Tag: LLTNPA

December 14, 2017 Nick Kempe 5 comments
Extract from Review of National Park Partnership Plan 2013-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The LLTNPA’s indicators of success

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

Commentary

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

And so on…………………………..

 

An alternative vision

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

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

Lot’s more is possible!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

December 7, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The camping byelaws and tourism

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

 

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

The camping byelaws and social exclusion

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

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

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

 

Omissions from the Update Report to Ministers

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

1). Number of campers affected

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

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

2) Numbers camping or campervanning with a permit

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

 

 

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

3) Cost Benefit Analysis

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

4) The implications of holding personal data

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

5) Enforcement and campervans

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

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

6) Outcome of Enforcement

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

7) Permit feedback and Complaints

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

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

8) Impact on organised groups

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

9) Camping provision

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

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

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

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

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

 

What needs to happen

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

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

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

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

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

December 5, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

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

 

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

Addressing access issues

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

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

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

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

Extract report January meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot 5th December

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

That Board paper also fails to refer to the LAF:

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

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

What needs to happen

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

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

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

 

Postscript on resources and neoliberalism

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

Information Intern

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What needs to happen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce Biddulph on Balloch and Tourism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends of Drumkinnon Woods

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The main flaws in the proposed Loch Achray campsite

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

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

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

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

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

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

The grassy area east of the burn

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

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

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

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

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

Other concerns about the Loch Achray campsite

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

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

 

 

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

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

Extract from report to December Board Meeting

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

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

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

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

 

What needs to happen

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

The Prior Notification System and the track upgrade

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

In response I sent them some photos:

View of track extension from below

FES response to photo:

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

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

 

Another view of the track extension

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

FES response to photo:

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

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

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

FES response to photo:

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

 

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

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

 

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

FES response to photo:

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

FES response to photo:

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

What needs to happen

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

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

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

Addendum – correspondence with FES

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

The “consultation”

Extract from Flamingo Land/Iconic Developments consultation display

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

 

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

 

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

 

The main elements to the proposals

Extract from map showing proposals for Riverside site

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

 

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

Greenspace 

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

Drumkinnon Wood

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

The parkland along the River Leven

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

The pierhead

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

Viewing Tower

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

Transport

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

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

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

 

Are there any good elements to the proposals?

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Conservation

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

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

 

Public Enjoyment

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

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

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

 

 

Sustainable Economic Development

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

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

 

Sustainable use of resources

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

 

What needs to happen

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Extract planning application

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 The Landscape impact of the tailings stacks

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The wider implications of this application

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

 

What needs to happen

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

 

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

 

November 10, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What needs to happen

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

November 2, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
The area of the proposed application (from LLTNPA planning portal). There is nothing in the document about WHAT Flamingo Land are actually proposing

On 27th October, after six months of silence, agents for Flamingo Land lodged a pre-planning application consultation strategy with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.  Anyone who follows Scottish Government planning policy knows that one of the big ideas and big pushes is towards “front loading” the planning system, with a shift to consultation and engagement taking place prior to planning applications being submitted.  The idea is this should improve proposals and help create consensus around developments.   What front-loading fails to acknowledge is that current planning system is unbalanced, with local communities having little power, and is driven by the self-interest of developers.  This, and the pathetic inadequacy of current pre-application consultations are clearly evidenced by the Flamingo Land proposals.

Its still them and us

The “They” is the public, you and me – the heading illustrates typical attitudes of developers towards the public, a hurdle to be got past, not a partner in developments.

The Pre-application consultation is supposed to include the following:

The only description you will find in the planning documentation about Flamingo Land’s proposals is this:

 

 

 

The LLTNPA will no doubt be patting itself on the back that Flamingo Land is holding three consultation events, rather than the minimum recommended, which is one!   How the public are expected to meaningfully inform the proposals by turning up to an event on the day, with little idea of what to expect, and then respond with no time for reflection, I don’t know.  Any meaningful consultation has to take place over time, to allow exchange and development of views, but instead of using the last six months to do this, the LLTNPA is allowing Flamingo Land to run three tokenistic events.   This is apparently what good consultation looks like – the document states “Best Practice for Consultation is also outlined”  – in the planning world.  This is a major development proposal in a National Park which has enormous implications both for the local community and the National Park and is quite frankly not good enough.

Its also a recipe for conflict:

Extract from Empowering Planning to Deliver Great Places. One of the three authors was Petra Biberbach from the Planning Advisory Service who is also on the LLTNPA Board and chairs the Planning Committee

So, why is Petra Biberbach not using her position as Chair of the LLTNPA Planning Committee to empower the local community to get actively involved in planning the Riverside and Woodside sites as she recommended two years ago?

Community Empowerment and planning

While Scottish Government pronouncements and the discourse of our public authorities is full of buzz words about “community engagement”, “community empowerment” and “co-production”, the actions of our Public Authorities continually contradict what is being said.  The Park of Weir planning decision, where Planning Minister, Kevin Stewart, overruled the views of the local community at Dunblane in favour of the developers is just one example of this.

Its worth reading what the organisation Planning Democracy had to say about the Scottish Government’s planning white paper (which was developed in response to the review of Planning Petra Biberach was involved in):

The lack of meaningful involvement however fundamentally comes down to power.   What the map above illustrates is that Flamingo Land could be granted a stranglehold over the land to the West of the River Leven and therefore over the local economy.   Scottish Enterprise has agreed in principle to sell the Riverside Site, which is currently in public ownership, to Flamingo Land while their purchase of Woodbank House and also the boathouse on the point to the north west of Lomond shores means they surround that development.  There are serious issues to be addessed about whether this is in the public or local community interest.

 

There is, however, now that the Community Empowerment Act is law, an opportunity to challenge this.  One way for the local community to prevent Flamingo Land from acquiring too much power would be to request the Riverside site from Scottish Enterprise as an asset transfer.  This would not be with a view to stopping all development from going ahead but rather to ensure the community is able to influence the development, retain control in the long-term and ensure some community development.   For example, if the local community owned the land they could refuse development in certain places, such as Drumkinnon Wood, prevent inappropriate applications being made in future (e.g viewing towers which I suspect will be the sacrificial lamb Flamingo Land offers up to get their development proposals through) and ensure community benefit through rent payments.

 

Against what criteria should Flamingo Land’s development proposals be judged?

While the planning application still describes the development as Flamingo Land, the developers have set up a website in the name of Iconic Leisure Developments. This is more informative than the planning application and makes clear that fundamental to the application will be an attempt to “drive the number of visitors”:

This is worrying.   It is  exactly the same type of wording which HIE uses at Cairngorm – we all know what happened there – and is, in my view, inappropriate for a National Park.

