair to other Board Members, they did not follow this valedictory speech.  I think some of them are beginning to realise that the camping byelaws have been far from a success (no-one dared ask about the numbers of people who ignore the permit system) and that the delivery of proper new camping places is far harder than they ever envisaged.  This was reflected in several comments to the effect that “we are learning all the time”.   The prevailing assumption on the Board though still seems to be that as long as they keep throwing resources into various management measures, eventually they will be able to control all campers and make the byelaws work.  Maybe the new members coming onto the Board will be able to take a more critical look at what has actually been happening.

 

The draft National Park Partnership Plan

The development of the NPPP is well behind schedule, a reflection of the resources which have been devoted to Your Park and the significant number of staff who have left the National Park Authority.  The NPPP paper  presented the responses to the flawed consultation on the plan (see here) without saying how the Park would respond to these but that a revised plan would be presented at the December meeting for approval.

 

Colin Bayes, who is open and on the ball, pointed his finger at the issue when he asked staff what process would be used to decide how all the comments received would be fed into the final plan?  Gordon Watson’s response that the National Park Authority needed to be realistic about what it can achieve avoided the question but to his credit, David McCowan, another Board Member who is willing to be critical (he has consistently raised the Park’s failure to deal with litter) then asked that staff should record a response to every single comment received, including that resources weren’t available to deliver it.  Brilliant!   I think staff had assumed they could decide how to respond to comments without telling anyone.   A little bit of accountability at last.

 

In the main though this was an opportunity missed.  What staff should have done is brought to Board Members key issues for discussion based on the responses that had been received.  The Board could then have given a steer about how the Park should respond.   However, unlike in the Cairngorms National Park Authority, which based the whole of its consultation on its Partnership Plan on big issues it wanted to address, LLTNPA have avoided any mention of issues like the plague.  Instead, the LLTNPA consultation was based on visions and outcomes that were so broad as to be meaningless and which contained almost nothing about what partners would contribute.

 

Extract from consultation responses paper

This extract shows that a significantly higher proportion of organisations supported the draft NPPP than individuals.  In fact most of the critical comments come from individuals.   The reason for this is that the LLTNPA, through the NPPP, is not asking its public sector partners to do anything further than what is already planned.  What a relief given austerity induced budget cuts!   It suits their narrow self-interests to sign up quick and not think about really needs to be done to make this a National Park worthy of the name.   Fundamental challenges, such as how to change the industrial forestry that has wrecked Cowal, are simply avoided.

 

Even so, its noticeable how certain key public sector partners have failed to respond.   Cllr George Freeman lamented the failure of his own Council, many of the community councils and of the community trusts (which are supposed to be a key means of attracting investment to the National Park) to respond.   He was right to do so.  The LLTNPA are supposed to be working with Argyll and Bute Council to tackle litter but there is obviously no strategic liaison about this.    Later on in the meeting we heard that at Luss part of the litter problem is that Argyll and Bute are responsible for the car park, the LLTNPA for the grassy areas around it and Luss Estates for the shop and no-one can agree who is responsible for what.   My jaw dropped, but the reason for this is now fairly clear, Argyll and Bute are simply not engaging:  their new Councillors on the Board should just get stuck in and bang some heads together.

 

Hazel Sorrell, former councillor for West Dunbartonshire whom I have never heard speak at a Board Meeting (in two years), did not take the opportunity to mention the failure of her own Council to respond.  Perhaps she and they preferred not to draw attention to Flamingo Land? (the delivery of the Riverside site development being one of the few concrete actions named in the plan).

 

What these examples illustrate is not just the complete ineffectiveness of councillors on the LLTNPA at present but also that these councillors council potentially have a crucial role in enabling effective joint work between the LLTNPA and Councils.   With five new council members, the Board has a great opportunity to look at how they could improve partnership working with local authorities.

 

The most positive aspect of the NPPP paper was the Appendix with all the consultation responses (453 pages worth).  In the Your Park consultation  the responses were only made public through Freedom of Information and, as far as I am aware, Board Members were never allowed to see what people had actually said.  While at the meeting not a single Board Member referred to these responses – the sheer number are daunting – many of them have some very interesting things to say about where the National Park is going wrong and suggestions for how it could improve which I will cover in future posts.  Board members should be advised to read them and use the feedback to make a NPPP worthy of the name.

September 17, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments

In the paper on the camping byelaws presented at the June LLTNPA Board Meeting, it was reported that:

“86% of people said that they would be quite likely or very likely to recommend staying over in a camping/motorhome permit area”

and

“82% of people found it easy or very easy to find their permit area”.  

 

Board Members treated this as a “killer fact” for, if such a high percentage of people filling in the permit feedback survey are so happy to recommend staying in a permit area, that suggests they have accepted the removal of access rights by the Park and think the permit zones a reasonable replacement.    Both these figures are repeated (its strange that the the percentage rate has not altered at all despite the number of returned surveys increasing from 431 to 1066) in the Your Park Update (see here)  to the September Board meeting tomorrow.  This post argues it is essential that the Board subject these figures to critical scrutiny rather than accept, as they did at the last meeting, that they prove all is well.

