Tag: Development Plan

Thanks to the reader who submitted this to Parkswatch

The chaos at Luss (see here) on the first weekend in May, was experienced at several other visitor hotspots in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, but most notably and predictably at Balmaha.  The LLTNPA has an opportunity to reflect on what happened when its Planning Committee considers draft Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) for Buchanan South  (see here) at its meeting today.  The SPG is also very relevant to the controversial proposed housing development in the Balmaha Plantation (see here).   This post considers whether the new SPG will help address the issues at Balmaha in a way fitting for a National Park.

 

There are strict rules on what can be included in Supplementary Planning Guidance, which can only expand on, not change Development Plans.

What the LLTNPA Development Plan, approved by the Scottish Government earlier this year,  proposed for Balmaha (see above)  was however extremely vague.   It allowed considerable scope therefore for the Supplementary Planning Guidance to draw on the Park’s policies, and explain how these would be applied to the area.

SPG map

In the event the SPG only covers three of the policies set out in the Development Plan, Housing, Economic Development and Visitor Experience.   The reason for this is not explained but the SPG  does not cover over policy areas which are very relevant to Balmaha such as Transport and Natural Environment, the village being bordered  by the Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve and the Highland Boundary fault.

 

Visitors and visitor management at Balmaha

 

While Balmaha is not readily accessible, it is the easiest place to get to on the east shores of Loch Lomond and, with Conic Hill providing one of the best viewpoints in Scotland for a hill of its size and with the West Highland Way providing a walk along the loch shore, its not surprising the village is a popular tourist destination.    With a poor bus service most people arrive by car.  With just a hundred odd places in the carpark, and the road north of the village designated a clearway, its hardly surprising that cars overwhelm the village on sunny weekends and bank holidays.

The Park has recognised this in its new draft National Park Partnership Plan (above), which rightly states the “the road network can become very busy at peak times” but then in usual fashion partly blames this on visitors “problems can be exacerbated by illegal and irresponsible parking of vehicles”.  Actually, this “problem”  is what the LLTNPA was set up to address and its challenge I would suggest (its not easy) is the provision of infrastructure to support visitors, including alternative means of transport to get to popular places like Balmaha.

 

The Supplementary Planning Guidance, disappointingly, says almost nothing about this.

SPG diagram

 

There is a reference to improving water transport (light blue arrow) and the Sustrans cycle path (dark blue arrow) but nothing on how the issue of too many cars for too few car parking places with no alternatives will be addressed.  For once I agree with Gordon Watson, the LLTNPA Chief Executive, who stated to the Stirling Observer that “additional overflow” car parking places are  required.  Such provision used to be available.  A farmer opened up a field to provide for parking but was given no support to manage this – people set up tents to stay the weekend – so stopped doing so.   This is the obvious solution, one that is used successfully in England’s National Parks, and one that should be revived, but there is no mention of this in the SPG.   I suspect this is because it would require resources from the LLTNPA (such as its Rangers helping to manage traffic rather than spending time chasing away innocent campers).

 

The lack of join up with the East Loch Lomond Visitor Management Plan 2014-19 – which the SPG interestingly refers to as “draft” even though it is published – is glaring.  That plan recognised the pattern of visitor pressure and committed to:

 

Establish a multi-agency peak period management regime that puts in place procedures for staff across organisations
 
 That commitment appears to have been abandoned.  Why?  And who decided this?
 
Meantime, the transport policies in the approved National Park Development Plan would appear not to be worth the paper they are written on:
 
 “Land will be safeguarded for, and support will be given to, the transport infrastructure proposals identified within Town or Village proposals maps”
 
 and:
 
 “Modal change from private car to more sustainable transport modes within settlements including the provision of integrated new or improved transport infrastructure,”

The SPG contains no hint of this vision, or of the aspiration of  past plans, yet alone how land might be used to achieve this.   Another opportunity to make things happen, make things better, lost.   It should not be difficult.  On the continent many places, not just National Parks, use school transport at weekends and holidays to provide public transport to rural areas for visitors.   Balmaha and east Loch Lomond is an obvious place to start given the road is not a through route.

 

The SPG contains almost nothing outdoor recreation in its broadest sense, the reason most people visit Balmaha in the first place – what the Park calls “Visitor Experience”.    This is illustrated by the Balmaha strategic principles diagram  (above) which includes nothing about how, once people have parked their cars in the car park, they leave the village.   The green lines on the diagram indicate views to the Loch should be maintained but nothing about how people might access the loch shore and the National Nature Reserve, which is supposed to be a place people can enjoy nature.  There is no obvious way to access this at present.  The thinking of the LLTNPA appears to have gone backwards since the proposal, several years ago, to create a path along the loch shore south of the village (abandoned I understand because the ground is very boggy).   To the north, the West Highland Way to Rowardennan offers brilliant walking but with no way to get back unless you are prepared to retrace your steps or go the full way and try your luck with a waterbus.    A hop on hop off shuttle bus would open up the West Highland Way for far more people to enjoy.

