Tag: Minister Environment

June 21, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

The official consultation on the draft Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Partnership Plan (NPPP) 2018-23 closes on Monday 3rd July.  The NPPP is the key document governing what the LLTNPA is supposed to do over the next five years so its important people respond.   In this post I will take an overview of the consultation documents and then, in three further posts, will consider the three themes in the consultation, Conservation and Land Management, Rural Development and Visitor Experience, which broadly mirror the National Park’s statutory objectives.     I hope people with an interest in our National Parks will respond to the consultation and that these posts may inform those responses.    Its easy to be cynical about consultations, and I believe the LLTNPA consultation  demonstrates just how hollowed out consultation processes have become, but public pressure does work.   A good example is the pledge which was added to the Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan to eliminate raptor persecution over the next five years.  Pressure needs to be exerted on the LLTNPA to radically up its game.

 

Where is the review of the current NPPP?

 

A rational starting point for developing any new plan should be a review of existing plans, covering matters such as successes, failures and consideration as to what needs to change.    The current NPPP,  2012-17, was initially reviewed on an annual basis, at a meeting chaired by the Environment Minister.     The Reviews are available on the LLTNPA website NPPPlan but you will never come across these if you go straight to the consultation pages and  there is no mention of them in the consultation documents nor is there any explanation of why the last one was in 2014.  Had the reviews been undertaken as originally intended, the information from them could have been fed into the new planning process.   Instead, publicly at least, there is a huge hole.

 

What the last review in 2014 does show is that the LLTNPA was facing certain serious issues and was lacking data on critical issues.

Extract from NPPP Review

Note how the LLTNPA classed a drop in percentage of designated conservation sites in favourable conditions with an “equals” symbol, meaning there was nothing to worry about.  And, were the LLTNPA to have collected data on % of visitors satisfied with cleanliness of the countryside I suspect there would have been a massive drop from 86%.   This raises the question about whether the LLTNPA is now simply operating in a post-truth environment, that its not collecting and reporting data because it would not support its marketing hype.  Other measures from 2013-14 were even worse:  a drop in the percentage of new affordable housing from a baseline of 75% to 43% and a drop in new business start ups.

 

Where is the consultation on the issues the LLTNPA is facing?

 

The consultation documents do not ask people to consider the issues the National Park faces, quite a contrast to the Cairngorms National Park Authority consultation which was based around “The Big 9” issues they had identified.   The only place that there is any  consideration of the issues is in the Strategic Environment Assessment which most people won’t read as nowhere in the consultation does it suggest this might be worth reading.  I can see why, because the SEA  explains how the consultation should have been undertaken:

 

“the dynamic assessment of environmental objectives / targets with
trends data can help to identify emerging environmental issues that should ideally be
addressed early on.”

 

It then goes on to highlight “the most critical environmental issues (problems and opportunities) that should be considered in the development of the NPPP 2018-2023”.   Nowhere does the LLTNPA explain how these issues have informed the development of the NPPP, indeed its not clear they have been considered at all.
Its well worth looking at Appendix 3 to the SEA to see how the LLTNPA is actually doing.  Here is an example:
And here’s another:   “The Park has 27 designated sites assessed as being in “unfavourable” condition due to grazing pressures.”
So we have a draft NPPP which makes almost no mention of the serious issues the NPPP faces.  This is a fundamental failing, nay a dereliction of duty – the plan has no foundations.

An outcomes based plan

 

Instead of considering the evidence and what issues it faces the draft NPPP starts and ends with a consideration of outcomes.   It appears that what is driving this is the Scottish Government’s National Outcome framework.

If our National Parks really have a “significant contribution” to “making our Education system world class”, why then is there no commitment to re-open outdoor education centres throughout the National Park?

While our National Parks can contribute to some national outcomes, actually that’s not their primary purpose, which is to meet their statutory objectives.  The Plan though, instead of considering how it can meet those statutory objectives, is full of meaningless claims to be contributing to certain outcomes.

Near the top of each section in the plan there is this graphic – a graphic illustration of priorities.  While the civil servants must be slavering all this does is make the LLTNPA look like a meaningless pawn controlled by central government.
The outcomes themselves,  are very worthy – it would be hard to object to any of them – but so broad as to be meaningless.
Conservation outcomes from the NPPP
If they were meaningful the LLTNPA should be able to explain the extent to which the outcomes are being met at present.    They have made no attempt to do so.   The problem is the first two  consultation questions are devoted to asking people if they agree with these very broad statements:
Its unlikely any people will disagree.   The Park has then identified a number of priorities for each outcome without any analysis of why that priority makes sense and again the priority is so broadly defined its rarely possible to tell what if anything the LLTNPA and its partners are planning to do:
Extract from conservation priorities. In this slide only under priority 4 does the LLTNPA give an indication of what might be going to happen.
The danger is that anyone who agrees with the priorities as proposed will be treated by the LLTNPA as agreeing to whatever actions they have or have not planned to do.  It is amazing that under the conservation of landscape priority the only two actions are actually about altering, one might say “destroying”,  the natural landscape.

The secret and biased consultation process

The draft plan does not explain how its been developed or how priorities might have been selected.  To know this you need to read the LLTNPA’s Annual Report approved by its Board this week:

“The close of the year saw the Board approve our new draft National Park Partnership Plan 2018-23  for consultation following a hugely positive workshop with a wide range of stakeholders to discuss important issues and potential priorities. This presented an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the current plan.

 

To this end, a comprehensive discussion paper was developed and a day-long event was held for partners that have a role to play in the delivery of the new Plan”

 

So why is the comprehensive discussion paper not public and why has the LLTNPA not told the public what it believes these achievements were?   (I have asked for these to be made public immediately).

 

What I do know is that the LLTNPA selected the invitees to the consultation meeting very carefully and the range of “stakeholders” was limited:   recreational and other organisations were not invited to the main workshop though there was a later briefing.    No wonder the NPPP gives no consideration to issues like the destruction of landscape and failures in conservation in the National Park.

 

Nowhere in the NPPP are the organisations which represent people who visit the National Park treated as partners or even key stakeholders.  A fundamental failing – although of course the glossy brochure is full of photos of the people such organisations represent.

How does the NPPP fit with other Strategies and Policies?

 

Unlike the Cairngorms NPPP, which attempted to describe how their NPPP fitted with out plans that had been agreed for the area,  the LLTNPA makes almost no mention of other local plans or targets and how they might feed into the NPPP.   There are references to national plans and strategies, but generally this is again at a very high level and so broad as to be meaningless.

 

Part of the issue is that the LLTNPA has far fewer plans and strategies than the CNPA and those that it does have tend to be focussed on developments (Callander and Balloch).   It does though have a biodiversity plan, Wild Park 2012 (see here) with lots of detailed actions and targets.  How this fits with the NPPP, how its informed priorities and whether the LLTNPA is committed to a new biodversity action plan is unclear.

 

The draft NPPP would have us believe it is joined up to everything when the reality is it appears joined up to almost nothing and practically empty of real commitments from either the LLTNPA or the organisations it has identified as its partners.

 

Not all of this is the fault of the LLTNPA, much comes down to austerity – our public authorities are no longer being allowed to plan to do things which could improve everyone’s lives.   But in my view our National Park Authorities out loud about resources,  not just for themselves but for other partners, if any of its statutory objectives are to be achieved.

 

What needs to happen

 

People and organisations need to put pressure on the LLTNPA and the Scottish Government.   A good start would be to respond to the NPPP objecting to the failure by the LLTNPA to review progress under the existing NPPP, consider the multitude of information about what is actually going on in the Park and the serious issues it faces.  People should then use that reality to inform what issues they  would like the LLTNPA to address in the new plan.

 

The LLTNPA needs to ensure that the new NPPP is based on a proper analysis of the evidence it holds and needs to take a critical look at how its being doing in relation to its statutory objectives.

 

I will cover the detail of this in posts over the next 10 days.

June 19, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

The photo on the cover of the draft LLTNPA annual report, to be considered at the Board Meeting today, shows just the sort of places people would like to camp.   Short turf by the loch shores where they can fish or paddle and which is exposed to the breeze – good for keeping the midges at bay.  The problem is that the LLTNPA has provided hardly a single place which matches this vision under its permit scheme.  Instead the permit areas are in conifer forest (eg Forest Drive), on sloping pebbly beaches (e.g Firkin Point) or in boggy ill drained fields (e.g North Loch Venachar).   Indeed in its new campsite at Loch Chon the LLTNPA has deliberately stopped people camping by the loch shore.

 

The photo in the annual report misrepresents the truth, because its not representative of what the Park is about.  It also appears to be a lie.   The tent appears posed for the camera.  No-one is camping here.  A Park official appears to have put the tent up for the cameras.   And the location?  It is on the west shore of Loch Lomond, with Ben Lomond behind.  [NB this section has been updated since original post].  Having visited Suie Field a couple of times the photo bore almost no resemblance to what I had witnessed there, which was a lumpy field and some bare ground down by the shore:

 

I therefore wrongly assumed it could not have been taken from Suie field and that the photo must have been taken either at the mouth of the Douglas Water at Inverbeg or at Culag where camping is only allowed on the beach in which case I said Park staff would have been guilty of an Orwellian distortion of the facts.   It turns out I got this wrong, for which I apologise.  The photo is taken from Suie Field and if you look very carefully on far mid-left of the photo you can just see the point at Inverbeg.  I am very grateful to Nick Halls who has been out to all three locations to check and has confirmed that there is indeed now an area that matches that on which the tent is photographed at Suie Field.

 

It did not look like that in March or April though.  Two things have happened.  First the area is, when the Loch is high, underwater as is evidenced by a tidemark above the sward on which the tent was pitched.  Second, since the water has receded there has been a vigorous growth of grass.

 

That same vigorous growth has affected the area above the bank which, though lumpy before, is now almost uncampable.   Nick reports that there are a couple of places where vegetation has been kept down by people regularly pitching tents there.   The rest is a jungle.

 

So, while I was wrong about the location of the photo, I was right to say it is not representative of areas where camping is allowed in the National Park or even of Suie Field.

[end of update]

 

This matters, because Annual Reports are meant to be about good governance and have consequences.   Board Members see the pictures presented by staff and think all is well.  It matters too because the Report will land on the desk of the Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, who knows the Park has being doing very little apart the camping laws, will see the photo, and think “isn’t this  fantastic”, completely unaware about how she is being manipulated.

 

 

Deputation to the LLTNPA Board

The Coilessan permit area is far more typical and this is probably the best place to camp there, sloping ground, tree roots and all. Most of the permit area looks like the slope behind.

It was precisely because there is such a mismatch between the speak and spin put out by senior Park staff and reality, that I had asked to lead a deputation to the Board today.  I had asked to speak to them all the evidence that has been published on Parkswatch about the camping permit areas and the selective application of the camping byelaws.    I think the Board need to deal with truth, not spin.

 

On Friday however we withdrew the request for a deputation (for the timebeing) after James Stuart, the new LLTNPA convener, agreed to a meeting.  The Park procedures are such that the Board needs to consider a request for a deputation at the start of the meeting and there was no guarantee I and the others on the deputation would have been heard.  (Our request appeared on the agenda as “Deputation” – without giving the public any indication of what this matter about).    We think its therefore better to try talking first, something the new convener has committed to doing –  a contrast to the previous convener Linda McKay.

 

The downside is that I am not sure any LLTNPA Board Member this afternoon will be sufficiently informed this afternoon to question either the Annual Report or the update on Your Park which is again full of parkspin and parkspeak.   We will see!

June 13, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
The debate on the failure of our Freedom of Information laws in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon on a motion proposed by the Labour (Corbyn supporting) MSP Neil Findlay, following pressure from journalists and the recently retired Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew is very welcome (see last business of day).  Here’s the latest evidence from the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority of why its needed:
 
“Please provide me with any information the LLTNPA holds about the secret Board Briefing sessions held on the Cononish goldmine on 13/12/2010 and 20/06/2011”

The Park Authority does not hold secret Board Briefing sessions. Accordingly I have to advise under S10(4)(a) of the EIRs that this information is not held for sessions as you describe.   However, informal Board Business sessions are held in private which are for officers to have time with Board members to help develop strategy by providing opportunities for informal input before formal officer recommendations are presented for decision at our Board meetings, which are held in public. 
Its 1984 and this is parkspeak.  Secret Board meetings (they are not advertised and you can only find out what could have happened at them by Freedom of Information requests such as I made) are described as “private business sessions”  by public officials who won’t put their names to the letters send out.  What a load of tosh.  This public authority held 13 secret meetings to develop the camping byelaws compared to the two held in public.
The information extracts in the response to my information request provided as an appendix EIR 2017-041 Informal Board Meeting Agenda + Cononish Actions rather gives the game away.   Back in 2010 soon after the Park under Mike Cantlay – he has just been appointed chair of SNH, one of the few remaining public bodies which does appear committed to transparency  – introduced the practice of holding Board Meetings in secret, they were called “Informal Board Meetings”.  Besides Cononish, the agenda shows that the LLTNPA discussed Local Access Forum Membership, school closures, the A82 upgrade consultation.   These are all matters, like the camping byelaws, that should have been discussed in public – in fact there are dozens of such matters over the last 7 years FOI 2016-002 Appendix A list topics at Board Briefing session.
At least back in 2010 the LLTNPA kept a record of what it was deciding, although they have only provided me with the extract about Cononish.  At some point they stopped taking any record of what was discussed or decided, which is precisely one of the points of concern highlighted in the motion to the Scottish Parliament, that the Scottish Government is “not recording or taking minutes of meetings”.    

The role of the Scottish Government in National Park decision making

For over two years now I have been trying to understand the role of the Scottish Government in the development of the camping byelaws.  We know they had an important role because Linda McKay, the retired convener, in her letter to Aileen McLeod recommending the byelaws stated:
In 2013, our previous Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, while visiting East Loch Lomond to see the changes and meet residents, partners and local businesses, encouraged us to bring forward a comprehensive set of proposals for those other areas in the Park blighted by these problems.
What I haven’t been able to find out is whether Mr Wheelhouse was set up – in other words the Park deliberately misled him that it was the camping byelaws which had led to the improvement on east Loch Lomond (rather than a package of measures) – or whether it was Mr Wheelhouse who took the initiative.   What does seem clear though is that the go-ahead – and remember this was just soon after the Land Reform Review Group had concluded there was no need to change our access laws – the important decision, was made outside any formal decision-making structures.    This is no different to how Donald Trump takes decisions.
I won’t bore readers with an attempt to recount my attempts over two years to extract information from Scottish Government officials about the Scottish Government role in the process.   What I have learned is that they hold no information about how important decisions are made Mr Kempe FOI (November) Response February 2017.   A good example is east Loch Lomond where they confirmed (in response to my question 9) they hold no information about the Review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws apart from the document supplied by the LLTNPA.   In other words not one official has put in writing any comment or recorded any view or asked for information from any other body about the the alleged success of the byelaws on east Loch Lomond DESPITE the reported interest of the Minister at the time.  Or maybe that’s BECAUSE the Minister in effect took the decision on the hoof and if the Scottish Government had recorded any written information this would have exposed them to legal challenge.
A current example concerns the Scottish Government’s role in the repeal of the old east Loch Lomond byelaws in favour of the new byelaws  (see here)   The Scottish Government has told me FoI (6 Mar2017) repeal of byelaws response  they hold nothing in writing about this but, purely by chance apparently,  “a more general point on legal mechanisms for revoking byelaws emerged in discussion”.  The Scottish Government then want us to believe that, quite independently of the LLTNPA,  which just so happened to need to revoke the east Loch Lomond byelaws, they sought legal advice on how to revoke byelaws and needless to say, because legal advice is exempt from FOI, they won’t make anything public.  I have put in a review request asking for the reasons for that legal advice.   However, where it comes to questions about application and enforcement of laws that criminalise people, my own view is that such information should be made public.  The criminal law should be made by the people, not something done to the people.