 

There is nothing wrong with development at Balloch as long as it is sustainable and benefits both local people and the wider public.  While its a gateway to the National Park, gateways are not normally places people choose to linger.  People want to get inside and in the case of National Parks to experience nature.  It appears the only way Flamingo Land believe they will be able to attract visitors to remain longer term is if they offer a theme park type development.  They may be right about this but it  would be totally inappropriate for a National Park.   The fundamental problem is that this site is being viewed from a commercial, rather than a National Park, perspective and that is likely to drive a certain type of development.  Most of it is still public land and other solutions are possible.

 

Whatever is proposed should, I believe, be evaluated against the National Park’s four statutory objectives.   Here are a few pointers of how I think the proposals should be judged:

  • Sustainable economic development
    • will the long-term jobs on the site be reasonably paid (talk in Scotland is now of £10 an hour minimum wage) and provide good terms and conditions or will the development provide yet more precarious jobs on the minimum wage with precarious hours?
    • will local community businesses and other organisations be able to operate within the development area on fair terms and conditions?
  • Conservation
    •  how much of green parts of the Riverside and Woodbank House sites will be retained, will aerial shots of the site look as green in five years time and will Mackinnon Woods be kept free of development?
    • what will the landscape impact of the development be and will there be a viewing tower which could be seen from the summit of Loch Lomond
  • Sustainable use of resources
    • Will any polluted land on the site be cleared up?
    • Will the development when operational be powered entirely by renewable energy?
    • Will the development result in more traffic and does it incorporate improved public transport links?
  • Public enjoyment
    • Will traditional informal recreational uses of the site be able to continue (boating and angling on river leaving, walking in Mackinnon Woods)
    • Will people visiting site be able to access nature easily, e.g, through a new bridge over the River Leven?
    • Will the amount of good quality public space increase or decrease?

This is far from an exhaustive list and other people will have different ideas.  The LLTNPA and Flamingo Land should have been engaging with the local community and nationally about such objectives but they haven’t done so so far although they have been clearly having secret talks since January:

The way its going Flamingo Land should provide an ideal opportunity for both local community and national lobbying organisations to demonstrate to the Scottish Parliament the inadequacies of our current planning system within the forthcoming Planning Bill which is intended to create a different approach.

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 26, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Looking southwest down Gleann Casaig. The track on the left preceded the hydro scheme, while that on the right marks the pipeline and, as part of the restoration work, was granted planning consent as a new footpath. Photo credit Jim Robertson (all other photos unless otherwise credited Jim Robertson).

Gleann Casaig runs from the east shore of the Glen Finglas Reservoir, north of Brig O’Turk, up to the ridge between Ben Ledi and Ben Vane in the Trossachs.  The glen forms part of the Woodland Trust’s Glen Finglas estate and part of the Great Trossachs Forest project which in 2015 was designated as Scotland’s newest and largest National Nature Reserve.  It lies wholly within the Ben More and Ben Ledi Wild Land Area, where national policy indicates there should be a presumption against development.   In December 2014,  a few months after National Policy on Wild Land Areas had been issued, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority issued consent for the Allt Gleann Casaig hydro scheme.

 

The development has been completed much quicker than most (November 2016) and in July 2017 Jim Robertson, from the Munro Society, went out to have a look.  Jim is helping co-ordinate the national survey of hydro schemes by Munro Society volunteers (see here – which explains the scheme and how you can get involved) and he used his visit to help trial the hydro scheme reporting form I helped the Munro Society develop.  I have been meaning to blog about what he found ever since but meantime Jim has made another visit to check a couple of things.  We have had a very good dialogue about this and while this post is based on what Jim has found, the opinions in it are solely my own.

 

Jim’s report (see here) – which is well worth reading – and photos show that most aspects of the design and restoration of this scheme have been done well.

The vegetation over the lower section of pipeline is recovering well and the line will soon only be detectable by the marker posts
The powerhouse has been clad in natural materials and the surrounds are less suburban than many schemes
The main intake is well hidden
as is largest of secondary intakes
although in my view the landscaping around the main intake is better

While some of the finishing of the development could be better (e.g the walls of the dam could have been disguised more and if you look carefully you will see yet another blue pipe, contrary to LLTNPA best practice design), I agree with Jim that generally the work on this scheme has been carried out to a high standard.   Indeed, Jim was unable to identify to spot the other intakes which were included on the approved plan.

 

Approved location plan – LLTNPA
Braemar community hydro – photo Nick Kempe

While it is possible the plan was amended post-consent – the LLTNPA is still refusing to publish documentation required by planning consents as a matter of course making it almost impossible for the public to understand what standards have been applied to each development and to report breaches of these – the plans showed intakes C-F were tiny (less than 1.5m broad) and therefore like the example left hard to see from any distance.  In landscape terms if a concerned hillwalker cannot see these micro intakes or the lines of the pipes, that is a job well done.

 

The main concern about this development, as with most of the hydro schemes in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is the track which, as the top photo shows has a significant landscape impact.

 

The track which is supposed to be a footpath

Unfinished culvert

In track construction terms, the new track up Gleann Casaig is in my better than most and Jim commented its one of the best he has seen.   The banks on the uphill side are not too steep and while sufficient vegetation was not retained to cover them, they should revegetate in time.  Jim identified some poor finishing but this should not be that difficult to address and could be done without large machinery (which has all been moved off-site).

The problem though is that in planning terms (see here for all papers) this track is supposed to be a footpath and that the LLTNPA gave consent for a new footpath into a wild land area without any proper consideration of the impact on landscape or wild land .  This “path” was not needed to provided access to the intakes because there was already a track up the Glen and the application included an extension of the existing track up to the main intake which was consented to by the LLTNPA:

 

Landscape and Visual Impact

A Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) was submitted in the ES.  The consultation response from NP Landscape Adviser notes that existing access tracks will be used and extended to reach the intakes and the penstock route will be fully reinstated leaving a 2m wide new footpath to provide a circular route for recreational users.  The Landscape Adviser agrees with the findings of the LVIA, that during construction there will be significant visual effect on Glen Casaig footpath and also during the operational period at The Mell near the powerhouse.  The proposed mitigation would however reduce this over time.  In terms of landscape effects the wooded upland glen is highly sensitive but no significant effects will result on this or the other LCT’s.  (Extract from Report which approved the application)

 

The LLTNPA not only decided there would be no impact on the landscape – the top photo shows that this is NOT true – it also decided there would be no impact on wild land:

 

Impact on Wildland

The proposed development is located within the SNH Ben More ‐ Ben Ledi (Area 7) area of wild land and within the LLTNPA wildness buffer area, adjacent to an area of core wildness.  An assessment in the ES states that the proposed development would not result in a reduction of the overall wild land quality.  The introduction of new infrastructure – specifically the new footpath alongside the pipeline route, the new access track spur to the main intake and the intake structures themselves – must be considered alongside the presence of the existing access track through the glen.  Appendix 5E of the ES sets out a number of mitigation measures during construction, as well as restoration and enhancement measures post construction.  Provided these are implemented the development should integrate with the landscape and not detract from the special qualities of the wild land character.