 

There is also nothing about the lack of camping provision, the major issue being backpackers along the West Highland Way have nowhere to stop off at the natural stopping off point of Balmaha because of the camping management zone.   This is the National Park’s welcome to walkers who come from all over the world.  The LLTNPA in response to comments on the draft Development Plan saying a campsite was needed at Balmaha, indicated that there was nothing in the Plan to prevent this:  the failure of the LLTNPA even to mention the need for a campsite in the SPG tells you I think that the LLTNPA has no intention ever of trying to make this happen.  There is an obvious place for this:  the former playing field, marked development site, within the pink circle in the diagram above and adjacent to where the West Highland Way enters the car park.

 

Developments in Balmaha

 

The focus of the Supplementary Guidance is on the LLTNPA’s Housing and Economic Development Policies which I believe confuses rather than clarifies matters:

 

New development within Balmaha should reinforce its existing development pattern and be of appropriate (generally small) scale.

 

What the LLTNPA means by “small-scale” however is not the same as what most people would understand by the term:

 

All new development should be of appropriate scale. It will be site dependant but generaIly groupings of 3-8 dwellings should be the most easy to set comfortably in more open landscape. Small groupings should be based on existing development patterns where one (generally larger) property faces onto the road, with other smaller properties behind. If there is a need for larger development (i.e. more than 5 houses) it should be divided by robust landscaping and areas of open land to reduce the impact of development

 

The Strategic Principles diagram above includes some grey lines on either side of the road (the dark blue line with arrows), increasing in density as they approach the centre of the village.    This looks like the LLTNPA is proposing to allow ribbon development either side of the road even though this was not part of the Development Plan.   This would explain why, unlike other settlements, the LLTNPA has not demarcated the village boundary.   It also could explain why the people who I understand are the two main landowners, the Duke of Montrose and Sandy Fraser of the Oak Tree Inn, responded so positively to the draft Supplementary Guidance (see here) about opportunities for development.

 

The clarifications in the Supplementary Planning Guidance that the LLTNPA will  allow more new build at Balmaha raises questions about why the Balmaha Plantation site (which is still waiting to go to Committee) ever needed to be earmarked for affordable housing.   LLTNPA’s recently approved policy on Housing in small rural developments is that  “Development on these sites should provide for 100% affordable housing”, so by allowing more housing at Balmaha, the need for affordable homes could be met without destroying what appears to be an area of ancient woodland.   Except that, in Balmaha the SPG now qualifies that Park Policy: “Some open market housing will be supported where this is demonstrated as necessary to help fund the provision of affordable housing on site.”    I expect the landowners will claim they can afford to construct very little affordable housing and that therefore the Balmaha Plantation site is still needed while very little affordable housing will be provided along the ribbon development.   The effect of the SPG therefore will be to reinforce the current trends towards social segregation of people and housing in Balmaha.

 

Setting aside the question of how else to provide affordable housing, the Balmaha plantation proposal still appears to be a glaring anomaly within the context of the Development Plan and SPG.    The SPG fails to refer to the LLTNPA’s Natural Environment policies – a chance to explain the claim, made by some, that the plantation is not really an Ancient Woodland site.  It also fails to explain how the size and density of the Balmaha Plantation proposal fits with the definition of the type of small scale development the SPG wishes to see in the area, 16 rather than 3-8 units, with density decreasing as you move away from the village centre.

 

What needs to happen

 

The LLTNPA needs to start joining up its various plans and to start implementing actions it proposed to do in the past but has since, without explanation, abandoned.

 

The LLTNPA needs to revive the east Loch Lomond Visitor Management Group (which did not meet last year) but make this both representative  (recreational organisations were not included) and accountable (it is not clear who signed off or agreed the last plan and the LLTNPA failed to provide any resources to make it happen).

 

The LLTNPA needs to start implementing its development plan policies on a consistent basis, rather than changing them so soon after they were adopted.   If the LLTNPA won’t abide by its own planning policies, there is no reason why anyone else should.