 

Having visited the majority of the camping permit areas (many of which have been featured on parkswatch) and to have found them underwater, overrun with brambles, without any flat areas for camping etc etc I found it quite frankly incredible that 86% of people returning survey forms had said they would recommend staying in a camping or campervan permit home area.   So, I asked for the data under Freedom of Information and received it in the form of two Pdf files, one giving the total bookings for each permit area EIR 2017-055 Appendix A Permit Area Bookings 1Mar17 to 26Jun17 and the other giving the breakdown of survey responses EIR 2017-055 Appendix B Permit Area Feedback 1Mar17 to 26Jun17.   By separating the data in this way, the Park has made it much harder for anyone to do an independent proper overall analysis of the data.   However, to demonstrate there is a serious issue with the data – which the Park Board needs to explain – I will compare feedback responses from what I regard as one of the worst permit areas, Coilessan Glen, with one of the best, Invertrossachs Rd on the south side of Loch Venachar.

 

Which is best – Coilessan or Invertrossachs Rd permit area?

 

My assumption, and I think it is reasonable because its how Trip Advisor and other accommodation websites work, is that you would expect a variation in how people rate different permit areas, with some scoring much more highly than others.    In camping terms you would expect people to rate this:

Most of the area on the west shore of the Loch Long south of Ardgarten which makes up the Coilessan permit area looks like this
There are two or three small open areas at Coilessan but they are all sloping, even more though than it appears in this photograph
The dryest and flattest area I could find at Coilessan appeared to have been used for camping – it would have been hard to pitch a tent in a way to avoid sleeping on tree roots

differently to this:

The largest flat grassy area at Invertrossachs Drive, which I visited on the day of the last Board Meeting in Callander, had been clearly used by campers
It also appeared some people had camped on the beach at Invertrossachs Drive. Unlike many of the permit zones there are places on the beach which are flat and sandy, ie suitable for pitching tents. Note another patch of grassy sward left side of photo.

Now Invertrossachs Rd permit area is far from perfect (there are places in the zone where it would be very hard to camp) but I hope I have shown enough to demonstrate why I think it is a much better place to camp than Coilessan Glen.    Encapsulated in words, rather than pictures, I would point to the outlook/scenery (its hard to see much from out of the conifer forest at Coilessan), the vegetation (open native woodland at Invertrossachs) and the availability of dry flat grassy places to pitch a tent.  And its not just me that thinks this: I spoke to someone doing maintenance work near the Coilessan site who told me he had heard there had been complaints about the site (and also about the history of anti-social behaviour there).

 

The message from the feedback data supplied by the LLTNPA however gives a very different message:

According to the LLTNPA people rated Coilessan (90% favourable) far more highly than Invertrossachs Drive (71% favourable). (NB By the June Board meeting 55 people had camped at Coilessan (Loch Long) with 10 submitting feedback forms while 66 had camped Invertrossachs Drive so the level of use appears broadly comparable).

 

What is the explanation for people rating Coilessan more highly than Invertrossachs Rd?

I have been able to come up with a number of explanations for this, including:

  • I am completely unrepresentative of campers and most campers really don’t care about the scenery or having a flat, grassy area to camp, all they are interested in is getting high on drugs and alcohol.    Now, I would have to say Coilessan scores well on that count.  Unlike most of the other permit areas its well away from the public road (so is difficult to police) and been the scene of difficulties in the past (which is why the camping management zone was extended south down Loch Long).  While the photo tells a tale, people who are too intoxicated to notice what they are camping on are, I suspect, highly unlikely to take the time to fill in a survey form:
    One part of the Coilessan camping permit zone is site to half a dozen half burned out tree stumps but had nowhere you could have pitched a tent. If people party here, its in the open, or rather under the trees and you don’t need a permit for that.

     

  • Some other site specific factor explains why people did not like Invertrossachs Rd so much (its one of most lowly rated of all permit areas).   One possible such explanation is the unlawful restriction of access rights on the south side of the road (photo below), which Park Rangers must see every day while conduct permit checking trips.  Its probably not the sign that bothers people but rather than the fence which makes it much harder to go into the woods to have a crap.  Perhaps campers are actually far more responsible than the LLTNPA has tried to suggest and rate camping areas by the availability of places to “go”?
These signs contravene our access rights and the sign about shooting being in progress is a lie for all but a few hours of the year.  Welcome to the brave new world of the countryside, where your every move is caught on camera.  LLTNPA Rangers must pass this sign every day as part of their policing of the camping management zones – its not unreasonable to ask what have they done about it?
  • Grassy camping areas have become irrelevant with airbeds.  Perhaps, but air beds slide on  sloping ground and not much use at Coilessan or on many of the sloping pebbly beaches, as at Firkin Point.
  • The data has somehow been corrupted:  for example, perhaps the system was initially tested by someone entering test data for each permit site and who ticked the box “very likely” to recommend the permit areas to others and then forgot to remove all this data.  That might help explain the generally high level of positive feedback to the survey but would not explain why a poor site rated more highly than a good one.
  • The Invertrossachs Rd feedback data is correct, its the Coilessan data which is wildly wrong – that I could believe!   Invertrossachs Rd is one of better places to camp (despite no access to toilets, no bins and limited parking) and 75% favourable is credible for this site.  Its the other ratings that are not.

    Litter which campers had collected – there was an airbed at top of bag – but was abandoned, presumably because there were no bins to put it in.
  • The data has somehow been influenced, for example, Rangers on their rounds when talking to people ask those who are positive about the zones to fill in the survey form.
  • And lastly, the figures have been made up (and by someone who knew so little about camping they did not think to consider people might rate different camping places differently)

I don’t think any of these explanations, apart from the last two, can account for the differences in feedback received for Coilessan and Invertrossachs although elements of each might play a role in understanding why people might rate camping zones as they do.

