Tag: planning

September 19, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

o

Sunday Herald 17/09/17 – inset to piece on Greenbelt poll

Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group recently had the bright idea of playing the political parties at their own game and commissioning Survation, who conduct weekly national polls, to ask what people in Scotland thought of the proposed development at An Camus Mor.   For those who care about the future of our National Parks it is very re-assuring to find that significantly more people are opposed to a new town in the Cairngorms National Park than support it.   And this despite all the effort that has gone into promoting development.   I suspect if those polled had been shown photos of what would be destroyed if the development ever goes ahead (see here), the level of opposition would have been far higher.

 

While the poll does not necessarily reflect local opinion, there is a message here I believe for our National Park Authorities.   The “many” really do care about what happens in our National Parks and, if our National Park Authorities were to show more leadership,  advocate for the principles which led to the creation and use these to take decisions, whether on new towns, gold mines or raptor persecution, I suspect they would be widely supported and popular.

 

Instead, the evidence shows that our National Park Authorities are constantly being forced to compromise in the interests of the few, even when this means ignoring their own (fairly weak) policies.   The  recent An Camas Mor Section 42 planning application made under the Town and Country (Scotland) Planning Act 1997 provides a good illustration of this.

 

Section 42 applications, which allows developers to ask for planning conditions attached to consented developments to be changed, involve fixed fees (currently £202) and the applicant is NOT required to conduct a pre-application consultation with the public.  This explains why the public, the “many”, were kept in the dark about the potential implications of the Section 42 application for An Camas Mor (see here) until a few days before the planning committee.

 

In the period between receiving the application in March and taking the decision to approve it in August, the Cairngorms National Park Authority incurred considerable costs.   They produced a Habitats Regulations Assessment, all 240 pages of it, which involved research, liaison with landowners as well as writing it up and, as far as we know, free help from another public authority, SNH.   They almost certainly will have had to obtain legal advice as a result of the questions asked by the Cairngorms Campaign and the potential for legal challenge:

Extract from the excellent Cairngorms Campaign newsletter raising legal questions about the S42 application. On the timing of the application, the CNPA in their Committee report stated that because it had been received by Highland Council before the deadline it was valid.

Board Members took another visit to the site, along with senior staff (£200 a day fee each, plus salary costs of staff accompanying them) and then there was the Committee meeting itself.    Someone could ask the CNPA to cost all the work it had conducted on behalf of the developer.  I would be very surprised if it came to less than £20k and is probably worth more than twice that.  The S42 application though cost An Camus Mor LLP, the development vehicle of the landowner Johnnie Grant, just £202.   When do ordinary people get subsidised by public authorities like this?   The truth is ordinary people pay money to the state in the form of taxes which is then redistributed to promote the interests of the rich and powerful.   The S42 costs the same whether you are a home owner, who wants to vary a condition attached to the development of your property, or a large property developer.  Our National Parks could be using these resources on much better things.

 

To give the CNPA credit, they do appear to appreciate this.  The Scottish Government’s consultation on the planning system earlier this year called Places, People and Planning asked about S42 applications.  Here is the question and the CNPA response:

 

“33(b) Currently developers can apply for a new planning permission with different conditions to those attached to an existing permission for the same development. Can these procedures be improved?


The current Section 42 application process is complicated and misunderstood by many stakeholders. The procedure is misused as a cheaper way of renewing planning permission with minor changes, or of turning an existing consent into a materially different permission. The rules about when S42 applications are legitimate, and a more appropriate fee structure should be considered to reflect the complexity of applications and work involved in processing them.”

https://consult.scotland.gov.uk/planning-architecture/a-consultation-on-the-future-of-planning/consultation/download_public_attachment?sqId=pasted-question-1467894590.05-55511-1467894590.71-30316&uuId=159369924

 

I think we can take it that the CNPA response was informed by An Camas Mor because at the time they were completing the response (April 2017) they were processing Johnnie Grant’s application.    The report to the Planning Committee, however, made no mention of the concerns of the CNPA  – it couldn’t without being seen to prejudice the process.  What’s happened at An Camus Mor, though, should give the Scottish Government all the evidence they need to end the current S42 system which enables developers to pass on costs to public authorities.

 

What the CNPA failed to mention in their response to the Government’s planning consultation the were the serious implications which can arise from the lack of any public consultation prior to S42 applications being determined.  Perhaps back in April, they didn’t appreciate this because at Camus Mor those serious implications arise from the mitigation measures  identified in the Habitats Regulation Assessment as necessary to protect capercaillie.  These clearly state that byelaws to restrict access could be used as a last resort to prevent visitors numbers increasing or people leaving designated paths.   It seems to me that Section 42 applications which have such implications should require public consultation.

 

The Developer has subsequently denied this on their Facebook page (see here) in a post dated 6th September:

 

An Camas Mòr will improve outdoor access for people living in Aviemore and Strathspey with new paths and beautiful riverside walks. In response to misreporting, we would like to re-state that no-one is going to remove your rights under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

Some are opposed to the development of the area – they are trying to recruit people to their cause by suggesting that Rothiemurchus is going to remove people’s access rights.

 

These claims are just false.  Rothiemurchus Estate doesn’t have the power to remove access rights but the CNPA does, through its byelaw making powers, and explicitly mentioned this as a measure of last resort in its Habitats Regulations Assessment.  In fact, having stated that an increase in numbers of people visiting the pine woods from An Camas Mor could be mitigated if there was NO overall increase in visitor numbers, the only way the CNPA could guarantee this – and therefore approve the An Camas Mor development – was by stating that compulsory powers, ie byelaws, could be used to manage access.    If removal of access rights is not on the table as a consequence of the proposed An Camas Mor development, why is it in the Habitats Regulations Assessment?   If Rothiemurchus Estate disagrees with this, as it claims to do, why then  didn’t it object to the proposed mitigation measures at the planning committee meeting?  Why indeed don’t they appeal now to demonstrate their good faith to the public?

 

The CNPA has confirmed with me, in response to a question, that they consulted Rothiemurchas on the Habitats Regulations Assessment and proposed mitigation measures prior to making these public, so Rothiemurchas had plenty of time to object to byelaws being included as a measure of last resort.    They don’t appear to have done so and the current position is that access rights could be removed as the “cost”  of An Camas going ahead.

 

All of this could have been flushed out into the open if the S42 application had required Rothiemurchus and An Camas Mor LLP to conduct a pre-application public consultation.  Instead, we are left in a ludicrous position where the CNPA has proposed byelaws as a measure of last resort to allow the development to go ahead but statutorily is bound to conduct a public consultation before it can approve any byelaws.   The CNPA has put itself into the invidious position where either it will be accused of having made up its mind in advance to allow An Camas Mor to go ahead or at risk of being sued by the developer if, at a late stage, it decides those measures of last resort are not publicly acceptable.   This situation could have been avoided if Rothiemurchus estate had been required to consult on the access implications of its proposals in advance (and note once again the costs of consulting on byelaws will fall to the CNPA, not the developer).

September 14, 2017 Nick Kempe 9 comments
Old pine tree surrounded by regeneration at An Camus Mor, isn’t this what our National Parks are for?

Large developments are, I believe, fundamentally incompatible with the whole concept of National Parks, wherever they are located across the world.   National Parks are places where the natural environment should come first, not second.  That’s why I, like many people, object to the An Camas Mor development in principle.  We should not be building new towns in the Cairngorms, whether or not these impact on protected European sites or have implications for access by visitors (see here).

That does not mean I am against new housing in our National Parks, indeed there is a crying need for social housing in the Cairngorms, but this must be of an appropriate scale and appropriately situated.   Anyone who cares about the natural environment should visit An Camas Mor and see for themselves.  In my view its a totally inappropriate location for housing, whatever the size of the development.
Earlier this week a reader expressed scepticism that the pole (left hand photo) could mark the centre of the proposed development.  I can well understand why, the location is beautiful and unspoilt, just the sort of place our National Parks were set up to protect.   I was shocked too when I visited two weeks ago and very quickly started asking myself how could the Cairngorms National Park Authority ever have consented to a development here?
Looking north towards the pole which marks the centre of the development. The Caledonian forest here is regenerating over heathland and rough pasture.

The most intensive building is proposed for the centre of the development  in the areas marked red on the map below (the pole in the photos marks as I understand it the centre of the green circle on the map).  The approved development  proposals include buildings 3.5 storeys high.   If you can see the Lairig Ghru from ground level at the centre of An Camus Mor, its quite obvious it will have a major impact on the landscape of Glenmore.  Indeed, the impact of the development on the landscape was one of the reasons why the CNPA imposed the condition that the development could be halted after 630 houses had been built.  The removal of that condition was the key change approved  by the CNPA when it agreed to vary the original planning application this August.

Extract from CNPA committee report August 2017

After my visit to the site, I believe the map in the Committee report showing the boundary of the site and dating from 2009 is totally misleading.

Much of the the east side of the site (left of the red line along the road, the B970, is depicted as rough grassland.  Its not, its regenerating  Caledonian pine forest. This is partially acknowledged by the Developer who describes the part of the site where houses will be built as “elevated woodland” – while carefully avoiding the term “Caledonian pine forest”!
This photo, from the planning papers, clearly shows that An Camas Mor is mainly woodland. You need to get up close to appreciate that a large proportion of it is regenerating Caledonian pine forest.

Unsurprisingly, in order to sell the development, those acting on behalf of Johnnie Grant, the landowner, included plenty of illustrations from Gehl, world renowned architects, of what the built environment might look like (and numerous sustainability features) rather than showing what the new town would replace.   Unfortunately very few people apart from quad bikers visit the site and experience for themselves what the developers are wanting to destroy.  I think if they did, there would be an uproar.  Yes, Gehl’s designs may be world-leading but these should be used for a new town somewhere else where they could be a credit to Scotland, not in a National Park.   While the CNPA Board did visit the site before taking their decision, they were transported along a  track by minibus – not the best way to see what it is really like.

One of the kettle holes on site, formed by the melting of the Glenmore glacier and home to rich wildlife, including the Northern Damselfly. The developers have now apparently agreed not to destroy these kettle holes, although we saw signs of recent works on the far bank.

An Camas Mor has had a variety of uses.  Parts have been and still are used for grazing cattle (which probably explains open nature of woodland in photo above) and parts have been planted (with grant aid).    In ecological terms however, much of the soil structure appears to be intact, which helps explain why, with trees regenerating, so much wildlife has now been recorded on the site.

Regenerating birch in Scots pine plantation
Granny pine in Scots pine plantation

Even where trees have been planted and the land ploughed, there has been regeneration, while old pines have been preserved. On my visit I saw Osprey, Red Squirrel, signs of badger and otter as well as rare funghi and various creepy crawlies (you can see excellent photos on the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group flickr album (see here)).

Regenerating woodland on the southern edge of the proposed development looking west to Aviemore

An Camas Mor, rewilding and the Cairngorms National Park

An Camas Mor is not pristine, one reason why its not so far been designated as a protected nature site, and there are plenty of signs of poor management.
Drain creation, Rothiemurchus style
This “forest” track was widened to provide access just prior to a pop concert a few years ago.
Eyesores from previous land-use remain

However, it is re-wilding.   Paradoxically one of the reasons for this is the proposed new town.  An Camas Mor has been left alone, allowing natural processes to take hold, while the land round about is intensively used.

Looking south from An Camas Mor across intensively farmed fields
From what I have learned though, An Camas Mor always had this re-wilding potential, because although partly abandoned now, much of it was never intensively used.   It is therefore just the sort of area that the National Park should have earmarked for regeneration and extension of the Caledonian pine forest.
The CNPA however appears to have turned a blind eye to the re-wilding potential and to have reached the wrong conclusion about the validity of the Environmental Statements accompanying the planning application:
Extract from Committee Report

The reason that the records of species found at An Camas Mor has increased is not just because there has been more recording – and part of the credit for that goes to the Badenoch and Strathspey conservation group rather than the developer – its because as a result of rewilding the wildlife on the site is improving the whole time.  The longer its left, the more will be found.  If the CNPA had insisted on proper surveys for the most recent application and compared these to all the species it has prioritised for protection in the National Park, it would have had lots of reasons not to agree to this development going ahead.

Unfortunately, the CNPA at present appears to give little priority to rewilding. Our National Parks, which could have offered a means to re-wild  parts of Scotland, have not had the drive or will to promote the potential of nature against the interests and wishes of landowners.  Meantime, apart from national nature reserves none of our other nature conservation designations – a major flaw – can be used to restore nature to places.   Our designation system is focussed on protecting what is there, not what could be.       We sorely need a means to promote re-wilding which is not entirely dependent on the goodwill of the landowner.
If Anders Povlsen, who is doing so much to re-wild Glen Feshie, or the RSPB rather than Johnnie Grant had owned this land,  I think it would be being quietly promoted as one of the jewels in the Cairngorms.   From a conservation perspective, the Scottish Government would have been far better giving Johnnie Grant £7.2m to buy up An Camas Mor than buying part of the Rothiemurchus Estate (see here), which was already fully protected.
While both the Scottish Government and the CNPA know that An Camas Mor sits at the centre of the main areas of woodland where Capercaillie now survive, they have seen the challenge as being to find ways to let the development go ahead without impacting too much on capercaillie.  Hence the detailed Habitats Regulations Assessment and mitigation proposals for An Camas Mor which, if enforced, will inevitably restrict access.   They could and should have looked at this from a completely different viewpoint.  What is the rewilding potential of An Camas Mor and what role could it play in saving the capercaillie (once again) from extinction in Scotland?
I have asked Gus Jones, convener of the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group why there are not capercaillie in the woods?    The first reason he gave is recreational use, and by that he did not mean walkers (I did not see another walker in two hours on what was an English bank holiday)   but the use of the forest for quad biking.
The people quad biking were very nice, obviously enjoying themselves and I even heard the tour leader, who had stopped everyone at a particular point, explain the orange marks on some trees marked those to be felled and this was being done to improve ground flora in the woods. How this fitted with the proposed development I am not sure!
The second is that part of An Camas Mor is used for pheasant breeding.
While specific, let alone conclusive research, is lacking,  even the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (see here) admits that pheasant rearing can lead to competition for food and drive other game birds (in which they include capercaillie) from the most intensively used areas while also attracting predators.
Now I am not against either quad biking or pheasant rearing, in the right place.   However, given the current parlous state of capercaillie, surely what the CNPA should be doing is engaging with relevant interests to help capercaillie re-colonise this site (and other such woods)?   This should include, if necessary, helping the current businesses relocate (if An Camas Mor goes ahead they will be finished in any case).
In a previous post  (see here)  I argued  we need an alternative plan for An Camas Mor and this  could be funded by the money which the Scottish Government apparently intends to invest in the development.   Having had a good look at the site, I believe the core of an alternative plan for An Camas Mor should be about how we can allow it to continue to rewild.  That would not cost much in itself:  narrow a few tracks to footpaths, restore other damage, remove human artefacts and rubbish and then leave nature take over..    It would then leave plenty of money to develop social housing elsewhere.
The only problem?  Landownership and how to change who controls the land.
September 1, 2017 Nick Kempe 6 comments
Hydro construction track in Glen Affric, a National Scenic Area and Special Area of Conservation because of the Caledonian pine forest. No designation at present can stop a hydro scheme and in the Lomond and Trossachs National Park not a single area has been designated as important enough for there to be a presumption against hydro developments.