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

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

 

The positives

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Private interests and the public interest

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

This raises two questions.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

The site of the former Highland Way hotel

Luxury Lodge in construction November 2016

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Oak Tree Inn

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

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

 

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

 

Balmaha Waterfront

 

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

 

The cumulative impact of “luxury” tourist accommodation in Balmaha

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Balmaha – a tale of developing social segregation and exclusion

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Looking from An Camas Mor to Lairig Ghru – photo credit Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group

By Save the Cairngorms Campaign

In 2014, the CNPA gave planning approval for what is, in effect, a new town of 1500 houses in the National Park. The site on the east side of the River Spey opposite Aviemore, is owned by John Grant of Rothiemurchus and is land of high conservation and landscape value.  This development would double the population of Aviemore which is currently around 2800.

An Camas Mor from Craigellachie National Nature Reserve. Photo montage Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Outline of site from the Cairngorms National Park Authority Committee Report which led to the approval of the original planning application

The An Camas Mor proposal is nothing if not controversial. All the more reason you would think for the developers (An Camas Mor Limited Liability Partnership) behind the project to ensure that the planning conditions attached to the permission in principle (PIP) granted in March 2014 are complied with.

 

The very nature of the PIP is that it was subject to conditions requiring the applicant to submit various details for approval by the CNPA within three years of the permission. As only the principle of development is established by a PIP, the details requiring further approval are comprehensive and fundamental, dealing with issues such as phasing, layout, design, access, landscape and ecology.

 

Yet, three years after the PIP was granted, none of the details subject to the conditions have been approved. Only one such application was made to the CNPA but had to be withdrawn because it was so inadequate. As a result the PIP has now lapsed and can no longer be implemented because the further applications required by the conditions have not been made within the statutory time period.

 

The spokesperson for the An Camas Mor LLP claimed to have been working hard on the proposal yet the developer had submitted none of the detailed plans required until the very last moment before planning permission lapsed.

Time limits on planning permissions are imposed for good reason; to ensure that development is progressed promptly whilst the planning policies under which it was granted are still relevant. Permissions not implemented in good time lapse and are then incapable of being implemented. This is to prevent development from being started some years later when planning policy may have changed.

 

This is the case with An Camas Mor. The current Cairngorms National Park Local Development Plan was adopted in March 2015. The PIP was granted by reference to planning policies in the previous local plan that is now out of date and superseded.

 

Therefore, if the An Camas Mor development is to be pursued a new planning application for permission in principle will need to be made, and determined by CNPA in accordance with the up to date planning policies of the current local plan. At least that is what planning law, policy and common sense would suggest.

 

Instead, the developers are trying a more expedient route, known as a Section 42 Application, to vary one of the conditions of the PIP in an attempt to gain a new permission with new time limits. Even though this type of application should not be used to vary a permission that can no longer be implemented, and has a dubious legal basis in these circumstances, the CNPA has registered it as a valid application under reference 2017/0086/DET (see here).

 

What an impartial observer might find even more surprising is that this back door route to getting the developer out of a hole of its own making seems to be based on the advice of CNPA officers. Yet the condition of the PIP that the developer now seeks to remove via its Section 42 Application is perhaps the most fundamental of all; the condition that requires a full review of the impact of the first 630 dwellings before further development can commence.

 

This full review was deemed essential by CNPA officers and its planning committee at every stage of the lengthy consideration of the proposal, but the CNPA may now be about to abandon this critical check on a development that remains highly controversial and for which the developers have been unable to provide any details worthy of approval.

An Camus Mor is home to many interesting species including the Northern February Red Stonefly (Brachyptera putata) – UK Priority species, Nationally Notable species, Scottish Biodiversity List species (endemic UK species, i.e. not found elsewhere in the world so British populations are of international importance, with its stronghold in the Scottish Highlands)  Photo Credit Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group.

Due to its particularly sensitive location and likely impacts, the An Camas Mor new town was only granted planning permission in principle subject not only to the full review at an early stage but also regular monitoring and appropriate phasing thereafter. Perhaps even more fundamentally, such an apparently incongruous development only gained planning permission at all because it promised to be an exemplar of a new, sustainable and self-contained community that would provide appropriate housing, employment, services and amenity for local people. How else could a new town in Scotland’s flagship National Park possibly be considered, let alone justified?

 

If the developers cannot even ensure that timeous applications are made for detailed approval in accordance with conditions, what chance is there of any development ever taking shape as promised with the necessary environmental protection and enhancement?

 

The CNPA has a statutory duty to act as a planning authority in the public interest and to ensure that the An Camas Mor development either fulfils its promised objectives entirely or does not happen at all. That is why the CNPA imposed the conditions it did on the PIP and why it should stand by those conditions and reject any attempt to weaken them.

 

The Section 42 Application should be refused. The only option now for the developers, if they intend to proceed at all, is to submit a new application for permission in principle to be considered on its merits.

 

Representations on the Section 42 Application ( 2017/0086/DET), which can be viewed on the CNPA’s website, must be made by 13 April 2017. The PIP is also on the CNPA website under reference 09/0155/CP.