These FOI examples are part of a much bigger problem about secrecy and lack of accountability, not just in our National Parks or the Scottish Government, but across public authorities.   The  Trump approach to decision making has been flourishing in Scotland for some time, its just that unlike Trump our public authorities have not wanted to advertise the fact.    I hope the debate in the Scottish Parliament leads to some actions to put this right.

 

I have appended the motion, which is worth reading:

 

Leading Journalists Criticise the Scottish Government over FOISA

That the Parliament notes with great concern the letter from whom it understands are 23 prominent Scottish journalists to the selection panel for the appointment of the Scottish Information Commissioner, which was published on 1 June 2017 by The Ferret and Common Space and details what they argue are the failures of the Scottish Government and its agencies in relation to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA); understands that it suggests that the application of FOISA by ministers and officials is questionable at best and, at worst, implies a culture and practice of secrecy and cover up, including, it believes, through routinely avoiding sharing information, often through not recording or taking minutes of meetings that are attended by ministers or senior civil servants; considers that this flies in the face of what it sees as the Scottish Government’s much-vaunted assessment of itself as open and transparent, including through the Open Government Partnership Scottish National Action Plan and its role as one of 15 pioneer members of the Open Government Partnership’s inaugural International Subnational Government Programme and legislation such as the Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011; understands that the Scottish Government introduced its Record Management Plan to comply with the 2011 Act; notes the view that the journalists’ criticism of FOISA shows that it is time to have a review of whether the legislation remains robust or has been diminished, whether it should be extended and strengthened and whether elements of it are still appropriate, such as the level set for the cost exemption, whereby the Scottish Government may refuse to provide information if the cost of doing so exceeds £600, a figure that hasn’t been updated since FOISA came into force, and further notes the view that, by doing so, this would ensure that people in Lothian and across the country who use their freedom of information rights could be confident that FOISA would be improved and applied in a way that was consistent with the spirit intended when the law was established.

 

June 6, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Its positive that the Scottish Government response to golden eagle persecution involves consideration of mountain hares – which as my post on Saturday showed are not just killed on grouse moors

Last week the Scottish Government, in response to SNH’s research into the disappearance of satellite tagged eagles (see here) which showed almost a third of golden eagles being tracked by satellite died in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors, announced some new measures to protect Scotland’s birds of prey (see here).   Many of the eagles which disappeared did so in or around the Cairngorms National Park (with one in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park)  – (see here for excellent map from Raptor Persecution Scotland)  –  and one of the measures announced is specific to the Cairngorms.   While I can understand why RSPB Scotland and Raptor Persecution Scotland welcomed the measures – after the recent abandonment of a number of prosecutions any action from the Scottish Government is a relief – I think people should be sceptical about the proposals.

 

On the plus side:

 

  • The Scottish Government has pledged to “Immediately review all available legal measures which could be used to target geographical areas of concern”.   Since one of the main geographical areas of concern is the Cairngorms National Park,  this review should  include all the measures that could be adopted by National Parks under their existing powers (see here).   This should include a permit system for hunting, use of the planning system (e.g to stop the creation of yet more “persecution tracks” on grouse moors) and cross compliance (so estates where raptors disappear should cease to receive any public subsidies or financial assistance from our National Parks.
  • Also positive was the announcement that the “expert group” that will be set up will not just look at eagle persecution but “managing grouse moors sustainably and within the law” and this will include “the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls”.    The expert group should also be tasked explicitly with looking at the impact of hill tracks and control of other predators, such as crow and stoat.

On the negative side:

 

  • The Scottish Government ruled out “giving the Scottish SPCA more investigative powers, in light of legal advice”.  Its in the public interest this legal advice should be made public.
  • But then, strangely, it has decided to pilot special constables in the Cairngorms National Park in order to “Increase resources for the detection and investigation of wildlife crime”.  This was not a new announcement, it has previously been included in the Cairngorms National Park Plan which explains why it was warmly welcomed by Grant Moir in his response to the Government (though to be fair to him he did condemn raptor persecution absolutely (see here)). It appears unlikely to achieve anything.  If the SSPCA, which has professional staff, cannot be given powers equivalent to the police, what will volunteers achieve?   What’s  the CNPA going to do when when the lairds ask all their tenants to enrol as special constables – another case of self-policing? And will the CNPA allow Raptor Monitoring Workers and members of RSPB staff enrol as special constables?    Its hard to see how this can work. In any case the proposal misses the point:  the idea that special constables will be able to patrol miles of grouse moor is farcical and  the employment of even 100 special constables is unlikely to lead to the recovery of any “disappeared” satellite tagged golden eagle and even if they do detect more crime, what we know from what’s happened over the last few months is that the landowners aren’t prosecuted anyway (see here).     It would be far more effective for the CNPA to stop funding landowners to employ Rangers, employ Rangers directly and use them to enforce hunting byelaws.
  • The proposal to “Examine how best to protect the valuable role of gamekeepers in rural Scotland” is a farcical.   The Scottish Government might as well have announced how can we continue to exterminate wildlife in Scotland, because that is what Gamekeepers are employed to do.  Now I am not against Gamekeepers as people, they usually work in very difficult circumstances, in precarious employment which depends on their success at increasing grouse numbers.  What we need though is to look at how we create new and different types of job in the countryside which Gamekeepers could move into:  the National Park, which is tasked with promoting sustainable economic development, should be a the forefront of this.

In the category, too early to tell:

  • Whether the expert group is any more than yet another talking shop (the Moorland Forum existed for years) will depend on whether Roseanna Cunningham tasks it with achieving real change.  There is a precedent for her to follow, the National Access Forum, (on which I sat) and which was a talking shop until Lord Sewell tasked us with developing proposals within six months which would result in better access rights and told the landowners if they didn’t agree, the Labour Government would legislate anyway.   Unfortunately, the Scottish Government at present appears to have ruled out primary legislation when I believe the threat of national hunting legislation would concentrate minds as it did with access.
  • “Commission research into the costs and benefits of large shooting estates to Scotland’s economy and biodiversity.”  There is already a large amount of research into grouse moors and its unclear what more research the Government believes is needed.  In my view there is a gap and that is looking at the alternatives, in other words the cost of grouse moors, both economically and ecologically, compared to other ways the land could be used.

 

Wildlife persecution and our National Parks

Muirburn on Ardvorlich Estate, Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park

While wildlife persecution is a far more obviously a problem in the Cairngorms than in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, it goes on in both National Parks.   I have commented on Parkswatch before that its much easier to see a fox in urban Glasgow than it is in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.

 

In considering wildlife persecution – and that includes the actions announced by the Scottish Government last week – whatever standards and rules are adopted, they should be higher and better enforced in our National Parks than the rest of Scotland.  What this should mean is that animals that may be lawfully culled elsewhere – such as crows and stoats – should be protected in our National Parks and cease to be treated as vermin.   Protecting wildlife, so all can experience it, should be a fundamental part of what our National Parks are about.  Our National Parks are a long long way from that.

 

It appears that the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority don’t even recognise there could be a problem.  In its draft National Park Partnership Plan out for consultation (see here) there are references to “rich”, “varied” and “iconic” wildlife, with scarcely a mention of what this wildlife is and no mention of what is missing due to habitat degradation  (conifer plantations and overgrazed hills) or wildlife persecution.   There is no reference to the fact many upland Sites of Special Scientific Interest in the National Park are in unfavourable condition and what could be done about it.   There is one reference to  “important populations” of species such as golden eagles and Atlantic Salmon and that is it:   there is no explanation about whether the number of breeding eagles in the National Park are what one would expect and not a single reference to raptor or wildlife persecution.    The conservation purpose of the LLTNPA appears to be limited to keeping campers away from loch shores (which were once far more intensively used) and tackling a few invasive species rather than doing anything positive for wildlife or habitats.

 

While I have been critical of the CNPA, it is miles ahead of the LLTNPA in the priority it gives to conservation in general and wildlife persecution in particular.   The most important thing is it recognises there is a problem “The satellite tagging reviews findings are deeply worrying” and also that it has pledged in its National Park Plan (see here) “to eliminate raptor persecution”.   In the original draft plan the commitment was to improve raptor populations, which was hopelessly vague, and in my view the revised plan is significantly stronger.  The problem is the means that the CNPA is proposing to address raptor persecution – such as special constables and working with landowners in the east of the Park – are not strong enough to work.    It now though has an opportunity:   the Scottish Government announcement in effect gives permission to the CNPA to launch a public consultation on all the legal measures it could adopt to eliminate raptor persecution including byelaws, use of the planning system and cross-compliance.   The CNPA should take the opportunity and get on and do this (while the LLTNPA would be well advised to follow in their footsteps).

May 31, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
General view of the shoreline along zone D where the Park claims that 9 tents can be pitched under its permit system

Last Thursday I wrote to Park Convener James Stuart asking to lead a deputation to the next Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board meeting on Monday 19th June about the Park’s selective application of the camping byelaws (see here) and failure to provide the 300 “new” camping places they had promised the Scottish Government.  Its a brief letter (see here), at the end of which I have offered to take to James Stuart to have a look for himself.    On Friday, I discovered he would not have to travel far from the Park HQ to see for himself clear evidence that someone in his staff team has been telling lies about the number of camping places and of the Park’s failure to provide basic infrastructure for visitors.

 

Firkin Point Zones C and D

 

Having previously blogged on Firkin Point (see here),  I visited again on the way to Colonsay specifically to take a look at Zone D, which I had not visited before.  The Park claimed that 9 places were available on 1st March under their permit scheme EIR 2017-035 Camping provision.

 

The claim that Zone D has facilities should be taken with a pinch of salt, and not just because the toilet “facilities” were closed until 1st April.

Zone D is approximately 400m long so if you were camped at far end of zone that’s a 1200m walk to the toilet.  The Park’s website claims that Zone D is 700m from the toilet, which sounds better than 800m on the sign.

 

 

The so called “camping permit”  zone itself is very narrow, sandwiched between the old road and the loch.  It mostly comprises a steep and vegetated bank and sloping pebbly beaches, neither of which are any good for camping.  There are also ice scoured rock slabs and two patches of mostly sloping and uneven turf.

There is very little flat ground in the turfy area near the start of the zone. There is a log pile to the left of the tree.

The few flat places suitable for pitching a tent are very small.   Probably the best is at  the start of the 400m zone.

 

There is no further turf where you could pitch a tent until the far end of the zone.  The main part of the zone comprises pebbly beaches with rocky areas in-between.

There was nowhere on first beach suitable for pitching a tent. Note how the wet area extends halfway up the beach.
The second beach is longer and again sloping.  The “tideline” of debris marking previous high water marks can be clearly seen 2/3 way up the beach.

Since it claims 9 places were available on 1st March in this zone, the Park clearly expects people to pitch tents on sloping pebbly beaches such as this.  I challenge their Board Members to come out and spend a night in a tent on this beach to judge for themselves whether this is possible.  On 1st March however it wouldn’t have been possible even for the most desperate of campers  because the water level in the loch was much higher and all the beaches here would have been underwater.

The third pebbly beach offered probably the best beach possibility for camping for someone with a pop-up tent.   Like all the beaches, useless for most campers.

 

The other area of turf is at the far end of the zone.  It is narrow and mostly sloping.    It would be just about possible to pitch two single person tents here, on the path to the bench, and camp in reasonable comfort.

 

 

In total therefore Zone D allows for three tents to be pitched on turf and, if the water of the loch is low enough, for a couple of pop-up tents to be placed on the flatter areas of the generally sloping beaches.   That’s five places in all at best against the 9 the LLTNPA claim to have “provided” here.  Its worth noting that if you take a look at the information on the Park’s permit system, there is NOTHING to tell the prospective camper about the very real challenges of camping in the nine “places” which are still advertised as being available here.    A case of breach of the Trades Description Act.

 

I re-iterate my challenge to James Stuart:

Prove the LLTNPA’s claim to have provided 9 camping places in Zone D by spending a night here with members of your Board   To make the challenge easier for you, since I don’t believe many of your Board Members or senior staff camp at the best of times, and to provide independent proof you have done this, I suggest you bring three other members of your Board and senior staff team (or the Minister for the Environment Roseanna Cunningham if you so wish).   I will invite 5 recreational people – well known campers such as Cameron McNeish and Chris Townsend – and representatives from recreational organisations to join in, all of whom have experience of camping in difficult conditions and you can here what they have to say.  (And, just in case, I will suggest to them they bring bivvy bags so we can sleep out under the stars should it prove impossible to pitch a tent on one of the sloping beaches)

 

Meantime, unless and until James Stuart can prove me wrong, I maintain that the LLTNPA has lied about its camping provision in Zone D of Firkin Point, just as it has done on Forest Drive.  James Stuart takes action to correct these failures – rising to my challenge would provide proof of good intentions – and unless he and the rest of the LLTNPA Board do this, the Scottish Government needs to start holding them to account.

 

There’s plenty else wrong at Firkin Point

 

Arriving at the first camping area in Zone D, I was met by this bagged rubbish, which could have been left by campers but it could also have been left by anglers out for the day.  There are no litter bins, despite this being described as a “permit zone with facilities”.  What happens is what happens across the Park:  most people (whether day visitors, local residents flytipping or campers)  bag their rubbish and then leave it.  While I wish people wouldn’t do this, that is the reality the Park needs to address.    Since there is no-one whose job is to collect litter – Park Rangers who check this site daily for rogue campers without permits just walk by – the bags remain, an open invitation to wild animals, which then scatter the contents.  (The chopped branch by the way came from a log pile described above – if the Park provided this, that would have been a step forward).