While the impact of windfarms on landscape make front page news – the latest being the predictable decision by the Courts to uphold the Scottish Government’s decision to give the go-ahead to the Creag Riabhach scheme in Sutherland  (see here) – hydro schemes rarely receive any coverage at all.   For a long time, most people who care about the landscape, appear to have been blinded to their impacts.  Hydro sounds such a good thing it must be.   More and more people I meet and talk to however are now beginning to believe the evidence of their eyes, particularly the blighting of the landscape with new tracks.

Looking south from Aonach Shasuinn, May 2017

Parkswatch has been highlighting the destructive impact that hydro schemes have been having in our National Parks and, after my post on Ledcharrie http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2017/08/31/whats-gone-wrong-ledcharrie-hydro-scheme/ its seems an appropriate time to inform readers how they can help monitor and document what is going on.  This is important because our politicians and decision makers will I am afraid put the wishes of landowners and developers first unless they are confronted with evidence they cannot ignore (and remember most decision makers hardly visit the hills and have probably never walked round a hydro scheme).

 

Following my walk with Members of the Munro Society to look at the Ledcharrie scheme (see here) I have been working with them to develop a hydro scheme reporting form. The idea is to assemble information about hydro schemes, the good, the poor and the unacceptable, which can then be analysed and used by the Mountaineering Council and others.   Munro Society Members have now visited three hydro schemes in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park which I had not seen and sent me their report forms.

 

The Inverlochlarig hydro scheme

To give an example of how the form can help, here is an example for Inverlochlarig, in the heart of Rob Roy country.  Its well worth reading and I found it incredibly informative.   When working on the form we had not thought of inserting photos into it – reporters don’t need to do this – but Derek Sime had the good idea and in my view they  illustrate his  report brilliantly.

 

While no two people are likely to have the same response to a hydro scheme, whether they see it on the ground or recorded in a form, its good to be able to give publicity to what I think is a good hydro scheme in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park (there are others).  The intake is discrete, the pipeline hard to detect and because an existing track was used for most of the construction, without any widening, there has been little further landscape impact, even from the tops of the hills.  The hydro scheme is not perfect though and the report form records some oversteep banks which are not revegetating, a short section of new track which is too broad and some abandoned pipes, still there three years after the scheme was completed.   I hope the LLTNPA will address these outstanding issues and have agreed with the Munro Society to send the form to the them but overall I agree with Derek, this appears an exemplary scheme.

I will cover other reports of hydro schemes from the Munro Society in due course.  Meantime…………

If you want to get involved…………….

The Munro Society is looking for more volunteers to report on hydro schemes across Scotland.  They have a list of schemes they have prioritised for reports and if you would like to help with these, you can contact them through their website – just put in the subject line Hydro Scheme survey.   There is nothing though to stop people reporting on schemes they come across in the hills and if want to do so there is a blank report form Hydro scheme survey v3.  You can return this to the Munro Society or if the scheme is in a National Park you can send it to nickkempe@parkswatchscotland.co.uk  (we have agreed to share information about schemes in our National Parks).      Don’t worry if you cannot fill in all the form, or only fill in part of it – even partial information will help the Munro Society prioritise sites for full surveys.  And photographs are as important, if not more important than words………….

 

The form that we have created came about because of the walk I did with members of the Munro Society to look at the Ledcharrie scheme.  We realised we needed to do something to capture information on the impact of hydro scheme and I am sure this will evolve over time.  Learning what to look out for though is greatly helped by walking round schemes with other people.  I am hoping to arrange another such walk, probably in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park in the next month or two.  If you would be interested in this, please contact me at the parkswatch email with your contact details and indicating which day/s of the week are most suitable for you.

August 31, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
A example of the destruction created by the Ledcharrie track. The slope above the track is too steep and the spoil has been dumped below it without any sign of re-landscaping. The contractor had removed all equipment from the site indicating the Developer, Glen Hydro Development Ltd,  saw this as the “finished product”.

Following my visit to the Ledcharrie Hydro Scheme in Glen Dochart with members of the Munro Society (see here),  I made an information request to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority to find out what they were doing to address deficiencies in the development, particularly the  damage to the landscape that has been created by the new hill track.    The LLTNPA’s initial response to my request was to refuse to give me ANY information apart from the dates of monitoring visits,  claiming that they had not signed off all the works and provision of information could prejudice future enforcement action  EIR 2017- 050 Response Ledcharrie.   I treated this, as with so many responses from the LLTNPA, with a degree of scepticism, because I am unaware that they have ever taken enforcement action against hydro tracks, despite the large number of inappropriate and poorly restored tracks which now blight the National Park.

 

Leaving that aside, refusing to make public information that the developer was legally obliged to provide as a condition of the planning consent was in my view completely unjustifiable and I asked for a Review.  The LLTNPA has now backtracked  EIR REVIEW 2017-050 Response Ledcharrie hydro scheme and at the beginning of August sent me no less than 45 documents on a CD.  This post considers what the information tells us about how the LLTNPA  is “managing” the impact of hydro developments on the landscape of the National Park.

 

The information required as a condition of the planning consent

 

The Planning Consent which the Park’s officers agreed in December 2013 included 18 conditions, each of which required the Developer, Glen Hydro Ltd acting on behalf of Auchclyne Estates, to submit further information for approval before the development could go ahead.   This information includes assessments required (eg wildlife surveys), more detailed plans (eg for the powerhouse and track construction), standards governing the work and reporting arrangements.  Similar information and conditions are required for most planning consents for hydro developments.    In my view all such information should be public – people should have a right to know what has been agreed between planning authorities and developers – and it appears that the LLTNPA now agrees.  Over half the documents on the CD relate to the plans, reports and proposals the Developer had made to fulfil these conditions.

 

Unfortunately the information is not properly indexed by the LLTNPA and they have not told me whether they are still withholding information about the fulfilment of some of the conditions.  But, as far as I can tell from what has been supplied, Glen Hydro Developments did supply information on each of the 18 planning conditions.  The file sizes are large but the content is summarised in the chart on pages 6-12  here.

 

What is far less easy to see is what documentation was agreed by the LLTNPA.   Some conditions, including the first, to produce a  Construction Method Statement, were clearly approved Condition 1, 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9_20150827_Discharge of conditions. For others its very hard to tell.  For example, in relation to condition 12 on the design of the powerhouse, the Developer appears to have done everything the Park had asked Condition 12_20160314_Agent to NPA but there is no final sign off the from the LLTNPA.   Another example is that the Developer clearly stated that they would include information on several of the conditions (2,4,14) in the all important Construction Method Statement, but in approving this document (see above) the LLTNPA did not clearly say whether those other conditions contained in it were also discharged.

 

In my view our National Parks, which are meant to be beacons of good practice, should  be publishing information about the discharge of planning conditions on their planning portals so its readily available.   This should include both the information supplied by the Developer and the documents from our National Parks signing it off, the two clearly referenced.   This would empower the public and avoid the need for need for endless information requests.  The LLTNPA’s current stance however is it doesn’t make this information public because it doesn’t have to legally – so much for being a beacon of good practice!    In fact if the LLTNPA made these documents public, I think it would improve their practice because where approvals are unclear, as at Ledcharrie, they would be challenged.   This would also help Developers who are left in a difficult position when they are not clear about what has been approved either.   Its worth noting that Glen Hydro developments appears to have taken a far more systematic approach to the provision of information needed to disharge planning conditions – judging by their chart – than the LLTNPA.

 

What the information tells us about planning standards and protection of our landscape

Much of the documentation supplied by Glen Hydro and approved by the LLTNPA is excellent, for example it shows that lots of care is taken to ensure that walkers are informed of alternative routes and is a credit both to National Park staff and to developers.  However, what the EIR response also shows is that standards and documentation are much better developed in some areas than others.  So, the planners, whose stock in trade is new buildings, took huge amounts of care about the design of the powerhouse (see link to condition 12 above).  They also, because of environmental regulations, require very detailed information about the potential impacts on protected nature sites (informed by advice from SNH and their own ecological staff which is included in committee reports) and how these will be mitigated.  They also took great care with any aspect of the environment regulated by SEPA (hence all the plans to prevent stop silt filtering into watercourses).  All this shows that regulation and rules do work.

 

Ironically, because this is what the National Park was set up to protect, what the planners are not so good at is protecting the landscape, and more specifically the impact of new hill tracks.  Ledcharrie shows the problems were created even before planning consent was granted.  Here is what the Committee Report said:

 

  • “Effects on Landscape Character: There would be no significant adverse effects on the site landscape, published landscape character types and the designated National Park are predicted after construction is complete.”

and

  • the topography will screen the intakes, the pipe route will be restored, the track returned to its original state and the tailrace and powerhouse be assimilated in the landscape.
A section of the old track, it had almost disappeared into the landscape – the new track is on far right
And here’s how it looked when I visited with members of the Munro Society

Wishful thinking does not make things happen.  This weakness is carried through into the Construction Method Statement approved by the LLTNPA (see here).  The section headed Access Track is brief to the extreme, in contrast to other sections, and mainly about silt:

What the EIR Response shows is that in discharging this condition the LLTNPA agreed a far broader track than was reported in the the Planning Report and mentioned in my original post:

 

“A permanent track from the powerhouse to the primary intake (surfaced with local crushed stone and about 2 metres in width).”

 

In agreeing to a 3m broad track the LLTNPA also ignored its own good practice guidance which Gordon Watson, the Park’s Chief Executive stated should mean tracks are 2m broad except on bends where they may be 2.5m broad.   No wonder the Park did not want this information to be made public!

 

The Construction Method Statement did contain some further information on track construction and restoration under a section on Landscape Mitigation measures:

The second track, like the ground over the pipe, has been completely restored and generally well done

The problem is this is not a proper Construction Method Statement.  It says nothing about the angle of the track – key to future erosion (SNH tracks recommends a maximum angle of 14 degrees), the design of culverts or the angle of verges all of which have contributed to the adverse impact this track is having on the landscape:

While this section of track has been narrowed the section of bank on the left is too steep, the edge of the ditch crudely done and its too steep – you can see how it was already washing out before it bends left

Where the Construction Method Statement is stronger is the restoration of soil and ground vegetation:

I believe this helps confirm my analysis.   The LLTNPA has been good at ensuring that ground above pipelines has been restored well.  In this case the techniques for ensuring such restoration have also been applied to tracks.  The problem however is that if you get the track construction wrong (angle of slope, cutting through banks etc) that is much much harder to restore than land above a pipeline.

 

The lesson I think that the FOI material tells us is that the LLTNPA (and indeed other planning authorities) need to pay far more attention to the specification of tracks and use this to inform whether tracks should become permanent or not.

 

 

Following on from that, if its not possible to create a track which does not meet all the requirements of SNH’s excellent guidance on hill track construction, that should be an indication to our planning authorities, that these construction tracks should only be temporary and be fully restored, just like the pipelines.

The monitoring of the construction of the Ledcharrie hydro and enforcement of planning conditions

The LLTNPA has not given me a single document about enforcement of the planning conditions, claiming this might prejudice future enforcement action.  While this might be the case in some circumstances – for example legal advice – one would hope that the Developer would have been told by the LLTNPA which conditions it has so far failed to meet.  If so, its hard to see how provision such information could prejudice enforcement action.  If the Developer knows the concerns of the LLTNPA, why shouldn’t the public?    I suspect the reason for refusing this information is that if it became public more evidence would become available about the LLTNPA’s failure to enforce planning conditions.   This is far too systematic to be the fault of staff who I believe have neither the time or the expertise necessary to monitor these schemes properly.

 

Instead, staff depend on is Monitoring Reports and work from the “independent” Ecological Clerk of Works (who is contracted by the Developer and who is therefore dependent on the Developer to get paid).   The other suite of documents in the EIR response are 19 Monitoring Reports from the Ecological Clerk of Works (some of which cover several visits).

 

While these monitoring reports contain good things  – the reports show for example that the Ecological Clerk of Works  consistently identified issues with silt traps and actioned these – and many interesting photos,  I believe they also help explain why the hydro track at Ledcharrie is the mess it is.  The problems are illustrated early on:

Photo from report of site visits in August  2015 at initial stage of construction

This photo shows that turves were not being stored as had been specified in the Construction Method Statement – one layer deep and the right way up – but instead have been dumped in a heap.  The Ecological Clerk of Works makes no comment on this by the picture and no mention in the body of their report.

 

To their credit, the LLTNPA planning officer identified this as an issue.  We only know this not from information recorded by the LLTNPA but because its mentioned in the next suite of monitoring reports from the Ecological Clerk of works (ECOW)  which includes this:

Having asked why the turf had not been stored correctly, the member of the planning team  apparently then accepted the claim by the ECOW that the turf could not be stored successfully for long periods.  This is garbage.  Why did the Construction Method Statement say that turf would be stored in this way if it couldn’t?   Actually, I have just seen an example on the Ralia estate (which I will cover in due course) where turf was stored successfully for over three years.   Unfortunately, the LLTNPA appear to have accepted this claim, instead of challenging the ECOW and the Developer, and this helps explain much of the more restoration work alongside the track.

Bare ground all along the track results from the failure of the LLTNPA to enforce the planning condition that all turf be retained and stored properly.

Its worth having a look at the report  (20151007_Condition 18_Monitoring Report_Sep 2015. which has nteresting photos but bear in mind its right from the start of the works and only covers certain issues.  A couple of the photos show oversteep banksides, the ones that are now have such an adverse impact on the landscape as they are too steep to be restored.   Again there is no comment from the ECOW.  That’s maybe not their fault – their primary remit after all was for ecology, not landscape – but its a serious problem the LLTNPA needs to address.