Pinewood Mason Bee (Osmia uncinata) – UK Priority species, UK Red List Vulnerable species, Scottish Biodiversity List species (a pinewood specialist which is restricted to northern Scotland within Britain) photo credit Tim Ransom, Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group

 https://www.flickr.com/photos/bscg/albums/72157625013635352

Addendum

The Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group has produced a photo album of the An Camas Mor site with over 4500 photos, mostly of stunning insect species.  It illustrates the fantastic animal life that is out there for people to enjoy and implicitly raises the question, should our National Parks really be developing new towns?   Highly recommended  (see here). 

 

 

Part of torpedo range dump, Ben Lomond far distance

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

The site plan which was granted planning permission

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

View from the Cobbler to Clyde Estuary November 20

 

 

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

 

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

 

What should the LLTNPA do?

 

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

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

The protest about plans for new social housing being proposed at Balmaha has received a fair amount of media coverage (see also http://www.glasgowlive.co.uk/news/glasgow-news/housing-plan-destroy-ruin-west-12509029).  While there has been some excellent follow-up in the Herald’s letter pages, there are a number of twists to the story which illustrate the hyprocrisy going on in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park at present.

 

The alleged threat to the West Highland Way is, if taken to refer to the main route,  complete nonsense: the main route taken by the Way traverses up and behind Conic Hill and if you stick to it you won’t see much of Balmaha.  This is not an accident.  At the time the Way was created the then Duke of Montrose did not want to see walkers spoiling the view from his house and only agreed to the West Highland Way crossing his land if it was kept well out of sight of the settlements below. Nimbyism has been around for a long time.    A large amount of money was spent upgrading the Conic Hill section of the Way a couple of years ago but it still runs behind the hill.  There is not even a sign to tell West Highland Way walkers about one of the best views in Scotland and as a result many pass by without realising what they are missing.   I am not sure though that for people who do go to the top of Conic Hill this development will spoil the view any more than the large modern houses on the south side of the road to the village.  (There is though a variant of the Way, which most people would regard as vastly inferior to the path over Conic Hill,  that follows the road from Milton of Buchanan to Balmaha which passes the site – so it is true to say the Way will be affected)

While media reports and letters indicate the plan is for 22 houses, the Local Development Plan which was finally approved just a few weeks ago shows just 15 houses on the site (see below).

 

What’s more the local Development Plan is very vague about other developments in the village claiming no boundary has been marked in order to maintain its “dispersed development pattern”.  The Community Council has reason to be very sceptical about this ever since last June the Planning Committee approved an application in the centre of the village for a new tourist development by Sandy Fraser, owner of the Oak Tree Inn and Wayne Gardner, for 20 holiday lodges.   The last development plan stated that  “support will only be given to small-scale improvements to existing tourism and visitor facilities in Balmaha” although prior to this the Planning Committee had agreed to 13 holiday chalets (more on this in a future post).  So much for dispersed development and so much for consistent applications of plans on the part of the Loch Lomond National Park Authority.

 

The biggest hyprocrisy about this proposed development is the LLTNPA’s approach to Ancient Woodland Inventory Sites.   If you look at the map below of “Designated Nature Conservation areas”, the site where the housing will be located is clearly  part of the ancient woodland inventory.   The interesting thing about these sites is they include any remnants of ancient woodland and may, as Arthur Honan stated in his letter above, have been used as farmland.    The LLTNPA in its development plan was clearly quite happy that such a site should be completely destroyed.

The map above is an extract from a suite of maps sent to the Minister of the Environment as part of the case the Park made for the camping byelaws.  By including Ancient Woodland Inventory sites in its list of designated Nature Conservation Areas the LLTNPA made it appear as if camping was taking place in areas particularly important for nature conservation.    In fact AWI are not designated or protected like other sites.   The pink boundary shows the proposed extension of the east Loch Lomond Management zone which the Minister subsequently approved  – remove the AWI sites from it and it suddenly starts looking a lot less sensitive.

 

In fact, in the Trossachs West Management zone map (see below) the predominant  designation is the AWI sites – and as confirmation of the high regard the LLTNPA holds for these sites its been busy destroying part of that woodland by Loch Chon to create camping places on a hillside where no-one camps http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/12/02/parkspeak-camping-destruction-started-loch-chon/ .    Balmaha and Loch Chon show the LLTNPA is quite happy to see AWI sites developed, so isn’t it about time they told Ministers who justified the camping byelaws in large part because of the need to protect sensitive sites?   Wild camping of course has far less lasting impact than either of these developments will .   More double-thinking on what goes on in our National Parks.