Since my last visit, this sign had gone up next to one of the motorhome permit signs in the Firkin Pt parking area, a sign which illustrates the failure of the LLTNPA.   What the Park should be doing is investing in basic facilities such as chemical disposal points – it provides none at present.  Instead its wasting money policing campers.

 

Written across the entrance to the motorhome permit area are these road markings.  Talk about contradictory messages!

 

Several signs have gone up in the Firkin Point parking area which claim that there is no right of passage between 7pm and 7am.  These are an attempt to stop campervans staying here for free (you have a right to stay overnight in a vehicles on a public road).  The signs do not say under what power the LLTNPA is trying to do so.  I don’t believe they have such powers and are acting ultra vires.  This is a National Park out of control.   James Stuart, the new Convener, needs to rise to the challenge and start holding his staff to account and I hope too he agrees to a deputation coming to speak to the next Board meeting so these issues can be discussed in public.

May 10, 2017 Nick Kempe 8 comments
Caravan on South Loch Earn Road 14th April 2017

One of primary justifications the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority made for camping byelaws was that they were needed to address the problem of encampments on laybys by caravans and motorhomes over the summer.

Extracts from Your Park consultation on the camping byelaws

In their news release (see here) about the approval of the camping byelaws the LLTNPA included the following statement:

 

New seasonal camping management byelaws (which come into force in March 2017 and will apply 1 March – 30 September each year) to regulate camping, tackle antisocial behaviour and make it an offence to cause damage to the Park’s natural environment. They will also prevent inappropriate use of public laybys as encampments by caravans and campervans; (my emphasis).

 

This point was repeated, word for word, in the news release that followed the LLTNPA Board’s approval of their so-called  camping “strategy” last October which included provision for just 20 campervan permits.

 

Its fair to conclude from this that part of the purpose of the camping byelaws was to prevent campervans and caravans using laybys in the four camping management zones.   Now, a caravan, like a campervan, is classified as a type of vehicle under the Roads Traffic Act and, as I have previously pointed out on parkswatch, since its not an offence to sleep overnight in a vehicle on a road within the camping management zones,  the camping byelaws are in effect unenforceable as far as campervans are concerned (see here).   I had not considered the case of caravans but exactly the same considerations should apply.

 

I was surprised to discover therefore on my trip round Loch Earn on 15th April that the LLTNPA appeared to be treating caravans completely different to campervans and in effect had told their staff to tell people with caravans that the byelaws do not apply to them.

 

The evidence from Loch Earn

 

When I met up with fellow campaigner Dave Morris on the south Loch Earn Rd on 14th April (see here) there was a caravan parked on the verge of the road (top photo) and, after spending a couple of happy minutes pushing one of their children who was swinging from a rope (cut off far right of photo!), we went over and asked the occupants if they knew about the camping byelaws and had had any hassle from Park Rangers.    They told us that they had been coming to Ardvorlich for years but we were slightly surprised when they said that estate staff had informed  them the byelaws did not affect them.  Both Dave and I thought this must have been some local arrangement due to the good offices of the Ardvorlich estate.

One of the laybys with caravans on North Loch Earn

We only realised what was going on when, after visiting a number of the laybys on the north side of Loch Earn which had caravans parked in them, we spoke to a family in the last caravan in permit zone D who were about to have their tea.

After telling us that the camping byelaws did not apply to caravans they also told us that the campervan parked next door to them had to get a permit, while their son, who was camping in a tent by the loch shore, had also been forced to buy a permit.  They seemed as bemused as us by how the LLTNPA was applying the byelaws but very happy with their good fortune..

 

Last week Nick Halls, during a visit to the Loch Chon campsite,  spoke to a Ranger who said to him “that the people who park their caravans in lay-bys and then occupy the space throughout the summer, could not be required to pay for a permit because the management zones can not include stopping on a highway”.    Official confirmation of my view, that the byelaws are unenforceable against people staying overnight in vehicles.   So why then are the LLTNPA still insisting that campervans apply for permits when they accept the same byelaws cannot be used control caravans?

 

Such discrimination is obviously wrong – though the absence of  moral scruples on the part of the LLTNPA will not surprise regular readers –  but the reason this farce is continuing is that if the LLTNPA were to admit publicly that the byelaws could not be used to control either caravans or campervans, they would lose all credibility not just with the public but with Scottish Ministers.

 

Misinformation, incompetence and squandering of public resources

 

Judging by how the byelaws are being applied on North Loch Earn, it will not be long before they unravel completely.

 

The first layby is described as Permit Zone A and is for tents only (see tents  symbol left).  Why the Park has made no provisions for campervans, when it now appears to be allowing caravans to stay here for free (we saw one) is something that Gordon Watson, the Park Chief Executive, should be asked to explain before a Committee of the Scottish Parliament.

 

The second layby, Zone B, is a permit zone for campervans (photo right).   We came across a man standing outside a campervan who had flown across from Germany, hired the vehicle, arrived at the layby, seen the sign and had tried to book online only to find no permits were available.  The layby was almost empty and he did not know what to do.  What type of tourist message is this?  We told him that in our view as the layby forms part of the road network he could stay there overnight – but trying to explain rights to a foreigner, even when their English is excellent is not that easy and we left him wondering what to do.  If he had driven into either the layby before (Zone A) or after (Zone C) (photo below) he would have never known he needed a permit because the signs say nothing about campervans.  It would be hard to invent such a shambles or a more disastrous message for tourism in Scotland.

 

What is not clear at present is what action the Park is taking against campervanners who try to spend the night on roads outwith the two official permit areas on Loch Earn, zones B and D, or what would happen if a campervan staying in a permit zone, insisted that like the caravans they should be able to stay there without a permit for free.

 

The wording on the signage, which cost the LLTNPA according to its figures £100,000, is wrong.  Its not true that people in campervans require a permit if they wish to sleep overnight in a vehicle in a permit area in the camping management zone.  There is no need to take my word for this.  If caravans, are exempt from the byelaws, because they are vehicles (so long as they are on a road) so should campervans, whether they stop off within a permit zone or outside it.   Any campervan owner who has paid for a permit should try asking the LLTPNA for their money back.

 

The bigger problem though is the information on the National Park website for campervans (see here).  The introductory part of the information sheet has not been changed DESPITE Rangers being told the byelaws cannot be applied to caravans:

 

On 1st March 2017 new byelaws are being introduced to manage the environmental impact of camping on some of the busiest lochshores in the National Park. These byelaws will affect those wanting to stay on and around some lochshores during the summer season in the National Park, whether they are in a tent, motorhome, campervan or caravan.

 

The Q and A information goes on to say:

 

Some of these permit areas allow for motorhomes and campervans to stop off overnight in the Camping Management Zones with a motorhome permit.

 

The clear implication is you can only stop off in a campervan in a permit area – this is wrong and totally hyprocritical of the LLTNPA who are not applying this to caravans. The LLTNPA is clearly trying to direct campervans to formal campsites and permit areas:

 

  1. Where can I go in Camping Management Zones with a motorhome or campervan?

Certain sites within the Camping Management Zones are well suited to providing places for visitors in motorhomes to stop overnight. There are both campsite locations and permit areas within the Trossachs North and West Loch Lomond Camping Management Zones, with suitable off-road locations to accommodate motorhomes. (See map below.)

There are plenty of places within the National Park to stop and rest on your journey.  These are unaffected by the new camping byelaws.

 

Only the last sentence hints at the truth – note it uses the words “you can stop and rest”, though this includes sleeping overnight, because if it explained where the plenty of places were that you could sleep overnight in a campervan, no-one would book a permit.

 

So what is the explanation for this farce?

 

It appears the LLTNPA senior management they failed to consider the implications of people being allowed to sleep in vehicles overnight – a basic safety requirement – and thought they could still ban caravans and campervans.    However, at a late stage, perhaps even after the byelaws commenced – and after these issues were raised on parkswatch?   – the LLTNPA appear to have decided that they could not apply the byelaws to caravans, hence the instruction to staff.  The LLTNPA have consistently refused to provide any information about enforcement about the byelaws, saying to do so would prejudice their operation.  That is clearly nonsense and the LLTNPA now needs to explain publicly why it has abandoned trying to enforce the byelaws against caravans but is still suggesting to campervans that they need to apply for permits like campers.

 

My fear though is that the LLTNPA is  desperately trying to retrieve the ban on caravans and campervans by getting Transport Scotland to ban vehicles from stopping off overnight in laybys on trunk roads and possibly by turning all the main roads in the camping management zones into clearways.    The only way Transport Scotland could do this however is if they could prove that overnight stops were creating safety issues while any new clearways would, as on east Loch Lomond, also impact on the ability of day visitors to stop off.    Transport Scotland should resist any pressure from the LLTNPA – its not their job to sort out the shambles the LLTNPA has created.

 

The LLTNPA also needs to apologise to local communities – NOW!

 

The main reason why so many community councils supported the byelaws is they were told by the LLTNPA that these were necessary to stop caravans being parked for the whole summer in laybys: the worst area for this was the north Loch Earn Rd.   Here are some examples:

 

Response 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………”

Response 460) East Strathearn Community Council “We absolutely support any measures that will discourage any semi-permanent occupation of our loch shores”.

Response 394) Crieff Community Council  “we are aware of the problems and difficulties caused 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”.

395) St Fillan’s Community Council.  Referred to a meeting August 2014 90 people re anti-social behaviour, litter and obstruction of lay-bys:   “something needed to be done to address the problems”   “With this in mind the Community Council………………………..supports the proposals of the National Park”.

 

A number of us told the LLTNPA at the time that byelaws were not needed to address encampment by caravans because this was covered by Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.   Guess what signs appear at the start of each layby on north Loch Earn?

 

Note the absence of LLTNPA livery and that the signs, while claiming to be a joint initiative, were clearly put up by Drummond Estates

So when it the LLTNPA going to come clean on this with local communities and admit it was wrong?

 

As those of us who were involved in negotiating access rights have always said, the camping byelaws were never necessary as there are alternative solutions to all the problems they claim to address.   What we could never have predicted is the resources  that a NIMBY National Park Authority would devote  to conning local people and the Minister that byelaws were the answer to problems or the resources that they are now wasting on trying to enforce the unenforceable.   The LLTNPA should stop trying to enforce the byelaws now, before the situation unravels further, and instead invest resources where they are needed such as public toilets, litter bins and litter collection.

May 9, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments

The results of the Local Government elections last Thursday are likely to lead to a significant change in the composition of both National Park Boards over the next few months which provides an opportunity for all who care about how our National Parks operate at present.    The headline is that eight of the thirteen current nominees from Councils appointed by the Scottish Government to sit on the National Park Boards either lost their seats or failed to be re-elected last week and their term of office on the National Park Board is due to finish soon.

 

Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park

  • Hazell Wood (Lab) West Dunbartonshire Council – lost seat
  • James Robb (SLD) Argyll and Bute – lost seat
  • Fergus Wood (SNP) Stirling – lost seat to Tory
  • Bob Ellis (SNP) Perth and Kinross – did not stand
  • Martin Earl (Con) Stirling – re-elected
  • George Freeman (Ind) Argyll and Bute – re-elected

Cairngorms National Park

  • Jeanette Gaul (SNP) Angus – lost seat to Tory
  • Fiona Murdoch  Moray – did not stand
  • Kate Howie (SNP) Perth and Kinross – did not stand
  • Gregor Rimmell (SLD) Highland – lost seat
  • Bill Lobban (Ind) Highland – re-elected
  • Peter Argyle (SLD) Aberdeenshire – re-elected
  • John Latham (SLD) Aberdeenshire – re-elected

 

Two individual results will stand out to regular readers of Parkswatch.

 

Re-election of Bill Lobban

Bill Lobban was re-elected to the Speyside Ward of Highland Council at the first count (along with a Tory) with 1,189 votes.   It appears that local electors have not agreed with the Cairngorms National Park Authority that local councillors allegiance should be to the National Park Board rather than their local electors or their own Council (see here).   I hope that strengthens the ability of more Board Members to speak out like Bill on important matters and forces the CNPA to re-think their current doctrine of corporate responsibility which means they require Councillors to agree with decisions even when their own Council has adopted a diametrically opposed viewpoint.

 

Whether they will do so is less certain.  On 18th May the CNPA is running corporate social  media training which “includes ‘rules’ for how to use your personal social media accounts as a CNPA employee / Board Member”.    The trend in our National Parks, as with other public bodies, is that it is being made ever harder for Board Members to speak out or disagree.   The Board needs members like Bill Lobban who are prepared to speak out and I hope Highland Council will nominate him again and the Minister will appoint him.

 

Fergus Wood

 

Fergus Wood, the former SNP Councillor for Strathard, received, 776 votes, significantly less than his colleague Evelyn Tweed who received 1090 votes and far less than the Tory Martin Earl on 2027 votes.  Earl’s fellow Tory, who gained 662 first round votes, benefitted from the STV system and replaced Fergus Wood.

 

While there has been a general swing to the Tories,  I believe much of the explanation for Cllr Wood’s defeat appears to lie in his proposals for a new campsite at Strathard (see here).  There have been a large number of local objections to the proposal (see here) which basically argue that this is not the right location for a campsite.  Many are not against camping, and indeed a number of objections suggest the campsite would be better located closer to Mr Wood’s own house to preserve the open fields by the lochshore.

However, I believe the perception locally is that Strathard, which was formerly very quiet, is being made to pay for the camping byelaws and the shortfall in the places where people can now legally camp in the National Park through the creation of an excessive number of campsite places: both the Park’s Loch Chon campsite and now the Fergus Wood campsite.  Added to that there appear to be concerns Fergus Wood may be putting his private interests before those of the community.  He appears to have paid the price for those perceptions.   It will be interesting to see whether Martin Earl, the Tory Councillor who is not on the planning committee, now speaks out against the National Park consensus if officers fail to listen to what the local community are saying – as they did over Loch Chon.

 

The overall picture

 

While legally Councils are not bound to nominate elected members to the Minister to sit on the National Park Boards (they can nominate members of Community Councils or local residents), it appears unlikely they would nominate someone is not a Councillor (sitting on the Board provides a significant income to councillors who are generally underpaid for the work they do).    Hence, there is likely to be a clearout in the next few months.

 

While the Tories generally gained in all the Councils concerned – mainly at the expense of the SNP -and within the Council Wards that cover the National Park, whether the political make-up of the National Park Boards change will depend both on power deals in local councils and on whether the Minister, Roseanna Cunningham then accepts their nominations.    This could involve some interesting political twists.  Generally the Tories have been far strong advocates of National Parks than the SNP (see here) but they are much closer to landed interests which wield so much power within our National Parks.