 

The lessons that need to be learned from the information released by the LLTNPA on Ledcharrie hydro and what needs to change

The documents released by the LLTNPA tell us nothing about what the Park is doing to redress the damage caused by the construction of the Ledcharrie hydro, but they do tell us a lot about what is going wrong and I strongly suspect a similar tale could be told for many other hydro schemes in the National Park.

  • Far too little attention is given to the way track to hydro schemes are constructed in the planning process prior to work starting.  I think at the very least all proposal for tracks should have a specification which covers every aspect of SNH Guidance on the Design of Hill tracks (see here) and our National Parks and other planning authorities should evaluate proposals against that guidance
  • It appears that at present planning staff do not have the expertise necessary to ensure high standards of track construction nor are they able to call on this expertise from elsewhere (as they can with other specialist areas).  Our National Parks need to address this skills gap.
  • Unfortunately, it also appears that the Ecological Clerks of Works  lack expertise in this area too and its imperative that if our National Parks continue to get Developers their own practice that they engage people with the right skills.  That might mean a specialist track consultant.
  • The problem for both our National Parks and developers is that there is little evidence that there are currently people involved in hill track construction with the expertise to ensure tracks are designed to high standards and also to advertise where permanent tracks would have a deleterious impact on the landscape.  One solution would be for our National Parks and developers to engage people involved in footpath design to carry out this work.  In general the standards that are applied to footpath design are far far higher than those applied to hill tracks.  This might help provide permanent jobs to the people currently being trained as footpath workers in our National Park.
  • The biggest failure of all though is a lack of will.  There appears to be no ethos in the LLTNPA which encourages staff to take action when they identify things that are going wrong, secure in the knowledge that they will be backed to the hilt by their Managers and the Board.  Instead there is a development free for all which is undermining the entire credibility of the National Park Authority and will in the long-term destroy tourism, as its the landscape which is the reason why people visit our National Parks in the first place.    Then, when the results of this free for all are made public, suddenly the LLTNPA says it is considering enforcement action.    If action had been taken at the beginning of the construction at Ledcharrie, most of the issues could have been prevented.
  • As a start to rectifying these planning deficiencies, the LLTNPA should now commission an independent audit of a selection of hydro developments in the National Park causing public concerns.  This should analyse in how many cases the LLTNPA has approved tracks which breach its own best practice guidance and ask for recommendations about how this could be prevented in future.
  • In order to show a collective determination to tackle these issues, I think that the LLTNPA should no longer delegate decisions about hydro schemes to staff.  Like in the Cairngorms National Park Authority, all decisions about hydro schemes should be taken in public at the Planning Committee.
August 30, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Dumper truck on hill track down from Ptarmigan  carrying remains of concrete plinths from West Wall chairlift                                                                                                                               Photo Monday 28th August

On Monday I was up at Cairngorm on a pre-arranged visit to look at the Shieling Hill Track (about which more in due course) and did not go to the top of the hill.  It was not difficult though to get photos illustrating the lies and hyprocrisy about what is going on at Cairngorm (see here) and (here).  Highlands and Islands Enterprise is making a mockery of past agreements to protect Cairngorm and  future planning applications.

 

Contrast the reality (above) with how the Cairngorms National Park Authority were told the work on the West Wall chairlift removal would be carried out:

 

Extract from email from Colin Matthew, project consultant and ex- Natural Retreats employee, to Gavin Miles, Head of Planning CNPA 2nd May

So much for helicoptering out the concrete plinths.  And so much for the use of hand tools……while I did not get to the top of the West Wall, Heavy Whalley (whom I don’t know) did and took more photos (see here).  

 

The hill track to the Ptarmigan

McGowan’s vehicles are using the hill track up to the Ptarmigan and then driving down the hillside, creating new tracks and destroying vegetation, in order to remove the West Wall lift infrastructure.

 

At the time the funicular was constructed – and remember this was done so carefully that each stone removed had to returned to the same place the right way up – the initial planning permission included a condition that the hill track at Cairngorm be removed.  The idea was that with a train up the mountain there would be no need for vehicles to drive up in future and this would repair some of the past damage done at Cairngorm.   That condition was later dropped, no doubt partly because it  became clear that the capacity of the funicular to transport materials was limited and snow machines still needed to get up and down the mountain.

 

Still, the principle that all vehicle use should be controlled was widely recognised and in the Cairngorm Estate Management Plan 2005-09, which was clearly linked to the Section 50 legal agreement on the development of the funicular, there were strict rules for vehicle use.    The gate to the hill track was kept locked and permission had to be obtained to take any vehicle up the mountain.  This was because people knew vehicles caused damage.

Extract from Wm Gray proposed method statement for development at Ptarmigan

So why does this not apply to McGowan staff now? The answer appears to be because HIE and Natural Retreats don’t require planning permission, they believe  they can get away with using a contractor whom all the evidence shows simply ignores planning requirements and standards of good practice.  Meantime, HIE shamelessly uses reports from a more reputable contractor, Wm Gray, to promote its Ptarmigan proposals:

The hyprocrisy of HIE and Natural Retreats is staggering.   If the contractor for the Ptarmigan is proposing to consult the CNPA before any works commence and says they will comply with Park standards, so could McGowan.

 

Standards for work at Cairngorm

A major difficulty – which is undermining the reputation of the National Park – is the CNPA has no standards for operations at Cairngorm and its request to Natural Retreats to develop them has been ignored.    There is an easy solution:  CNPA could adopt the strict standards that have been agreed for Cairngorm n the past as a starting point and call on HIE to adopt these with immediate effect.

The demolition work is clearly taking place without any care or attention – the lift structure at the bottom of the Ciste chairlift. The scrub wood around the lower lift station is very interesting: some of it was part of the first experiment by the old Nature Conservancy to plant trees at Cairngorm. There were arguments then about whether trees would grow at Cairngorm!

 

I returned home on Tuesday night to find there had been no response to my email to Charlotte Wright on 25th August  email Charlotte Wright 170825 to stop the works at Cairngorm immediately.   I am not surprised.

 

Charlotte Wright was, however, for a short time a Director of Cairngorm Mountain Ltd.  While she only became a Director in order for HIE to sell Cairngorm Mountain to Natural Retreats, all Directors of companies have legal duties and she should therefore be well aware of the Section 50 legal agreement at Cairngorm which was designed to protect the mountain.  She should therefore be aware that in that Section 50 agreement specific measures were agreed about the removal of ski infrastructure in Coire Cas:

 

 

While it appears now that that agreement may be full of holes – it should have included mandatory standards for any work on the Cairngorm estate, not just the funicular and Coire Cas – the intention of that agreement was in my view clear.  It aimed not just to prevent impacts from visitors at Cairngorm spreading onto neighbouring European protected sites, but to protect and enhance Cairngorm itself.   HIE are, and have for sometime, been breaching the spirit of the S50 agreement if not the word.   Its time HIE declared whether they are still prepared to observe that agreement or not and for SNH, Highland Council and the Cairngorms National Park Authority to publicly challenge them to do so.

 

Meantime, while the current works may not require planning permission, the works in Coire Cas which involve removal of chairlift infrastructure at the Fiacaill and White Lady, appear to fall under clause 7 of the Section 50 agreement.   That means that Highland Council and SNH, as parties to that agreement, can legally take action against any works which are not conducted to the highest standards and they should now be working with CNPA to ensure no works start at Coire Cas until full plans have been provided and approved.

August 26, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
My thanks to Alan Mackay for sending me photos of the current works to remove the West Wall chairlift at Cairngorm after some had been published on the Winter Highland and Save the Ciste Facebook pages. The photos were taken on Wednesday.   The concrete behind the digger is the former plinth of a lift tower.                                                                                                                                     Photo Credit Alan Mackay

On Monday works started to remove the West Wall chairlift.  These demonstrate yet again that both Natural Retreats and HIE are totally unfit to manage Cairngorm.  This is not just because of the environmental damage they are causing, its because the works appear deliberately designed to frustrate any chance of alternative development in Coire Cas or takeover by the local community.   Since my post in May All quiet at Cairngorm? it turns out that HIE has been hatching a plan not just to clear up the mess and redundant infrastructure at Cairngorm – which has been sorely needed – but also to remove other infrastructure that could have been salvaged and used to develop an alternative plan for the mountain.  There has been no consultation.

Damage to vegetation caused by removal of former chairlift tower. The Consultant’s email to the National Park (see FOI below points 6 and 7 below) had said that all the work to remove the West Wall chairlift would be done by hand tools and removed by helicopter. The photos show that that is not true.

We only know of what is going on because of an FOI request made at the end of June by George Paton asking for all correspondence between the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Natural Retreats and HIE about redundant infrastructure at Cairngorm.   At the end of July the CNPA sent him two small files with extracts from emails (see here) and (here) which contained proposals for what was called the Cairngorm Mountain Clear Up project:

This set the alarm bells ringing because the proposals were far more than a clear-up,  they are about removing all the infrastructure not currently in use.  As a result George, who formerly worked in civil engineering and knows how these things work, asked HIE for a copy of the engineering report into the Coire na Ciste infrastructure.  He received this report Ciste chair bases report (2) on 15th August (about which more anon).

 

Besides the works listed in the email, the evidence on the ground suggests the clear-up also appears to cover the removal of accumulated debris at Cairngorm, which Parkswatch has been calling for for over 18 months – a good thing.

Fiacaill dump December 2016  Photo Credit Alan Brattey
and two weeks ago…………

After all the criticism over the last 18 months about the mess and delapidation at Cairngorm,  HIE have at last taken action.  Its worth noting from the FOI response that HIE appears to be paying for ALL the clear-up, i.e  this is being paid for out of public funds, while Natural Retreats appears to be contributing nothing.

 

The environmental damage being created by the clear-up

It worth repeating, the email from the Consultant to the CNPA said that only hand tools would be used to remove the West Wall Chairlift                                                                                       Photo Credit Alan Mackay

Unfortunately, but predictably, the clear-up is causing as much new damage as it removes.  The public purse is in effect paying for yet more damage at Cairngorm.   This is wrong.

 

It also makes a complete mockery of the planning system.   Regular readers will recall that when Highland Council granted planning permission to Natural Retreats to move the West Wall poma return wheel that a condition of the planning permission was that specific measures should be taken to protect the environment (see here).   While these were never properly observed and while Highland Council, who had granted the planning permission failed to take any enforcement action, in order to get Planning Permission all the public authorities involved had at least to nod their heads towards the need to protect the fragile mountain environment.

No protective measures and use of diggers rather than hand tools – Photo credit Alan Mackay

However, removal of redundant infrastructure did not require planning permission and therefore there was no legal requirement on HIE or Natural Retreats to produce a document setting out the standards they would use to carry out the works.   We know from the FOI response that Gavin Miles the Head of Planning had suggested to the planning consultant (who was working on behalf of Natural Retreats/Cairngorm Mountain Ltd) that: “it would be sensible good practice to consult CNPA on the components that don’t require planning consent” .  This doesn’t appear to have happened.

 

This has created the anomalous and scandalous situation that new developments at Cairngorm (in theory) have to abide by the highest standards (in order to win planning consent) with reams of associated paperwork but removal of old developments can be done any old how.

Damage to edges of existing track by vehicles which appear to be driving out the demolition materials – it looks like some have fallen off the back of the track.  The consultant’s report (point 8) stated the materials would be airlifted out.

Indeed, Natural Retreats included in their brief for the proposed extension of the Ptarmigan Restaurant that all works would be carried out with minimum impact to the environment.   Meantime, just a few hundred metres away they have allowed works to be carried out with absolutely NO measures being taken to protect soil and vegetation and contrary to how their consultant said they would be done.

 

This is what I mean by the planning system being brought into utter disrepute.   It should be obvious now to CNPA that Natural Retreats cannot be trusted to do anything the way they say they will and  it is essential therefore that they reject any new proposals for the Ptarmigan or anywhere else on the mountain which comes from Natural Retreats.  If they had the courage, the CNPA would also call on the Scottish Government to bring removal of infrastructure in fragile mountain areas within the scope of the planning system.

 

Why the new environmental damage at Cairngorm should not be a surprise

The consultant whom Natural Retreats engaged to work on the clear-up and wrote to CNPA was a certain Colin Matthew.  He had previously been employed by Cairngorm Mountain Ltd but was made redundant by Natural Retreats.   Last year, while still in employment, he was one of the operational managers at Cairngorm.  This was at the time all the damage was being caused at the Shieling and West Wall.  Perhaps he didn’t have any responsibility for managing that or for all the mess that had been left on the mountain, but I think HIE needs to answer a whole lot of questions about why they allowed Natural Retreats to engage him to develop the clear-up proposals.

 

Even more surprising is the contractor which appears to have appointed to carry out the works at West Wall (I have asked for all the procurement information in an FOI).

McGowan was the contractor who conducted all the unlawful work which took place during the construction of the Shieling Rope Tow (see below).  How HIE could agree to their ever being appointed again to work at Cairngorm, I don’t know..

The destruction of ski infrastructure in Coire na Ciste

I will not here go into detail about the removal of ski infrastructure from Coire na Ciste.  The Save the Ciste Group has issued an excellent statement which should be read by everyone who cares about skiing and outdoor recreation at Cairngorm STC Statement 25 Aug 2017.docx.

 

No-one would dispute that some of the old infrastructure at Cairngorm, such as the buildings at the bottom of Coire na Ciste which are beyond repair, needs to be removed.  However, both HIE and Natural Retreats are fully aware of Save the Ciste Group’s alternative plan for Coire na Ciste.   This could potentially have used some of the redundant infrastructure, including the concrete plinths identified as still being in a safe condition (see FOI above).    However, instead of consulting Save the Ciste and other ski interests about this HIE has provided what appears to be large amounts of public money (according to STC its £267,000) to smash everything up and therefore make any re-use of equipment possible.    It would have cost nothing to consult but that is not how HIE works.

 

Getting planning permission to put in new infrastructure is far more complex and costly than applying to upgrade existing infrastructure as both HIE and Natural Retreats know from the recabling work they did last year at Cairngorm  One is left with the nasty feeling that the whole clear-up scheme has been designed to make a community take-over as difficult as possible.  If so, it appears the current clear-up at Cairngorm is not inspired by the need to protect the mountain environment at Cairngorm, its all about HIE and Natural Retreats using public money to protect their own interests.

What needs to happen

On Friday I wrote to Charlotte Wright, Chief Executive of HIE asking her to intervene and stop all work at Cairngorm and to account for what has gone wrong email Charlotte Wright 170825.  I copied the email to the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, and Cabinet Secretary responsible for HIE, and thus for the mismanagement of Cairngorm, Fergus Ewing.  I think they need to intervene and develop a plan in consultation with the local community, recreation and conservation interests and other public authorities to remove the Cairngorm Estate from HIE as soon as possible.