Postscript – correction

In the first version of this post I claimed the West Highland Way went nowhere near this site.   My apologies, this was wrong, and I have corrected the error.   The main route is nowhere near the site but a variant, which is marked on maps as the West Highland Way, passed by it.

balloch-vision-copy
Balloch Impression of West Riverside Walk by 7N Architects from community planning report

On Wednesday, Scottish Enterprise announced that it had appointed Flamingo Land Ltd, which runs a holiday resort, theme park and zoo in North Yorkshire, as the “preferred developer” for the 20 hectare site it owns on the west bank of the River Leven in Balloch  (see here). The development, billed as the “Iconic Leisure Resort Loch Lomond” will apparently involve £30m being invested in “lodges, a boutique hotel, hostel and glamping pods together with a range of high quality family based attractions and restaurants that are fitting with the aims of the National Park.”

 

How this fits with the first three statutory aims of the National Park, conservation of the cultural and natural heritage, enjoyment of the special qualities of the area and sustainable use of natural resources I am not sure.     Scottish Enterprise certainly didn’t explain this in their news release.   My guess is the “Iconic Leisure Resort Loch Lomond” is supposed to fulfil the fourth and final statutory aim of the National Park, “sustainable economic development”.

 

Earlier this year the LLTNPA held a Scottish Government funded community planning event, known as a charrette in Balloch to draw a community plan for the area.  There is a fair amount of derelict/neglected ground around the settlement and the idea was to involve the community in developing a vision for the area.  This was never though about giving the community control as is shown by what happened in January when the Balloch and Haldane Community Council asked for a decision on a proposed housing development for the green space next to the LLTNPA HQ to be deferred until after a full tourist plan had been developed, ie after the charrette:

 

Balloch & Haldane Community Council would request that the Planning Committee defers the planning decision in respect of this site until the NP considers the wider issues in respect of tourist and visitor management and development in Balloch in line with the proposed Local Development Plan. In particular there a re some key issues to be considered such as overall car parking provision and the potential for further tourist development in Balloch.
 
What could be reasonable than that?
 
Response: The request by B&HCC is noted and whilst it is for the Committee Members
to consider this request, it is the opinion of the Planning Authority that it would be unreasonable to defer the determination of this application whilst awaiting the adoption of the proposed Local Development Plan (LDP)  (committee report)
 
The LLTNPA Planning Committee members approved their officers’ recommendation and ignored the views of  something like 50 members of the local community – a record for the LLTNPA?  – who attended the Planning Committee in January.  Not a good precedent, but maybe not all is lost.  LLTNPA Chief Executive Gordon Watson, in welcoming the Flamingo Land Development did say:
 
A key point that came out of the Charrette was the aspiration in the local community to see the West Riverside developed in a way that connects Lomond Shores to the village, to make the most of Balloch as a gateway to Loch Lomond.
The charrette report’s visual depiction of this is shown in the photo above and articulated as follows:

What should happen?

⚪ An enhanced riverside walkway connecting village centre, Balloch Pier and Loch Lomond Shores.

⚪ Integration of existing routes: River Leven towpath, John Muir Way, Three Lochs Way and via Loch Lomond Shores to Cameron House.

⚪ Develop guidelines for redeveloping pier area for Maid of the Loch operations and new water sports centre

⚪ Open up views of the river and loch, integrate facilities, improve pedestrian connections to village centre and Loch Lomond Shores.

⚪ Define guidelines for development to rear of riverside walkway: create opportunities for eating, drinking and outdoor activity to improve Balloch’s offer and choice, connect rather than divide village centre and Loch Lomond Shores, maximise access for visitors and residents.

⚪ Put in place measures to reduce erosion of river banks.

 

Whether Flamingo Land will be able to deliver this is another question and enough has been said so far to raise serious doubts:

 

“Being in the beautiful surroundings of the national park, the activities will be swimming and outdoor adrenaline pursuits rather than the rollercoasters and rides and attractions that we have become famous for at Flamingo Land,”     (Gordon Gibb, Chief Executive and largest shareholder Flamingo Land).

Sounds good until you consider whether Balloch is really a very good place for swimming or other “outdoor adrenaline pursuits”.  Now, I know open water swimming has become very popular in the National Park but Balloch is the single biggest centre for boating and swimmers in the water and boats do not go well together – its just too dangerous.  Perhaps Flamingo Land is going to build a swimming pool?    In terms of other adrenaline outdoor pursuits, Balloch is really only well placed for watersports.    Now sailing, kayaking or cruising on the loch are not particularly noted for inducing adrenaline rushes so it looks as though Flamingo Land is thinking of more speedboats and water skiing which have historically raised lots of issues in terms of their compatibility with the aims of the National Park.   Before Scottish Enterprise and the LLTNPA let this development go any further I think they need to clarify what activities Flamingo Land is actually proposing and consider whether these really are compatible with the aims of the National Park.