 

The logic here appears to be that because there is already one track into a wild land area, that means there is no problem adding a second track.  On this argument we would end up – and indeed are ending up – with tracks everywhere.   The LLTNPA appears to be completely unaware of the Unna Principles governing the land Percy Unna bequeathed to the National Trust for Scotland which said there should be NO new footpaths into the hills and the subsequent heart searching which led to the current position where footpath work in hill areas on NTS is seen seen as being only justifiable in response to severe erosion.   One might have hoped that our National Parks would support that position – indeed that has generally been the position in the Cairngorms – but instead the LLTNPA is consenting to new paths and tracks into Wild Land areas without any proper consultation or debate.

 

This failure to protect Wild Land was not helped by SNH’s response to the consultation which failed to make any mention of the Wild Land Area (see here) but left it to the LLTNPA to consider all the issues (despite the fact that it was SNH which drew up the excellent reports describing the special qualities of the wild land area).

 

While the LLTNPA consults the RSPB as a matter of course – in this case the RSPB drew the Park’s attention to Black Grouse leks which could have been affected by the development – they do not consult recreational organisations. Unless recreational organisations are alerted about developments which impact on Wild Land its impossible for them to keep up with what is going on and there were NO objections to this development.  In my view our National Parks should consult all the main recreational and landscape interests about all developments affecting Wild Land (e.g Ramblers, Mountaineering Scotland, Scottish Campaign for National Parks – I am a member of all three) so they can comment on developments such as this.

 

The first thing the LLTNPA might have questioned was whether there was any demand for a circular route round the Glen.

The LLTNPA could also have asked how the new circular route would fit into the network of tracks promoted by the Woodland Trust at Glen Finglas.  The current leaflet on walks in Glen Finglas shows no routes round Glen Casaig (centre of map above).   One wonders if the Developer ever talked to the Woodland Trust about this?

 

The other thing the LLTNPA could have questioned is why a path 2 metres wide was needed.  Most paths into the hills, unless severely eroded, are far narrower than this so how does a 2m wide footpath fit with generally accepted standards for footpath construction?

Track October 2017 – is this really a path?

In the Report that approved the application the  National Park access adviser is quoted as saying this:

 

“The development will bring benefits to public access through a new loop option and hopefully improved path surfacing. Final specifications for this new path need to be agreed.”

 

Whatever vision National Park staff had, its not been realised.  The truth is this track was never intended as a footpath.  Being 2m wide – in fact Jim has confirmed with me that the track is more than 2m wide in many places so does not even conform to the planning consent – it can still be used by vehicles and is, making the track totally unsuitable in walking for places.

 

There appear to be several possible explanations for why  this “path” was proposed.  The first is because it allows more direct access to the intakes than the older track up the Glen, which winds round the hill, and therefore takes more time.  The second is that it could potentially assist with other aspects of estate management (e.g future tree planting planned as part of the Great Trossachs Forest) – if that is the case that should have been made clear.  The third was it enabled the developer to save on restoration costs:  so instead of fully restoring the ground above the pipeline, by including in the application a proposal for a 2m wide footpath the developer was able to reduce the amount of turf and soil it stored and reduced the amount of land it needed to restore.  It seems to me that none of these reasons justify the retention of this track.

 

What needs to happen

While legally  its too late now for the LLTNPA to require this track to be removed, it should take enforcement action to ensure that the restoration of the land around the track is the best possible standard and the track stops looking like a track and starts looking like a footpath.  That means banning vehicles from using it.  I am sure because the land is owned by the Woodland Trust, which should be more sensitive than most landowners to adverse publicity, that this should be possible (if any reader is a member of the WT please contact them and ask them to stop vehicle use of this track).

 

What Gleann Casaig and theGlen Feshie track prior notification covered in my last post show (see here) is that our National Parks are failing to consider properly developments which intrude into Wild Land areas.  Our National Parks should be at the forefront of protecting wild land and developing best practice into how developments which impact on wild land should be treated.   Instead, their actions are undermining the whole concept of Wild Land Areas.    I believe there is an urgent need for both our National Parks to develop explicit policies to inform how they respond to developments in Wild Land area and that a key part of this should include consultation with recreation and landscape interests.   The sad fact is that the LLTNPA in particular only stands up to developers if somebody objects to an application and therefore the best way to improve how they protect Wild Land is to ensure the public are aware of all such developments through recreation and landscape organisations.

 

I would also like to see that where our National Parks do consent to new paths or tracks, they include conditions about how they are used.  These should include presumptions against motorised vehicles using new paths and also conditions forbidding vehicles from going off track.  This would prevent the “track-creep” we see in both our National Parks where new tracks, instead of stopping vehicle erosion, simply open up new areas to vehicular use and all the damage that creates.

October 22, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Photo of volunteers working by the A82 on west Loch Lomond – Photo Credit Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs

I spent Saturday evening, along with a few hundred others at a sold out event in the Glasgow Concert Hall, listening to George Monbiot talk about his new book “Out of the Wreckage”.   George’s message was that contrary to neo-liberal ideology, the vast majority of people are altruistic and will contribute to the wider good expecting nothing in return.   Volunteering epitomises that.  Its a great thing.

 

Why therefore did the photo above and accompanying news release from Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs (see below), of volunteers who are obviously enjoying themselves, make me feel uneasy?  The answer, in a nutshell, is that the volunteers are compensating for failures in basic service provision by our public authorities, in this case Transport Scotland and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.

 

The voluntary work included “dozens of bags of rubbish being collected from litter strewn laybys and neighbouring areas beside the A82”.  Transport Scotland, who are supposed to maintain our trunk roads, should be ensuring this work is done.   Instead, neither they nor the LLTNPA nor Argyll and Bute Council can even agree who should provide litter bins in the A82 laybys – with the consequence that there are none – let alone who should empty them.  This makes what is a national litter problem even worse.  And then volunteers are left to clear up.