 

The other thing we need is an overall plan for Cairngorm.  There is none.  The so called Masterplan is simply a proposal for two developments.  HIE have not explained at all how the current operations fit into a longer term plan.   Scottish Ministers should require them to consult on development of a long-term plan for the whole area before anything else happens.

 

 

August 17, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The blue blob near the centre of this map is not a new loch, its the proposed An Camas Mor development! The map shows how ACM is being proposed right at the heart of woodland most important for capercaillie, a protected species facing extinction, and explains why the CNPA has had to conduct a Habitat Regulations Appraisal.

Following my post yesterday (see here), I thought it worth considering further the measures the Cairngorms National Park Authority claims will “mitigate” the impacts of the proposed An Camas Mor development and the implications for access on Speyside for both residents and visitors.  It is now obvious from discussion with outdoor recreation interests, that any decision by the Park Authority to approve the amended planning application for the new town (An Camas Mor) on Rothiemurchus Estate will be open to legal challenge. The Park Authority have carried out no consultation with outdoor interests, or the public as a whole, on the draconian access restrictions which they announced this week for large tracts of the Cairngorms National Park. These so called mitigation measures are unworkable – leaving the Park open to legal challenge on conservation grounds – and unacceptable and need to be abandoned.

 

As a result I believe the CNPA Planning Committee on Friday either needs to reject the current planning application (which is to remove the Planning Condition which allows the CNPA to limit the development to 630 houses if it proves to have adverse impacts) or else conduct a full public consultation on the proposed “mitigation” measures before it takes a decision.   Whatever the immediate decision, a full public consultation and inquiry is now needed into all the implications for this proposed huge housing and commercial development on Rothiemurchus in the heart of the Cairngorms.

 

The impact of the proposed An Camus Mor development on capercaillie

 

The central legal issues at stake at ACM concern the impact of the proposed development on capercaillie and the consequences for outdoor recreation.   Capercaillie is not just a protected species once again facing extinction in Scotland, its also under both the previous and the recently approved new National Park Partnership Plan, the species which the CNPA has prioritised before all others.  While other protected habitats and species are considered in the 240 page Habitats Regulations Assessment, the conclusion is that almost all “likely significant effects” of An Camus Mor will be on the capercaillie.

 

The reasoning behind this this, which I do not dispute, is that because there is evidence that capercaillie can be disturbed by outdoor recreation, if you plonk a new development with 1500 households at the heart of the woodlands most important for them, you will not just increase recreational use of those woodlands, you will increase recreational impacts on Capercaillie.

 

The first thing that is important here is what the increased levels of recreational use are likely to be.  In its Habitats Regulations Appraisal the CNPA has stated that it is likely to be somewhere between 292,000 and 778,00 additional visits a year.  The numbers are based on research on visits to the countryside from people living or visiting rural areas, the lower figure being the Scottish average and the higher one reflecting use by people most active in the outdoors.

 

The second and crucial point though is that the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) says that for the mitigation measures to be effective the outcome required is that there will be NO overall increase in recreational visits to these woodlands.    The implication, which is not spelled out in the HRA,  is that even if there are even only 292,000 additional recreational visits to the countryside from people living or stay at ACM and even if only say half of these say are to woodlands important to capercaillie, is that other visitors would need to be reduced by 146,000 a year in order for the CNPA to achieve this outcome.    That’s not far short of 500 fewer other visitors a day, whether existing residents of Aviemore or tourists.

 

It worth here dealing with the claim, that has been inserted at one point into the HRA, that “It is important to note that references in the required outcomes to no increase in recreational activity are specific to the residents of An Camas Mor alone”.  This claim, that mitigation measures only apply to residents of ACM is conceptually incoherent, its belied by the contents of the rest of the HRA and is completely unenforceable.  Here’s why:

  • Increase the local population and there will be increased visits to the countryside which need to be offset elsewhere if the CNPA’s desired outcome is to be achieved.   If the measures only apply to people staying at ACM, the only way that the required outcome – of not increasing overall visitor numbers could be achieved – would if the development was refused.
  • Its clear from the wording of most of the outcomes which have been specified in the HRA, that they apply to everyone, not just people staying at ACM

    Extract from the outcomes proposed for Glenmore

 

 

  • Lastly, its clearly impossible for the CNPA or anyone else for that matter to identify which of the people walking, cycling, skiing or wildlife watching in the woods are from ACM and which are not.   In other words almost all of the measures – apart from those being applied to the ACM site and the proposed reduction in car parking charges to try and encourage ACM residents to go to Loch an Eileen, where there are no capercaillie, rather than say Loch Morlich – will apply to everyone, whether resident of ACM, Aviemore or a day visitor.  Hence, the implications for outdoor recreation and access rights.

Will the measures being proposed achieve the outcomes set out by the CNPA?

 

The HRA proposes a number of different types of measure to prevent an overall increase in visitor numbers, including reducing the size of car parks and diverting people elsewhere.  Some of these are welcome and should be applied whether or not ACM goes ahead, for example the creation of new paths at Pityoulish and alternative places for dogwalking, because they improve current access provision and have no negative implications for access rights.   In fact, they could usefully be added to the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy approved last year.

 

Nowhere in the HRA, however, does the CNPA analyse the individual impact of the measures it is proposing, either on access rights or on visitor numbers. So, for example, while the HRA states that the following car parks in Glenmore and the surrounding area will be closed or reduced, it does not say how many visitors use them:

  • Prevention of informal parking at track and access entrances to Drumintoul lodge and
    Atnahatnich farm
  • Restrict parking at Sled-dog centre, Badaguish road end and Milton end of Sluggan pass
  • Complete blocking of old layby and timber loading area and other informal parking areas on Ski road
  • Management of car parking along the B970 to ensure no increase in level of use especially at sensitive times of year and day. for example Dalnavert , Feshiebruach car park and Inshriach House informal car parking areas redesigned to limit capacity

 

Without knowing the predicted reduction in  visits to woodland that will result from each of these measures, its impossible to tell if the measures as a whole will achieve CNPA’s desired outcome of successfully offsetting the predicted increase in visits arising from the ACM development.     The claims in the Committee Report, therefore, that the mitigation measures outlined are sufficient to offset the impact of ACM and remove current constraints on its development are not based on any sound evidence.

 

The question then arises that, if the proposed measures are not sufficient to prevent any overall increase in visitor numbers (and one needs to remember here that the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy is based on predictions of significant growth in visitor numbers over the next few years) what  work, what next?  The HRA is quite clear:

 

 

 

 

The claims that byelaws are a last resort are worthless.  The camping byelaws on east Loch Lomond were claimed, by that Park’s then chief executive Fiona Logan, as a last resort measure, which would not be used elsewhere and would only be needed temporary.   Now the Park’s Director of Conservation, Simon Jones, openly states – although formally its not his decision to make – that the camping byelaws are here to stay.

 

Now, consider the legal implications.  By law, before the CNPA could introduce byelaws to prevent an overall increase in visitor numbers it would have to, as the HRA says, conduct a public consultation.   However, if the CNPA were to consult objectively, it would risk having any proposals to restrict access through byelaws being rejected by the public at large and would then find it  impossible to mitigate the impacts of ACM.  The only way it can claim that the current package of proposals to mitigate the impacts  of ACM will work is if it has already in effect decided that it will bring in byelaws if necessary and then subverts the public consultation process, as did the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority on their consultation on the the camping byelaws.    This is why I think that in proposing these mitigation measures the CNPA is wide open to legal challenge.

 

The need for public consultation on the mitigation measures proposed to manage and limit access

Front page of Strathy today. Its strange how, when the CNPA is consulting the public about the development of the centre of Aviemore, it is not consulting the public about the implications of the measures it is proposing for the countryside round about.

The Habitat Regulations Assessment which proposes all these measures was produced under section 48 of the Habitats Regulations 1994.  This requires the CNPA as Planning Authority, to consult with SNH.  Sub-clause 3 reads:

(3) The competent authority shall for the purposes of the assessment consult the appropriate nature conservation body and have regard to any representations made by that body within such reasonable time as the authority may specify.

Strangely, however, the CNPA has made no reference in its report to the next sub-clause, 4:

(4) They shall also, if they consider it appropriate, take the opinion of the general public; and if they do so, they shall take such steps for that purpose as they consider appropriate.

 

So, under the Habitats Regulations, the CNPA could have decided to consult the public about their assessment and proposals to control and reduce access but have so far chosen not to do so.  I think the CNPA need to explain why and on Friday, their Board, have the opportunity to put that right.   The nub of that consultation should be whether the ACM development should be fully approved in principle (and the current planning condition which potentially restricts its size to 630 houses be removed) if this means that access rights might be restricted in future.

 

I think the answer to that question is clear, that if the implications of the revised planning application for ACM means increased restrictions on access on Speyside, then the revised planning application should be refused and the current planning condition, which allows the development to be restricted to 630 houses if it is having adverse impacts, should be retained.  This is not just about the capercaillie, its about the rights of people in Scotland and whether these too are more important than those of developers.

 

An alternative explanation for what is going on is that the CNPA has no intention of removing access rights and while it knows that the proposed mitigation measures are both undesirable and unworkable, the HRA has been produced simply to meet its legal obligations and that – as with many other planning conditions attached to developments in the National Park – these simply won’t be enforced when the time comes.     If this is the case, that too leaves the CNPA wide open to legal challenge.

 

The decision that the CNPA Planning Committee is being asked to make on Friday has far more potential consequences than those outlined in the Committee Report.  The risk of legal challenge, whether on conservation or recreation grounds, will start next week but is likely to hang over the CNPA and the financiers behind the development for years.     As stated in yesterday’s post, I believe the reason for this planning application to vary Planning Condition 1 was for the developers to guarantee their investment and future profits.    Ironically the HRA, because so open to legal challenge, makes that investment look more, not less risky.   The developers have opened the can of worms and put the desirability of ACM right back under the public spotlight.  That can only be a good thing.

August 16, 2017 Nick Kempe 15 comments
An Camas Mor visualisation from 2008 re-submitted February 2017.  ACM is in the Cairngorm National Scenic Area.

On Friday the Cairngorms National Park Authority Planning Committee will consider a revised planning application for An Camus Mor (see here), the proposed new town across the Spey from Aviemore. (Click here for link to the Park’s planning portal and all 236 documents associated with the application). The main change proposed by the the application is to vary planning condition 1, which restricted the development to 630 houses (out of a potential 1500)  until the impact of this initial phase of the development on landscape and ecology had been completed.   Instead the applicants, An Camas Mor Limited Liability Partnership, the development vehicle of the landowner, Johnnie Grant of Rothiemurchus, are proposing a phased approach.

 

The abandonment of the precautionary approach

 

There is no explanation, from either the applicant or the Park about why the planning application needs to be varied.   The applicant’s letter 2017_0086_DET-SECTION_42_COVER_LETTER-100124269 claims that “The proposed change to condition 1 is essential to facilitate appropriate phasing of the development as the Design Team moves towards implementation of the development” without explaining why.  The Park’s Committee Report repeats this claim without explaining what it means.

 

The Committee report then fails to consider the proposed changes in relation to the precautionary principle or the National Park’s statutory objectives, which state that when their is a conflict between any of the Park’s statutory objectives, in this case sustainable economic development and conservation, conservation should come first.    That there is a conflict is clear from para 24 of the Committee Report:

 

SNH advise that the proposal is likely to have a significant effect on:
a) The Capercaillie qualifying interest of Cairngorms SPA (Special Protection Area for birds), Abernethy Forest SPA, Kinveachy Forest SPA, Anagach Woods SPA and Craigmore Wood SPA;
b) The acidic scree, alpine and subalpine heath, blanket bog, dry heath, wet heath, plants in crevices on acid rocks, and otter qualifying interests of Cairngorms SAC; and
c) The otter, Atlantic salmon, fresh water pearl mussel, and sea lamprey qualifying
interests of River Spey SAC.

 

Under the original condition,  if the development of this site had a larger impact than was being predicted or could be mitigated – and the whole site is basically surrounded by protected sites, including those important to the Capercaillie which once again is close to extinction in Scotland – it could be halted.   Johnnie Grant is now effectively asking for this limit on the development to be waived and the Park’s officers, in recommending the application is approved, are agreeing with him.  Its difficult to see any justification for this in conservation terms.

 

So why is this happening?  The most likely explanation is that the proposed change is being driven by financiers who will want guaranteed returns.  As a result of the infrastructure costs associated with developing the site (building new roads, relocating wildlife etc), it is likely that it will only be when house numbers reach a certain figure – probably over 630 – that the profit will really start rolling in.   Hence the reason for this application.    The financiers want to remove the risk that the development will not be highly profitable and the main risk of this happening in Planning Condition 1.   Money, it appears,  is more important than conservation in our National Parks.

 

Had the National Park officers been recommending that the development be reviewed and potentially halted at each phase of the development, that would have strengthened the precautionary approach, but unfortunately that is not what is being proposed.  Once the go-ahead is given for the whole development, and the block plan for the proposed housing has already been approved, it will become impossible to stop, whatever the evidence of impacts on the natural heritage.  In effect under a phased plan all the CNPA will be able to do is comment on matters of detail, not the wider impacts of the development.

The environmental impact of the proposed development and the implications for access rights

The main new document associated with the proposal is a 240 page Habitat Regulations Appraisal (HRA) dated 20th June, but which was only made public on Monday when it was uploaded to the CNPA planning portal, and which was drafted by CNPA staff with support from SNH (Appendix 4 of the Committee Report).

 

The HRA starts out by stating that the An Camus Mor Development will have a “likely significant effect” on no less than seven protected European sites:  Abernethy Forest Special Protection Area (SPAs protect  birds); Anagach Woods SPA; Cairngorms SPA; Craigmore Wood SPA; Kinveachy Forest SPA; Cairngorms SAC (Special Area of Conservation – protects things other than birds); River Spey SAC.       Basically the reason for this is 1500 new households at An Camus Mor will go out into the neighbouring countryside, which happens to be these protected areas, to do everything from walking dogs to mountain biking (and the people likely to be attracted to live at An Camas Mor, like Aviemore, are likely to be more active than most of the population).