 

Its worth stressing here that the issue is NOT just about one camping permit area.  Firkin Point Zone D  (see here)  which other campers have told me they thought was terrible and where I challenged Board Members to come camping, received a 100% very likely to recommend rating (only two campers made the return).   Meanwhile, Inveruglas, which up until June was covered in brambles and has hardly anywhere flat to camp received a 90% “very likely to recommend” rating.   There are many other examples.

 

What needs to happen

 

The Board needs to ask staff to explain the statistics reported from the feedback survey forms and in particular why there appears to be no relationship between “positive” responses and what the permit zones are like to camp in.  If staff are unable to provide a satisfactory explanation, the Board should commission an independent investigation for why people are apparently rating terrible places to camp so highly and commit to finding a credible explanation for its statistics with a view to developing an independent and objective feedback mechanism.

 

The wider issue is the one I referred to last week, how does the LLTNPA rediscover its sense of purpose?   (see here)   To provide proper critical scrutiny, the LLTNPA Board needs get out more.  It would be interesting to know how many of the Park’s Board Members would, after camping in some of the permit zones featured on parkswatch, recommend the experience to the public.  If the Board got out more – preferably accompanied by people with varying points of view so they learned rather than seeing what they want to see – I think they might also question some other aspects not just of the Your Park update paper (which is basically an attempt to sell the camping byelaws as a success and which I will analyse further in another post), but other papers being presented to the meeting tomorrow (Monday).

August 18, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Photo from Luss Gathering Facebook page 2017 (it took place Saturday1st July) – count the tents and shelters!

The Luss Gathering takes place each year on Luss playing fields which now form part of the west Loch Lomond camping management zone.   Since last year the camping management byelaws have made it a criminal offence to erect a tent in a camping management zone without explicit authorisation from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.   Mostly such authorisation is granted through the camping permit system the Park has created but this only allows tents to be put up in specified permit areas.   Luss is not one of them, no doubt because some local residents had blamed camping for all the problems of anti-social behaviour the village was experiencing and so no camping under permit is allowed close by.

 

The other way permission to put up a tent can be obtained is to apply for an one-off exemption to put up a tent or tents.   Decisions about such exemptions are, under the Park’s procedures supposed to be advertised on the Park’s weekly planning list which I have been monitoring for some time now.    Most of the applications are from Duke of Edinburgh and Scout Groups, with hard-pressed voluntary Scout Leaders and teachers,  no longer able to organise expeditions which stay overnight in the camping management zones without the Park’s permission.   The bureaucracy and additional workload is signficant and I feel for the (mainly youth) groups involved.  They were, just like other responsible campers, never part of any problem – indeed being supervised, the chances of such expeditions causing any damage were minimal – but nevertheless the Park has required them to apply for permission to camp.

 

I tend to recall applications from other bodies for exemption from the camping byelaws – that from the Loch Ard Sailing club comes to mind – but don’t remember seeing one for the Luss Highland Games.    I have double-checked all planning applications decided for the Luss and Arden Community Council since April on the Park’s planning portal and cannot find any appllcation to exempt the Luss Gathering either.  I am thus reasonably certain that the Luss Gathering did not apply for and were not granted permission to pitch the tents that feature on the photo above.   If I am correct,  all those responsible in putting up these tents have committed a criminal offence.   Ridiculous I know, as common sense tells us that these people have done no wrong.

 

But neither has Mr Trout, the angler who is being prosecuted simply because he broke the byelaws for doing what he has done for years (see here), just like the people who organise the Luss Gathering.  Neither has done any wrong.  Mr Trout told me that the police officer employed by the National Park, PC Barr, when cautioning him, had told him the law is the law and has to be enforced.  It would be interesting to know how many events PC Barr or other police officers have attended over the summer – I cannot believe that there was no police presence at the Luss Gathering – and what action they have taken.  My guess is none but I would be more than happy to publish information from the police or the LLTNPA if I have got this wrong..

 

The camping byelaws are daft but since during the Your Park consultation both Luss Estates and  members of the local community in Luss strongly supported them, there is an argument they should be made to live by the rules they have created for everyone else.   I would prefer it if they now joined those of us who believe the camping byelaws were never justified, are completely unfair and a complete waste of resources and call publicly for them to be dropped at the earliest opportunity.

 

Meantime, there was a helpful reminder of the real problems which the National Park Authority should have been addressing at Luss in this letter which appeared in the Herald on Monday.   It is significant that it is from someone who is in the tourism industry.   The new National Park Partnership Plan needs to completely change the focus of what the Park is doing, from wasting money and resources on trying to chase off responsible campers to the provision of the basic infrastructure the Park needs.

 

 

 

July 26, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Abandoned campsite at Firbush Point, Loch Tay just outside the National Park, 30th May                      Photo Credit Stephen Campbell

Dear Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority,

It was stated at your June Board Meeting that there was evidence that fewer campsites are being abandoned in the National Park since the byelaws came into force.   The Your Park consultation never analysed how many campers abandoned tents – my guesstimate is 1%  – so I am not sure what data you have on which to base this claim, but even if the byelaws have had an effect, they may just be displacing this problem elsewhere to Councils who have far fewer resources than you do to clear up the mess.   We don’t ban driving in one area, just because some drivers toss litter out of the window, so why are you trying to ban campers from specific areas because of the actions of the few?