 
The other big issue is about the intensity of the development.  Now the local communities aspirations for a good walking connection between the village and Loch Lomond shores looks good to me and I am sure there is a place for some low key accommodation and places to eat.  They made no mention of any need for more accommodation though and this seems to be a key part of Flamingo Land and Scottish Enterprise’s plans for a “family-oriented attraction”.   Note, a single attraction, which could easily become a variation on a theme park and Scottish Enterprise explicitly state they appointed Flamingo Land because of its strong record in creating visitor attractions.   However, overdevelop this bit of land and its qualities could be completely destroyed and Scottish Enterprise’s talk about attracting even more visitors suggests that this could just become an extension of Loch Lomond Shores.  Is this really about what the National Park is about or what the local community wants?
balloch-copy
Photo of Balloch from charrette report, the West Riverside site is the wooded area that connects Loch Lomond Shores (right of centre) with the first bridge on the river Leven. If the Flamingo Land is too intensive, it could turn the whole of the west bank into a ribbon development like Lomond shores.

Can Flamingo Land deliver sustainable economic development?

I think its important to appreciate that appointing a fairly large leisure company to develop the west Riverside site was not the only option available to Scottish Enterprise, although it is no doubt the easiest.   What about community development?   The ideas coming out of the charrette, for places  to eat and drink and outdoor activities could all be delivered by small businesses or social enterprises run by local people.   This would not require lots of capital and would return income to the area – something I would call sustainable economic development.   The problem though is such businesses  could not fund the walkway/riverbank improvements under our current financial system and it looks as though intensive development under the control of an outside organisation is the price to be paid for connecting the village to Loch Lomond shores.     In my view, there should be other ways to fund this sort of local infrastructure development to address what the local community identified as problems in their first workshop:

 

“What Charrette participants outlined as their most disliked aspects of Balloch during the first workshop:
⚪ Condition of Balloch Castle
⚪ Inadequate Parking and congestion in Village Centre
⚪ No ‘Heart’ to the Village and poor sense of arrival
⚪ Commercialisation of the Loch
⚪ Poor connectivity to/ from the Loch and Lomond Shores
⚪ Lack of safe and accessible nighttime activities
⚪ Poor signage and lighting
⚪ Lack of Public Conveniences
⚪ Unsightly Marina/ Boat Yard and river management

 

I fear that Scottish Enterprise in appointing Flamingo Land is just promoting more of the same type of “economic solutions”, temporary jobs during construction and then low paid jobs in the tourism industry to to follow.    You can see some of this from Flamingo Land’s last financial statements that cover the period until March 2015:

  • Flamingo Land is a family owned business, with three Directors from the Gibb family and is wholely owned by Flamingo Land Resort Ltd, which is in turn owned by two of the Gibb family directors.
  • The Gibb family do very well from their business, with the Directors receiving £1,003,716 in emoluments with £582,301 of this going to Gordon Gibb, the main shareholder and Chief Executive.   They also received a further £235k in dividends paid to Flamingo Land Resort Ltd.
  • Staff appears to do less well.    313 was the average number of people employed during the year (length of working week and contractual position unclear)  and they received a total of £6,352,483 in wages net of employer’s National Insurance.    The means they received an average wage of £20,295, ie well below the national average of £26,500.  By the time you account for the much higher wages managers receive, it looks like majority of the workforce are paid at or just above the statutory National Living Wage (which comes to £15k for a 40 hour week).
  • The total of £123,385 spent on other pension costs (apart from National Insurance) –  just a quarter of the salary received by Mr Gibb – shows that the bulk of the workforce will receive no pension (this of course will change with the stakeholder pension scheme).
  • Flamingo Land contributed £25k to the Conservative Party in both 2014-5 and the year proceeding it.

 

I think this evidence shows that Flamingo Land is unlikely to bring any great economic benefit to the people of Balloch and a very good reason why Scottish Enterprise should have explored community controlled alternatives.

 

Now, I am not saying Flamingo Land is a bad company.   Compared to Natural Retreats which was appointed by HIE, Scottish Enterprise’s equivalent in the north, to run Cairngorm its very well run.   There is over £15m in shareholder funds, which will help finance developments in Balloch, compared to Natural Retreats parent company whose net worth is (minus) (£22,545,689).  It also regularly invests in infrastructure and pays corporation tax.   It does though appear though to be operated on neo-liberal principles which are basically about benefitting the few before the many.    Will it really deliver the fairer society that the Scottish Government says it wants to see?