 

The Habitats Regulations Appraisal however says that these impacts can be mitigated.  While there is a huge amount of detail (much of which is highly debateable in the report) In a nutshell what it is saying is that the CNPA and developer can compensate for additional recreational impacts from a larger resident population around Aviemore by reducing existing recreational impacts.  The outcomes required to mitigate for An Camus Mor and the measures that will be needed to make this happen are set out for each part of each protected area (hence the length of the document).   While the Habitat Regulations Appraisal at one place suggest these outcomes only apply to An Camus Mor residents there is no way of course of differentiating between local residents and visitors and, as phrased, most of the outcomes will affect everyone.  Here is the example for Inshriach, which is not exactly next door to An Camas Mor:

What this is saying is that in order to compensate for An Camas Mor, access rights will be restricted, so off path recreational facilties will stop and both residents and visitors will have to keep to “promoted existing routes”.   This is far more draconian than the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park byelaws and if implemented would in effect end access rights in large parts of the Cairngorms National Park.  Worryingly, the document even states that byelaws are a measure of last resort.   So, the CNPA is in effect proposing to sacrifice access rights to enable An Camas Mor to go ahead.   This is a national scandal and should not be being decided by the Planning Committee of the National Park.

 

There are all sorts of other implications for access to, as is clear from the measures proposed for Glenmore:

 

 

What this in effect says is that in order to enable the An Camas Mor development to go ahead existing car parks will be reduced in size or blocked off completely, certain access routes will be blocked off, particularly for mountain bikers etc etc.   Just how this fits with the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy, which was agreed less than a year ago, in unclear.    And similar measures are proposed for much of the rest of Speyside.   The implications for recreation and tourism are huge and yet there has been no public consultation.   There needs to be and the Planning Committee should refuse to take a decision until there has been full public consultation on the CNPA’s Habitats Regulations Appraisal otherwise it will be digging a very very deep hole for itself.    I am confident that if consultation did take place on the proposed mitigation measures, the proposals will collapse.

 

So, what is the explanation for  what is going on?

 

In 2014 the Scottish Government paid Johnnie Grant £7.2m for part of the Rothiemurchus estate in a secret deal (see here).    The question as to why Johnnie Grant needed to sell this land, or why the Government needed to purchase it when it was not at any risk, has never been answered.  One possible explanation is that Johnnie Grant needed to raise funds to help finance the An Camas Mor development.  If even an element of this £7.2 has been or is going to be spent on An Camas Mor, the Scottish Government has already been effectively helping to finance the development.

 

Whatever the case, there is a statement in the applicant’s letter that since the original planning application it has had:

 

Discussions with the Scottish Government and its advisors around advancing the design
and planning process in order to get to a point where Infrastructure Loan Funding for exceptional external infrastructure can be released for this project.

 

This appears to indicate that the Scottish Government is fully behind this application.    It would take a very strong National Park Board to reject the Scottish Government’s wishes and the suspicion has to be that both senior staff and Board have not approached this according to matters of principle, but rather are doing what they have been told to do.  To repeat, because of the implications for access of their proposed mitigation measures, they are digging a very deep hole for themselves.

Osprey on post at centre ACM, June 2016 which it was still using in August 2016. Photo credit Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group

The suspicion of a stitch-up is re-inforced by the failure of the Committee Report to consider more up to date information on the wildlife to be found on the An Camas Mor site.  The Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, who have been looking at the wildlife on the site for some time and discovered a number of species not reported in the original planning application (see here for brilliant photos of the wildlife), have been asking the Park for updated environmental surveys for some time.   Earlier this week, the CNPA at last added a survey on badgers to the planning portal but at the same time redacted most of the content.  Presumably someone doesn’t want the public to know how many badgers may be affected by the development because badgers are likely to arouse more public support than bugs.

 

More importantly, the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group had been asking for a copy of the Habitats Regulations Assessment for weeks.  The CNPA refused to provide this, on the grounds they planned to publish this,  which they eventually did this Monday – despite the massive implications for access rights.   The CNPA apparently expects the BSCG and Cairngorms Campaign, both of  have both asked to address the Committee on Friday, to be able to assimilate and respond to this 240 page document in four days.  That’s not right, although this situation has been partly mitigated – excuse me using that term – because SNH, to their credit, did agree to release the information.

 

Why the secrecy? I had expected better of the CNPA.  And what is the CNPA scared about?     I hope I have provided enough information here for some Board Members to start asking some searching questions.

 

The level of support for the proposals

 

Despite a sustained local campaign to raise support for the proposal – see the ACM leaflet May 2017  which was delivered to every house in the Aviemore area – there were only 12 general expressions of support for the revised An Camas Mor planning application. “Of those supporting, nine were from individuals (eight from Aviemore and one from Pitlochry) and the remainder werefrom Visit Scotland, Scottish Tourism Alliance and Aviemore Sports Centre”    This compares to 23 general objections of which “16 were from individuals (from Aviemore, Kingussie, Nethy Bridge, Aboyne, Bettyhill, Broughty Ferry, Comrie, Ellon, Dunblane, Glasgow, Inverness, Limekilns in Fife, East Molesey in Surrey, Kendal and Wirral in Merseyside). The remainder were from the North East Mountain Trust, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Campaign for National Parks, The Cairngorms Campaign, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group.”

 

This is hardly an indication of high levels of support for the proposals, a factor which usually influences the politicians.   Part of the reason why may be because people working in Aviemore who currently don’t have suitable housing are not convinced that An Camas Mor will meet their housing needs.  When they learn it may affect their access rights too – and there is a much higher proportion of people who mountain bike in Aviemore than the rest of the country – they might actually start to oppose the whole development.   I hate to say this, but it looks like someone in the CNPA has reached the same conclusion, which is why the Habitats Regulation Appraisal has only been published at the last minute (I am happy to give the Park a right of reply on parkswatch to explain their position).

 

The wider picture

 

The big question is why, having created National Parks to protect parts of Scotland which are particularly important for conservation and recreation, are they in a position where much of their time and resources is devoted to developing new towns, leisure developments like Flamingo Land and inappropriate developments up mountains?.  Surely our National Parks were created to do things differently?

 

I can understand our politicians wanting to create jobs and build better places for people to live – I think this is necessary too – but to do this in the same old ways, basically giving land over developers to produce yet more inappropriate developments, shows a complete lack of imaginative thinking or ideas of how to promote sustainable economic development.      Both our National Parks need an alternative economic strategy, and to pioneer new paths to sustainable economic development.

 

Added to the inappropriateness of developments such as An Camas Mor, is the fact that its located adjacent to Glenmore, the place most under pressure in the whole of the Cairngorms National Park.  Why then is the CNPA directing development to the very area that can least support it?   There are plenty of other places, such as Dalwhinnie and Laggan, which could sustain further development and if developed would help spread visitor load.    Instead, the implications for all those who currently enjoy visiting Glenmore is that in order to offset the impact of more people living locally (and cycling or walking their dog in Glenmore) new visitor management measures will be introduced which will have a drastic impact on access rights.   This means this development has implications for the whole recreation community, including people who go to Glenmore to enjoy wildlife.

 

The big test for the CNPA on Friday is whether it will put the needs of the developer and the wishes of politicians before  its duty to promote conservation and public enjoyment of the countryside.

July 17, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
The black line marks the approximate line of the proposed construction track which the developer wishes to be retained permanently seen from the upper slopes of the walkers path from Benmore farm to the summit of Benmore

On 7th July, an application for a new hydro scheme on the slopes of Ben More by Crianlarich, one of the highest and best known Munros, was validated on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Planning Portal  (see here) (or if the link does not work go to http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/planning/planning-applications/find-an-application/ and search for application Ref 2017/0119/DET or on Benmore farm).    On Friday I went to have a look and have now submitted an objection to the application as currently proposed (appended to end of this post).  This post is about why the new Benmore farm proposals are very different to the hydro scheme on Benmore burn which was completed  last year and why  I have objected.  I hope people reading this will be encouraged to consider doing so too (its easy to do, just look up the application and go to the comments tab which allows people to support, object or comment on an application).   The application is open for comments until 28th July.

 

The Benmore burn hydro scheme

This hydro scheme, which became operational in 2016, is one of the best I have seen in the National Park.

View of the intake from north west shoulder Ben More.

The “track” marks the line of the buried pipeline but generally the vegetation is recovering well. The burn was diverted to build the intake dam and the vegetation on the ground above the diversion channel has already recovered to the extent you would not know it was there.

The construction track was along the line of the pipeline and was removed completely. The ground is recovering well. The existing hill track – bottom right – was not used for the construction although it runs round the hill not far from the intake.

One thing I really liked about the intake was that instead of the normal concrete retaining wall, the development has embedded boulders in concrete.   This creates a far more natural form.  You can also see the browner rock below the intake which appears to mark the former “normal” flow levels of the burn.  The hydro schemes are having a significant impact on river flows which will affect their ecology.    I don’t believe we really know yet what the permanent impacts might be.

When you approach the intake though the most obvious feature is the metal fencing – contrary to Park guidance on use of natural materials (but is it really necessary?) –  and the Lomond blue pipe.  Its a shame that the left side of the intake has not been finished like the right had side but it does show, I think, what can be done.   Well done somebody!

The recovery of the ground above the pipeline and construction track is not as good as it might have been because vehicles have been driven over land which is far too wet to support them.

It was good too to see that the dyke through which the 7m wide construction track had been taken had been narrowed (a contrast to the Falloch and Ledcharrie (see here) tracks) and restored to a high standard.  It is possible to construct things of beauty in the hills!   I must say I am not sure about the gate, even if its not used by vehicles its likely to encourage – and there were a fair few boot marks – a more direct walking route up the glen over what is very wet ground.     So, some reservations, but generally this is a high quality scheme with very little snagging left to do – if only all schemes in the National Park were like this!

The new proposal

The map shows – more accurately than my amateur attempt in the top photo! – the two sections of new track, the powerhouse, the location of the pipeline and the intakes

What prompted me to visit the location the scheme was the proposal to retain the new access tracks.    Having removed the construction tracks to the intake in the Benmore Burn scheme, I wanted to understand why Benmore Farm were proposing to retain the construction tracks to the new intakes.   Part of me reckons that this is because since 2013, when the first scheme was approved, the LLTNPA as Planning Authority have moved from a position of assuming tracks should be removed to allowing them to remain everywhere.

Part of the Allt Essan hydro scheme on the north side of Glen Dochart – powerhouse centre

So, if other people are getting away with it, why should Benmore Farm follow best practice?     That’s why people need to take a stand.   The proliferation of hill tracks is destroying the landscape in the National Park – and indeed across Scotland – and those who care about the landscape need to put a stop to this.

 

The Design Statement gives two reasons for keeping the track, the first to help the shepherd/ess, the second to “provide for walkers who may wish to climb Ben More along Sron nam Forsairean”.   The second claim is nonsense.   Anyone wanting to walk up the Sron would normally do so from the north east side of Ben More, not from Benmore farm, and in any case walkers don’t need a 2m wide track (for that is what it is proposed to retain) which stops half way across the hillside.   In relation to the first, shepherding is being cut like everything else and shepherds are under pressure to do more in less time.  However, the Design Statement states the cost of scheme is approx £530,000 and annual revenue estimated at c£75k and the scheme to operate for 100 years.    In other words it could make over £6m profit in its lifetime, ample to pay for reinstatement of track and to pay the shepherd to walk up to the intakes occasionally

Having visited the site I have become more concerned.  The construction track will cut across the hillside from just after the top of the last zigzag on the existing track to just above the top of the plantation.  This is steep ground.   It means cutting a great bench into the hillside.  There are diagrams illustrating this in the application but no indication of how long each steep cross section will be:

The applicants state that they will set out in the Construction Method Statement which would follow approval being given to this scheme how this track will be constructed.   I don’t think the Park should accept this.  The landscape impact of tracks across steeper slopes is all too evident on the other side of Benmore Glen.

Forestry track Creag a Phuirt

There are huge challenges as to how to store the soil and rock excavated to create a track across steep ground and then restore them.   I am concerned one reason why the developer may be  proposing to retain the track is they know it will be very difficult to restore such ground.

 

This is not just a landscape issue.  The top section of new track and intakes are within the Ben More Site of Special Scientific Interest and all works affecting the soils and vegetation are what are known as operations requiring consent – for complete list of Ben More  SSSI ORCS site190-doc28.   That is an additional reason to be concerned about the upper access track.

A very rough indication of location of track and intakes. The four intakes are situated on burns which flow into the two plantations (the central burn is not part of the scheme).

While four intakes are proposed, and the plan states they will be small, there are no photomontages in the landscape assessment of how they may look like in the landscape.   This seems to me to be a failure. The landscape assessment says the intakes will not be seen from the summit of Ben More, but that is because its just over the brow of the steep slope, they are likely to be visible for much of the way up both the north east and north west shoulders of Ben More.    The current plan is for concrete intakes – no mention of incorporating stone as was done on Ben More burn.  Another step backwards.

 

Why its important to comment on this scheme

I started to look at hydro scheme planning applications after most of them had been approved and what is striking is that I have not yet come across a single objection to an application – not even the heart of Glen Affric!     Ordinary people have just assumed hydro is good while our public agencies, including the National Park Authorities, are under pressure from the Scottish Government to do nothing which gets in the way of the hydro gold rush (most of the financial benefits of which end up in the City of London and nowhere near the people struggling to make ends meet in the Highlands).  If no-one objects, our planning authorities, who are under great pressures, simply approve what is put in front of them.   We are now reaping the consequences of poorly conceived and poorly executed hydro schemes across Scotland.

 

Its time therefore to make a stand and what better place than in a National Park which is supposed to have special regard to our landscape and wildlife.    I am not against hydro schemes but this must not be at the expense of the landscape and at the very least, in this scheme, the construction track should be fully restored but I think the Park as Planning Authority should be seeking more information about how the track could be constructed and then restored on this ground.   A copy of my objection is pasted below.

 

NB My objection should appear on the Park’s website BUT a previous comment on this scheme, dated 4th July (also appended), which pointed out that there was no mention on that date of this proposal affecting a SSSI, has not been published, although that omission has been rectified.   Instead I was told:  “Please be assured however that I am aware of the constraints on the site and all relevant consultees were consulted when the application was validated.”   I guess if the LLTNPA  had published my comment, someone might have used their failure to list the “constraints” affecting the site as a reason to invalidate the application, or maybe the just don’t like it when parkswatch picks up on mistakes?