 

The  clearout of existing Board Members provides an opportunity to reform the way our National Parks currently operate such as:

 

  • putting an end to secret Board meetings in the LLTNPA
  • recording all Board Meetings as webcasts to enable more members of the public to find out what is going on in our National Parks and in the case of the LLTNPA returning all past minutes of meetings to the National Park website
  • refocusing the work of the Board Audit Committees so that these tackle fundamental issues of governance (such as failures in planning enforcement and failures to declare interests)
  • holding chief executives to account e.g ending the practice of complaints against the Chief Executive being investigated by staff managed by them
  • ensuring that there is proper consultation and engagement with recreational interests and visitors to the National Park, instead current practices which favour landowners and business interests

 

Local Councils, before nominating anyone to serve on our National Park Boards, should first ensure that those people publicly commit to improving the way our National Parks operate.  It would be a bonus if they also nominated people who were prepared to speak out on matters such as raptor persecution, the recreational importance of our National Park and sustainable economic development (instead of the current large scale developments driven by business interests).

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 24, 2017 Nick Kempe 6 comments
Unlawful sign, Loch Lubnaig, last Sunday. Even if the camping byelaws come into force next week, such signs will still be unlawful because camping is not banned for the whole year even in camping management zones. The sign has been up for several years and National Park staff must have passed it frequently but none have taken action.  That tells you something about the LLTNPA’s attitude to access rights.

Alteration of the camping byelaws

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

 

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

 

The most significant changes are:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The meaning and likely impact of the changes in wording

 

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

 

Campervans and vehicles

 

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

 

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

 

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

.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Damage caused by fires and collecting wood

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Enforcement Policy

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What can be done?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A look to the future?

 

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 8, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
This slide from the secret Board Meeting of 6th September 2013 shows two interesting things. The first is that the LLTNPA was originally considering banning camping and campervaning along roads throughout the whole of the National Park – a proposal it had put to and which had been rejected by the Land Reform Review Group earlier in 2013. The second is that this would have resulted in camping being banned in 11.2% of the National Park.

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

 

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

 

Back to the slides………………..!

6th September 2013

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

January 5, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
How will campervaners know whether laybys such as this are exempt from the camping byelaws because they are part of the road network? Note that where laybys are exempt the byelaws will provide no remedy against encampments – like the caravan in the background – but then encampements are already covered by S61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

There are several  significant difference between the east Loch Lomond byelaws, which were approved in 2011, and the new camping byelaws proposed for 2017.  These  include the creation of a new criminal offence of causing damage by collecting wood or lighting fires (fine of £500) and restrictions on the right of landowners to allow camping in their own gardens.   The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority failed to consult on the implications of any of the proposed changes but, if it had, it might have realised that what it is proposing is completely unenforceable, however much resource it devoted into turning its ranger service into a quasi police force.   I will consider here the case of campervans and people sleeping overnight in vehicles.

 

The Your Park consultation failed completely to consider campervaners, the focus such as it was, was on campers.  There was nothing on numbers of campervans and the increasing importance of campervaners to tourism.  There was nothing on the impacts of campervans and how they might be managed, most notably the need for chemical disposal points.    In a sense none of this was surprising because the Park has not for a number of years been interested in what new infrastructure is needed to support camping and campervaning, rather it has just wanted to ban it.(see here for example)   Proof of this lack of interest is contained both in the “Camping Development Strategy” approved by the Board in October 2016, which makes provision for just 20 permits for campervans across the four proposed camping management zones, and in this FOI response sent to me by a reader in early December:

 

4. How many places will be available for motorhomes to stop-off in the Camping Management Zones?

There are a number of formal campsites that offer opportunities for motorhome stays. As the majority of these are in private ownership it is difficult to give a figure regarding availability. The best way to ascertain this information would be to contact the respective campsite for their most up to date availability. A list of formal campsites and contact details within the NP can be found on our website. Another source of information regarding this would be Visit Scotland.

What this tells us is the  LLTNPA does not even know the number of motorhome/campervan places which are available in the camping management zones.   How can the Park’s senior management claim to be planning what future provision is needed when they don’t even know what existing provision there is (almost four years after starting to plan the camping ban)?

 

Moreover, the FOI response to the next question from the parkswatch reader makes clear that this is all quite deliberate, the LLTNPA basically wants to stop campervans/motorhomes stopping off in the four management zones:

 

5. I assume the wild-camping permits are applicable to motorhomes for staying overnight in car parks within the Camping Management Zones. Is this correct?

No, overnight stops will only be permitted within Camping Management Zones if they are in permit areas that have been designated for motorhomes.

 

Parkswatch has previously commented on the stupidity of this way of thinking, how the Park can be creating a new and oversized campsite at Loch Chon which includes not a single place for campervans  and how the Park has ripped up the 5 Lochs Management Plan zone which included not just places for campervans but facilities such as chemical disposal points.   The adverse impact on people’s enjoyment of the National Park, not to mention tourism revenues , if this stupidity (what else can you call a complete absense of planning) went ahead would be immense.

 

The unenforceability of the campervan/vehicle overnight ban

 

Luckily I believe that the campervan/vehicle ban will be almost completely unenforceable as long as people staying in campervans and vehicles overnight stick to their legal rights.  This is because the Park’s claim, in the FOI above, that “overnight stops will only be permitted within Camping Management zones if they are in permit areas that have been designated for motorhomes” is quite simply wrong.

 

The reason for this is a new provision in the proposed byelaws which was NOT included in the east Loch Lomond byelaws  and which exempts public roads.    In effect this means you can stop off overnight in a vehicle anywhere which is part of the public road network, including laybys:

 

“(7) No person shall sleep overnight in a stationary vehicle within a Management Zone unless:
(a) …………………………………………………………….. or
(b) the vehicle is on a public road and such activity is not prohibited by the relevant roads
authority.”

 

The public road is defined as follows:

 

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

 

In November I asked Transport Scotland for a complete list of laybys which are part of the trunk road network within the Camping Management zones and received the following list before Xmas LL&T National Park Lay-Bys.    Unfortunately it is not in a user friendly format, containing eastings/northings rather than grid references and also listing a number of laybys outwith the Management zones but there are at least 20 laybys in the camping management zones where it will still be legal for campervans to stop off overnight.

 

The reasons for Transport Scotland’s unpreparedness is clear from a series of emails they kindly supplied me with under FOI.   They cannot be held accountable for things they simply did not know.  For example, in June 2016 Transport Scotland was having to ask the LLTNPA for the timetable for the byelaw implementation 6. Redacted – FW_ LLTNPA – offical laybys with National Park Boundary  while in October 2016 they had still not been told where the boundaries of the Management zones were 2. Redacted – RE_ A82 Lay-bys – incredible!   The LLTNPA appears incapable of working effectively with any of its supposed partners!   What the June emails show is that Carlo Emidio, the lead for infrastructure development  – who has since left the Park “by mutual agreement” – appears to have grasped the importance of Transport Scotland laybys being exempt from the byelaws because he was asking for a full list.     He had been handed a massive can of worms and I am not surprised he was unable to sort this out.

 

The importance of this is if it will still be quite legal still for people to stop off in Transport Scotland laybys to stay in vehicles overnight, drivers need to know where these laybys are.  The problem is that the LLTNPA has NO plans to signpost  laybys which are part of the road network and therefore exempt from the byelaws (see here) and as my FOI shows neither does Transport Scotland:

 

Whether Transport Scotland intends to place signage by any laybys/car parks within the camping management zones which are exempt from the byelaws and where Transport Scotland as Roads Authority has not prohibited over night stops explaining that people can sleep there overnight in their vehicles? 

We do not have any plans to place signage within any trunk road laybys.  However this may need to be looked at again following the aforementioned review.

 

Its a fundamental requirement of law that people need to know where they stand.  However in the Camping Management Zones there are no plans to signpost to drivers and campervaners to laybys which are exempt from the camping byelaws and where it will be legal to stop overnight and as a result everyone risks incurring  a £500 fine.  This is wrong.

 

The lack of certainty extends far further than Transport Scotland laybys however.   There are the laybys run by the other roads authorities, the three Councils which manage roads and parking areas within the proposed camping management zones.   There is also the question of road verges.  The legal definition of a road includes its verge which means anyone stopping off and sleeping in a vehicle overnight on a road verge should be exempt from the camping byelaws.  What counts as a road verge, and therefore part of the road network, however, is a complex legal question which is normally decided on a case by case basis.   So how will people who pull a few feet off the road to stop overnight know they are on the road network or not?  People simply won’t know.  This is wrong.

 

The only way the LLTNPA can fairly enforce the byelaws is if they put up signage along the whole of the road network indicating the extent of the road network (which they do not have the money to do and would cost a fortune) or, as on east Loch Lomond, the roads authority decided to create a clearway.     The response of anyone stopping off overnight in a vehicle in a camping management zone if confronted by a Park Ranger therefore should simply be to challenge them to prove that where they are stopped is NOT part of the roads network.  Transport Scotland has told me they do not have maps showing the exempt laybys and I am sure the Park won’t have this either.

 

Now, my guess is the LLTNPA, if they have realised the extent of these problems, are hoping that Transport Scotland will bring in new rules to prevent overnight stops in their laybys.  This however cannot be done quickly and requires consultation.   It should be resisted for safety reasons.  People on long drives or in poor weather  need to be able to stop off and sleep and there has to be provision for this – indeed that’s why we have laybys.  The trunk roads through the National Park camping management zones are totally different to the B-road from Balmaha to Rowardennan covered by a clearway.   The LLTNPA should have realised this long ago but instead has misled Scottish Ministers – that’s reason enough for Roseanna Cunningham to suspend implementation of the byelaws until this mess has been sorted out.

 

What the campervan/vehicle exemption also shows is that the byelaws should have been rejected on health and safety grounds.  The reasons the road network is exempt as I understand it is for basic safety reasons.  But if cars need to be able to stop off the road, overnight if necessary, why not also cyclists?   I have raised this issue with Transport Scotland.   Imagine you are travelling along the A82 in a storm, there is lots of spray and flooding.   If you are a car driver its quite legal for you to pull off the road and sleep until the storm is over and its safe to continue.  If you are a cyclist though (the argument also applies to canoeists and walkers) you have no vehicle to stop in.  It will therefore be illegal for you to stop and put up your tent though this would be the safe thing for you to do.  This is wrong and yet another reason for the Ministers to suspend the implementation of the byelaws.

December 11, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

On Friday Mountaineering Scotland issued a news release calling for the proposed introduction of camping byelaws on 1st March to be suspended for a year to allow for a re-think.  The story was covered in the Herald on Saturday (see here).    It is great that a recreational body (which I was closely involved with in the past) has now clearly stated what should be evident to anyone who has been following the camping byelaw farce and that is the Park is plainly not ready to implement the byelaws.  While some of this is due to the incompetence of senior management,  the fundamental issue is that it would be almost impossible to implement what is fundamentally a flawed and incoherent set of proposals (as I have highlighted in my last two posts).

 

In terms of the immediate future, however, Monday is the last Board Meeting that is scheduled before the byelaws are due to commence on 1st March (the next Board Meeting is 13th March).  The Board therefore needs to consider whether they are certain on the evidence available that it is safe for the byelaws to go ahead.   Among other issues, I suggest they need to provide answers to the following:

  1. Has the Park satisfied the legal requirement to consult the Local Access Forum on the proposed permit system (the LAF are a statutory consultee on matters affecting access rights)?
  2. Will the Park hold any personal data on campers who book through the proposed electronic booking system?   If so, how does the Park intend to use this data and what systems are in place to meet data protection requirements?
  3. If the Park does intend to hold personal data about the behaviour of campers, what procedures are in place for people to correct that data and appeal against any actions taken by the Park (eg a decision not to allow a person camping permits in future)?
  4. Given that the “camping booking system” was only put out for tender on 10th October and the contract awarded (see below) on 1st December, is is reasonable to expect any IT developer to have an electronic booking system fully up and running in 3 months (or 10 weeks if people are to be able to book permits beforehand).  The original deadline of this being ready by 1st January has been clearly been missed but the paper claims all will be ready by mid-February.  The Board, if it has any experience of IT tenders, should know more often than not  they run behind schedule and there are lots of glitches.   If it cannot guarantee a fully functioning system is in place 1st February it needs to delay the implementation.
  5. Similarly, given that the only proposal is for an electronic booking system, is it really reasonable as suggested in the paper that most of the gaps in mobile phone coverage in the National Park are going to be fixed by 1st March?   If the Park has only been able to produce 1 new campsite (and its not finished yet) at Loch Chon in two years, how on earth do they expect phone operators to address gaps in mobile and broadband coverage in this short period?   So, what alternatives are the Board going to put in place for people who turn up to camp, find they will become a criminal without a permit but are unable to book one?
  6. What is the Board going to do to sort out signage which tells everyone who will be criminalised by the byelaws where they stand and not just campers?  (see here)    Again, the issues are so complex, how is the Board going to address this in ten weeks?
  7. Related to this, how is the Board going to ensure that by 1st March clear messages are given to ALL drivers who might sleep in their vehicles in proposed management zones and all Campervanners and mobile home owners which laybys in the Park are exempt from the byelaws because they are classed as being part of the public roads network?
  8. Moreover, given the Park has stated they don’t want to discourage campervanners, despite providing only 20 places across all the management zones, what is the Board going to do about this by 1st March?  Its no good saying we recognise there are not enough places.  What places are going to be added and where?   This decision needs to be taken in public.
  9. What procedures are going to be put into place so the public knows that the byelaws are enforced fairly and transparently?   Why were procedures for the enforcement for Fixed Penalty Notices for litter put before the Board for approval but no such procedures are being put to the Board for enforcement of the byelaws?  This cannot be right.    Moreover leaving enforcement to the discretion of staff when booking systems are not in place and the signage is misleading appears to me an even worse abrogation of Board responsibility.   The question is what will the Board do about this?
  10. How can the Board justify the proposed hike in price for Park campsites from £5 to £7 while claiming to be socially inclusive?
  11. How does the Board answer the claim that, by delegating power to staff to vary number of camping permits in zones as they think fit, they are giving staff arbitrary powers?  Why are there not procedures for this?  What notice do staff need to give campers and caravanners that permit numbers might change?  (This is important, someone wants to go fishing on south Loch Earn on a particular date: they book well in advance, can staff simply tell them “tough” we’ve decided to reduce the number of permits and you cannot come any more?;  they leave booking to last minute because weather forecast has been uncertain only to find they cannot go?)

 

I will look forward to reporting from the Board meeting tomorrow just how many of these questions are answered.  If they are not answered, the Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham, will have every justification – nay I would go further and say she has a obligation – to intervene as Mountaineering Scotland has called for and suspend the implementation process.

 

There are reasons for the current shambles of course, starting with the incompetence of members of the Park’s senior management team.  The Park’s new commercialisation and estates director, who was appointed to lead delivery of projects (such as new campsites, tender of the permit system etc), is no longer in post.   There is no reference to this in the Board Papers or why he went.   Was he  incompetent (there are several references in the papers to the Park’s commercialisation strategy being well behind target and failing to raise the income planned) or did he simply find it impossible to work with Gordon Watson the current Chief Executive?

