Tag: Local communities

May 20, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Thanks to Nick Halls for these photos and for information which has informed the commentary.

Southern entrance to torpedo station site 15th May               Photo Credit Nick Halls

The area around the former southern entrance to the torpedo station remains in a very poor condition with concrete barriers now replacing the plastic barriers across the broken entrance gates.

 

The gates, which were installed to prevent vehicular access to the former torpedo station following an amenity notice issued by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority  (see here) and were then broken open (see here), appear to have had very little impact.

Close up of left side of gate, there is litter everywhere and this is the side of the public road. Photo Credit Nick Halls
Photo Credit Nick Halls

Inside the gate is even worse.  There has been a fire, whether this was an attempt to burn off rubbish or burn down the gate is unclear.

Photo Credit Nick Halls

And there is yet more fly tipping down the bank.

 

Clydebank Developments, who as far as I am aware are still owners of the torpedo site, have now  had 9 months to clear up the site since the LLTNPA issued the amenity notice last year.   The problem is that no-one is monitoring the site, the developer appears to have no presence, there are now far fewer police based in rural areas and the LLTNPA has devoted all its energy to chasing innocent campers rather than fly tippers who cause far greater problems.  There is clearly no proper enforcement taking place.  The local community and National Park deserve better.

 

It was good to see the head of Loch Long, which suffers from a massive litter problem – the worst in the National park – in pristine condition 10 days earlier.  What a contrast to the torpedo site just down the road.   Local community pressure to address the marine litter problems has clearly had a positive effect.  They have been involved in clearing the litter themselves and received grant funding, which has recently finished, to pay for the litter to be removed.    The problem is there are no adequate long term budgets to address the issue and, as the March meeting of the Arrochar and Tarbert Community Council noted, while Argyll and Bute allocation of £200k to clear up litter from beaches is very welcome, the Council’s coastline is as long as France!

Photo taken 5/5/17                                                                          Nick Kempe

Another small step forward is that the LLTNPA has recognised there is a marine litter problem in its new draft Partnership Plan – the word “marine” failed to appear in the last plan at all!  This is what the new draft plan has to say about it:

 

The volume of marine litter affecting communities on Loch Long is a long-standing issue which requires innovative thinking to resolve. (P28).

“Innovative thinking” is another example of parkspeak, whose real meaning is that the LLTNPA is not proposing to spend any resources on the marine litter problem which blights the National Park over the five years of the new Partnership Plan.

 

While it would be great to be able to address the causes marine litter in the Clyde,   which would require much greater enforcement action than happens at present (yes, that word enforcement again),  when litter is washed up at the head of Loch Long it needs someone to pick it up, just like it needs someone to pick up the litter at the torpedo site or at Luss (see here) or Balmaha on busy weekends.   The problem is the LLTNPA is so obsessed with the litter left by a few irresponsible campers, it cannot see the litter problem as a whole despite all the evidence on the ground.

 

What needs to happen

 

  • The LLTNPA needs to develop a proper litter strategy, as it promised to do several years ago and has never delivered – there is no mention of this commitment in the new Partnership Plan.  Without a co-ordinated plan, its target, to see a reduction of litter in the National Park over the next five years, is meaningless and will never be met.
  • The LLTNPA also needs to start telling the truth.  In the new Partnership Plan the LLTNPA claims “Much public investment has already been targeted in raising the quality of visitor facilities in the  busiest areas improving car parks, toilets, information points, litter facilities, viewpoints and campsites”.   Yes, its spent money on carparks, viewpoints and campsites – whether this has been well spent is a separate issue – but litter facilities and toilets??   So what is the gap between what is needed and what is provided?  The Partnership Plan is completely silent.   The LLTNPA continues to avoid the real issues facing the National Park.
March 24, 2017 Phil Swainson No comments exist

By Phil Swainson

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Under access rights, Badaguish has no more right to tell people to keep off mountain bike courses than they would a golf course.   The land though is still to the best of my knowledge owned by the Forestry Commission and therefore not private.
March 21, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

 

 

Part of torpedo range dump, Ben Lomond far distance

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

The site plan which was granted planning permission

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

View from the Cobbler to Clyde Estuary November 20

 

 

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

 

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

 

What should the LLTNPA do?