July 25, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
Open fishing shelter. Mr Trout’s dog can be seen to right of stove. He is a joiner and brings his wood for the stove.

The “enforcement” of the camping byelaws

 

Over the last couple of months its become clear that the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park’s Ranger service are not referring anyone to the Procurator Fiscal for breach of the byelaws.  On the one hand this is because the byelaws are almost impossible to enforce against campervans, on the other because current  parkspin is that the National Park is not against campers.   If the Park were to refer a camper, camping according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, to the Procurator Fiscal that would be a public relations disaster.    The  LLTNPA therefore appear to have agreed to leave referrals to the PF to the police, including the police officer seconded to the Park and whom they employ.

 

The good news about this therefore is that if campers simply ignore the permit zones and go camping, there appears little immediate risk of prosecution.  The worst that is likely to happen is the Rangers will threaten to call the police and if the police do come out – they normally have better things to do than harassing innocent campers – there is some evidence that they are likely to give you another chance to leave.    For the confident overnight camper therefore there are indications that the camping byelaws have lost their bite.    The LLTNPA though is relying on the fear factor – the fear of a £500 fine and criminal record – to deter campers.  Once this goes, the byelaws will be close to collapse.

 

Anglers and the byelaws

 

The position of anglers however is very different because they tend to stay in one spot for day after day. In fact the whole camping byelaw system appears to have been designed to prevent people from fishing in the way they used to, pitching a tent on the loch shores for a few nights or more.  To illustrate this I will consider the case of an angler, who I will call Mr Trout,  because that is his passion, who has been summonsed to appear in Court for allegedly occupying a shelter in breach of the camping byelaws.

 

The byelaws make it an offence to:

 

Mr Trout has been fishing on Loch Earn for 15 years and when I say fishing, we are talking about serious fishing, where he stays up all night (because that is the best time to catch ferox trout) through wind and rain for a period of several weeks each year.  Its what he did on his holidays and he has been going from the 15th March each year.   It sounds just as tough as being tied to a belay in winter and waiting while your mate negotiates their way inch by inch up the next pitch.   Anyway, what he used to do, with the agreement of the estate who sold him the fishing permit, was pitch his tent close to the shore and retreat there to keep warm overnight and then sleep in the day.  It also meant he could keep an eye on his (expensive) tent while fishing.

 

The place he wants to fish – he has been going to the same place for 15 years – is not in a permit zone but, even if it was, that would be little help to him because he fishes for at least a week at a time and the permits create a new offence of returning to a permit zone after three nights (the wording makes it an offence for you to walk back into the zone after the third night, in other words the LLTNPA have criminalised access and not just camping).  Further, when he asked the LLTNPA, they told him they could not guarantee the safety of his tent when it was unattended.  This does not surprise me but splitting people from their tents is just another petty and stupid consequence of the byelaws.

 

This impact on anglers was well put by Drummond Estates, which own the north shore of Loch Earn where Mr Trout fishes, in their response to the Your Park consultation, a response with the LLTNPA ignored:

Mr Trout’s response to the camping byelaws

This year, instead of camping where he normally did, Mr Trout found a place to pitch his tent just outside the camping management zone which was hidden from general view.  He was able to go there during the day to sleep.   Inconvenient, but just about manageable because the camping management zone along Loch Earn is quite narrow.    His difficulty, however, was how to keep himself, and his dog which accompanied him on all his trips, warm at night while fishing.    Unlike some other anglers he does not have a van – and one of the anomalies of the byelaws is if he had a van and been able to drive it onto the beach below, he could have quite lawfully sheltered in that (the offence is to go to sleep in a van off the road network).

 

After discussion with Rangers he was told it was acceptable to put up an open shelter so that is what he did:

When is a shelter not a shelter? The Rangers very sensibly said this was acceptable.

However, this was of limited use in the rain and wind and he then put up a shelter, the sort of shelter which, if used by fisheries scientists working at night, might be called personal protective equipment (see top photo).    Many fishermen have such shelters and prior to the byelaws would retreat to these while fully clothed to get warm.   The camping byelaws made this an offence – its an offence to occupy a shelter.  That provision of the byelaws was  specifically targetted at anglers, as they form the vast majority of people who shelters rather than tents. Hence the response from Drummond Estates to the camping byelaw consultation.

Mr Trout cleared up the site every morning after using it (its his saw and bag in background)

In early April, Mr Trout came to the attention of the Park’s police officer, PC Barr.   Unlike the Rangers, who had been prepared to be flexible, the Park’s police officer was not, told him the shelter had to be removed and, according to Mr Trout, suggested he buy an open sided umbrella (which is allowed under the byelaws).   That’s not much use for keeping people or a dog warm.  The police then came back the next night and charged him for occupying a shelter.

 

Now, you might think, Mr Trout was given a warning – and the fact he was suggests the risk of people who stay only one night being charged is very low – so he got what he deserved.

 

I see it another way.  Mr Trout was standing up for his right to fish, for the rights of all anglers, and if found guilty, the rights of a whole section of the population to enjoy their activity (which they pay for) will have been removed.  That the police are pursuing people like this seems to me a complete waste of police resources.   Indeed, one wonders if the police would ever pursue cases like this unless one of their number, PC Barr, was employed by the National Park Authority.    Anglers are, pardon the phrase, sitting ducks when faced with people determined to enforce the byelaws.