 

The original budget for implementing the byelaws included £345k for the Loch Chon campsite, £100k for signs and £50k for the permit system (which is now overspent), a huge proportion of the Park’s budget.  None of these things was a good idea but it meant there was little money to spend on the infrastructure the National Park really needs, such as litter bins and toilets.   The financial reports show (no mention of this in the last Board paper on the camping strategy) that the Scottish Government has stepped in (which shows just how far the civil servants are behind this project) with further capital grants of £95k.

 

This Scottish Government funding  has enabled the Park to allocate £60k each to South Loch Earn and to Forest Drive to develop proposals for campsites there.   While this still hardly starts to tackle the infrastructure provision that is needed, it is a further waste of public funds when public budgets are being slashed all round.   Why the LLTNPA  don’t hire or even buy some portaloos, as happens in other National Parks, instead of paying vast amounts of money to force people to camp in certain places is beyond me.   That would however need an alternative approach to “Camping in the Park” the starting point for which should be respect for access rights and allowing people to decide where they want to camp rather than giving this right up to Park officials who are clearly not competent.

 

Extract from Scotland Contracts Portal on award of camping booking system

2 Contract Details

2.1

Title

Camping Booking System

2.2

Description of the contract

Supply of and hosting camping booking system or supply of camping booking system

2.3

Notice Coding and Classification

271600 Software

150 Glasgow & Strathclyde

2.4

Estimated Total Value

Lowest offer: 37000 Highest offer: 72000 GBP

3 Procedure

3.1

Type of Procedure

Single stage – Any candidate may submit a tender.

4 Award of Contract

4.1

Successful Bidders

4.1.1

Name and Address of successful supplier, contractor or service provider


Campstead Ltd

First Floor Unit 4, 212 – 218 Upper Newtownards Road,

Belfast

Bt4 2RW

UK

5 Other Information

5.1

Reference number attributed to the notice by the contracting authority

N/a

5.2

Date of Contract Award

01-12-2016

5.3

Number of tenders received

6

5.4

Other Information

(SC Ref:473971)

5.5

Additional Documentation

N/a

5.6

Publication date of this notice:

07-12-2016

November 30, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment
hares
Photo credit Raptor Persecution Scotland
camping
This photo from the LLTNPA which I believe dates back several years still periodically appears in the mainstream media in stories about the camping byelaws. What does it tell us?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I  have been pondering further what Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, said about more evidence being needed before the Government can act to protect mountain hares (see here) when I believe action could be taken in our National Parks now. Roseanna Cunningham never explained what sort of evidence the Scottish Governance would need before it could act and why.    I doubt she could, I suspect she is repeating what the civil servants have told her.

 

I think Roseanna Cunningham should therefore ask her civil servants why photos of abandoned tents counts as sufficient “evidence”to justify the introduction of camping byelaws in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park whereas photos of piles of dead mountain hares is not apparently regarded as sufficient evidence to introduce byelaws to control hunting in the Cairngorms National Park?

 

I know that photos of abandoned tents were used by the previous Minister, Aileen McLeod, as the MAIN “evidence” to justify the introduction of camping byelaws as a result of a number of FOI requests.    When Aileen McLeod announced she had given the go ahead for the camping byelaws she referred to the evidence she had personally seen.   I asked the Scottish Government in February to clarify under Freedom of Information what evidence the Minister had actually seen (see here) and received this response  in April.  Basically the Minister had made one visit to the National Park to three places, one of which was a hotel:  “Loch Lubnaig Visitor Site (North Site); Loch Earn, North Shore Horseshoe Layby; and the Mhor84 Hotel.  I think we can safely conclude from this the main “evidence” she had SEEN were the photos of abandoned tents.

 

I also asked in that request a number of other questions about evidence:

evidence

 

 

 

 

 

The response was clear the Scottish Government held no evidence other than that provided by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority

evidence-2

 

 

 

I had provided an extensive critique (see here) to the Scottish Government on the camping byelaw proposals and the so-called evidence the LLTNPA had provided to them appendix-1-overview-of-evidence-base-1  and what the response above shows is that the Scottish Government had done nothing to check the veracity of that evidence.  Contrast that with Mountain Hares, where ever more evidence is needed before action can be taken.

 

It was the same with the review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws (see here) where the Government admitted it had no criteria by which to judge the LLTNPA’s review and held no information at all on this.  The Scottish Government simply accepted what the LLTNPA had said and had taken no account of the critique I had submitted to them.    If the Scottish Government can accept such poor evidence from the LLTNPA, I can’t see any problem with it accepting whatever evidence the CNPA can draw together to justify a suspension of hare culls (the photos in themselves should be sufficient).  After all the CNPA already have a legal duty to conserve and enhance the natural heritage which is supposed to take precedence over its other aims if they clash.

 

I find it interesting that while the Scottish Government, when it talks about the need for more evidence (a reference I believe to SNH research into mountain hares) did not ask SNH to conduct research into the impact of camping on Loch Lomond before taking a decision.   Nowhere in the SNH sitelink database on protected areas in the National Park have I seen camping listed as a threat.   That says it all.   There is one rule for trying to protect nature, another rule for trying to stop people from enjoying nature.

 

Research into the impact of culls on mountain hares has been going on for years, with SNH producing two research reports in 2008, is ongoing, and will probably never reach a definitive conclusion.   SNH however has been concerned enough to agree with Scottish Land and Estates and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust an interim position which calls for a voluntary suspension of culls.  That one would have thought should be enough for the Scottish Government and National Park to act.  However, they apparently need more evidence………………

 

I think what this shows is that “evidence” is a highly political matter and what counts as evidence very much depends on whether you are trying to control what landowners and their employees do or what the general public does.  Unfortunately we live in a system where its much easier for one National Park to remove access rights, which both National Parks were set up to promote, on the basis of flawed and fabricated evidence, than for our other National Park to protect wildlife, which both National Parks were also set up to do, on the basis of sound evidence.

November 28, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

On 24th November the Scottish Government finally announced it has agreed the permanent re-introduction of  beavers to Scotland.   Despite beavers being role in improving water quality, flood prevention and promoting more diverse habitiats and species, all objectives of the Scottish Government, the “decision”  was far from a foregone conclusion.  The whole process shows the power of landowning “interests” and prejudice.   Over ten years ago, when I was on the Board SNH, the then Environment Minister (I can’t remember who, they change each year) was minded to approve their re-introduction but then some farmers had a word to a senior civil servant and we ended up with the five year re-introduction trial in Knapdale.  Two years after the end of that trial the Scottish Government has at last considered the “evidence” and made its decision.   An attempt to kick what should have been a simple species re-introduction into the long grass.

 

Meanwhile the unlawfully released but flourishing beaver population on Tayside showed the trial up for the farce it really was.    I suspect that without this direct action a decision might never have been made.      The Government’s announcement has made it clear that while they will allow beavers to expand naturally, there will be lots more bureaucracy before beavers are re-introduced anywhere else.  Rob Edwards in the Sunday Herald quotes a Government spokesperson as saying “we have no plans to license the reintroduction further releases in the foreseeable future.  We will also take swift action if another illegal release takes place – such an action constitutes a wildlife crime and carries serious potential penalties”.    The lack of vision is lamentable.

 

The explanation for this lies with our farmers and landowners whose starting point appears to be that any wildlife, apart from that shot for sport, is a threat to their living and to the viability of “fragile” or “remote” local communities.  This actually is the reverse of the truth but the Scottish Government is simply unwilling to challenge the dominant ideology that controls our countryside.   What they should have said is that wanted to see further re-introductions over the next five years and that our two National Parks should be at the forefront of this.

 

Beavers and the Cairngorms National Park

 

It is good that Grant Moir, Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, welcomed the announcement.  Rob Edwards quotes him as saying:   “We will explore the potential for, and the implications of, beaver re-introduction in river catchments in the Cairngorms National Park” .

 

This is a step in the right direction.   There was not a single member of beaver re-introduction in the draft Cairngorms Partnership Plan, which was recently subject to public consultation along with the supporting papers on flood management and  landscape scale conservation.  This was a missed opportunity because they contain lots of information which supports the re-introduction of beavers into the Cairngorms National Park as a priority.

flood
The Flood Management issues report contains maps of “Potentially Vulnerable Areas” throughout the National Park. Beaver dams, if located upstream, help hold back water and prevent flooding lower down

 

 

Looking at the flood threat to Aviemore and surrounds one cannot help thinking that re-introducing beavers into Glenmore, along with re-establishment of a montane scrub zone at Cairngorm,  would help reduce risks considerably.    The Cairngorm-Glenmore Strategy approved by the Park in September said nothing about beavers either.

 

The CNPA’s Flood Issues report quantified the amount of damage caused each year by flooding.

flood-1

Our National Parks should place the objections that will inevitably be raised by farmers and landowners to beaver re-introduction  into the wider context of the social cost of flooding and how current land management practices promote this (muirburn, drainage etc).  The CNPA’s flood issues report suggested an ecosystems approach to prevent flooding but did not say HOW they would do this.   The re-introduction of beavers should be part of the answer.

 

There is further supporting evidence in the Flood Issues report on water quality.  Its always a surprise to see that the water quality in our National Parks is not 100% good.  Beaver dams of course help improve water quality.water beavers-nature-plan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While not in the draft Partnership Plan, the CNPA has in fact in the past done quite a bit of work on species reintroduction.    The quote above is from the Cairngorm Nature, 2013-18.  The Action at the bottom is very cautious, in fact Grant Moir gave almost exactly the same form of words “explore the potential” to the Sunday Herald.

 

In fact in 2013, the CNPA Ecology Adviser, David Hetherington, produced a report on the potential to re-introduce vertebrate species, into the National Park.  This went as far as to identify two priority areas for their re-introduction in the National Park, Insh Marshes and Dinnet.   The CNPA therefore has done lots of preparatory work, I am not sure there is any need to “explore” beaver introduction further, what is needed is that negotiations need to start to make it happen.  It should be performance indicator for the next Park Plan:  the re-introduction of beavers at two sites, one on west and one on east of the National Park, within the next five years.  And if the landowners don’t co-operate the land should be secured through compulsory purchase.

beaver

 

 

 

I understand Chief Executives have to be cautious but it really is time that the CNPA started to give a strong lead on this.

 

Beavers and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park

 

The LLTPNA appears to have done less work on species re-introduction than the CNPA.   There is nothing in their current Partnership Plan for example about species re-introduction although their plan for wildlife,  WildPark 2020, does contain some aspirational statements:

 

Conversely, recolonising native species such as beaver are valued for the role they play in
our natural heritage.

The Tay catchment beaver population has expanded into the National Park at Loch Earn and Glen Dochart and is managed sympathetically to prevent damage to fisheries and forestry production, whilst also providing a significant new attraction to tourists and habitat benefits such as coppicing and pond creation in acceptable locations.

The problem, as in the Cairngorms National Park, is what will be “acceptable locations” to landowners.  The Royal Scottish Zoological Society, which was involved in the Knapdale re-introductions has said it would be ideal if the beaver populations there could be joined up with the beavers on Tayside.    The LLTNP sits between the two and there is a great opportunity to build on their recognition that the Tay population could expand into the National Park.

 

I have my doubts that they will do this without public pressure.  All the LLTNPA’s focus and resources at present is being diverted to prevent people from camping rather than doing anything visionary.

 

The wider role of our National Parks in beaver re-introduction

 

Our National Park have a statutory duty to promote conservation, sustainable use of resources and sustainable economic development.   Beavers are a great opportunity to do this, to do something that would be visionary for Scotland for a change.

 

In other countries none of this would be complicated.  In North America there are jobs in beaver management (in the few places where beaver dams have adverse consequences there are specialist firms who have invented all sorts of ingenious solutions).   Our National Parks should be taking that learning from abroad and applying it to Scotland.

 

 

November 24, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Last week Raptor Persecution Scotland reported on the OneKind demonstration against the slaughter of mountain hares outside the Scottish Parliament on the 17th November:

 

“Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham addressed the rally and said the Scottish Government opposes mass culls, that legislation to protect mountain hares has not been ruled out, but that the Government needs evidence before it can act.” 

 

Other reports of the demonstration also reported Roseanna Cunningham had spoken of the need for evidence but in the context of legislation rather than broader action.    Whatever Roseanna Cunningham said there are things that could be done NOW to protect mountain hares without any government legislation and without any further evidence:

  • conservation is one of the four statutory purposes of our National Parks but when other of the purposes conflict with it, conservation should be put first.  Now whether the slaughter of hares is classified as coming up the statutory purpose of enjoyment or of sustainable economic development or sustainable use of resources (the other three aims) doesn’t matter.  Conservation comes first and the photographic evidence of slaughter should be enough for our National Parks to act.   The Government just needs to tell them to do so and to introduce byelaws to prohibit the killing of mountain hares in the National Park.
  • moreover, the Government has created Special Protection Areas to protect Golden Eagles whose favourite food is mountain hare.   The citation for the Cairngorm golden eagle SPA, which runs beyond the National Park boundary in the Angus Glens at present focusses on the habitats rather than the species on which the eagle depends.   Amazingly the main threat listed for this SPA is disease.   There is nothing on the eagle’s food supply.   I believe if the Scottish Government had the will they could simply ask SNH to include provisions about protecting mountain hares in all our eagle SPAs including those in our National Parks.
  • in addtion, some of the citations for moorland Sites of Special Scientific Interest explicitly refer to mountain hare in their description of the “features” worth protecting (the Morven SSSI is one example).  Roseanna Cunningham could again ask SNH to ensure that culling of mountain hares was listed as an operation requiring consent, which in effect would introduce a licensing system year round (hares are currently protected for only part of the year in the “closed season”).    SNH could then only issue consents for mountain hare culls if landowners were able to provide proof that this was not detrimental to the environment, including the eagle population.  In other words shift the burden of proof away from public authorities onto landowners.

 

All this would make a difference, without the need for any more evidence.  It could also be done relatively quickly.   However, if the Cairngorms National Park Authority, which is currently finalising its partnership plan for submission to Roseanna Cunningham in the New Year, is to do this there needs to be a shift in thinking both at the Scottish Government and in the National Park Board.   The need for this is illustrated by this revelation also featured on the Raptor Persecution Scotland post:

rps
Credit Raptor Persecution Scotland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Eleanor MacKintosh has rightly been criticised for saying this, and it was a very stupid thing to say, I am not sure Eleanor MacKintosh is stupid.   The interesting question is why the convenor of the CNPA planning committee is telling the gamekeepers simply to hide the mountain hares they are shooting?   A legitimate question is whether someone else told her to find a way to prevent the mountain hare massacres hitting the headlines in future and this was her clumsy attempt to do this.