 

The other work volunteers were involved in in this case was clearing the cycle path and removing scrub to enable people to enjoy views of Loch Lomond.

Photo Credit Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs

Its a shocking indictment of both the National Park and Transport Scotland – both of which claim to promote cycling – that basic maintenance of the path network is being left to volunteers.   In the Spring the verges of the A82 along Loch Lomond were all cleared of scrub by professional contractors, so why not the cycle path?     While I am sure the volunteers did as good if not better job than professional contractors, had the work been done by people equipped with electric rather than hand tools, it could have been done by just one or two people.  Was this really the best use of volunteer time?   If there are not enough resources to keep cycle paths clear, Transport Scotland and the LLTNPA need to call upon the Scottish Government to provide these and challenge the neo-liberal narrative that the state can do ever more  less and that voluntary effort can be used to substitute for paid jobs.

 

The other point here is parkswatch has been reliably informed that when the A82 was re-aligned, a landscape plan was produced.  This preceded the creation of the National Park but the Loch Lomond Joint Committee which preceded it, visited Lochlomondside with the then Scottish Office Roads Chiefs and commitments were given that the landscape along the road would be maintained.  All this has  conveniently been forgotten as austerity has sunk its ugly tentacles ever deeper into public life.

 

In saying this, I imply no criticism of the Friends of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.  They have long understood that the landscape of the National Park should underpin everything the LLTNPA does and a fundamental aspect of this is that all people should be able to enjoy the landscape.   Hence the initiative a few years ago to clear the scrub from pulpit rock – Transport Scotland missed another trick in failing to provide decent parking there when it widened the A82 by the former traffic lights.   FOLLAT have effectively had to step into the breach left by our Public Authorities.    It has been using that experience to show up the failures of our public authorities, inform its advocacy for what should be happening in the National Park and its call for the National Park to get back to basics.

Letter to Herald last week following release of Keep Scotland Beautiful Report on litter levels in Scotland

Which bring me back to Monbiot and the people who volunteer.   While volunteering is a demonstration of altruism and generally good for the mental and physical health of those involved,  and volunteering outdoors doubly so as it helps connect people to nature and involves physical activity,  the experience of volunteers is sidelined by those in power.   The clearest current example I can think of this is Food Banks, which could not operate without thousands of voluntary contributors all of whom do so because they care.  And yet these people are fundamentally disempowered when it comes to debate about how our social security system is falling apart as the rich  become ever richer.   If the volunteers had power, I doubt we would have any food banks and the volunteers could go and do something else.

 

Its the same in our National Parks.   The draft LLTNPA National Park Partnership Plan makes noises about the importance and success of volunteering in the National Park, but nothing about how volunteers are being used to compensate for cuts:

 

“The number of people volunteering in the National Park has grown significantly and in our annual
volunteer survey 80% of volunteers indicated that volunteering benefited their health and wellbeing.”

 

More importantly, there is no acknowledgement that volunteers in the National Park might have something important to say about how the LLTNPA and other public authorities operate at present.  These are after all people who do not just enjoy being out in the National Park, they contribute their own labour on  a voluntary basis to protecting or improving the landscape.  In short, they care and should be key stakeholders of the National Park.

 

I would like to see the LLTNPA explicitly acknowledge that they should not be using volunteers to compensate for or hide failures in service provision.  Instead, I would like to see them engage with volunteers about how they could be empowered, not just through representative organisations but directly.  Part of this would involve engaging volunteers about their existing experience of  how basic issues, such as litter, could be addressed and using this to inform the “back to basic agenda” for service provision.  It should also though involve engagement about where voluntary work is best directed in future.   There are lots of great things for volunteers to do but compensation for cuts should not be one of them.

 

For anyone interested in the current role of volunteering in our National Parks and its future potential, the Scottish Campaign for National Parks (I am a member of its Committee) produced a report on volunteering and National Parks in 2015 (see here).   In the Report it was estimated that the potential value of volunteering if new National Parks were created was £500k a year.   While National Parks offer great opportunities for volunteering, I think the figure demonstrates that volunteering will never compensate for the cuts in basic services that have been taking place ever since the crash in 2008.

The Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs New Release from the beginning of October

Volunteers help to open up views of Loch Lomond as part of special Make a Difference Day event

 

Volunteers taking part in the latest ‘Make a Difference Day’, organised by Friends of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs, the independent and conservation and heritage charity for the National Park, helped to remove trees and shrubs to open up scenic views of Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond along a stretch of the busy A82 tourist route.

 

A group of 30 volunteers travelled to Inverbeg, just north of Luss, to remove several hundred metres of overgrown plants and shrubs from the side of the road, giving motorists, cyclists and walkers clear views of Loch Lomond. Also, part of the day was a litter clearance exercise, which resulted in dozens of bags of rubbish being collected from litter strewn laybys and neighbouring areas beside the A82. This was part of the Friends’ ‘Windows on the Loch’ project, which aims to improve views of Loch Lomond along the busy A82 tourist route.

 

The volunteers came from a variety of walks of life including Luss Estates, the Department for International Development and Scottish Water as well as motivated individuals who volunteer regularly with the Friends and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority. The nearby Inn on Loch Lomond Hotel also provided shelter and complimentary lunch for the volunteers.

 

The event was the latest Make a Difference Day to be led by the Friends, and builds on the efforts made by the conservation and heritage charity in recent years with funding support from the National Park Authority to remove stretches of the Loch Lomond ‘tree tunnel’ which for years effectively meant there were no views of Loch Lomond along the entire twenty mile stretch of the A82 between Duck Bay, near Balloch and Tarbet.

 

In recent years other Make a Difference Days have involved litter and rhododendron clearance and path improvements works at different locations around the National Park with volunteers and corporate bodies helping to protect the special landscapes of the National Park.

 

Friends Vice-Chairman John Urquhart, who was among the volunteers who took part on the day, said: “Anybody passing this area of Loch Lomond now has a much better view of its natural beauty, and it is all down to the efforts of the volunteers, who turned out in force to ensure that this event was a great success. We even noticed passing motorists stopping in laybys to have pictures taken against the new backdrop!

 

“We were delighted with the response we had to Make a Difference Day, especially at a time of year when the weather can be so unpredictable. Fortunately, we had the elements on our side this time around, and with the hard work of so many people to open up views of the loch and Ben Lomond has made a real difference.”