 

The LLTNPA appears to be prejudiced against anglers.  What they have done is lumped together two groups of people, serious anglers who care about and are extremely knowledgeable about the countryside (they have to be to catch fish) and groups of people who may have fishing rods but whose main intention is to party.  I have talked to a water bailiff about this who says the people who have fishing permits are not the problem.  They often, like Mr Trout, visit the same places year after year and have good relationships with the bailiffs (who are also fisherman).  By contrast the people who leave rubbish and party and come under anti-social behaviour legislation are unlikely to have fishing permits.  The Park though, instead of joining forces with the water bailiffs  – and unlike Rangers water bailiffs have significant powers, include powers of arrest  – has ignored.

 

Instead of prosecuting responsible anglers, or anyone else who camps according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code for that matter, the Park should have been engaging with those people and using them as allies to tackle the few people who do behave irresponsibly.   Mr Trout is due to go to court in August and it will be interesting to see what happens.   The outcome will have wide significance for everyone who wants to be able to enjoy the countryside responsibly.   Apart from the specifics of the case, prosecuting responsible anglers is I believe in breach of the Park’s statutory duty to promote public enjoyment and understanding of the countyside.

July 17, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Zone C Firkin Point

Last week, following Rob Edwards’ article and my coverage of the collapse of the camping byelaws (see here) I was asked to do an interview for BBC Alba news.   Quite a privilege since I speak not a word of Gaelic, although I have a passing knowledge of Gaelic place names.    It should appear sometime after 8pm on Monday (sorry I will not be able to give the link because I will be out the country).

 

I showed the reporter, Iain MacDiarmaid, three of the camping zones at Firkin Point.  Iain had camped before and there was no need for me to try putting my tent up on the pebbly beach called Zone C.  A lovely Asian family who visit here quite often then came up to us and within two minutes had said the beach is often underwater.  Great place to picnic though!

Zone B is more sloping than it appears and the only vaguely flat area is at the top

There was a tent pitched at the top of Zone B, so I asked the people who were sitting at the top bench if it was their tent and whether they had a permit   I could not have hoped for a better response.  The man said this was the only campable pitch at Firkin but was sloping and pointed to the boggy ground at the entrance of his tent.   He then said if you think the Zone C beach is bad, try camping at Zone D before explaining how he was from Balloch and all this National Park was intent on doing was stopping local people from doing things they had always enjoyed in the places they wanted.  Unfortunately, he declined to appear on camera – it would have made a far better interview than anything I have done but he did make my job a lot lot easier.

 

There are some lessons here I think for the Park Board.   If they got out and talked to real people, the people who love the area and whose idea of happiness is to be enjoying the lochside, whether in the tent or having a picnic, they would soon realise that there was something very very wrong with the Board Report at the last meeting which said 85% of people would recommend camping in a permit area.  It simply doesn’t fit with what people are saying.  What’s more if they just went and took a look for themselves they would realise much of the spin which is being issued on their behalf couldn’t be true either.

July 14, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
A road to nowhere? How would anyone know that this road led to the former Tarbert Isle campervan area and still existing tent permit area? There are no signs

Following my posts on the unlawful application of the camping byelaws to campervans (see here)  this week I took a look at the Tarbet Isle permit area.   This is one of the areas where the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority has refunded campervanners who had purchased permits – an admission that they had done so unlawfully.

The signage – now redundant – only appears when you reach the edge of the so-called permit area

The first thing that strikes you about the area is there is no signage to it (see photo above) from the main road.   If you  are travelling north along the A82 from Tarbet, you might just notice the track up to the left, but there is nothing to tell the anyone who has heard of the byelaws and knows that the Park is trying to force people to stay in permit areas, that you could stay – or have stayed in the case of campervanners – without fear of prosecution.    In fact there is no signage to any of the permit areas along the A82.   While that was a failure in terms of the byelaws, its a welcome failure as if people don’t know where the permit areas are, its almost impossible to stop them from stopping off somewhere else.  Its a failure the Park would be best not trying to remedy, otherwise its likely to waste yet more money on signs, such as that at Tarbet Isle, which then become redundant (left).

At least at Tarbet Isle the former gates across the track have been removed.   Why Forestry Commission Scotland has no gates at Tarbet Isle but has gates and locks them at Forest Drive is a mystery.    Perhaps its to prevent a right of passage being created?   You only have a right under the byelaws to sleep overnight on roads where there is a right of passage.

The former campervan permit area, where you can now once more stay for free, is hardly inspiring, the sort of high quality experience the Park says it wants to promote for visitors, but its ok.  Its big pluses are its flat and being slightly above the road its much quieter than by the lochshores.   There are no views and no facilities and some people might feel a bit vulnerable here.

I suspect most campervanners, like most people, would prefer to stop off by the loch shore even because it is noisier because it has great views and the bumpy shoreline is very interesting.  It feels like you are in a National Park – the campervan permit area could have been almost anywhere.

The map of the permit area (close up above) shows the former campervan permit area by a dotted red line, the wider permit areas in dark green and the flatter part of the permit area in light green.  The path by the sign, marks the boundary, and shosw just how steep and tree covered much of the permit area is.   Why the Park spent lots of money delimiting wider permit areas where it is absolutely impossible to camp I am not sure.   Maybe though this wider area is where people can sleep in hammocks slung between trees without committing an offence so long as they pay £3 for the privilege?