 

Critics should hold onto the fact that this information came out as a result of an FOI request and at least the CNPA is recording things properly.  It would be almost impossible to obtain this type of information from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park because they stopped writing things down long ago.  The position at LLTNPA in terms of basic governance is far worse than the CNPA.

 

So I think campaigners need to pressurise both the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Government that the new Cairngorms plan contains measures, including byelaws, that will protect mountain hares in the National Park from next year.  There is no reason why it could not be done and the Scottish Government could also extend protection would widely through using existing conservation legislation.

 

September 8, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments
img_7877-shieling-track
The “spruced up” unlawful Shieling hill track                                   Photo Credit Alan Mackay

Thanks to Alan Mackay for this photo, taken on Monday 4th September, which shows the new hill track by the shieling rope tow.  Its doesn’t look too bad does it unless you appreciate that the track has been spruced up to impress the planners – if you look carefully you can see the right line of the track is eroding, the third time this has happened since the track was put in.

 

I am delighted that a number of well reasoned objectives to the retrospective planning application have been submitted including from local people, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and the North East Mountain Trust among others.   Rather confusingly they are not included under the comments section of the planning application but under “documents” (see here)  but are worth reading.    I particularly liked this one, which happens to be from furth of Scotland, because the respondent does not mince her words:

 

A company who flagrantly ignores original planning laws should not be able to apply in retrospect when the damage has already been done. They need to be stopped (not just fined, as a fine is peanuts to a large company and acts as no deterrent to them or any other company/organisation in the future). The only way to stop such environmental damage is to ignore their planning application as being too late, insist that the damage is put right (by very harsh fines or even enforced closure of the company at a time that will hit their purse and profits). Finally this way some of the companies who flout planning laws and the environment will start to listen. If you fail to act, then expect the destruction of the very countryside which draws in money and tourism to the area (kill the golden goose and you will kill the golden eggs it lays for your economy).

 

As I have said elsewhere, the failure of the CNPA to use its planning enforcement powers is bringing the whole planning system in the Park into disrepute.   The key long-term issue is that if the CNPA accept this planning application, rather than requiring the track to be removed, this sets a precedent for new tracks being created alongside every ski lift within the ski area.    The CNPA will have no grounds then to refuse any further planning applications that follow, whether retrospective or not.   I have asked Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the owners of the land, for all the information they hold about the need or plans to cover Cairngorm with more tracks.   If they don’t hold information on the need for hill tracks, this will help  demonstrate the current application is unjustifiable but if they do, this will indicate they have a secret agenda at Cairngorm.

 

The wider problem is there appears to be NO proper plan to manage the Cairngorm ski area from a recreational and environmental perspective.  This is illustrated by both the evidence on the ground and paperwork.

 

The latest evidence on the groundimg_7887-cas-gantry

Cas Gantry 5th September                                                             Photo Credit Alan Mackay

 

img_7892-alan-mackay-cas-gantry
Cas Gantry 5th September Photo Credit Alan Mackay
img_7889-alan-mackay
Photo credit Alan Mackay

While Natural Retreats has been busy sprucing up the shieling ski track for the planners, they have done nothing about the bullodozed stones and soil at the Cas Gantry which sits just above the top of this slope and been there for months.   The reason why?  Highland Council stated that this did not need planning permission because it was part of emergency works last year to make the gantry safe.  The Cairngorms National Park Authority Planners appear to have accepted this BUT if so they have their head in the sand.   The CNPA is also responsible for the conservation of the area, whether particular earthworks are deemed to require planning permission or not.    And unless the CNPA can force Natural Retreats to abide by planning requirements its going to have NO ability to prevent any of the other destruction that is going on at Cairngorm.

The remains of the old gantry that Natural Retreats has simply cut off rather than removing properly – everywhere you look there is evidence to disprove Natural Retreats claims to be undertaking high quality re-instatement work. Photo Credit Alan Mackay 5th September

 

 

The paperwork

There are a number of mechanisms in place or being developed that in theory should have been able to prevent the destruction that is going on at Cairngorm.   The problem is that all so far are deficient.  This is a major problem for the National Park and a key reason why ownership of the land at Cairngorm needs to be transferred from Highlands and Islands Entrerprise to Forestry Commission Scotland.

 

Earlier this year the Cairngorms National Park Authority consulted on a plan for Cairngorm and Glenmore which said nothing meaningful about future plans for the Cairngorm ski area because Natural Retreats had not supplied them with the necessary information.   There is still as far as I know NO plan for Cairngorm.   This plan would be the right place to set out an overall vision for the ski area which included both upgrades to the ski infrastructure but also how the adverse landscape impacts from the past could be mitigated (from removal of all the abandoned rubbish to planting of montane scrub to screen some of the infrastructure and improve the recreational experience).

 

The other documentation which relates to the care of the natural environment at Cairngorm consists of the lease  between HIE and Natural Retreats and Natural Retreats’ Environment Management System.  The current lease includes the Visitor Management Plan which was developed to enable the funicular to go ahead but that is about the only environmental provision.   While all the land in the Cairngorm ski area is included in the definition of the “Premises”, almost all the clauses about the premises are about buildings and infrastructure and how this will be paid for.   There are no specific clauses about protecting or restoring ground vegetation or wildlife and while there are some very general clauses its hard to see how HIE might invoke them to stop the destruction at Cairngorm.   To put it another way, HIE’s contractual relationship with Natural Retreats has allowed this destruction to happen and HIE bear responsibility for this.   The fact they have done nothing to remedy this deficiency – their negligence – is  evidence that they are not fit to manage Cairngorm.

 

Natural Retreats’ Environmental Management system is one of the those bits of paperwork that  enables boxes to be ticked but avoids the main issue.  There is nothing in it about how the land at Cairngorm will be managed.   Nothing to indicate if their management of the ground and external environment was better or worse than what has gone before.  Instead, like the lease, it is buildings focussed ( a necessary but minor part of the issue at Cairngorm).

 

Their Environment Policy demonstrates this clearly:

 

To minimise environmental impacts concerning our activities, products and services, we shall:
 Comply with applicable legal requirements and other requirements to which the Company subscribes which relate to its environmental aspects
 Prevent pollution, reduce waste and minimise the consumption of resources
 Educate, train and motivate employees to carry out tasks in an environmentally responsible manner
 Apply the principles of continuous improvement in respect of air, water, noise and light pollution from ourpremises and reduce any impacts from our operations on the environment and local community
 Encourage environmental protection among suppliers and subcontractors
 As far as possible purchase products and services that do the least damage to the environment and encourage others to do the same
 Assess the environmental impact of any new processes or products we intend to introduce in advance.
About the only part of this they have breached in relation to all the destruction of the external environment is the requirement to educate employees to undertaken tasks in an environmentally responsible manner.

What needs to happen

 

I  believe the evidence and paperwork shows neither HIE nor Natural Retreats are fit to manage Cairngorm.   What needs to happen is the CNPA needs to use all the powers available to it to stop the destruction at Cairngorm and develop a proper plan but I doubt this can be effective until Scottish Ministers transfer the land from HIE to FCS and the lease with Natural Retreats is terminated.   Instead  I would like to see a community led business appointed to run the Cairngorm Ski Area.

August 21, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Early in August Scotgold announced it had produced the first gold from its bulk ore processing trial at Cononish goldmine (see Herald).    This involves the crushing of ore that has already been extracted from the old mine to see how much gold it contains.   The original planning approval for the goldmine did not allow this.  It only became possible because of two alterations to the original planning application approved by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.  The latest was in February 2016 (to allow a shed to be used for this crushing ore) but the more important one was the application which the full Board considered at a special Board Meeting in January 2015 which agreed that processing could take place 24 hours a day except Sundays 2014_0285_DET-Committee_Report_Final-100126516. 

 

“The consented processing hours are 7am to 11pm Monday to Saturdays. The current application is also to extend processing to allow for a 24 hours working pattern starting at midnight on Monday through to Saturday midnight, allowing processing (condition 13(c)) to more closely match production (condition 13(b))”

 

While the justification for this change was to link mining production with processing, without it the current trial would have had to be considerably extended and might not have been financially viable.

 

The change in operating hours  was first mooted by Scotgold during Owen McKee’s convenorship of the planning committee.  The production of the first gold at Cononish brings into focus the strong financial interest he had in the application being approved having bought thousands of shares. When it became known, probably in November 2014, that Owen McKee had been  buying Scotgold shares  the LLTNPA then tried to cover this up and it only became public as a result of Freedom of Information requests I submitted http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/04/05/owen-mckee-hearing-standards-commission/.    What is still not known,  because the Park’s investigation never covered this, is the extent to which (if any) Owen McKee may have paved the way for the application being approved outside of Board Meetings before he resigned as convener.

 

I have previously revealed on Parkswatch that civil servants were informed about the Owen McKee case in December 2014 and were apparently content that the Park conduct a secret investigation into what had happened and that no referral was made to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life.   I have contrasted this with the findings of the Standards Commission http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/04/20/owen-mckee-hearing-standards-commission-2/ which re-inforced the importance of such interests being declared and which would have suspended Owen McKee had he not resigned.

 

I have since being trying to find out when Scottish Ministers were informed about the Owen McKee case using Freedom of Information requests and whether they were involved in the cover-up.  I have now had an answer in an email sent on 12th August by a civil servant who has been very polite and helpful and whose identity I will protect because he is only the messenger:

 

” Dear Mr Kempe

I refer to your email of 1 July.  Unfortunately I am unable to add to the information provided in my letter of 16 June, but would reiterate that Ministers were made fully aware of the situation regarding a directly elected Board member and shares in Scotgold.  I’m sure that you will appreciate that senior level discussions with Ministers take place regularly and on a wide variety of subjects.  Details of the timing and content of such discussions as part of routine sponsorship arrangements are not formally recorded.”

 

My email asking for this information was as follows:

 

From: Nick Kempe
Sent: 01 July 2016 00:59
To: (civil servant Scottish Government
Subject: Re: FOI of 18 May 2016 ref no. FoI 16/00761

Dear Mr (I have blanked out),

Thankyou very much for this response.   I appreciate you hold no written communications to the Minister about Owen McKee’s shareholding and I appreciate even more therefore you giving me an indication of what the Minister was told.  I appreciate too its difficult for people to recall content of discussions, but I think it would be in the public interest to know if the Minister was made aware of the Park’s internal investigation and also approximately when the Minister was made aware of Mr McKee’s shareholding.  From your response it appears that could be any time between when Keith Connal was informed about this in December until just before Owen McKee resigned, a period of approximately seven months”

 

What this tells us is the Scottish Government has no record of when  Aileen McLeod, the Environment Minister  at the time with responsibility for National Parks,  was told about the Owen McKee case or what her views were.   I am sure a senior civil servant will remembers thi but because nothing is in writing the public have no right to know.  We will probably therefore never know whether the decision by the Scottish Government to let the LLTNPA conduct a secret internal investigation without any referral to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards or other external investigation was taken by civil servants or the Minister.  Either way there has been a serious failure in governance.

 

If senior civil servants and Government Ministers are incapable of assessing when there has been a breach of the Code for Ethical Standards in Public Life and fail to act on information that is provided to them,   what does this say about the ethical standards at the heart of government?  What level of corruption would be need to be uncovered before someone in Government decided action was needed?    In my experience if someone in a Local Authority tried to cover something like this up, all hell would break loose.  There are though it seems different rules for our National Parks and central government.

 

The  Scottish Civil Service Code  contains a number of provisions in respect to transparency, integrity and honesty which appear to have been breached by senior officials in the Owen McKee case. Unfortunately, it appears that members of the public have no redress in cases where the civil service code is breached. But maybe its not the civil servants fault because Linda McKay, the Convener of the LLTNPA who led the cover-up, sits on the Strategic Board for the Scottish Civil Service.    She is the civil servants ultimate boss.

 

Its well past time that the serious failures in governance by both the LLTNPA and Scottish Government were raised in the Scottish Parliament.

 

 

 

July 26, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Yesterday was the start of National Parks week, an annual celebration of National Parks in the UK.   The theme of National Parks week this year is adventure.  The Cairngorm National Park Authority has responded to this with a positive press release press release about celebrating National Parks, announcing a number of events and encouraging people to share ideas for adventures.   Quite a contrast to the LLTNPA whose press release http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/looking-after/national-park-visitors-encouraged-to-respect-your-park/menu-id-483.html makes no mention of adventure.

 

Instead the LLTNPA have used National Parks week to announce the implementation of their new powers to fine litterers ( see http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/06/11/way-forward-litter-loch-lomond-trossachs-national-park/) and a number of other initiatives to ensure everyone visiting the National Park behaves responsibly under the banner of “Respect your Park”.  Now I am not against any of these initiatives but I think the fact that the LLTNPA has simply ignored the theme of adventure, which is about people have positive experiences in our National Parks, and instead focussed in this week of all weeks telling people what they should not be doing tells us something.  If the Park started to promote adventure, this would conflict with its proposed ban on lochside camping, which is one of the most important ways people have adventures at present.   Think of Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, backpacking, cycle touring, canoe touring, all activities which involve adventure.  Better then simply to ignore the adventure theme to National Parks week.

 

The LLTNPA Press release contains another interesting statement relevant to the camping byelaws from Chief Superintendent Stevie McAllister, Divisional Commander for Forth Valley and Police Scotland Lead for the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park:

 

“For the best part of a decade, officers based within the Loch Lomond and Trossachs area have worked closely with the National Park to deter offences such as antisocial behaviour and identify those responsible.

“This has already proven extremely successful with crimes of this nature now significantly reduced, particularly within the East Loch Lomond and other lochshore areas and the vast majority of visitors behaving responsibly during their stay.”

 

I am delighted that Police Scotland are now publicly acknowledging that anti-social behaviour crimes are much reduced and most visitors behave responsibly in the National Park – why then did they support the proposed extension of camping byelaws?   Readers may recall that in trying to justify the camping byelaws the LTNPA continually asserted that it was camping byelaws that had led to an 81.5% reduction in ASB on east Loch Lomond, when in fact the statistic was for a wider area and represented a reduction from 27 to 5 crimes.  Police statistics showed that there had been a 42.4 reduction in ASB in the rest of the central Scotland Police division of the National Park where no camping byelaws, alcohol bans or other special measures were in place.   Well done the police but how can Stevie McAllister now continue to justify the removal of access rights from “the vast majority of visitors behaving responsibly during their stay”?
Each time the LLTNPA publishes anything on visitor management, they provide yet more evidence of  the incoherence of the proposed camping ban.   While I believe the timing of this education campaign is extremely unfortunate, with anti-social behaviour tackled, and with its new powers to tackle litter, what further justification has the Park and Ministers got for proceeding with the camping byelaws?