 

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

  • So why not compulsorily purchase the old torpedo range and call on the Royal Navy to do the right thing and restore the land it has blighted?
  • A community development trust could then provide a much needed campsite and some basic holiday accommodation (eg wigwams) on the site as well as transport links from Tarbert.
  • The proposal, in the original plans, for a path linking the site to Arrochar should be retained
  • Forest Enterprise should be called on to take out the conifer forests as it is doing on the east shore of Loch Lomond with a view to enabling native woodland (atlantic oakwoods) to develop
March 6, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
The signs for the east Loch Lomond byelaws 2011 were still up on 1st March when the new camping byelaws came into effect

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

February 19, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Encampment

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

What needs to happen

 

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

January 30, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Postscript – correction

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

September 27, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

The proposed Flamingo Land development of the west riverside side at Balloch was covered by  an interesting article in the Sunday Herald (and I say that not just because I was quoted in it) which made links between the proposed camping ban and the proposed development.  Ultimately this is about what National Parks are for and what sort of public enjoyment the National Park Authorities should be promoting.   That this an issue of major concern to the public appears to be confirmed by the petitition on 38 degress which last night had 29,176 signatures.

 

Judith Duffy, the Sunday Herald Chief Reporter managed to extract a couple of interesting statements from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.

 

The first was from Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive, was about the Flamingo Land Development:

 

“Watson said a planning application or detailed proposals had yet to be submitted for the Flamingo Land development, so the authority was “reserving its position” to see if the plans are acceptable or not.”   Gordon Watson was then quoted as saying:   “We can obviously assess a development and if we feel it is not appropriate, doesn’t fit in for whatever reason, or there is environmental issues, then obviously we have the power to refuse planning permission.”

 

To me this suggests that somehow the LLTNPA has been neutral in this process up till now, knows almost nothing about what is being proposed and will then take a decision.   Actually, as my previous post showed the LLTNPA has been in discussions about this site for sometime and this has basically been confirmed by the excellent comment on my post by James Fraser, Chair of Friends and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, on the history of public agency involvement with the west riverside site which I recommend everyone interested in the future of this site reads (see comment).    

 

In this, after stating that hopefully there will be a chance to influence the final plans, James says that the Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs “suggested this to a representative of the company prior to the Charrette getting underway more than 6 months ago and for whatever reason this wasn’t followed through at that time.”    If FOLLAT were talking to the developer six months ago, the LLTNPA must have been too, yet instead of being open and using the Balloch community planning event (the charrette) to develop ideas for the whole site (and not just the walkway), the LLTNPA kept discussions with the proposed developer secret from the local community.  Why?  How does this secretive process fit with the Scottish Government Minister Kevin Stewart’s statement that “Decisions affecting local communities should be made by those local communities”?

 

What concerns me about the development is not the sort of aspirations that James outlines, which appear to me things that both local community and people who care about the National Park could support,  but the way Scottish Enterprise and the LLTNPA are going about this through appointment of a preferred private developer, with a track record in bling and what appears to be poverty wages, whose interests appear very different to those of the National Park.   Flamingo Land’s failure to participate in the community planning event, despite apparently being asked, just set off even more alarm bells.   The risk here, and I would judge it very high, is that Flamingo Land ask for more development than anyone wants and types of development that are both inappropriate, bling!  This will then have an adverse affect on existing local businesses but all of this will be justified by the LLTNPA as being the only way to finance further “improvement” of the site.   In my view its therefore imperative that both local and national organisations are involved in  discussions with Flamingo Land now, before any further detailed plans are developed.

 

The second interesting statement in Judith Duffy’s piece was about camping:

 

The park authority says it has not yet been decided if charges will be made for permits, but insist any will be “minimal”.

 

This is not true (and I would be very happy to publish a statement from the LLTNPA if I have got this wrong).  In the Board Paper that approved the byelaws para 5.8 read as follows:

 

“A camping permit scheme will provide the opportunity for sustainable levels of informal camping within a camping management zone. This form of provision requires minimal capital investment, little or no new development of facilities, allows for a reasonable level of provision subject to a defined maximum number and would be centrally administered by the National Park Authority with a small administration charge for booking a permit”.

 

A “small administration charge”, however “small” is defined, is a charge and I can find nothing in subsequent Board Papers to say this has changed.   Now of course the LLTNPA may still be deliberating camping permit charges in its secret monthly meetings  –  which have no doubt also discussed the west riverside development – but officially it decided 18 months ago to impose charges for camping under permit in places where currently people camp for free.   Its a charge for access, nothing less.

 

If Scottish Ministers want another good reason to suspend the implementation of the proposed camping byelaws they would do well to read an excellent piece that appeared in the Guardian comment is free yesterday (see here).   This is the first major critique of the proposed camping byelaws that I am aware of that has appeared in the press south of the border.   Do Scottish Ministers really want the LLTNPA, which was set up in no small part to promote public enjoyment of the countryside,  to destroy Scotland’s reputation as having world class access rights?