 

Its a good five minute walk through the permit area before you reach anywhere you could possibly consider camping.   That’s not much good for cycle tourers or canoeists, worried about being prosecuted for camping by the road or on the lochshores.  The woodland was lovely in the sun but sloping and covered in vegetation, again unsuitable for camping

There was one obvious camping area, which had been used by campers, and where some kind person – possibly from FCS – had left a couple of logs.   Highly commendable.  There was no obvious source of water though and so to me, while its good the potential for camping up in the woods here is being advertised, this should not be seen as compensation for banning  people from camping on the lochshores.   I am awaiting the breakdown of the Park’s statistics (which show numbers of tents booked on West Loch Lomond but not by permit area) but I suspect the demand for camping here will not be high.

What is the justification for the remaining campervan permit areas?

The LLTNPA and FCS need to explain why they still trying to charge campervans for staying at Forest Drive – indeed they have increased the number of permits for campervans there – while dropping permits at Tarbet Isle.

The LLTNPA also needs to explain why its now saying campervans can stop off in the parking area at the end of the short forest road at Tarbert Isle but to do so without a permit at the similar turning area at Firkin Point is still according to them a criminal offence.

The campervan permit places at Firkin Point are in the no parking area – which raises more legal questions than I care to cover here!

Tarbet Isle provides more evidence, as if more was needed, that the legal basis for the decisions made by LLTNPA staff need to be made public.

July 11, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Following my post on the unlawful application of the camping byelaws to campervans (see here), Rob Edwards’ excellent article in the Sunday Herald (I have an interest!) prompted an interesting piece http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2017/07/10/wild-land/ from Mike Small which is well worth reading:

 

“Scotland’s divorce from nature is intimately connected to its divorce from land. But whilst we struggle to overcome the engrained iniquity of land ownership we can do something about access to land. From the country that gave the world John Muir the shambles of the national park is pretty depressing”

 

What has been happening in the National Park though is more than a shambles, its been a deliberate attempt to exclude people from an area which was made a National Park in order to enable people, primarily from the Glasgow conurbation and many of whom have little money, to enjoy the countryside.   That was an old socialist aspiration.  Its not a coincidence that the same post-war Labour Government that created the NHS also passed the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.     The camping byelaws, which are only part of a much wider attempt to make the National Park a socially exclusive zone, are now unravelling partly due to incompetence but also because, thankfully, other public authorities have respected people’s rights.  In this case the key right is that of people to sleep overnight in a vehicle on the road network.

 

The LLTNPA’s record on developing the byelaws and the right to stay overnight in vehicles

 

Rob Edwards obtained from the Park a very interesting explanation for its U-turn on campervans, which once again demonstrates the rotten governance that has been at the heart of how the byelaws have been developed.

 

“The park authority pointed out that caravaners staying weeks or months on two old stretches of road by Loch Earn had damaged the park’s unique environment.  “Our clear legal advice was that they weren’t part of the formal road network and that the issue could be addressed with bylaws” said the authority’s chief executive, Gordon Watson”.

 

I was surprised at this claim because if Gordon Watson or the Park’s lawyer had asked Transport Scotland – the body responsible for the trunk road network  –  they would have known that the laybys on the A85 along the north side of the Loch Earn were part of the formal road network and therefore under the byelaws as approved by the LLTNPA Board and Minister, people could sleep there in vehicles.     Transport Scotland provided me with a list of all trunk road laybys LL&T National Park Lay-Bys they were responsible for in December 2016.  Here is the extract for the A85 along the north shore of Long Earn:

While I have not converted the references from eastings and northings to grid references I am fairly confident they include all the laybys along Loch Earn where encampments used to take place

Maybe, however, the Park’s lawyer knew something Transport Scotland didn’t?   Its quite clear though that other LLTNPA staff did not know either because, as late as summer 2016, a year after the byelaws were approved by the Board in April 2015, staff were asking Transport Scotland which laybys were part of the formal road network:

(You can read the full correspondence – I am grateful to Transport Scotland for co-operating with my FOI request – here, here and here)

Note, how Carlo DEmidio, the senior manager appointed to improve the Park’s project management (and who has since left the Park) did not know either which laybys were official – perhaps he did not have access to the legal advice provided to his Chief Executive? – and his statement “We just need something that we can use to justify our position when it comes to enforcement and signage”.   That does not sound like a Park Authority following legal advice, that sounds more like a Park Authority hell bent on banning campervans whatever the legal advice.

 

Unfortunately, it may be very difficult to find out the truth on this because legal advice is privileged and exempt from Freedom of Information rules.  Whatever the legal advice the Board had prior to approving the byelaws, once Park staff found out that the laybys on North Loch Earn were part of the public roads network, they should have advised the Board.

 

Instead what appears to have happened is that Park staff, without reference to the Board or apparently the Scottish Government (see here), changed the wording of the camping byelaws.  Now under English Law, significant changes to byelaws would normally require further public consultation before going back to the Board for approval but in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park none of this happened.     In my view that leaves the legality of the entire byelaws open to question but they key point here is the changes, which were significant, made it even more difficult for the Park to ban people from staying overnight in vehicles.

 

This is because the original version of the byelaws only allowed people to sleep overnight in vehicles on public roads:

 

(7) No person shall sleep overnight in a stationary vehicle within a Management Zone unless:

(a) they have been authorised to do so by the Authority under byelaw 12; or

(b) the vehicle is on a public road and such activity is not prohibited by the relevant roads

authority.