Commenter Type: Member of Public
Stance: Customer objects to the Planning Application
Reasons for comment:
Comments: Unlike the recently completed hydro scheme on Benmore Farm where the construction track was removed, in this case the applicant wishes to retain it which would have an adverse impact on the landscape of Glen Dochart. The justification for keeping the track is it would help the shepherd and provide for walkers who may wish to climb Ben More along Sron nam Forsaireana – actually walkers wanting to walk up the Sron do this from the north east and with £75k a year income the farm has plenty of money to employ the shepherd/ess to be a little longer on the hill. There is no proper assessment of retaining this track – eg no photomontage – which would be highly visible from slopes below Ben More summit. It is important therefore that the LLTNPA adheres to its policy guidance on renewables and insists if this hydro goes ahead the track is restored.
There are other issues with the scheme though: there are views from the summit down the north slopes of Ben More to the intakes (and to proposed track) and, while relatively small, they may be visible from above. Impact should be properly evaluated and could be reduced if intakes clad in natural stone (instead of plain concrete as proposed). In order not to impact on the landscape these schemes need to be as near to proper run of river schemes, with small intakes, as possible. In addition, the line of the construction track is across what is a steep hillside – as depicted in steepest cross section. For a construction track to be created here will require major engineering which is likely to be very challenging to restore (both to restore the materials which have been removed and then replace them). The Developer is suggesting this should be dealt with by Construction Method Statement post planning permission, I believe the Park needs to be confident the land can be fully restored before granting any consent.

 

Comments were submitted at 11:52 PM on 04 Jul 2017 from Mr Nick Kempe.

Application Summary
Address: Benmore Farm Crianlarich Stirling FK20 8QS
Proposal: Construction of a run of river hydropower scheme
Case Officer: Julie Gray

 

Comments Details
Commenter Type: Member of Public
Stance: Customer made comments neither objecting to or supporting the Planning Application
Reasons for comment:
Comments: There are no constraints listed against this application at present although the upper pipe and track appear to be within the Ben More SSSI. Could you please confirm whether this is case or not? Among Operations Requiring Consent for the SSSI are alterations of watercourses and construction of new tracks and drainage both of which are included in these proposals
July 13, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Destruction around the Corrimulzie intake. On first viewing this, I had assumed all the destruction had been caused by the construction of the hydro intake but the rocks in foreground, which partly envelope the bases of the two birch trees, were deposited by flood water during Storm Frank which devastated Deeside.

The Corriemulzie community hydro scheme  http://braemarhydro.org.uk/scheme/, just west of Braemar on the road to Linn of Dee, provides an interesting case of how developments can go badly wrong despite the best intentions of the main players.  I first visited this scheme, which became operational last summer, in September 2016 and was horrified by what I saw.   Subsequent research and correspondence with the Cairngorms National Park Authority established the situation was a little more complex than it appeared and both the CNPA and Braemar Community Hydro were taking action to rectify the damage that had been caused by the contractors and design failings.  I have therefore delayed blogging about it but a check up visit last weekend (its a ten minute walk from the road and well worth a visit if in the area), on the way to a stravaig through the eastern Cairngorms, showed that remedial measures have only had a limited impact.  I think its time therefore to publicise what appears to have gone wrong and what lessons could be learned for the future.

The old intake dam has been infilled with flood debris. You can just see old intake pipe centre left.

Historically there was a hydro scheme on the Corriemulzie burn which supplied power to Mar Lodge.

View of powerhouse from Linn of Quoich July 2017

The new powerhouse sits by site of former powerhouse although the track to it, down from the Braemar to Linn of Dee Road, is new.   In my view – and I realise this is just a matter of opinion – the wider landscape impact of the track is not a major issue.  I did not revisit the track though last September there were both good things and bad about how the land around it had been restored.

In design terms the power house is well located, close to bank and trees, and the turning area for vehicles is small.  All positives.  The ground above the pipeline had recovered quickly, with evidence of turfs having been stored and replaced.   Incredible care needs to be taken with removal of turf and topsoil if all the surface area is to be re-covered in restoration and in this area there was not enough to use on the banks (bare patch left) though I suspect this has recovered by now.

The track has been less well done, with large boulders left on the surface of what had previously been a grassy field.  The bank on the right though is at a sufficiently low angle to recover quickly and a good example of track design.

The Corriemulzie hydro intake area

The main problem with the Corriemulzie scheme is around the main intake.  It was not pristine prior to the hydro and the hill track and vehicle use had caused some needless damage.

The hydro scheme and burn is just to the left. Note the steep bank down to the track.

 

The planning however was a chance to restore past damage and the intake was intended to look like this:

 

Photomontage from CNPA Planning Committee report which approved the scheme in December 2013

If this had been delivered, I would be congratulating Braemar Community Hydro and the Cairngorms National Park Authority whose landscape adviser had said “the location of intake is a small but very scenic a ‘gem’ of a location” and recommended the utmost care.

 

Unfortunately, what has happened is completely different to what was intended.

In order to build the dam the burn needed to be diverted through a channel created through the (true right) bank above the intake.  The intake as it appeared in September 2016.

 

The bank as it appeared in September 2016

And this is an overview of how the area looks now:

The fundamental issues here are:

  • there has been no effective restoration of the bank along the burn;
  • the bank on the hill was excavated and is far too steep to be restored;
  • the track and turning area are far too wide.

While  there had been obvious attempts at amelioration since September 2016 these have not in my view addressed the fundamental issues.

Four strips of fabric had been applied to the oversteep bank to reduce erosion but this has had no impact.   There is no sign of vegetation re-establishing itself and the problems have been increased by deer (you can see hoof marks between 2nd and 3rd strips) walking down the slope.

 

View across burn above intake

There has been “compensatory” tree planting but no attempt to restore vegetation to the bank of the burn.   This should have been done months ago at the beginning of the growing season.

A new signboard has been erected by the intake.   The line of pylons is rather ironic given CNPA’s opposition to the Beauly Denny and I wonder what Prince Charles, who opened the scheme, and talks so much about architectural standards and traditional landscapes thought about the destruction.  Its as if, though, everyone at the official opening had their eyes shut.

 

Despite the atrocious finishing along the bank and track, this photos shows some good things about the scheme.  You can just see the pipe from the second hydro running below the bridge – you won’t see it unless you look out for it – and the CNPA told the developer there was no need to erect fencing around the intake.  I agree.     All that good design though counts for little if the destruction round about is not addressed.

 

So what has gone wrong?

 

I have tried since the weekend to look through planning documents.  There are pages of them, one document submitted by Braemar Community Hydro is over 200 pages long, and seems to cover everything except a description of the detailed work that was planned to construct the main intake.    The CNPA landscape adviser drew attention to this in an appendix to the Committee Report and recommended further detailed plans were required before planning consent was given.   The Committee however gave approval on condition these documents were produced but unfortunately these documents, if they were produced, are not on the CNPA website.    It is possible therefore that the CNPA allowed this development to go ahead without a proper landscape plan for the intake area.    If so, that in effect allowed the contractor to do what they wanted in the intake area and undermined all the other efforts staff had made to ensure this scheme was of the highest standard possible.  One small mistake can have huge consequences.

 

However, I don’t think all the emphasis should be on paperwork, which is beyond the capacity of any  community organisation to deliver and which means they have to put themselves in the hands of consultants.   I suspect if there was a hole in the paperwork, Braemar Community Hydro did not appreciate this either.

 

A fundamental problem with the proliferation of hydro schemes is that monitoring their construction is not being properly resourced.  I think if there had been someone properly qualified on site, the bank on the hillside would never have been excavated because it would have been only too obvious it could not be restored properly.   The problem is our National Parks rely on developers appointing an Ecological Clerk of Works to do the supervision and these people are beholden to the developer/contractor who pay their wages – they are therefore not independent.   It may also be the case – given the many failures to restore construction tracks – that they don’t have the right skills.

The ground above the pipeline to the second intake has not bee restored well and will, as a result, take a much longer time to recover than it should have with increased erosion.

A related  issue is that both our National Parks only appear to start proper monitoring once construction is almost complete.  Here is what CNPA Chief Executive Grant Moir told me in January:

 

“CNPA staff noted various breaches at the site in April 2016 during a routine monitoring visit.  The agent was immediately contacted by phone to express concern and also contacted in writing.  CNPA staff and the agent for the development met on site in May 2016 to discuss how to reinstate or mitigate the unauthorised or unsatisfactory works.  The agent provided an initial written programme of reinstatement works in June 2016 which the CNPA did not consider satisfactory”

 

What a commendable response and the contrast with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority who treat everything as a Freedom of Information Request is striking.   The problem though is once the construction has gone wrong, and created unnecessary damage, this becomes very difficult and very expensive to put right.  Our National Parks need to try and find a way of preventing problems rather than detecting them after the event.

The small second intake, the pipe runs to the right of the blocks of trees which have been planted.

Lots of tree planting should not be seen as compensation for poor ground restoration work.

What needs to happen

 

I hope this post has demonstrated that the way the planning system operates at present, even when our National Parks’ have taken considerable and commendable efforts with hydro developments, they can go badly wrong.

 

The focus of the CNPA and Braemar Community Hydro needs to be around addressing the landscape damage around the first intake.   I think that to remedy the damage will require considerable expertise and require money.  If the contractor cannot be made liable, it means the shareholders for the hydro, who were expecting a 5-8% return (there is interesting information on the finances on the community hydro website), Mar Estate which is charging rent (and was responsible for previous damage in the area) and the community may have to wait for their return.  It seems to people that all the people who were going to gain from this development have a collective responsibility to ensure that this is not at the expense of the landscape.   Success would then be being able to promote this as being a nice place to go for a walk again – a “small gem” in the National Park – as it was in the past.

 

In terms of planning system failures, it seems to me these are twofold.  First, not nearly enough emphasis is put on the landscape impact of construction prior to planning approval.   Planning applications consider the wider impact on the landscape but not the more localised impact.  Its hard to see the Corriemulzie intake from any distance but the local impact is huge.   Our National Parks should be exemplars of good practice in this respect but they generally approve hydro schemes in principle without detailed Construction Method Statements.  Then, once a scheme is approved in principle, its much harder for staff to influence and its probably less of a priority, because they are judged on the time it takes from planning application to approval.    None of this is the fault of planning staff, its the system and that needs to change.

 

Second, the focus of monitoring needs to shift from the end stage of the construction to the beginning and be independent of both developer and contractor.    This would prevent problems arising.  For example, if our National Parks were ensuring all vegetation was properly removed and stored before pipelines were dug or tracks created or broadened, restoration would then be far more effective.

 

For this to happen though, our National Parks, like all our public authorities, need to be properly resourced.

 

Lastly,  it would be good, given what I see as their good intentions, if the CNPA, Braemar Community Hydro and the other main players had a proper discussion, a post mortem if you like, about what lessons might be learned and then publicised this so they could be used to inform the development of hydro schemes, both community and commercial, in future.

July 10, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Following my posts on the Ledcharrie (see here), Coilessan  (see here) Glen Clova and Glen Prosen (see here) and (see here) hill tracks I contacted the heads of planning in both National Park Authorities to find out what they were doing about this.  The responses could not have been more different.   The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority treating my request under Freedom of Information, delaying their response and then refusing to divulge information.  The Cairngorms National Park Authority answering my questions and promising to make information on their planning portal.

 

The LLTNPA response to Ledcharrie

On 11th June (see here) I asked Stuart Mearns, Head of Planning (and copied in the Park’s Convener of Planning Petra Biberbach) for all the information required by the Park’s Decision Notice approving the Ledcharrie scheme in principle , the dates of monitoring visits and any correspondence/information about enforcement.  On Friday, I received  this unsigned refusal EIR 2017- 050 Response Ledcharrie from someone, they have not put their name to the letter, claiming to be a Governance Manager.

 

The  LLTNPA’s reason for refusing the information, would if accepted, represent a massive step back for the planning system:

 

The documentation submitted by the developer to comply with conditions set out in the planning decision has been withheld from release under R10(5)(b) of the EIR’s as the information relates to live operational activities which are currently being monitored by the Park Authority. Not all conditions have been discharged.

 

Section R10 (5) b of the Environmental Information Regulations reads:

 

(5) A Scottish public authority may refuse to make environmental information available to the extent that its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially–

(b) the course of justice, the ability of a person to receive a fair trial or the ability of any public authority to conduct an inquiry of a criminal or disciplinary nature;

 

The Park is in effect is claiming that to make public any information required by a Decision Notice could interfere with the course of justice – presumably a reference to potential enforcement action.   Leave aside the fact that the LLTNPA has almost never taken enforcement action, this is complete and utter rubbish.  The Decision Notice of 2015 required the Developer to provide lots of further information including construction methods for all aspects of the scheme, detailed landscape mitigation and restoration techniques, a turve protection plan, a peat protection plan, a raptor survey, etc before any work started.  A commendable list.   If these had all been supplied as required and approved by the Park Authority there is no reason at all why they should not be made public, as they form part of the approval, nothing to do with enforcement.  That is a separate matter which comes afterwards as is about whether the Developer kept to the conditions that had been agreed.   Indeed making such documents public would have enabled interested parties to judge for themselves whether the conditions had been adhered to and report potential breaches to the Park.

 

If the Developer had not provided all the information required – and the Park has refused even to say whether the Developer has or hasn’t done this –  the Park should not have allowed construction to go ahead.   What the Park appears to be saying is that none of the detailed specifications for developments should be made public until the file is closed (once monitoring is complete).   This makes the Park as Planning Authority almost totally unaccountable and would be a retrograde step for the planning system.

 

The Coilessan track

 

In response to my questions on the Coilessan track on 28th June (see here), and in particular whether Forestry Commission Scotland had told the Park about this under the Prior Notification System, I have had an email from Stuart Mearns saying I should get a response by 26th July.   That’s almost a month but at least Mr Mearns responded himself rather than passing straight on to the Park’s Secrecy Department.

 

The CNPA’s response to information requests on enforcement and hill tracks

 

The contrast to the CNPA’s response to my emails on the Glen Prosen and Glen Clova tracks could not be greater.  Here are some extracts from Gavin Miles, Head of Planning’s emails:

 

We are looking at the Glen Prosen Hydro tracks. The CMS [construction method statement] etc should be uploaded to our public access planning pages this week or next. If there’s anything that doesn’t get uploaded we’ll let you know and will send it to you in the formal FOI/Environmental Information Request response format.

 

If the CNPA can add Construction Method Statements to their planning portal so the public can see what has been agreed in cases where enforcement action is possible, so can the LLTNPA.  Well done the CNPA for being transparent!

 

Just to make things slightly easier for us to identify on the maps and aerial photography, it would be helpful if you could send an image of the map that shows the bits you walked or are concerned about if they don’t appear to you to be part of a consent or application.