 

Niall Colquhoun, owner of the Inn on Loch Lomond, added: “We were very pleased to support the Friends and the volunteers on the day, helping the hard workers to enjoy a relaxed lunch in between their spells of unstinting efforts. The improved views of Loch Lomond from the A82 has already been positively commented on by some of our visitors and I am delighted with what has been achieved by the volunteers.”

October 21, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
The Allt a’Chuillinn hydro track from slopes of Beinn Chabhair, Eas Eonan hydro track right background – photo credit Tom Prentice Autumn 2017

Last Saturday, sitting in a hut in the Snowdonia National Park, I came across a Guardian travel supplement “Adventures in Wild Britain” which featured ten places to experience Britain’s most stunning wildlife.  One of the places was Glen Falloch at the head of Loch Lomond (see here).

 

Regular readers and anyone who hillwalks there, will know that the landscape in Glen Falloch has been trashed by what were supposed to be temporary hydro construction tracks being granted consent by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority to remain on a permanent basis.     Of all the new Glen Falloch hydro tracks, the one up the Allt a’ Chuillinn is the least obtrusive in landscape terms from the bottom of the Glen and has been used by the National Park to demonstrate what a good job they are doing.

Track up to Allt a Chuillinn intakes June 2016

The quality of the restoration work on the Allt a’ Chuillinn track is indeed better than most of the other Glen Falloch tracks to date but the top photo shows the landscape impact.  A harsh artificial line, which is far more prominent than the Allt a Chuillinn itself, which penetrates up into the hills right to the edge of a core wild land area.  The LLTNPA officers failed to take this into account when they gave consent under delegated powers to the Glen Falloch Estate to retain this and other tracks.

 

Glen Falloch runs between the two Wild Land Areas that have been agreed for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.   Any development in Glen Falloch has obvious implications for wild land areas 6 and 7 but instead of thinking about how these wild land areas might be enhanced,  the LLTNPA has allowed tentacles of development to penetrate up all the side glens.  Wild Land areas 6 and 7 feel considerably less wild now than they did when they were created three years ago.

 

You would not know any of this from reading the Guardian article.  There is not a mention of the new hydro tracks although it would have been almost impossible for the journalist and photographer to go where they did without seeing some of these tracks.  Anyone looking at the photos in the article or reading the purple prose – “We walk for hours and miles for glimpses of deer, but what glimpses” – who didn’t know the area would be left with the impression that Glen Falloch estate is pristine.

 

The Guardian makes no mention either of the impact of the 700 deer on the estate, whether on the areas of ancient woodland at the bottom of the glen or on the mountain sites of special scientific interest or whether the estate is managing this effectively.  The article refers to “the stalker” – I have met him, a nice guy who is very relaxed about access – but it appears nothing has changed since 2013 when in their submission to the Land Reform Review Group (see here) the estate reported it employed one full-time member of staff.   Even with occasional part-time assistance one stalker could not possibly “manage” 700 deer effectively.  The Landowners however use their staff – who undoubtably work in tough conditions – to sell a message which journalists and politicians find very hard to question.

 

The promulgation of landowning ideology has always swithered between claiming how many jobs are sustained through their goodwill and current management practices and describing these jobs as precarious (with the implication that any land reform would lead to a total collapse in rural employment).  Glen Falloch however now has lots of money because its hydro schemes are operational and generating significant profits.  It will be interesting to see if any of this money is used to promote management of the estate in accordance with National Park objectives or even, dare I say it, to promote rewilding in the two wild land areas.  One suspects, however, that just like on the grouse moors very little of the money earned by the estate will be re-invested and the tracks, by making it quicker for the stalkers (or gamekeeper) to travel round the estate,  will simply enable the estate to keep the number of people they employ to a minimum.

 

The Guardian article illustrates the extent of the challenge facing proponents of conservation and land reform.   Landowning interests are extremely good at manufacturing portrayals of Highlands life for public consumption which are based on images of unspoilt landscape and wildness.  These, as in Glen Falloch, conceal the truth as to how the land is actually being managed.  Our National Parks should be challenging all of this.   My suspicion however is that in this case the LLTNPA’s large marketing team, which is mentioned in the second sentence, set the whole thing up.   Unfortunately, the LLTNPA in Glen Falloch is part of the problem, they have been failing to protect the landscape and wild land while doing nothing to promote local employment or to use the hydro schemes as an opportunity to invest in more sustainable forms of land-use.  They need to be pressurised to take a different approach in their next 5 year National Park Partnership Plan.

October 20, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The upper part of track in the photo appears (from the site plans) to be new, the lower part of the track to have been widened

Following my post about how the planning documentation for the Ledard farm campsite has been altered  (see here), I have been trying to obtain final confirmation from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority of the status of the new track being used to construct the Hydro Scheme (see here).  On 28th September a member of staff  told me:

 

“I can confirm that the temporary track which has been constructed does not have planning permission.  The route of the track follows the route of the approved penstock and has been subject to monitoring as part of the approved hydro scheme ref 2013/0267/DET.  The agent was advised that planning permission was required for the track and this has led to the submission of the planning application which is currently being considered.”

 

However the day before, when I visited the site with a friend, it was claimed (see below) that planning permission for a temporary track had been consented by means of a Non-Material Variation to the original application.  I therefore asked the LLTNPA three weeks ago for a final clarification but have not had a response.   I therefore need to qualify what I say here but it appears that Fergus Wood, who until every recently was an LLTNPA Board Member and Member of the Planning Committee, has allowed a track to be constructed without planning permission on his land.    This post will develop the argument that unless the LLTNPA refuses the retrospective planning application that has been submitted for this track (see here), the credibility of the entire planning system in the National Park will be in shreds, and that to enforce the planning conditions will benefit the local economy.

Powerhouse is wooden building right of centre

The first section of track above Ledard Farm was already in existence but has been broadened and the creation of a pipeline through the trees has made the section of new track above more visible (see top photo).

The existing track appears to have ended just above the trees and section in the bottom 2/3 of the photo is new.  The buried pipeline is to the right (the pipeline is not the issue).
The track without planning permission is marked in red as a “working corridor”.

A document uploaded to the planning portal in October after our visit described this as a “working corridor” (see left).   The photo above shows that this is not true.  A track has been constructed.  At the time of our visit there had been recent work both to landscape it (the mound of earth on the left) and to created a drainage ditch.

This section of track is not only highly visible it is also quite steep and appears to exceed the maximum angle recommended by SNH in the Good Practice Guidance on Hill Tracks – 14 degrees.   Another reason, no doubt, why staff would have originally advised that there should be no access track constructed on the east side of the Ledard burn.