September 16, 2016 Nick Kempe 4 comments
balloch-vision-copy
Balloch Impression of West Riverside Walk by 7N Architects from community planning report

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

What should happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Can Flamingo Land deliver sustainable economic development?

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

September 5, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Loch Chon
Artist’s impression of improved camping at Loch Chon, in The Trossachs (LLTNPA Press Release)

“As part of the plans which will come into effect for the 2017 season, feasibility work is already well advanced at Loch Chon in The Trossachs on land managed by Forest Enterprise Scotland. It is proposed that the picturesque site at Loch Chon will accommodate 30 tent pitches alongside facilities including a fresh water supply, waste disposal and toilets. Similar sites will be created across the four management zones”.  (LLTNPA Press Release 26/01/16 welcoming the Ministers approval of the camping byelaws).

 

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs Press Release bears NO resemblance to the planning application the Park has made to itself  (see here) which shows fixed pitches, all set back from the loch

loch chon camping plan

 

Under the LLTNPA’s actual proposals the pretty scene in the first photo, which is on the beach well to the left of any of the pitches,  could not happen.   Its  propaganda based on a conviction that you can fool most of the people most of the time – what the Park is actually planning includes wooden camping platforms on the hillside.

CAMPSITE DESIGN
Illustrative campsite design submitted to Scottish Ministers as Appendix 4 to the bye-law proposals
What is more people camping near the beach as in the first photo would be in breach of the byelaws and committing a criminal offence.
Note also the claim that similar sites would be delivered across the four management zones.  The LLTNPA has still not announced any other site and now has only six months to deliver.   I doubt it will and there is no time now for any public consultation but then the LLTNPA develops all its important plans which affect people who live in, visit and care about the National Park behind closed doors.  If the Park fails to deliver the promised campsite that is yet another reason for the new Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham to reverse the decision to approve the byelaws.

 

There has been no further news about the Park’s planning application to itself  (see here) on Loch Chon but I suspect this is because the LLTNPA  is secretly trying to win over the local community, many of whom rightly objected to its proposals.  I hope they hold out.  Its worth reminding Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive, what he committed in writing to the local community  about the byelaws and the Park’s camping plans back  in April 2014 Loch Ard meeting notes (obtained through an FOI request ): 

 

Enjoy Mr Watson’s reference to Loch Drunky, but the points that stand out for me are:

  • The Community Council suggested campsites at Loch Katrine, Loch Arklet and various other locations in the area.  This would have fitted well with my suggestion that there should be a network of small campsites in Strathard linked by the current path network which is underused.  A great opportunity to promote weekend cycling and backpacking trips.   This has been ignored and instead the LLTNPA wants one big campsite at Loch Chon.
  • The Community Council wanted to allow camping at Loch Arklet, but because the byelaws have been extended there and the Park is refusing to consider a campsite,  camping will be banned there completely.
  • Most of the campers at Loch Chon are fishermen who obtain fishing permits from Forest Enterprise Scotland.

 

Now local people have been concerned about fishermen leaving a mess at Loch Chon and I believe this was partly why there was local support for the proposed camping byelaws.  However, byelaws were never needed or the right solution:  the Forestry Commission Scotland should have been managing these issues, its their land after all.  They could have simply removed fishing permits from people who did not abide by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code when camping or undertaking other activities (fishing itself is not covered by access rights).  Instead, FCS have simply abandoned all their visitor management responsibilities at Loch Chon and have been only too pleased to see the National Park step into the void and pay for a campsite on their land.  The FCS should have been creating campsites throughout the Trossachs and the western part of the National Park where its by far the largest landowner.

 

The FCS as well at the LLTNPA has betrayed local and recreational communities and I hope both will start demanding it either starts to play a constructive role in Strathard or is held to account by Scottish Ministers.    In my view the best way out of the mess that LLTNPA and FCS have created in Strathard would be for a tourism and recreation plan for Strathard which is developed openly and transparently with the local community and recreational organisations.