June 20, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board Meeting last Monday included a paper on “Your Park” after a request from a Board Member at the previous meeting for regular updates this year.    That there is now some public reporting on how the Park is developing its camping proposals is a step forward.  The Board Member who suggested this should be commended.  The original proposals for the byelaws were developed in a dozen or so secret “Board Briefing Sessions”http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/03/02/driving-force-behind-camping-byelaws/ for which no minutes were taken.  The Park has refused to publish the written information it holds on these meetings and these are currently subject to an appeal to the Freedom of Information Commissioner.   So, we should welcome the greater transparency the publication of this paper represents.

 

It was not a good sign though that Fergus Wood, a Councillor on the Board and farmer in Strathard, had declared an interest at the start of the meeting without saying what this was, although every Board Member seemed to know.  It suggests Board Members had discussed this at the secret Board Briefing session which took place that morning.  Anyway, Cllr Wood left the meeting for the item which I think was right and proper.   My guess is he did this because he is now talking to the LLTNPA about providing a campsite on his land by Loch Ard – which would be an obvious declarable interest (one wonders if he left the secret Board Briefing session in the morning if the camping plans were discussed there).   A shame though the Park could not  be open about this and an opportunity lost – “Board Member shows lead to other farmers in the National Park”.

 

The most negative aspect of the Board_20160613_Agenda8_Your Park paper was the continued secrecy about the Park’s Camping Development Plan.  For over a year now there have been references to negotiations with landowners and significant progress delivering camping places but the only proposal that is public is that at Loch Chon http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/06/07/park-authority-applies-planning-permission-unwanted-campsite-loch-chon/. The huge flaws in that proposal show just why the LLTNPA needs to be open about what it is doing and consult with local communities and recreational organisations.   While there was reference by Board Members at the meeting to the outcry from local residents at Loch Chon and the need to consult earlier there was not a single reference to engaging with recreational organisations.   This is unacceptable and a path to disaster.  I suspect when the LLTNPA do go public with their proposals it will be far too late to change anything and we will end up with more daft ideas like the proposals for camping on wooden platforms at Loch Chon.

 

The paper revealed that there appears to have been a significant shift by the LLTNPA about the number camping places needed:   “There is also a commitment to bring forward further facilities beyond this date (March 2017 when the Park has said it will provide 300 new camping places).  Now I had previously asked under FOI about how the Park had decided 300 camping places were needed in the camping management zones when its own figures shown on a popular weekend 850 or so tents have been recorded.    The response I got then indicated there was no science behind the figure – its was simply based on the view of unnamed staff – and basically that it had been plucked out of thin air.   If the Board has recognised this, its a step forward.  The problem however is twofold, the LLTNPA is still not being open about how many places it will deliver in the longer-term (I would suggest that will depend on the amount of public pressure to deliver new places) and how it proposes to manage all the “surplus” campers in the short-term?

 

The paper also included updates on the development of the proposed permit system which was never part of the Your Park consultation and, needless to say, about which there has been no public consultation or engagement.   The most interesting revelation was that the LLTNPA is proposing an on-line booking system which it is developing in conjunction with Digital Scotland – in other words with the involvement of central government.   While no details were provided about how this will work, David McKenzie – the Board Member who suggested Owen McKee should be reported to the Standards Commission – asked about developing 4G coverage in the National Park so people could book remotely and Martin Earl asked if staff knew where mobile phones work in the proposed management zones.    Indeed Martin Earl followed up his question by asking how people would access permits and how the LLTNPA would approach people who did not have one?   He assumed there would be a need to be flexible and understanding, to which there was general assent, but there was no detail of what this meant apart from people might be able to get permits from local businesses (another about turn as a previous meeting Gordon Watson had stated all permits would be issued centrally).

 

The clear implication of this is the LLTNPA Board have started to realise that booking permits in advance won’t work.  Unfortunately the discussion did not go quite far enough.  No Board Member thought to ask what would happen if say a cycle tourer decided they wanted to stop and found all the local places where one could camp with a permit were occupied.   Unfortunately too, no Board Member thought to ask what happens on a sunny weekend and 600 people turn up in the Park to camp.   They still seem to be crossing their fingers that this won’t happen.

 

I was struck too that in contrast to the discussion on how the LLTNPA could enforce Fixed Penalty Notices for litter, where the Board seems to have realised that education will work far better then enforcement, there were no questions about whether the proposed permit system will be enforceable.    All it will take is for people to carry on camping and the permit system will collapse, whatever plans the LLTNPA has for joint work with the police and FCS.

 

My prediction is that the LLTNPA will very soon start to realise it cannot manage the camping permit systems as currently proposed and that where Rangers find people  camping without a permit, they will simply ask the person to apply for one rather than referring them to the Procurator Fiscal for breach of byelaws.   There might be some exceptions, where people are camping too close to houses or within the boundaries to villages, but other than that people will end up being able to camp where they always have.    The difference will be there will be a CHARGE for doing so.   This is why the camping byelaws and proposed permit system are still so dangerous.  They would in effect introduce a charge for access which undermines the whole basis of our access rights and which, if successful, will provide a precedent for every landowner in Scotland.    People need to remember that the agenda of landowners now is no longer predominantly about preventing access, though there are still some battles about this, but about how they can make money from what should be a public good.  The Duke of Buccleuch’s attempts to charge for access at Dalkeith Country Park being a case in point.

 

In the limited discussion that took place on the Your Park item, the other major omission was no Board Member asked any questions about the implications for civil liberties.   I have not touched on this so far on Parkwatchscotland but, for a permit system to work, the Park needs to keep information on irresponsible campers, for example,  people who have been issued with a permit but then abandon their tents.  This means the LLTNPA  needs to keep a data base on you and me and to have developed a clear and open system about how it will use this data to make decisions.   For example,  if a 17 year old with a permit leaves litter around their tent and is banned, how long will this be for?  For life?    We simply don’t know. If on the other hand permits set no conditions about use, it begs the question why they were ever proposed.  I am amazed that not a single Board Member has questioned the civil liberties implications.   The civil liberties aspect of the camping management proposals  is reason in itself why the permit system should be subject to full public consultation and is something the Minister at the time, Aileen McLeod, should have insisted upon before approving anything.

 

What needs to happen?

The best solution to the ill-thought out proposals of the LLTNPA and their  implications for access rights and civil liberties would be for the Minister to suspend the decision to implement the bye-laws and  require the LLTNPA to consult publicly on the development of new camping places.

Meantime though I believe the  LLTNPA should:

    • publicly consult on its camping development proposals and engage with recreational organisations of location, design and numbers of camping places
    • consult with the Scottish Human Rights Commission on the civil liberties aspect of the byelaws
    • fully explain the implications of their proposals for access rights
    • fully explain how it intends to enforce these byelaws in conjunction apparently with Police Scotland and Forestry Commission Scotland

 

 

 

 

June 11, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments

The inclusion of a paper  Agenda Item 9 – Reducing litter in the National Park  for discussion at the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board  Meeing on Monday (13th June) is welcome.  The paper makes a number of welcome statements, which are very relevant to the issues which have been raised on Parkswatchscotland by myself and Nick Halls (e.g http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/05/17/accommodating-needs-visitors-loch-lomond-trossachs-national-park-nick-halls/).  Unfortunately  though the paper fails explore the full implications of these and the Park still has some way to go to articulate a comprehensive plan to address litter..

  • The paper states that litter is a problem almost everywhere in Scotland and makes the implicit acknowledgement (which was absent during the whole of the Your Park consultation process on the camping byelaws) that litter is a far wider and greater problem than something caused by inconsiderate campers.  What it fails to say is that the then senior management and the Park Board claimed to Ministers that the camping byelaws had solved the litter problems on east Loch Lomond: if Roseanna Cunningham had visited Balmaha last weekend she would have seen litter strewn throughout the village due to the numbers of day visitors dropping rubbish or having nowhere to put it.
  • The paper states that at the heart of the National Litter Strategy, published in 2014, is the idea of prevention, of getting individuals to acknowledge responsibility and that education is the key to this.   What the paper does not say is this conflicts with the claim made in the Your Park consultation that education had not worked and the only way to solve litter was to ban campers.  I am delighted the paper is putting education being put to forefront again but it begs the question of why the Park ever proposed camping byelaws
  • The paper describes the inconsistencies in litter collection arrangements by Local Authorities through the Park:  Stirling does not provide litter bins, West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute do so, but only in some places, while and Perth and Kinross (which only covers a small area of the National Park) is the only Local Authority that does provide bins consistently.   What the Park does not say is that the 5 Lochs Visitor Management Plan back in 2012 was supposed to have produced a litter strategy by 2013/14 which would sort this out for a large part of the Park.  This was never done and now there are not even timescales for action.
  • The paper reminds Board Members that in the Partnership Plan 2012-17 there was a vision for litter recycling throughout the Park that people would use. What has not been stated is that this has clearly failed, not because people are failing to use litter bins (they are overflowing where they exist) but because they have not been provided.    What the paper does not say is WHY local authorities have failed to install litter bins or indeed why it has failed to do so on its own land.   The paper clearly states the LLTNPA is responsible for clearing litter on the land it owns, which is to be welcome, but does not explain why there are no bins at the carparks on the parcels of land it owns around Loch Venachar
  • The paper clearly states that local authorities have a duty to keep our roadsides clear of litter but makes no mention of their failures to clear litter alongside the main roads through the National Park (now partly covered by growth of vegetation because its summer) which have been highlighted on Parkswatchscotland
  • The paper refers to the Scottish marine litter strategy but makes no mention of the litter at the head of Loch Long, which is a blight to both the local community there and visitors,  that has been highlighted on parkswatchscotland and is again nothing to do with campers.
  • The paper provides background to the LLTNPA’s new policy and procedures on Fixed Penalty Notices (fines) for littering which are included as appendices to the report.  The paper makes the welcome statement that fixed Penalty Notices should be a last resort, that education should come first.   The irony is that if this approach rather than the NIMBY one had been used for problems associated with campers the camping byelaws would never have been proposed.  Unfortunately the paper and the accompanying policy and procedures do not explain how education first might work in practice.   The reason why Countryside Rangers should have the power to issue Fixed Penalty Notices is not to turn them into a quasi police force (which is what will happen if the camping byelaws go ahead and which is why the Scottish Countryside Rangers Association objected strongly to them) but to give them “authority”.   It would allows Rangers to explain, when they come across evidence of people dropping litter or picnicking or camping next to a pile of rubbish, not just to explain to people why they should not do this but to ask  them to clear it up then and there.  If the person/people ignore them, then they can issue the fine but, with the right communication skills, I believe this should rarely be necessary.
  • The biggest omission in the paper is the failure to mention the role of the Forestry Commission Scotland, the large landowner in the Park, and its role in addressing litter.  So just what is it planning to do?    Nor is there any mention of the role of other landowners, the positive things they are doing at present (eg Luss estates does regular litter pick-ups) but also, most importantly their role in creating litter.   Farm litter in the National Park or the litter associated with some of the current industrial developments in our countryside is arguably a greater problem than any litter left by visitors.
  • The paper mentions but makes no proper evaluation of flytipping, which is mostly undertaken by local people or businesses, not visitors.  The huge dump on Loch Loch is another national disgrace but there are many smaller examples.  Its great the LLTNPA now has powers to address this through fines but what actually is it going to do?
  • The paper also fails to mention the role of local tourism businesses in generating litter.  Now many businesses in the National Park have been at the forefront to clear it up but there are some businesses that generate much of the litter that is dropped, particularly in the tourism hotspots where people buy their ice creams on a sunny day and then drop the wrappers.   There is no mention of what these businesses could do either to provide litter facilities or give out messages (“please put all packaging in the litter bins we have provided”.
  • There is also no mention of the role of the Park’s own Ranger service in collecting litter.  In the absence of litter bins, if they are not allowed to put litter in the Park’s vehicles for alleged health and safety reasons and are forced to put this by the roadside for collection, any member of the public seeing them will do the same.   And we all know what happens to rubbish left out for collection, wildlife has a feast and in doing so scatters it once again.
  • The paper makes no mention of the Keep Scotland Beautiful Audit of litter in the National Park which was supposed to be published shortly after the meeting of the Board in October last year

In summary, while the paper is a useful indication of how a strategy might be developed – and therefore a step forward – it unfortunately it has been produced under a Board which up until now appears to have thought that camping byelaws would be the Park’s answer to everything.  The paper is welcome because it does provide an alternative to the flawed logic which led to the proposed camping byelaws – if banning camping is the answer to litter left by campers, then banning drivers would be the answer to the litter thrown out of car windows along the A82 – and has started to suggest alternatives.  If this leads to a change in approach, it is very welcome but to do so the Board will need to endorse a change in direction.  Here are some suggestions about how this could be made to happen:

  • The new Minister for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, who chairs the annual review of the Park’s Partnership Plan, should call a special meeting of the Park and Local Authorities to review the lack of progress they have made on installation of litter facilities and set clear timescales for production of implementation of a litter strategy.   She should also insist the Park develop a proper plan – the Five Lochs Management Plan had a section outlining the actions needed on litter which have sadly never been progressed but would provide a good starting point.
  • The new Minister of the Environment should now acknowledge that campers only account for a small proportion of litter problems in the National Park and littering is not a justification for the removal of access rights.
  • The LLTNPA needs to be told that its litter strategy must  include a plan for addressing marine litter (including exploring the implications of the National Marine Litter strategy), farm litter, dumping and rubbish left by developers
  • The LLTNPA, instead of imposing education messages on people, should engage with visitors about what messages might influence them to take even more care because it’s a National Park.  It should also consider how it can use people who care about the countryside most, which includes walkers and campers, to spread the message.  This means engaging with the recreational organisations such as the Ramblers and all the activity organisers who use the Park at present and whose activities are now threatened by the Park’s proposed bye-laws.
June 9, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

The Herald yesterday (8th June) carried a story that has now been recycled several times about the Mountains and People Project which is investing £6.1m in footpaths in our new National Parks.  The new angle was hillwalkers are being asked to report footpath problems, far from a new idea but good stuff.

What was new was the quote from Roseanna Cunningham, the new Minister for the Environment, who said that no-one cares more deeply about conserving our landscape “than those who walk our hills and countryside regularly”.   She is to be congratulated for saying this, but having said this I hope she will now ponder the logic of her predecessor, Aileen McLeod, to approve the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park’s camping bye-law proposals.  These will of course these very same people from enjoying the landscape in what is the best way possible, by not just walking through it but by staying in the outdoors.