 

 

Above the steep section the track turns west and takes a more or less horizontal line across the open hillside.  It was the visibility of this section of track from afar which informed the advice staff gave to Fergus Wood, prior to the original application, that the access track should be on the far side of the Ledard burn (through the trees beyond the digger).  The reasoning behind this advice was repeated in the report to the LLTNPA Planning Committee which approved the original application.  Fergus Wood, who is still the landowner,  has nevertheless allowed the developers to construct a new access track on this section of ground.   If Board Members can ignore planning conditions and requirements, I am afraid the message is so can everyone else.  This is why the LLTNPA should have taken enforcement action as soon as they heard about this and should now refuse the new planning application.

Its not just that a track has been created, a large section of hillside above has been altered – another concern in the original committee report – and various soil types mixed.  The LLTNPA had agreed to some work here – necessary to construct the pipeline – but a much wider section of land than that set out in the original working corridor appears to have been affected.    The LLTNPA should be requiring a full report on the works that have been carried out, including their ecological impact.   The planning application to retain the track says this section of hillside will be planted with trees.

Another photo showing works appear to have been carried out outwith the working corridor approved by the National Park Authority.   We wondered if turf had been “robbed” from here in order to restore the land above the pipeline?  (The work on the ground in this photo is unlikely to have any significant landscape or ecological impact but the point is its being carried out on a Board Member’s land apparently outwith planning consents).

The intake to the hydro scheme is well hidden and will have almost no impact in landscape terms – the creation of a hydro scheme on Ledard Farm is not the issue.  The question for the LLTNPA though is how much of the excavation of the hillside on the right was agreed as part of the pipeline work and how much due to the creation of the construction track (e.g as a “borrow pit” from which to obtain materials to created the track)?

Incidentally, its worth noting how the muddy water in the burn below the intake, a contrast to the water above (see left) which was totally clear.   This is why detailed plans about how sediment will be prevented from entering river systems are required as part of planning consents.  I don’t have the expertise to know whether the amount of sediment entering the river in this case is within agreed limits or not but SEPA have been notified.

 

Could the track have been granted planning permission?

On returning down the Ben Venue track we were met by Fergus Wood and a group of people working on the site (who appear to included staff from Vento Ludens, Baby Hydro and the contractors MAM).  It quickly became apparent that most of the workforce, who were friendly, did not really know what was going on and the main discussion was between my friend, myself, Fergus Wood and another person who did not introduce himself but appeared to represent Vento Ludens. He confirmed that Vento Ludens had bought the scheme from Fergus Wood, something I had not been certain of up till then and had obviously read the articles on parkswatch because he claimed a permanent access track was needed to allow future maintenance to the site.

 

The only reason I can repeat what was said next is that I had taken the precaution of switching my voice recorder on before starting our walk round the site and can produce this in Court if the man who appeared to speak for Vento Ludens wanted to challenge the veracity of what I have to say next (we were potentially two witnesses against six).   This person claimed to me that a temporary construction track (as in the photos above) had been agreed by the LLTNPA by means of a Non-Material Variation (NMV) to the original planning application.  I replied that I had looked carefully at the planning portal and as far as I could recall the NMVs that appeared there did not include a temporary construction track.  However, accepting I could have missed something or the Park might have failed to publish the consent, I requested that he could send me the NMV consent and I would be happy to publish with a correction on parkswatch.  When he repeated the claim, another guy, who wanted to be helpful, asked for my email – I said it was on parkswatch – so he could send the NMV to me.  He obviously believed an NMV had been submitted and granted consent.    I have never received it and, having checked the planning portal again there is no such consent there.  This is why I have also asked the LLTNPA to confirm that when they say the access track never had planning permission, that includes any temporary construction track agreed by means of a NMV.

 

Once I have final confirmation of the planning position, I will comment further about the implications of this case for the Board Members Code of Conduct.  Meantime, I think there are some lessons here for the planning system.

Implications for the planning system

What struck me from the discussion on Ledard Farm is the workforce appear to have very little awareness of what has and what has not been agreed through the planning system.  The guy who said he would send me the NMV obviously believed such a variation had been agreed but it appears he had never seen the document.  It appears he trusted that someone had made the application.  This made me realise that people working for contractors on the ground on this or other hydro schemes often may have little idea about whether the necessary planning consents are in place, let alone what they require.   This is not their fault, they just do as they are told but this may help to explain why planning conditions are often not met, whether at Ledard, other hydro schemes, the Beauly Denny restoration etc.

 

What then happens is driven by money.  If developers and owners of hydro schemes also know the National Park is reluctant to take enforcement action, the temptation to take shortcuts to increase profit levels increases.        The man who claimed an NMV had been obtained for a temporary construction track at Ledard, also claimed that that “due diligence” had been carried out before the purchase of the hydro scheme.   Now, one might have thought, if an access track is essential for maintenance purposes as he claimed, due diligence would have included checks on whether consents were in place for access to the site both for construction and maintainance purposes.  Perhaps checks were undertaken, but if so someone appears to have concluded that the absence of consents for an access track would not impact on the value of the hydro scheme.  What does this tell you about the respect given to the planning system in the National Park?

 

The basic problem is that while many of the conditions the LLTNPA has applied to planning consents for hydro schemes are excellent, they are not enforced.  As a consequence they become meaningless as soon as a developer puts money before the natural environment or their own interests before the planning system.  While part of the solution to this is enforcement – which is why it is so essential the LLTNPA is seen to act robustly in this case involving (now former) Board Member Fergus Wood – the other part of the solution is to have an informed workforce.   Where developments are carried out according to planning requirements and shortcuts are not taken, that should create MORE work.  More work would give more pay to the people working on these schemes and put more money back into the local economy.   Its in the interests of the workforce therefore to understand exactly what planning conditions are in place and to empower them to speak out when these are broken.   The LLTNPA could be encouraging this.  It could ask all developers to confirm that every member of the workforce has seen the relevant plans that have been approved and could set up a confidential reporting line for use where they have been broken.   That would also help other people report potential breaches of planning permission (its hard to clype on your neighbours).

 

What’s good for the environment is good for local jobs

Vento Ludens (“Playing with the Wind”) – the company appear to have started out in windfarms before branching out into hydro – is a Company with their address registered in Scotland at South Charlotte St in Edinburgh.  It is ultimately owned by a company registered in Germany which is controlled by H.Walz (who is also Director of Vento Ludens).  Its latest accounts vento ludens accounts, for the year ending December 2016, show shareholders funds of £3,938,194.