 

Recently Flamingo Land also bought the 12 Acre Woodbank site on the west side of Balloch by the A82.  That too has been earmarked for visitor development. You have to wonder too what Flamingo Land is really planning for Balloch which they describe as a “rare opportunity”.   For what is the question?  Flamingo Land are now in a very strong position to hold the LLTNPA to ransom in terms of what types of development are delivered.    A key question therefore is whether the LLTNPA will be strong enough to withstand the pressure they will be subjected to despite all the talk of “partnership”.   I hope too the local community will start campaigning to ensure that the development delivers aspirations for better paid jobs and pensions as well as the vision they developed in the charrette.

 

 

IMG_5831 - Copy
The countryside around Loch Chon – the Park’s plans don’t support large developments in the countryside

I have been asking the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority what criteria it would use to decide the planning application it is making to itself for a campsite at Loch Chon.  Among the issues is that the Your Park proposals to develop new campsites is not consistent with  the Park’s proposed Development Plan (see here)   Just over two weeks ago I received this reply which is far from clear:

 

“With regards to your request for advice regarding the determination of the planning application for Loch Chon, this will be determined in accordance with the development plan, taking relevant material considerations into account, as is the case when determining any planning application. The Adopted Local Plan and the Proposed Local Development Plan, which will eventually replace the current adopted plan (following the outcome of the current examination and including any modifications required by the Reporter) can both be found on our website.”

 

My guess is that in saying any planning application “will be determined in accordance with the development plan” the LLTNPA are referring to the Adopted Local Plan NOT the Proposed Local Development Plan and I have asked the Park to confirm this.   If so they have wasted money preparing an application which uses terminology from the proposed Local Development Plan (£100k spent last financial year with nothing to show as yet).

 

Now I can find NOTHING at all about campsites or camping in the current Adopted Local Plan.  This is a historic omission which has enabled the LLTNPA, since its creation, to grant planning permission to one former campsite after another to convert to caravan parks or “luxury tourist lodges”.  At least the proposed Local Development Plan mentions camping, although its provisions are so unclear and so muddled that it is unlikely it will do anything to help remedy the lack of campsites in the National Park.

 

The Adopted Plan though  does contain policies about developments in the countryside, which are relevant to the Loch Chon Planning application, including:

a) ” Proposals for medium to larger scale tourism development within the countryside will generally be resisted unless there is demonstrable evidence of:

(h) Strong market demand for the development that is currently not being met, and

(i) the benefits that development would bring to the local economy.”

b) A map which shows Loch Chon  in an area designated suitable for  “moderate increases in outdoor recreation”

 

The LLTNPA is proposing over 30 places in the Loch Chon campsite – if this is not a medium to large scale development what is?  Moreover, the Park’s Ranger records show there is very little camping in the area at present.  This suggests there is no market demand for such a large campsiten so it should “generally be resisted”.  Moreover if it were to be approved and did create new demand this would breach the Park’s policy on this being an area that is only suitable for moderate increases in recreation.

 

What’s as  interesting is that the policies in the proposed Local Development Plan, as they apply to Strathard and Loch Chon, are very similar to the current Adopted Plan.  Its designated an area of “smaller scale tourism potential”.  The proposed plan states that recreational developments should be where existing demand is – in other words the Park should only develop larger campsites such as that at Loch Chon where they are needed – and generally says quieter areas of the countryside should be conserved as such.   So, the Loch Chon campsite planning application contravenes both the current Adopted Local Plan and the proposed Local Development Plan.

 

Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive, as the former Director of Planning should have known this but the LLTNPA was desperate to announce it had some plans for campsites when the Minister approved the camping byelaws.  The only place the Park and Forestry Commission Scotland – the key partner who was supposed to deliver new campsites – had agreed on was Loch Chon.  My suspicion is that the original proposal here was for a much smaller campsite but Gordon Watson was either told or decided to increase the numbers to 30 to make the Park look better.  This was despite him knowing it contravened the Park’s own planning policies.   The whole proposal has been unravelling ever since and I trust that if it ever goes to the Planning Committee – and their meetings for July and August have been cancelled – members of that Committee will take an objective look at their own policies and do the right thing.

 

What needs to happen

The sooner the Park abandons the proposal for such a large campsite at Loch Chon the better.   The proposed site is great for camping – I was walking with someone at the weekend who had camped there and just seen a couple of other tents – and no-one would object to installation of a toilet and litter bin (for day visitors as much as campers).  But the mad ideas of using shipping containers for toilet blocks, trying to get people to camp on wooden platforms and forcing people to camp in designated places away from the lochside just need to be dropped.  The LLTNPA needs to go back to basics.