 

The key term here is “public road” which was defined to mean:

 

“(i) a road or any part thereof which a roads authority has a duty to maintain; (ii) a layby bounded partly by the outer edge of any such road; or (iii) any public car park provided by or on behalf of a roads authority. “  

 

You can see from this why it was so important to work out which laybys on north Loch Earn among other places were part of the public roads network and which not.

 

In the version of the byelaws which was published in November 2016, however, just over three months before they were implemented, the terms “public road” and “roads authority” had been dropped and replaced by the term “road”.   This was defined to mean “a road for the purposes of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984” and this inadvertently  changed the whole scope of the exemption in the byelaws which allowed people to sleep in vehicles.   This is because under the Roads Traffic Scotland Act  a road is defined to mean any road over which there is a right of passage, private or public.    It gave campervans a legal right under the byelaws to stay on anything that looked like a road (such as forest tracks), including its verge, in the camping management zones.  Hence why the Park has refunded people who bought permits not just on the public road network at Loch Earn, but also in permit areas created on what appears to be a private road at Tarbert.

 

What needs to be done

 

The Park in its response to Rob Edwards was trying to hide behind legal advice in order to defend its unlawful attempt to charge people in campervans for staying overnight on the road network but also to save face with local communities:  I am sure St Fillans Community Council will be dismayed.  Having been told the byelaws could prevent encampments in laybys, its now clear they did not know what they were talking about and that the whole justification for the byelaws has been a con.

 

Its worse than that though.   Perhaps Park staff could explain on what legal advice they had decided to allow caravans to stop off overnight in laybys in the camping management zones while still trying to ban campervans?  The definition of “vehicle” remained unchanged between the two versions of the camping byelaws and clearly included campervans: ” “vehicle” means a mechanically-propelled vehicle or a vehicle designed or adapted for towing by a mechanically-propelled vehicle”.  I doubt any lawyer would have made a distinction between campervans and caravans and my conclusion is the staff having been making up the implementation of the byelaws as they go along. Acting beyond their powers.  Dave Morris, for it was he, was right to call for Scottish Ministers to investigate.

 

The LLTNPA Board now needs to issue a clear statement of whether the camping byelaws still apply to people sleeping in vehicles and if so, in what circumstances people could be prosecuted.   My own view is that they should clearly state that no-one who is abiding by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, whether in a campervan or tent, will be prosecuted.  As importantly the Board also needs to  re-affirm that a primary purpose of the National Park is to enable people to enjoy the countryside and that overnight stays in tents and campervans are an essential part of this right.  It should then get on with providing the facilities that campervanners and caravanners need rather than wasting more resources enforcing the unenforceable.

July 5, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
The Park has now admitted its attempts to charge campervans at Loch Earn North were unlawful. Earlier in the year (see here), the Park was insisting that campervans required a permit to stay the night when caravans could stay free
The email sent to campervanners stating that their permit fees would be refunded

Following its new release last week (see here) announcing that it was no longer going to apply the camping byelaws to campervans and caravans in laybys, the  Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority has accepted it acted unlawfully by  trying to charge campervans for staying overnight on the road network by offering refunds to those who bought permits (see left).

 

Its not a direct admission – the “Due to operational changes” at the start of the email had a lawyer friend choking over their porridge – but that its an admission is clear from the liability section in the Terms and Conditions which the Park issues with every permit:

In the event that the Park Authority has any liability to you in contract, delict (including negligence) or otherwise in relation to your use of a permit or pitch or otherwise, it is limited to the amount of the booking paid to the Park Authority only
.
To the fullest extent permissible in law, the Park Authority does not accept and shall not have any liability or responsibility of whatever nature for any damage, loss, injury, claim, expense, cost or liability of whatever nature and howsoever arising, whether to person or property, which you may suffer or incur within or as a consequence of the use of the permit area or pitch.

 

This liability clause was developed after parkswatch suggested that campers who purchased permits and then found the camping permit areas uncampable should claim compensation.   It was an attempt by the LLTNPA to avoid and limit liability.   The converse of this is that the re-imbursement of permit fees is a clear admission of liability, the LLTNPA has acted outwith their powers or as Dave Morris put it in a fine letter to the Herald this week “acting unlawfully by extracting payment for camping permits in some laybys or falsely claiming it would be a criminal offence to stop off in other laybys”.

 

You will note NO apology has been issued to the people who have been wrongly charged.  The only time I have know this Park Authority to apologise was when it was forced to do so by the Information Commissioner for failing to declare all the information it held about 10 of the 13 secret Board Meetings which developed the byelaws Compliance with Decision Notice 209-2016 Response letter.   My advice to any campervanner who has been wrongly charged is to submit a complaint about this and take this to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman if necessary.

 

The wider impact of the unlawful application of the byelaws

The LLTNPA has only admitted responsibility in cases where it wrongly charged campervanners for permits.  It has said nothing to all the campervanners who may have heard about the byelaws and been deterred from visiting the Park (the camping strategy only created 20 permit places for campervans in the whole of the National Park and while this was increased slightly it was way below what was needed).   It has said nothing to all the campervanners who stopped off in laybys anyway but whose stay was marred by the fear of potential criminal prosecution.