 

This is important because developers in general are always complaining about the unnecessary costs imposed by the planning system.  Renewable energy developments, however, are are highly profitable, hence the investment from Germany in this case but also why many of our hydro schemes are now ultimately owned by the City of London or other tax havens.   Vento Ludens’ accounts show they have plenty of money that could be used to pay now for the re-instatement of the access track, which would provide more employment to the people working on the scheme.  They are also likely, once the scheme becomes operational, to make enough money to pay for the Ledard hydro intake to be maintained without an access track.  That would also help local employment (the time taken to walk up to the hydro instead of driving there to clear the screens of debris).  If  larger scale replacements – once every ten years? – could not be brought in by vehicle off-road, helicopters could be sued.   The LLTNPA therefore have no reason to fear that by enforcing planning conditions that would somehow harm the local economy.

 

The lesson from this I would suggest is that the best way the Park could help the local economy, is by ensuring the highest standards possible are applied to hydro schemes.  This would help reduce the amount of money taken out of the local area, Scotland and indeed the UK.

 

Even better would be if it could promote more community owned Hydro Schemes.  One wonders if Fergus Wood ever thought about trying to sell the Ledard hydro scheme to the local community in Strathard rather than to a company controlled from abroad and what sort of system might have helped him do this.

 

The Ledard Hydro track planning application is still open for comment and you can do so here

Addendum

At 13.20 today, 3 hours after this post appeared, I received an email from the LLTNPA which stated “that the change to a new track has not been considered as a Non-Material Variation”.  In other words a track that has been constructed on land owned by Fergus Wood when he was a Board Member and a member of the Park Planning Committee is unlawful.  This is a scandal which needs full public investigation.    I have removed the ? after “unlawful” in the original title of this piece and many of the other qualifications to what I wrote no longer apply.

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 11, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Extract from Glasgow Airport magazine, High Flyer, September 2017. Often the LLTNPA appears to be more a tourist agency – we have Visit Scotland to do that – than National Park, with a marketing team to match. Yes, Loch Lomond is very close to Glasgow airport , but can you get there easily by public transport? Yes, the National Park is great for camping – but why not mention the camping ban then?

Looking at the papers for the Cairngorms National Park Board meeting which took place last Friday (see here), I was struck by the significant differences between the way it and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority operate.

 

While many (mostly retiring?) members of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority have lost sight of what they might contribute to the National Park (see here),  Cairngorms National Park Authority Board Members are involved in a large number of initiatives.  Here is an extract on current CNPA involvement in Groups (27 in all):

 

While attending meetings and events of course does not necessarily make Board Members effective – and the CNPA has in my view always struggled to engage with recreational interests – this wide network of groups does influence how the Cairngorms National Park operates.  The CNPA has a raft of strategies and plans compared to the the LLTNPA and there are direct links between these groups, the existence of strategies and the National Park Partnership Plan.

 

For example,  the Cairngorms Economic Forum (one of the Group above) links to the Cairngorms Economic Strategy 2015-18 and the fact that the Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan considers economic issues, include low pay in the National Park.  While they are far from developing an alternative economic strategy, based on sustainable development and use (should that be re-use?) of natural resources, they do have a framework for considering the issues.    There is no equivalent in the LLTNPA.  As a consequence their draft National Park Partnership plan is much weaker on these issues and is little more than a set of aspirations (which its very hard for anyone to disagree with) without content.

 

While some networking does go on on the LLTNPA – you can see that locally elected members and councillors do attend community council meetings from the minutes of those meetings – what their Board Members are involved in is very difficult to ascertain as there is no public network of groups as with the CNPA.   Indeed groups which used to exist, like the east Loch Lomond and 5 Lochs Visitor Management Groups appear effectively to have been shut down.  Moreover, the public have no easy way to contact LLTNPA members, whereas go to the section of the CNPA website on Board Members, click on their name and there is an email.  So, if you are interested in social inclusion or Broadband in the Cairngorms National Park, you can work out who best to speak to and contact them.  I would suggest that is worth a lot.

 

The differences go further.  The CNPA has a Planning Committee, on which all Board Members sit, and an Audit and Risk Committee but it also has a Finance and Delivery and Staffing and Delivery Committees.  ALL meet in public.  Contrast this with what the LLTNPA say on their website:

 

“By law, we have two committees that are required to meet:

  • Our Planning & Access Committee meets monthly to consider certain planning applications, enforcement actions, policy papers, legal agreements and access matters.
  • And our Audit Committee meets up to four times a year to support the Accountable Officer (our CEO) in their responsibilities for issues of risk, control and governance and associated assurance through a process of constructive challenge.”

 

The LLTNPA operate with the minimum number of Committees possible,  just as they publish the minimum amount of information they are legally obliged to (two years).

 

The LLTNPA model has, I believe, been based on neo-liberal corporate ideology that the best way to run organisations is by slimline management, which in effect means small groups of people endorsing decisions taken by the leader.  The few know best and Park structures have been designed to prevent anything getting in the way of centralised decision-making.   No wonder their Board Members no longer saw a role for themselves and proposed their own abolition.

 

Thankfully there are signs of change at the LLTNPA.  Their new convener appears to be a genuine team player, more like the captain than the manager, and the Chair of the Park’s Delivery Group, Colin Bayes, has been trying to make more public what that group does.   The logical next step is to create a finance and delivery committee which, like the CNPA, meets in public.  Having a staffing committee also says something about the preparedness of an organisation to be open – for staff should be the most important resource our National Parks have.

 

The two National Park Boards have arranged to meet in November – its been an action point for the LLTNPA for over two years – and I think that provides an ideal opportunity for LLTNPA members to rediscover a role for themselves.

 

Structures are only the start

Extract from report on last CNPA National Park Partnership Plan progress

Networking, listening, being more open is however only a start. Having discovered a role for themselves, Board Members need to help ensure our National Parks deliver far more than they do at present and where things are not working to help change direction and come up with new solutions.  The above extract illustrates the challenges facing the CNPA.  The Wildlife Estates Initiative was dominated by landowners and hunting interests and was supposed to show how the National Park would work in partnership with estates to promote wildlife in the National Park (and reduce wildlife persecution).  What the extract above shows is that even this weak initiative has failed and it provides strong evidence that the voluntary measures to promote wildlife in the new National Park Partnership Plan won’t work either.    The landed estates basically don’t care how they appear to the public.   The challenge for CNPA Board Members is to start to assert the right of the National Park to take action on these issues where voluntary measures have failed.