 

What the LLTNPA should do  is create a network of small campsites through the Trossachs.  In Strathard there could be small sites (just toilet and tap) at Loch Ard (e.g in the area being considered for camping permits) Loch Chon and Loch Arklet.   This would enable cyclists and walkers to make far better use of the path network that was created a few years ago and is sadly underused.  Such a network would be totally compatible with the vision of small scale tourism developments in the area which is contained in the Park’s plans.

 

The £345k allocated to the Loch Chon campsite this year should be easily enough to achieve this.   For £10k you could buy and install very high quality composting toilets and if the rest of the money and money current spent on ranger patrols was given to the local community they could invest it to maintain both campsites and manage the impacts of day visitors.

One of the objections I submitted to the LLTNPA’s development plan Response – Development Plan and Camping was it used totally different terminology to describe campsites than what has been used in the Your Park consultation – a case of one part of the Park not talking to another. (See http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/06/07/park-authority-applies-planning-permission-unwanted-campsite-loch-chon/)

 

I emailed the Park’s convener of planning, Petra Biberbach (who replaced share-trading Owen McKee), drawing her attention to this last year and asking for a meeting.   She declined to see me and none of the points I had raised were even discussed at the Board Meeting which approved the plan.

 

I was very pleased therefore to be informed that the Reporter appointed to consider the Park’s Development Plan is now asking the LLTNPA for more information about this which is very relevant to the totally unnecessary campsite being proposed at Loch Chon.  The important bit is at the bottom where the Reporter has in effect asked the Park what it could do to help people better understand what it means when it talks about camping provision.  Exactly what not just I, but the Ramblers and SNH all tried to say to the LLTNPA but which they chose to ignore.

 

To:       Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park Authority

Cc:      Nick Kempe (662), Ramblers Scotland (701), Scottish Natural Heritage (712)

Dear Mr Killen

PROPOSED LOCH LOMOND AND THE TROSSACHS LOCAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN

THE TOWN AND COUNTRY PLANNING (DEVELOPMENT PLANNING) (SCOTLAND) REGULATIONS 2008

NOTICE: FURTHER INFORMATION REQUEST 02

ISSUE 22 VISITOR EXPERIENCE

I am writing regarding the above plan which has been submitted to DPEA for examination by Scottish Ministers.  Under Regulation 22 of the Town and Country Planning (Development Planning) (Scotland) Regulations 2008, the appointed reporter can request, by way of notice, further information in connection with the examination.  This request is a notice under Regulation 22.

The reporter has identified that further information, as listed below, should be provided by Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority.  It would be helpful if you could send this information to me to pass on to the reporter by 5pm on Thursday 14 July 2016.  Nick Kempe, Ramblers Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, who have made representations with regard to this issue, will be given a further 7 days, from their receipt of the authority’s response, to make any comments on your response.  Please ensure the authority also send a copy to them.

Please e-mail your response, however, if it is more than 10 pages or in colour, please also provide a hard copy.  Please note that DPEA cannot accept hyperlinks to documents or web pages.  When replying to this request please quote the request number above.

Issue 22 Visitor Experience

 

Background

In relation to the provision of facilities and services to enhance visitor experience in the National Park area, a number of references are made to camping provision in the following publications: The proposed new local development plan; ‘Your Park’; and the Planning Guidance on Visitor Experience document.

In this context, representations from N Kempe (662) and Ramblers Scotland (701) have drawn attention to the variations and perceived inconsistencies in the terminology used by the Park Authority in those documents when referring to different forms of camping provision.

Information requested

(1)  The park authority is requested to provide a clearer and more detailed explanation of the terminology used or intended in the proposed local development plan with regard to camping provision of different forms and to provide clarification concerning its related policy position if this varies between particular categories of camping provision.

(2)  Additionally, to provide clarification regarding how and where the local development plan’s policy position on camping provision should cross-refer to and be supported by more detailed considerations set out in supplementary guidance – and on what basis the terminology used in those documents varies from the terminology used on camping provision in the ‘Your Plan’ document.

(3)  The explanations required by (1) and (2) should include possible wording that could be used in the proposed plan to allow users to better understand the approach of the Park Authority regarding camping provision.

Please acknowledge receipt of this request and confirm that your response will be provided within the time limit.

A copy of this request will be published on the DPEA website, together with a copy of the authority’s response:

 

http://www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk/CaseDetails.aspx?id=117158

 

Please do not hesitate to contact me if there is anything you would like clarified.

 

Yours sincerely

 

 

The Scottish Government

DPEA

4 The Courtyard

Callendar Business Park

Falkirk

FK1 1XR

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