The story was also, as is often the case, as interesting for what was not said as for what was:

  • Our National Parks were set up in part to improve infrastructure for visitors, such as paths, so why is Heritage Lottery Funding needed to do this?   If National Parks are not funded sufficiently well to do this themselves, what hope for the rest of the country?
  • The majority of the Heritage Lottery funding for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is going to Forestry Commission Scotland to fund pathwork on hills such as Ben A’An and Ben Venue in the Trossachs and the Arrochar Alps.   While FCS is making a financial contribution, far more money will be spent on FCS paths by the Mountains and People Project than what it has put in.  Why does FCS not have the funds to do the jobs its needs to do?  Is it misspending its resources, buying places like Rothiemurchus for £7.4m, or does it simply not have enough to achieve its objectives?
  • Arising from this lack of public finance, are questions about the project itself?  How will all the people who are to be trained in footpath work – and who were pictured in the paper – get jobs at the end of it?   Is the project training yet more people who will end up without a job due to a lack of finance, austerity?    Is there any point in getting hillwalkers to report problems if in three years time there is no-one left in the Park able to fix them?

 

Now, I intend no criticism here of the staff who have put this proposal together and obtained the funds.  They are having to work in very difficult circumstances, where due to the prevailing neo-liberal ideology, proper funding is not available for mountain paths among a multitude of other things.   So they have to scrape funding together and all credit to them for doing this.  We kid ourselves though if we fail to consider and alert people to the  wider implications.

 

So, the first thing that needs to be said is that we need far more investment in footpaths across Scotland and the Scottish Government needs to find ways to enable this to happen.   Walking is accepted as the single most effective way of people remaining health and getting people walking more is a national priority.   You would have thought therefore that investment in footpaths would be a political priority but its not.  In this respect walking now lags behind cycling where there is now a national commitment to increase levels of investment (even though this is far from enough).   Cycle funding though has benefitted our National Parks, for example the new cycle path between Drymen and Balmaha which is funded through Sustrans.  In the footpath world though there is no pot of money and no mechanism to channel public funds, hence the need for the Mountains and People Project.  I realise public finances are difficult but nationally believe we neecd to see a proportion of the roads budget, to increase year by year, spent on footpaths.

 

There are though also solutions at the National Park level and our National Parks could take a lead on this.  While I know Board Members have bemoaned the lack of funds for footpath work at Board Meetings, none are prepared to speak out and instead allow their staff to issue congratulatory press releases which only tell a small part of the story.    If Board Members are not prepared to criticise the Scottish Government, they could nevertheless put their own house in order and clearly state that there is not nearly enough funding going into footpaths and other visitor infrastructure and then lead by example.   They have a solution to hand and that is through the introduction of a tourist tax in the National Park (see previous post tourist taxes).

If they did this now, there might just be enough money available to provide jobs when the money runs out in three years time to some of the people who have been trained through the Mountains and People project.

May 27, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

Following my last post on camping provision in the LLTNP  http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/04/27/con-loch-chon-loch-lomond-trossachs-national-parks-disappearing-camping-plans/ I asked Gordon Watson, the Park’s Chief Executive once again  about the outstanding campsites which had been agreed for the Trossachs back in 2012 and to clarify how the Park’s draft Development Plan would encourage new campsites  email to Gordon Watson 28th April 2016

 

On 25th May I received EIR 2016-017 Response which states “no decision has been taken about the outstanding proposed campsites in the Five Lochs Management Plan”.   I very much doubt this and believe it is yet more obfuscation.   I wonder if the Park can explain what is has been doing at the site it owns on North Loch Venachar which was originally designated as a campsite and which I visited with Nick Halls on Monday 15th May?

Loch Venachar North Plan
Extract from the 5 Loch Visitor Management Plan produced by the LLTNPA show the Plan for North Loch Venachar, with a camping area on the right.   The full plan and key to the diagram can be found on page 37 of the Five Lochs Plan http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/images/stories/Looking%20After/PDF/5%20Lochs/5LochsPlan_2012_web.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

North Loch Venachar site owned by the LLTNPA showing new car park
The newly created carpark on North Loch Venachar. The original plans were for twice as many car parking spaces (there bays on the road side of the car park have been removed) and for these to be gravel, not tarmac.    The whole carpark has been “suburbanised” compared to the original plans – is this appropriate for our National Parks?

 

The two spaces for motorhomes included in the original plans at the west end of the carpark have been removed.
The two spaces for motorhomes included in the original plans at the west end of the carpark have been removed and appear to have been replaced by a picnic bench.

Why would the LLTNPA have not provided any spaces for motor homes, as planned, unless it had actually taken a decision not to allow them to use this site overnight?

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The original plan was for a toilet block in front of where the white van is parked and for a septic tank to be installed under the carpark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unless a septic tank has been built under the carpark as planned it is difficult to see how a toilet block could now be provided, except at considerable extra cost.  This casts doubts on the statement by the Park that no decision has been taken on a campsite here.

 

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One is needed for both campers and day visitors – as soon as you are in the trees toilet paper is only too apparent.

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The area earmarked for a campsite on the original plans, the carparking area is behind the trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In the original plans a recycling point (litter collection) and woodstore (for fires) was planned by the gate.  Its not clear if this will be installed but is clearly needed.

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The car park gates already fitted with locks to keep people out – this is public land in a National Park

Its interesting that the LLTNPA has installed metal gates at North Loch Venachar. Gates were on the original plans unlike those at the carpark on the south shore which was constructed a year ago.

 

IMG_5160 gates
The south Loch Venachar quay carpark site directly adjacent to Loch Venachar House, the home of the Convener of the LLTNA Linda McKay (behind the fence). At this site wooden gates have been installed though there were none on the original plans.

Many would say the use of natural material for gates is more in keeping with the ethos of the National Park and would help avoid “suburbanisation”.  I  believe the LLTNPA needs to explain publicly why it has installed wooden gates at south Loch Venachar but metal gates at north Loch Venachar and who took the decision.

 

I hope the photos illustrate that while it is not yet impossible to create a campsite at north Loch Venachar, the way the recent works have been undertaken suggest a decision has in effect been taken.  Appended to this post are a further set of questions I have asked the Park about this.  I believe that any work now to create a campsite here is likely to result in significant extra costs.  What is far more likely is the Park will try and introduce its proposed permit system, where you have to pay to camp even where there are no facilities.     The Park would have been much better constructing a toilet at this popular site on north Loch Venachar than giving an estimated £345k to Forestry Commission Scotland to construct a new campsite at Loch Chon where very few people visit.   If they had done so as planned, the unsightly toilet paper littered around the trees would have been a thing of the past – another opportunity missed.

 

The solution to these failures is quite simple.  Engage publicly with the recreational organisations about the proposed camping development plan instead of refusing to divulge details and doing everything in secret.

 

The Park’s Development Plan and camping

I had  heard Gordon Watson speak at the Scottish Council for National Parks AGM last month where, in response to a question,  he had asserted that he saw the Park’s Development Plan playing a facilitative role in encouraging new campsites.   I took this as an encouraging response but it was plainly just words.  The key words in EIR response 2016-017are “the delivery of new campsites will be supported should they be proposed”.    What this confirms is that the Park has no intention of using its planning powers to help create new campsites where they are needed but will only support them where they are proposed by others and ONLY in certain places as you can see from this extract from my  Response – Development Plan and Camping

“The Guidance on Visitor Experience states “We are likely to support tourism development within towns, villages and land allocated for tourism” and “We are likely to support small scale tourism development with good access to the existing network of paths, infrastructure or visitor facilities the red shaded areas on maps” (P11).  It goes on to state “an informal touring caravan or campsite would be likely to be considered small scale” (P12).    Apart from an area around Glenbranter and between Crianlarich and Tyndrum all the red shaded areas are on the east side of the National Park and while covering the Trossachs lochs do NOT cover west Loch Lomond, east Loch Lomond or Loch Long.  So, what this means in terms of the Local Development Plan as worded is the LLTNP is NOT supporting new “informal” campsites in the west side of the National Park.   This is totally wrong and I wish to object. The National Park Authority needs to allow small scale sites in the west of the National Park area.”

 

To be clear its NOT the Park’s proposed policy under the new Development Plan to support new campsites in most of the western half of the National Park.

 

I will come back to the Development Plan in due course but  the claim in EIR 2016-017 response that “it is incorrect to say that your suggestions were rejected” should be taken with a large pinch of salt.  They were mostly simply ignored although proposals for campsites in specific areas, such as Balmaha (originally proposed by Friends of Loch Lomonds and Trossachs and SCNP) were actually rejected.    What the EIR confirms is that the Park has no intention of using the Development Plan to address the lack of camping provision in the National Park.   This is perhaps hardly surprising given the Park is still swithering about delivering campsites on its own land.  Its a matter that the new Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, who has responsibility for the National Parks  needs to address.

 

 

My further questions to the LLTNPA following receipt of EIR 2016-017 Response

“Thankyou for this response.  I was out visiting the North Loch Venachar site ten days ago and saw that work had been done to the carpark.   This does not conform to the original plans in the 5 Lochs Visitor Management Plan.  I would therefore request that you provide me with all written information you hold about the work that has been completed at the North Loch Venachar site including plans and how much of the allocated budget from last year and this has been spent on the works to date (creation of the tarmac area, wall, gates, signage and some seats).   I would also appreciate a response to the following specific questions:

– why was it decided to replace the gravel car parking spaces marked on the original plan with tarmac?

– why have the number of car parking bays been reduced from the original plan?  Specifically what has been decided about the 13 car parking spaces shown on the original design for the north side of the carpark?

– why are there no parking spaces for motorhomes? (two were marked on the original map).

– has the treatment/septic tank marked on the original design been installed under the carparking area?   If not, how could a toilet block still be possible for this site as originally proposed in the 5 Lochs Management Plan?

–  is a wood store and barbecue stands  still planned for the area around the carpark?  (none are in evidence but I appreciate the intention may be to install these now the main works are completed)

– is a recycling point still planned for this site (none was in evidence but is clearly needed)?

– are the four picnic benches which I saw all that is planned for the site or is the intention to provide the seven which were illustrated in the original plans?”

May 26, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

My thanks to Stella Bray who asked Patrick Harvie, Leader of the Greens, his view of the camping byelaws in an online question and answer session before the election  https://www.facebook.com/ScottishGreens/videos/10154164579926170/  His response appears 39 mins and 39 seconds into the video and is worth listening to.    He clearly states that there is no justification for stopping people from camping responsibly, that the proposed camping byelaws are contrary to the whole direction on land reform since the creation of the Scottish Parliament and that bad  behaviour, whether in Kelvin Park or Loch Lomond, can be dealt with in other ways (which is what all the campaigners against the byelaws, including former Chief Inspector Kevin Findlater, have been saying from day one).  He also indicates that the Greens will work to have the byelaws repealed.   He is, to the best of my knowledge, the first national politician to state this.

 

While the LLTNPA and the Scottish Government have tried to portray campers as having adverse impact on the natural environment (without having evidence for this) it is significant that the Greens, whose mission is to protect the environment, do not see people enjoying the outdoors as an environmental issue, even when they behave badly and appear to have a good  understanding of how access rights were intended to operate.     .

 

We need more politicians to speak out and now the Greens have taken a stance on the camping byelaws, I hope other political parties will follow.  We now have a new Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, who was involved in the development of the first Land Reform Act and access rights and appears far more likely to listen than Aileen McLeod, who appears to have been completely out of her depth. I am optimistic there is an opportunity to repeal the byelaws before even more resources are wasted on designing systems to try and chase campers out of the best camping areas in the National Park.

May 13, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

In April the Standards Commission decided that  Owen McKee, the former  convener of Planning for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park who had been trading in the shares of the Cononish goldmine, had breached the Code of Conduct for Standards in Public Life.  They would have suspended him  if he had not resigned http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/04/20/owen-mckee-hearing-standards-commission-2/    Clearly what Owen McKee had done was wrong.  However, what I believe was more serious was that the LLTNPA had tried to cover this up and then failed to report this to Audit Scotland http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/04/22/owen-mckee-case-lltnpa-audit-scotland-3/

 

I was slightly surprised therefore that the Government has now revealed that it was informed about Owen McKee’s share-trading, at the time,  in December 2014  Scottish Government EIR Response 4 May Cononish goldmine  through a telephone call from the LLTNPA Convener, Linda McKay, to the lead civil servant for the Park, Keith Connal.  What we still don’t know – and I suspect never will as there appears to be no written record of the conversation – is actually what was discussed or decided in the conversation or if Scottish Ministers were informed.

 

However, what the information does tell us is that a) the Government received a copy of the Investigation Report and b) knew that the full report had not been seen by Board Members .  This suggests that civil servants in the Scottish Government – and I would be very happy to offer them space on parkswatchscotland to refute this –  were, at the very least, content that the matter should be taken no further:   no need for anyone to report Owen McKee to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards; no need for anyone to report the matter to Audit Scotland.   The implications are that officials in the Scottish Government believe it is acceptable for breaches of the Code of Conduct not to be reported to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards and also that is acceptable for Audit Scotland to produce their Annual Reports on non-departmental public bodies, which include a section on sound governance, without being in possession of the relevant facts.   I believe this is serious.

 

What is more, the original response to my information requests to the LLTNPA (http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/04/05/owen-mckee-hearing-standards-commission/)  showed that one Board Member, David McKenzie, to his credit, had raised the need to call in the Standards Commission.  Linda McKay had replied on 18th December 2014  “I have been considering at what point to draw in the Standards Commission” but there was no further information supplied about why this was never progressed.   It now appears possible, depending on the date of the telephone call, that  it could have been the telephone conversation between Linda McKay and Keith Connal at the Scottish Government where it was decided  not to refer the matter to the Standards Commission and even perhaps not to make the report public and keep the involvement of other Board Members to a minimum.   In other words that there was a telephone discussion raises questions of how far Scottish Government involvement in the Owen McKee cover-up might have been pro-active, not just complicit.

 

There are still no definite answers to the question as to why would the civil servants and the LLTNPA Board wanted to cover up Owen McKee’s share-trading?    There was little to no risk, as the Park Investigation Report concluded, of Owen McKee’s share-trading undermining the original planning approval for the Cononish goldmine, so why not let the matter become public?    A more likely answer is the Park were worried that any publicity about Owen McKee’s resignation as convener of planning might be difficult to manage and could influence people’s response to the Your Park consultation on the camping bye-laws and these worries were shared by the civil servants, if not the Scottish Government.   In other words nothing was to be allowed to get in the way of the approval of the camping bye-laws.

 

Whatever the reasons for the cover-up, I believe the handling of the Owen McKee case has implications for the civil service and all non-departmental public bodies which needs to be considered by the new Scottish Parliament.  Specifically there needs to be a public duty on all Board Members AND civil servants to report breaches of the Code of Conduct to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards.    If a Board Member knows someone on the same Board has breached the Code of Practice – and the LLTNPA did know this, they accepted Owen McKee’s resignation – there should be a duty to report this.  Similarly, if a senior official within a NDPB or the civil service becomes aware, they should also have to report this.  Otherwise we are keeping the doors to corruption wide open.