 

Ironically, the LLTNPA did take firm action in one area – the camping byelaws –  though I think it is significant that this is the ONLY area of work where it has been prepared to stick its neck out.  The problem has been that the LLTNPA focussed on the wrong issue – camping management rather than visitor management – and has bulldozed through the wrong solution with disastrous consequences.   I am in favour of our National Park Boards taking a stronger line but, just like when landowners fail to co-operate, they also need to recognise when they have got it wrong.  Its these type of issues where public debate should be promoted by our National Park Boards,  rather than the manipulated Your Park consultation on the byelaws or the relative silence of the CNPA on fundamental issues of land-use such as whether grouse moor management is compatible with the aims of the National Park.   Neither of our National Parks have been very good at leading such debates to date.

October 5, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments

The carpark for Ben Venue, which was featured in the Stirling Observer (see here), had been cleared up by the time I visited it 8 days ago.  I had a discussion with Fergus Wood, the Board Member who own Ledard Farm afterwards and he said the layby had never been blocked to hillwalkers.  While that had been suggested in the Stirling Observer article, that was not the point I had made on parkswatch which was that a condition of the planning permission for the Ledard hydro scheme (as far as I could ascertain) was that the layby was NOT to be used to store materials.   The concern was that a development involving a Board Member had breached planning conditions, which in my opinion, sets a very poor example.  That the layby has been cleared up suggests there was a breach of planning conditions and much of the credit for redressing this lies with the local publicity given to the issue by the Stirling Observer.

 

For the last couple of weeks I have been having a dialogue with the National Park Authority about their refusal to release information about pre-application discussions which took place with Fergus Wood about the proposed campsite at Ledard Farm (which was to be located just through the gate in the photo).  Fergus Wood withdrew that planning application in May.  Unfortunately, we have been unable to reach agreement and I have now submitted an appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner.   In gathering the paperwork for that appeal I found that the planning documentation on the Park’s Planning portal (see here for current information) had been changed since my post of 11th April which drew attention to potential conflicts of interest between Mr Wood’s involvement in the development of the camping byelaws and his application for a campsite (see here).  In my view this change has been done in a way that is misleading, covers up for the failure of the original application to state that Mr Wood, the applicant, was a Board Member and appears to involve falsification of documents.  The rest of this post considers the evidence for this and the implications.

 

In my post of 11th April, I included an extract from the Planning Application form which I downloaded from the LLTNPA planning portal on 10th April.   This showed that under the Member Interests section of the application form the “No” box had been ticked.  The form was was dated 3rd March 2017. You can see the full form I downloaded here 2017_0097_DET-Application_Form-100279676.  I was surprised to discover therefore, when checking my appeal to the Information Commissioner, that there was a new Application form on the planning portal in which the “Yes” box under Member Interests had been ticked and which included text which said Fergus Wood was on the Board.  You can compare the two versions of the form below:

Extract from form downloaded 10th April
Extract from Application Form as it currently appears on Park portal

 

I was even more surprised to see both forms were dated 3rd March 2017.

 

I then checked further and saw there were two versions of the application form on the portal, the second headed “superseded” was easy to miss.

Screenshot from planning portal

Now I was pretty certain that when I downloaded the form on 10th April there was only one version of the application form on the portal.   While I did not take a screenshot at the time, its seems hardly credible that the agents for Mr Wood would have submitted two application forms on the same day, the first say Mr Wood had no interest, the second saying that he had an interest, that both were then date stamped 13th March but one went on portal first and was later marked “superseded”.

 

I then realised that the version of the application I had downloaded on 10th April had NO “superseded” in the title (and there should be proof of this in my computer’s download history – I am away from home – which I would be very happy to make available to investigators).   What therefore appears to have happened is that sometime after my post and before the application was withdrawn, a member or members of National Park staff renamed the original application form by inserting the word “superseded” in the file name and then created or processed a new version of the application form where the Members Interest boxes were both ticked yes.

 

I don’t know whose idea this was or who authorised the changes but they appear to me to be  fraudulent and intended to give the impression Fergus Wood had declared his interests at the time the planning application was made.   I would stress here that I have no evidence that Fergus Wood was involved in this at all, although what should have happened is when he realised he had failed to declare interests properly,  he should then have written to the Park, apologised and any amended paperwork should have then shown the correct date.   That would have removed any cause for complaint.   However, certain LLTNPA staff and Board members don’t think like that.  Instead they try to cover things up which makes matters a lot worse if they get found out.

 

The significance of this cover-up is that its the third that I am aware of involving a Board Member.  First there was Owen McKee, the chair of the planning committee who traded in Cononish goldmine shares (see here).   Second, was the falsification of the minute of the Board meeting which decided the byelaws to say that Board Members with property in the proposed camping management zones had declared an interest when they had not (see here).   And now there is Fergus Wood’s campsite planning application.

 

These attempts to cover up for Board Members are part of a much wider malaise, where information and records are changed or misrepresented to ensure the Park gets its own way.    This has been evident through the whole camping byelaw saga, for example in the way the results of the Your Park consultation were falsified,  but also seems common practice in the planning system where myself and a couple of co-contributors have noted documents have a strange habit of disappearing.  I would recommend anyone interested in a planning application to always take screenshots of the planning portal and download all relevant documents.   Its a pain in the neck, shouldn’t be needed but if you don’t do it, you have no redress.   Unless I had downloaded the Ledard Farm planning application I would have no proof any changes had been made.

 

What needs to happen

First, the LLTNPA needs to conduct a full investigation into the Ledard Farm campsite planning application, how and when this was changed and who was involved/responsible.

Second, the new Board needs to make it very clear to the senior staff team that any falsification of records will be treated as gross misconduct.

Third, It could then, try and re-establish a reputation for probity.  A review of the way complaints have been addressed might be a good place to start.  For example it could carry out the long outstanding  investigation which is needed into who was responsible for falsely recording that Board Members had declared an interest at the meeting which approved the camping byelaws.   (When I wrote to Linda McKay, after the Commissioner for Ethical Standards found she had no knowledge the minute had been changed, asking that she conduct an investigation into who was responsible she passed the letter on to Gordon Watson to respond.  He declared the matter closed, which suggested to me he was fully aware of who had changed the minute but it was not in his or the Park’s interests to address this).  I suspect there are many other examples.

Fourth, it should make a commitment to operate far more openly, publish more information and stop abusing Freedom of Information law to withhold information from the public (every appeal I have made so far to the Information Commissioner has resulted in information being released but its a long a thankless process).   This would help provide public audit trails which would help staff and Board Members who are honest and want to do the right thing.

Fifth, the Board could ask the new Governance Manager – the post has recently been advertised – to put ethics, including truth, at the heart of the governance of the National Park Authority.

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.