 

 

 

 

 

August 18, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment
IMG_5831 - Copy
The countryside around Loch Chon – the Park’s plans don’t support large developments in the countryside

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What needs to happen

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

 

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

 

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

July 10, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

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Dear LLTNPA,

 

In May I visited the Loch Venachar quay site off the Invertrossachs Road where you installed a new carpark with gates last year, just outside Invertrossachs House, the home of your convener Linda McKay.   I note that the trees on the quay, which were not in the original plans, were growing particularly well – I suspect that whoever did the work was instructed to feed the trees with a large dose of fertiliser.  I normally love trees – indeed I have been criticised by readers of my posts for promoting trees at the expense of deer – but here they are a symbol of everything that is wrong with the National Park.   This quay, hard to see in the photo, was gifted to the people of Callender for their enjoyment and handed over to LLTNPA on the creation of the National Park.   People used to camp here but in a couple of years, when the water in the loch is high, it will no longer be possible for anyone even to walk to the end of the quay.  Should our National Parks be about planting trees at the expense of people, to keep out the hoi polloi, to stop access?.

 

So, here’s to the people of Callender using the new powers of the Community Empowerment Act to re-assert their right to land that was gifted for their enjoyment.

June 21, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Spotted on the headwall of Coire Cas
Spotted on the headwall of Coire Cas – thanks to the reader who sent this

I picked up earlier this winter that there has been a lot of discontent from downhill skiers and boarders about how Natural Retreats has been operating the ski area, with the general perception being they have neglected winter sports in favour of summer visitors.    There is also a lot of concern on Speyside about the quality of the tourist offering and the implications of this for the local economy.  What is really interesting is that people are now openly expressing this.   In the past there has always been a certain tension between conservationists and recreationists, mountaineers and skiers, local people and national organisations and this has allowed Highlands and Islands Enterprise to get away with a series of poor decisions, the latest of which appears to be its lease with Natural Retreats.   I believe the general discontent with Natural Retreats will help turn the spotlight on HIE.    There is now a great opportunity for the various interests to get together and rethink a vision of the ski area and the role it should play within the wider Glenmore corridor.

 

 

June 1, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments

Cameron McNeish has some interesting comments to make on National Parks and the political priorities for the new Scottish Government in the latest Walkhighland newsletter http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/news/political-priorities/0014950/    In it he states he believes the reason the SNP did not commit to more National Parks was lack of cash – or to put it another way because of current UK Government policies of austerity that arise from neo-liberal economic thinking.

 

Raising more money in taxation is the main alternative to austerity and while the Scottish Parliament can do relatively little to raise taxes at the national level, one thing it could do if there was the political will would be to encourage the introduction of tourist taxes.   A campaign for a tourist tax in Edinburgh is now gaining momentum.  An eloquent case for this was made by Rosemary Goring in the Herald yesterday  http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/14525115.Why_it__39_s_time_to_say_Yes_to_a_tourist_tax/  but why not also for the countryside?

 

Our existing National Parks would be a good place to start.   The issues faced by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park in particular are not dissimilar to Edinburgh – litter, eyesores, congestion  – and as Rosemary Goring says are both practical matters and about aesthetics.  A tourist tax would enable improvements in visitor management such as public toilet provision, litter collection etc.   A quick look at the statistics indicates that between 2009-11 on average foreign visitors spent 2.4m bed nights in the LLTNP.  An average charge of £1 a night bed tax would raise a lot of money from people who otherwise make no direct contribution to the National Parks (the VAT they pay on hotel nights etc goes to the UK Government).

 

Such money I believe should not be used to replace central Government funding but as additional monies to invest in rural areas.  The best way to ensure this happens is not to add any money raised to the National Park’s or Local Authority budgets but to devolve it to local communities, as on the continent.  In Europe there are many examples of where local communities get to decide where to spend monies raised in their area in a way that benefits both local residents and visitors.  This wold empower local communities against the centralising trends in Government in Scotland.

 

While such a model could be replicated across rural Scotland the National Parks would be an ideal place to start as they have the infrastructure to support the roll out of such a tax.  There are already some initiatives in our two National Parks which raise money from businesses on a voluntary basis and my suggestion is this should be developed into a tourist tax.  The tax would be on the tourists not the business and the main cost to the business would be in accounting for it, a small price to pay for increased local investment which can only benefit them.    In my view such a tax should also be proportional rather than flat rate, so people staying in expensive hotels pay more than people camping.

 

 

February 8, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Mike Wade, in an article in the Times on Saturday http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/scotland/article4684602.ece has done a great service in showing that local communities are far from unified in their support for camping bye-laws. After quoting Stuart Fraser, of the Oak Tree Inn at Balmaha, which has been vocal in its support for the bye-laws, he quotes not just one but four residents from the Callander area who are opposed to them: Gene and Liz Maxwell who live on a farm and run (more…)