 

It gives you confidence when the Planning Authority asks for further information about exact locations (I had sent them photos and a general description of where I had walked).   My mate who I was running with told me afterwards that if you use Strava, it not only plots your entire course, it can give the exact location for photos – a useful tip for anyone wanting to report on hill tracks.

 

The CMS we have for the Clova Hydro scheme will be uploaded to the public access planning pages. Just to be clear, we haven’t taken any enforcement action against the Clova track at this point. The Planning Contravention Notice (PCN) is a fact-finding notice.

 

Honesty about what the CNPA is doing.  Quite a contrast to the LLTNPA who want to keep everything secret.

 

A comparision between the two National Parks

 

The CNPA  is far from perfect and I have criticised its planning department in a number of posts, particularly the way they handled the Shieling Hill Track at Cairngorm and also their decision to stop recording planning meetings, which in my view was a retrograde step.   I believe that as a National Park Authority they could do better but at present they are a country mile ahead of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.    Their Partnership Plan includes a presumption against new hill tracks, the LLTNPA draft plan says nothing.  They are prepared to be open about what they are doing (at least some of the time), the LLTNPA reveals nothing unless its forced to.   They are trying to put more information on the planning portal, the LLTNPA has been removing information post-decision saying the law does not require such information to be published.

 

One might not always agree with the CNPA but it is possible to have a dialogue.  The LLTNPA does not do dialogue:  if you don’t agree with them, you get shut out of processes.

 

The explanation for this difference is not just about differences in staff (and who knows what pressure Stuart Mearns is under from his Chief Executive Gordon Watson), it is I believe about Board Members.   Petra Biberbach was on the Scottish Government’s independent review of the planning system which included these statements:

 

“Consistency and transparency of information are central to the reputation and smooth running of the development management system.”   

 

“The increasing use of social media and online portals is in our view a more resource efficient and effective way of communicating casework with the wider public.”

 

So, why has she apparently done nothing to make the LLTNPA as planning authority more transparent?

 

Contrast this with Cllr Bill Lobban who is on the CNPA Board and was Highland Council Convener of Planning;  he criticised the CNPA for not recording planning meetings as webcasts and argued that Councils were better placed to fulfil the planning function.  In other words there are people on the CNPA Board who keep staff on their toes.

 

What needs to happen

 

I hope the refusal of LLTNPA staff to provide information about the Ledcharrie Scheme does not have to go to the Information Commissioner for Decision and that Petra Biberbach as convener of the Planning Committee, insists the Park’s Chief Executive Gordon Watson instructs staff to make the information public as recommended in the independent review of planning report which she co-authored “Empowering planning to deliver great places”.

July 4, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The new track runs round the head of Glen Prosen – here looking towards Bawhelps

During a round of the Glen Prosen watershed 10 days ago, I came across a bulldozed track on the plateau at the head of the Glen which appears to be just inside the boundary of the Glen Isla Estate and therefore created by that estate.    The lack of vegetation on the surface – on what is a relatively fertile soil – and the state of the turves which have been piled by the track suggest the track is relatively recent.   There is nothing about this track on the Cairngorms National Park Authority planning portal and it therefore would appear to have been constructed without planning permission.

The new hydro tracks in Glen Prosen viewed from Mayar. The boundary of Wild Land Area 16 is at Kilbo, centre right, where the track meets a burn flowing in from the right

I had not realised when blogging about the Glen Clova and Glen Prosen hydro tracks (see here)  that the head of Glen Prosen was within Wild Land Area 16 “Lochnagar and Mount Keen”.   There is a presumption against development in wild land areas – even more reason, if more were needed, for the CNPA to taken enforcement action and ensure the “temporary” hydro access tracks are removed.

Glen Prosen runs parallel and left of Glen Clova. Most of the new track across the plateau appears to be in Wild Land Area 16.
View to Dun Hillocks from east of the Mayar Burn. Lochnagar is on the right.

After crossing Driesh and Mayar, we met the track near the Mayar Burn.  While I was tempted to follow the northern section towards Dun Hillocks and Finalty Hill, I was not sure my legs would take it (first longer run of the year!).   It was difficult to see how far the track goes because of the rolling nature of the landscape here which is well described in the Wild Land Statement (see here) which was published last year:

 

At a broad level, the landform tends to be convex, limiting visibility up and down slopes. This means that, from the hill tops, neighbouring glens are screened and there is a horizontal emphasis of open views directed over successive tiers of ridges and tops extending far into the distance and contributing to a sense of awe.

 

What is clear is that it penetrates well into the Wild Land area 16.  I couldn’t tell either if it enters the Lochnagar and Deeside National Scenic Area, the boundary of which runs in a straight line between Mayar and Finalty Hill  (any information on this, particularly photos, would be welcome).

The plateau, the head of the Mayar burn is the lower ground on far right of photo, the track just to the left of the photo.  While the grouse butt is well disguised, it indicates that this track was created for “sporting” purposes and therefore should have required full planning permission.

The creation of the track has removed much of the challenge of navigating across what was a featureless area of plateau.  If you have ever tried to walk between Tom Buidhe and Mayar in the mist you will know what I mean.   This quality of the plateau, so important to adventure, is also well described in the Wild Land statement:

 

Despite a mixed composition of hills and undulations, the simplicity of the landform and land cover at a broad level means individual peaks do not tend to stand out and it can be difficult to estimate vertical scale or distance within the landscape. This makes navigation challenging upon the hills and plateaux, especially in low cloud, thus increasing risk.

Looking towards South Craig at head of Glen Prosen.  The track is intermittent in the sense that it is a mixture of track eroded by regular vehicular use and new sections where the turf has been completely removed.

Because its intermittent, although the constructed sections predominate, its possible that the track was not created all at once but over time.

View across track to Mayar.  The creation of drainage channels adds to the mess and impact on vegetation.

The track has been created by a digger scraping off the turf and dumping it by the side of the new track.  The positive thing about this is it should make restoration of the track quite simple.  All the estate would have to do is replace the turves and soil onto the bare surface.

 

Intermittent section of track up Bawhelps

The older vehicle erosion shows that its not just constructed tracks which are the problem – its vehicle use.  The CNPA should be addressing the issue of vehicular use on higher ground.    A start would be to restrict the type of vehicles that can be used, ban heavier vehicles like landrovers and just allow quad bikes which are much lighter and, if used carefully, cause much less damage to vegetation.  This could be done through the creation of conservation byelaws.

Looking southwest from Bawhelps, Badundun Hill and Mount Blair in distance.  The track comes up to Bawhelps over Midhill from Glen Isla.

We didn’t follow the track over Mid Hill and so did not ascertain where it started (again photos would be welcome) but it appears most of it lies within the Cairngorms National Park boundary.

View along new spur to track which runs south east along Broom Hill, Craigie Thieves behind.

There is a short spur to the track down Broom Hill, which unlike other sections of track has been created by importing aggregate and dumping it on top of vegetation.  This section of track will be much harder to restore.

The spur then turns into a vehicle eroded track before ending completely before the bealach between Broom Hill and Craigie Thieves

Had I not stopped to take photos, we would have made fast time from the Mayar Burn to the bealach with Craigie Thieves.  After that, the going was much slower and although the hills were much lower, they provided a wilder experience even after we had crossed out of the National Park.

Looking towards Eskielawn outside the National Park boundary.

Although there was a fence, the absence of track made a huge difference to the experience,  altogether wilder and hard on the legs, and not just because I was forced to play the role of aged deerhound trying to keep within sight of my mate!

 

Until, that is, we came to this monstrosity on the Hill of Adenaich, well outside the CNPA boundary, and the responsibility of Angus Council to fix.     Sadly, whether these tracks are created or not appears to have very little to do with the Planning Authority, its all determined by the landowner: most create tracks, some don’t.  It would be good though if our National Parks became exemplars of good practice and the CNPA by its actions inspires Angus Council also to take action.

 

What needs to happen

 

I have reported the track featured here to the CNPA, asked them to confirm whether they were aware of it not and stated that it appears to have been constructed for sporting purposes and therefore should have required full planning permission.    In my view the track should be removed.   The CNPA in their new Partnership Plan, to their credit, have stated that there will be a presumption against new hill tracks within upland areas in the National Park.  This one enters a Wild Land area to boot so there is every reason for them to take action.   If the CNPA act fast, much of the damage could  be restored quite quickly (because the turves removed to create the track are still usable) so I would urge them to do so.

 

Whether the Glen Isla estate, which straddles the National Park Boundary, will co-operate remains to be seen.   While the Glen Isla estate appears on the CNPA map of estates which lie within the National Park (see here) there is no estate management plan.  The CNPA initiative to get estates to publish management plans was a good one but has been ignored by many landowners.  In my view the publication of management plans for all estates within the National Park should be compulsory and such plans should include maps of all existing tracks (and where they end) as well as a statement from each estate about what vehicles they use off track.  This would it much easier for the CNPA to take enforcement action in cases like this.

July 3, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Are the symbols for the National Outcomes the LLTNPA claim to be delivering useful?

The third and final section of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Partnership Plan (the official consultation (see here) closes today) is entitled “Rural Development”.  The statutory objective of the National Park is rather different, to promote sustainable use of natural resources and sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities.  Its quite possible to have rural development which does not achieve either of these aims, whether this is continuation of unsustainable land uses or new development such as the Cononish Goldmine.

 

The LLTNPA’s vision

The Park’s vision for rural development is infused with neo-liberal values and thought processes:

 

“In the National Park businesses and communities thrive and people live and work sustainably in a high quality environment”

 

Implicit in this vision is that development is dependent on business, there is no mention of the role of the public sector despite the fact that Forestry Commission Scotland, a public authority, is the largest landowner in the National Park.   There is no vision at all about what the public sector, including the National Park Authority – whose staff incidentally are paid far more than most people who work in the National Park (a good thing, reasonable pay) – have to play in sustainable rural development.   Significant amounts of research is undertaken in the National Park – for example by the SRUC’s research station in Strathfillan – but this, like other evidence is simply ignored.    I would suggest that any consideration of sustainable economic development that does not put the public sector at the heart of the vision is meaningless, its simply a charter for business.

 

There is no recognition either that the interests of business owners and local communities may not be the same.    So, the LLTNPA’s main focus is on tourism businesses which may deliver good returns to their owners but are dependent – perhaps exploit would be a better word – a low paid workforce who earn so little they cannot afford to live in the National Park.   There is no discussion of what is basically a rentier economy, which is based on the provision of tourist accommodation (all those chalet parks) or the financial subsidies paid for by the public for hydro power which are flowing to the City of London.  Most of the income generated within the area provides no benefit to the National Park or the people who still manage to live there.   In the Cairngorms National Park Authority Plan there was at least implicit recognition of this in the statistics which demonstrated average pay in the Cairngorms National Park was well below the Scottish average.  The LLTNPA plan is devoid of evidence and the only indication that this might be an issue is a reference to the total population and population of working age in the National Park declining.

 

The vision also says nothing about sustainable development.  The vision is of people working IN a high quality environment, which just happens to be there, there is no recognition this natural environment has been moulded by people andthere is NOTHING about sustainable land-use.  This fits with the conservation and land-use section of the plan (see here) which similarly has no vision or plan for how land-use could become more sustainable.  The natural qualities of the National Park are simply there to be used: the  “Park’s unique environment and special qualities provide many opportunities for economic growth and diversification.”     I couldn’t find a single proposal about how land-use or wider economy could be diversified in this section of the plan – its all being left to the private sector, the miracles of the market.

 

The complacency of the LLTNPA and its unwillingness to look at the real issues is staggering:

 

“Overall, our rural economy in the Park is performing well with growth in accommodation, outdoor recreation, infrastructure improvements, and food and drink offering over recent years. We have also seen a notable rise in development activity, particularly in renewables, housing and tourism investment. However, we are still facing significant challenges for the rural economy of the National Park.”

 

If the economy of the Park was really thriving one would expect there to be an increase in population, not a decrease.  There is no proper analysis of what the challenges are or that the economy in the Park is benefitting the few, not the many.

 

The LLTNPA’s priorities

 

The very first action point under Rural Development shows the Park’s true priorities:

 

“Delivery of the key sites and infrastructure in Arrochar, Balloch and Callander, as well as villages identified as Placemaking Priorities identified in LIVE Park, the National Park’s Local Development Plan”.

 

This is parkspeak for the delivery of Flamingo Land at Balloch (see here) and the development of the torpedo site at Arrochar (see here).  Neither has anything to do with sustainable economic development.

 

The other main development priority appears to be hydro schemes – the number of new hydro schemes being a measure of success.  Nowhere in the plan is there any indication of the impacts of such schemes on landscape or river catchments.

 

Almost all the other action points either re-inforce the Park’s development plan, are so vague as to be meaningless or miss the point.

 

Outcome 1 is basically a repeat of the Local Development, which (apart from the Flamingo Land and Torpedo site) is about matters such as enhancing the environment in existing settlements.

 

Outcome 2 is about providing support for business, from improving broadband to provision of workshop space – there is not a proposal in it about how the Park could help businesses based on the National Park’s special qualities (eg timber businesses) or how the LLTNPA could use its purchasing power to assist local businesses (e.g it has purchased shipping containers for toilets rather than commissioning local businesses to provide buildings fitting for the local environment).    The Park says it wants to increase the number of business start up when the reality is that a few businesses are actually increasing their grip on the economy in the National Park particularly in the tourism sector  (see here).

 

Outcome 3 sees the answer to population decline as training young people and getting more affordable housing provision.   Actually, its investment in the economy that creates jobs and the problem in the LLTNPA is that while there has been investment (eg construction of hydro schemes) this has been short-term and generates very few long-term paid jobs.   Requiring a proportion of new housing to be “affordable” will do nothing to address the basic issue.

 

Outcome 4 is about empowerment of local communities.  There is no mention of the Park’s track record on this (when it matters, they have consistently ignored view of local communities (e.g giving the go-ahead for new housing by the LLTNPA HQ in Balloch and ignoring the Strathard Community Council’s concerns about the size of the Loch Chon campsite).   As with the CNPA Partnership Plan there is no mention of supporting those communities to take over control of land, which is the main resource in the National Park, not even in areas where the FCS is the main landowner.  Until our National Parks grapple with Land Reform, claims to be empowering local communities should be taken with a large dose of salt.