 

The LLTNPA has also tried to hide the truth from Local Communities and stakeholders in the “Your Park Update” its Director of Conservation, Simon Jones, issued on 30th June June Community Council Update.   Its worth reading the extract for another lesson in our the Park Authority is trying to use parkspin and parkspeak to conceal the truth:

Contrast this with the Park’s news release on 26/1/16 announcing that the byelaws “will also prevent inappropriate use of public laybys as encampments by caravans and campervans”.   The LLTNPA had used this claim to win local support for the byelaws (which many local communities in fairness were sceptical about) and then used the claim of high levels of local support to persuade politicians that the camping byelaws were needed and justified.  That whole edifice has now collapsed.

 

The third bullet says it all, camping byelaws are not needed to deal with encampment or anti-social behaviour, both are matters for the police.

 

“As our communities know…..” – how patronising is that?  The St Fillans Community were, for over ten years, asking for action to be taken over encampments in laybys and nothing happened.  Indeed the LLTNPA had even failed to record encampments so these could be reported to the police (I know because I asked under FOI and the Park said it collected no information on encampments).  Nothing appears to have changed: its still not offering to monitor laybys for encampments although its Rangers pass these laybys every day on patrol and are in a much better position than either local communities and the police to collect and record this information as a basis for police action.    This LLTNPA had its eyes and ears closed and appears incapable of working in partnership with other organisations.

 

The campervan byelaw debacle is a serious case of public maladministration.   The LLTNPA have a duty to hold the Park’s Chief Executive, Gordon Watson, to account and a full public apology is required.

 

The legal questions that remain

 

The LLTNPA has not re-imbursed all campervanners for the permits they purchased.   People who bought permits to stay at Firkin Point, Inveruglas and Forest Drive are not being re-imbursed and the Park is still trying to charge people for permits in these areas.  I think they need to explain publicly the legal basis for this decision.

This sign, at the start of the road to Firkin Point, claimed there was no right of passage between 7pm and 7am. It has now been removed following questions I asked about the Park’s right to remove a public right of passage: another example of the Park acting ultra vires.

Under the byelaws, its not an offence to sleep overnight in a vehicle (which legally includes a  caravan, campervan or car) if this is on a road.   A road is defined as having the same meaning as in the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984.  This means that under the byelaws, as approved, people can sleep overnight in vehicles  all public roads and private roads over which there is a right of passage and on the associated verges and laybys (as the legal definition of a road includes its verge).    This is the reason why the Park has had to backtrack on trying to charge people for staying on the public road network.

The campervan permit area at Inveruglas is at the edge of what appears to be a road through the site. Why then do people not have a right to stay here overnight for free?
The new signs at Firkin, Forest Drive and Inveruglas.

What is the difference though between Tarbert Isle, where the Park is reimbursing campervanners for purchasing permits, and nearby Inveruglas or Firkin Point, where they are still trying to extract payments from campervanners?

The permit area at Tarbert Isle was at the end of a private road, just like Firkin Point (see above).   Moreover,  the LLTNPA has now replaced the signs at Firkin, Inveruglas and Forest Drive saying there was no right of passage for vehicles there between 7am and 7pm with the sign on the left.  The Park therefore has retreated from its claim there was no right of vehicular passage in these places but is still trying to charge people when, if there is a vehicular right of passage, people can stay for free.

 

The problem for the LLTNPA is unless its hiding the information it appears it does not know where vehicular rights of passage exist and where they don’t   EIR 2017-029 Response and EIR 2017-030 Review Response private roads.  (I say “unless its hiding the information” because the review failed to answer my question:  “to confirm whether the LLTNPA holds any information relating to whether or not there is a public right of passage on any private road within the National Park boundary and if so to provide this to me.” – I will appeal).   Unless it can show there is no vehicular right of passage it would still appear to be acting unlawfully in trying to force campervans to apply for permits at Firkin Point, Inveruglas and Forest Drive.

 

What needs to be done to sort out this mess?

 

Instead of trying to charge people in vehicles for staying overnight on its land – which in effect is what its trying to do at Inveruglas and Firkin Point and is part of a much wider attempt to charge anyone stopping off in its car parks – the LLTNPA should only charge where it provides proper facilities.  It would be fine for example for it to charge campervans to stay at the Loch Chon campsite – though at present the Park is still trying to ban campervans from staying there, a completely senseless decision – because there are toilets, places to wash and bins.    The problem is its trying to charge Campervans (and campers) for staying at Inveruglas where there are no facilities outside shop opening hours and at Firkin Point where these is a toilet but nothing else and that toilet was closed for the month of March.

 

What the LLTNPA needs to do is open up the toilets at both Firkin and Inveruglas 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, make drinking water available and preferably add chemical disposal points.    There would then be a clear justification for charging campervans in these places.  The same would apply once proper facilities are provided at Forest Drive or anywhere else.     The problem is the LLTNPA appears to have no plans to do this – there was nothing about improving infrastructure for campervans in the National Park Partnership Plan consultation which closed on Monday (see here).

 

Exactly the same arguments apply to charging campers.   If there are no facilities, there should be no charges.  The Park’s statement in its update to local communities that “camping permit areas for tents adjacent to some loch shore laybys are unaffected” is morally indefensible.

 

I am confident that the whole byelaw edifice will collapse in due course.  There was never any justification for them and Gordon Watson’s claim they were needed to control numbers of visitors has been exposed as false now that the LLTNPA is no longer trying to control campervan numbers.  The LLTNPA Board will, if it has any sense, apologise for the mess created under the “leadership” of former convener Linda McKay and instruct its staff to change direction now.