 

What needs to be done

 

Here, in a nutshell, is an alternative agenda for rural development in the National Park:

 

  1. The public sector and public sector investment needs to be put at the centre of sustainable rural development but everything the public sector does (from new roads to land-use) should be tailored to the National Park’s conservation and recreational objectives.
  2. There should be no place for large scale tourist developments which destroy the special qualities of the Park (Flamingo Land) and the focus within tourism should be on improving pay and conditions (including living conditions) of those who work in the sector.
  3. The National Park Plan should be driving forward changes in land-use from large scale intensive conifer forestry, sheep farming and hunting to alternative uses.    This could start with the Forestry Estate and the production of a plan to change the way the Argyll Forest Park is managed, so landscape and biodiversity are put first, and new community models of forestry which would create new jobs locally.
July 3, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

Apologies to readers but due to problems with internet connectivity I was not able to get this post on (or next on rural development) out last week as intended.   The consultation on the National Park Partnership Plan (see here) closes today.

 

The LLTNPA’s visitor priorities are wrong

 

The second section of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority’s National Park Partnership Plan (NPPP) is titled Visitor Experience.  I hate the term (it was also used by the Cairngorms National Park Authority) because its being used to change what National Parks should be about.  Instead of enabling people to enjoy the landscape for itself, and being free to do so, our National Park Authorities now appear to believe their role is about giving people an experience – often it seems something to be paid for – whether or not that experience has anything to do with outdoors.  This is a distortion of our National Park’s statutory objective in respect to visitors which is “to promote understanding and enjoyment, including enjoyment in the form of recreation, of the special qualities of the area by the public”.   Note the statutory objective relates to “the special qualities” of the National Park, not to the promotion of developments such as Natural Retreats or Flamingo Land.    Many of the failures of the LLTNPA and draft NPPP result from a departure from that statutory objective.

 

A good example is VE3, which is about the visitor economy:

 

“Businesses and organisations in the Park have taken great strides in adapting and innovating to better provide for the dynamic and ever changing tourism demand. The accommodation offering has seen many positive investments while the quality of food and drink has improved significantly. We have seen a strong increase in the number of people coming to the National Park for food and drink, up from 15% in 2011 to 44% in 2015. There has also been a rise in visitors using of self-catering, managed campsites and hotels from 2011 to 2015.”

 

Ignore the fact that there are now fewer places to camp in the National Park than ever before, ignore the failure of the NPPP to consider low pay and precarious jobs in the tourism industry, the LLTNPA appears to see promoting food and drink as important, if not more so, than enabling people to enjoy the Great Outdoors (and is it really credible that the numbers of people visiting the National Park is up from 15% to 44%?).   The photo in this section, (left) speakers louder than words.

 

Tourism, whether appropriate or not, has become a substitute for sustainable economic development (the third statutory objective of the LLTNPA and subject of my last post on the NPPP).   This is the wrong starting point.   As the NPPP states, the vast majority of visitors to the National Park are day visitors from the Clyde conurbation.    Those people – I am one of them –  and overnight visitors visit primarily to enjoy the scenery and undertake recreational activities such as walking, cycling, boating or fishing.  We may of course spend some money – many hillwalkers for example enjoy a meal or a drink at the end of the day and this helps explain the success of enterprises like Real Foods at Tyndrum, while other people enjoy sitting out in pleasant surroundings (hence the success of the Oak Tree Inn at Balmaha?)  – but for most people this is a consequence of their visit, not a reason for it.

 

What appears to be happening though – and the Visitor Experience framework and the NPPP is an attempt to promote this further – is that the LLTNPA is prioritising the small minority of high spend visitors over the mass of people who visit the National Park:

 

“Our visitor profile has traditionally been characterised by high numbers of predominantly day visits that coincide with good weather. Historically this has meant a highly seasonal, weather dependent visitor economy that can give us very high volume visitor pressures in some of the most popular areas of the Park. These pressures can affect the quality of environment, visitor experience, economy and community life.”

 

Note how the LLTNPA claims that the high number of visitors on a few days of the year affects “the Visitor Experience”.  This is a version of the same old chestnut that there are too many people on the hill – the presence of other walkers destroys the experience.  Its elitist and the solution is obvious:  if you don’t like other people go somewhere else when its busy.    I am sure I am not the only person who avoids west Loch Lomond on public holidays but the large numbers of visitors at these times is an opportunity for the people who visit (to promote their own physical and mental wellbeing).    The LLTNPA however appears to see numbers as a problem rather than a challenge and so is trying to restrict visitors through the camping byelaws (300 places under the permit system instead of maximum counts of 850 tents previously), gating off and reducing the size of car parks (e.g on Loch Venachar) and introducing charges for visiting (car park charges, toilet charges etc).  There is no attempt to analyse the implications some of which are touched on the in the Strategic Environemental Assessment:

 

“the new more stringent visitor management measures may erode certain personal freedoms (population and human health), negatively impacting the image of the National Park.”

 

Instead of attacking access rights, the LLTNPA should be addressing the shortfall in infrastructure  needed to support visitors, at both peak and non-peak periods.  This includes addressing the shortfall in  basic facilities which parkswatch has covered many times in the last year, particularly litter bins and toilets (no mention in the NPPP that this comes out as top need in all visitor surveys in the National Park), as well as more challenging improvements such as to transport infrastructure as recommended in the LLTNPA’s own Strategic Environment Assessment:

 

the vast majority of visitor journeys to the Park continue to be made by car. There remains a need to promote public transport options and encourage visitors to travel by alternative modes. There are also opportunities to make travel to and within the Park “part of the experience” (e.g. linking longer distance cycle routes to public transport, investing in the seasonal waterbus service).”

The only improvement to public transport mentioned in the NPPP is the waterbus.    While the CNPA are committed to improving public transport in Glenmore, the LLTNPA has no plans to encourage the provision of public transport to Rowardennan, despite Ben Lomond being completely inaccessible to the large proportion of people who reside in the Clyde conurbation who don’t have a car.   This should be a national scandal.

 

Parkspin

 

The Visitor Experience section is peppered with parkspin, which is made possible from the lack of evidence in the plan and the failure to review progress in the previous plan (see here). This is a post-truth neo-liberal world full of soundbites and where evidence doesn’t count.  Here are a few examples:

 

  • “focus on raising the level of ambition, to ensure that the quality of visitor experience in the National Park is truly world class.”

Comment: actually, what most visitors want the National Park to do is provide basic facilities such as toilets and ensure litter is picked up.  The scenery doesn’t need ambition, it needs practical protection (there is no consideration of how all the new hydro tracks in the National Park contribute to the world class visitor experience).

 

  • “Boating and fishing continue to be popular and the availability of boating facilities (publicly-accessible piers, pontoons and moorings) continues to fall short of demand”. (VE2)

Comment: this is the same National Park that shut the Milarochy Launching pad without consultation just a few months ago.

 

  • “The West Highland Line offers an outstanding rail experience but opportunities to come here via local stations are currently under-promoted” (VE3).

Comment: last year (see here) the LLTNPA failed to respond to the reduction in cycle places on trains on the West Highland Line. Perhaps its now seen the light?   The West Highland Line though needs more than promotion for people to use it.  A timetable that worked for day visitors and a bus link for hillwalkers to the Arrochar Alps would be a start.

 

  • “Much public investment has already been targeted in raising the quality of visitor facilities in the busiest areas improving car parks, toilets, information points, litter facilities, viewpoints and campsites. This approach has achieved transformational improvements to East Loch Lomond and parts of The Trossachs through the 5 Lochs Visitor Management Plan.”(VE4).

Comment: the reality is that there has been some (not much) public investment, much of which has been wasted (for example £150k to date on camping management signs), the toilets the Park operates are closed for much of the year and most of the excellent proposals in the Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan have been dropped (eg for new toilets, camping areas, litter bins and wood piles for people to use) without any public explanation.

  • “There is scope for us to further develop the role of the National Park to engage with a wider range of groups in society and support recreational enjoyment, responsible behaviour and stronger appreciation of the need to look after the environment.” (VE5)

Comment: the reality is the LLTNPA has a long history of failing to engage with recreational groups, who have been excluded from decision making processes. There is not a single proposal in the plan about how recreational and landscape interests could be given a real say in how the Park is run.

 

Commentary on Visitor Experience Outcomes and actions

VE1  Recreation opportunities

This heading is misleading, the content is about path provision.   There are outdoor recreational opportunities everywhere, the issue is what infrastructure is needed to support this.   There are some good practical proposals in this section – unlike most other sections of the plan –  which are about what the LLTNPA will do over the next five years to improve the path network.      Whether the investment is enough, however, is not considered – its not nearly enough – and all the financing is dependent on other bodies.

 

In my view what the plan should have done is evaluate the recreational infrastructure – is it sufficient to meet demand, what state is it in? – and then set out a case for what resources are needed.    The Mountains for People project is great but it only tackles a small number of paths predominantly on publicly owned land.  What is the LLTNPA going to do to address path erosion on other hills?   Do the existing state management plans, which the LLTNPA has refused to release under FOI, contain any plans for paths?  (see here) The NPPP gives a nod to the problem “finding long term solutions to ensure the existing network is maintained and promoted to a high standard”  but contains no ideas let alone any proposals for how this might be addressed.   How about a bed night tax as is common in the French National Parks?   A small levy on overnight visitors would go a long way, as would car park charges if they were spent on paths rather than on trying to restrict access.

 

The absence of any context  makes it hard to interpret the commitment to review core paths.  Does the LLTNPA think these are sufficient or insufficient?  We are given no idea.   There should be a clear aspiration to increase the core path network.

 

VE2 Water based recreation

 

This section lacks any concrete proposals.     The spin, “Ensuring larger lochs are managed to support and facilitate both water craft and other recreational uses  while maximising safety for all users” is contradicted by the the reality which includes the Milarrochy slipway on east Loch Lomond has been closed on spurious health and safety grounds (see here),  the former access point for canoes at Loch Chon has been blocked off and the Loch Venachar Quay which was gifted to the people of Callander to enjoy boating (and which happens to be adjacent to Venachar House, home of former convener Linda Mackay) has been planted with trees.  There is no analysis of why numbers of boats on Loch Lomond have dropped – the water byelaws are asserted to be a success – and no practical proposals to make access to the water easier.  Instead the LLTNPA is focussing on supporting high profile mass events, such as swimming, which depend on volunteers from the boating community for stewarding.    The Loch Lomond Association, which represents all water users on the Loch, is not included as a stakeholder – that says it all!   The development of a meaningful plan should have started with the people who use the lochs (just as plans for camping should have started with the people who camp).

 

VE3 on tourism businesses

 

Priority action 1 says it all:  “Encouraging and supporting new and established tourism businesses to innovate and collaborate to  capitalise on growth markets………………”.    The section then goes on to talk about “recreation activity offerings” and “accommodation offerings” and states the LLTNPA wishes to encourage private sector and other investment in facilitiies for motorhomes and lower cost accommodation.   Nowhere does the Park set out what provision it sees as being needed or what investment might be required.   That is another abdication of responsibility.  The LLTNPA however apparently would prefer to leave not just delivery of facilities but also their planning to the market.   Why have a NPPP or a National Park Authority if you don’t believe in planning?

VE4 Visitor Management

 

This section states its about popular areas and management of visitor pressures but again is not based on any analysis. Its proposals show that the LLTNPA has learned nothing in the last two years from the criticisms of the camping byelaws.

 

The first priority action, which is the Park’s way of saying that it wants the camping byelaws to continue, is both meaningless and now defunct after the LLTNPA’s decision that it can no longer limit the number of campervans/motorhomes (see here): “Ensuring that the Camping Management Zones (WestLoch Lomond, Trossachs , Trossachs North and East Loch Lomond) support improvements to the environment and visitor experience through providing for sustainable levels of camping and motorhome use alongside other visitor activities.in the camping management zones

 

The second priority action “Agreeing an approach to ensuring the sustainable and responsible use of the Loch Lomond islands” is code for extending the camping byelaws to the Loch Lomond islands which the Board has already agreed in principle to look at. No evidence is provided to show that there is a problem that needs addressing and the failure of the LLTNPA to be open about this is another indictment of how it operates.

 

On the third priority action, while its a step forward that the LLTNPA has recognised the litter at the head of Loch Long as a problem that needs addressing (but if this, why not the litter along the A82 or fly tipping?), the inclusion of this action point under a section dealing with visitor management is incomprehensible. The litter at the head of Loch Long is not created by tourists but comes from the Clyde.  The Park’s reference to “innovative solutions” is devoid of content and therefore meaningless – what’s needed are resources to clear up the mess.

 

The fourth priority on developing parking and traffic management measures appears to be “code” for the further introduction of car parking charges. There is nothing in the consultation asking what people think about this – another indication that this is not a proper consultation at all.

 

VE5 Diversity of visitors

 

The actions in this section are again in my view meaningless. While the LLTNPA recognises that getting outdoors is good for people’s health and also its difficult for many people in the Clyde conurbation to get to the National Park, there is no analysis of how its existing visitor management measures have impacted on this (the camping bylaws hit the poorest most) and not a single proposal for how the LLTNPA could make the National Park more accessible  (A contrast to the Cairngorms National Park Authority who, for example, recognised there are issues about who accesses outdoor education).    The Park’s plan is to engage with health boards – is this really going to sort out the mess it has created?    If the Park really wanted to encourage people it would not have constructed its new campsite at Loch Chon, only accessible by car. The LLTNPA claims the National Park offers a range of quality outdoor learning experiences, again with any analysis. The reality is that outdoor education provision has been hit hard by the cuts while organised groups like Duke of Edinburgh Award and the Scouts (which are working hard to welcome a wider range of young people) now face the bureaucratic rigmarole of having to apply for exemptions to the camping permit system.   Judging by the number of such exemptions, most are voting with their feet.

 

What the LLTNPA needs to do

 

Here, in a nutshell, is an alternative agenda for promoting understanding and recreation which depends on the National Park’s special qualities:

 

  1. The LLTNPA needs to re-write its plan  so it focuses on outdoor recreation and enjoyment of the countryside, not “the visitor experience” and base this on proper evidence and an analysis of what it has/has not achieved since it was created.
  2. The LLTNPA needs fundamentally to change its approach to visitor management from seeing visitors as a problem to recognising the right of people to enjoy the countryside.  This means dropping the existing camping byelaws and the proposals to extend them to the Loch Lomond islands and reversing other measures designed to reduce visitor numbers (such as removing gates from car parks)
  3. The LLTNPA needs to get back to basics in terms of recreational provision, developing a plan describing what infrastructure is needed from litter bins and toilets to new paths and improved public transport.   This should set out what can be funded from existing sources (there is money to invest, for example from Forestry Commission Scotland, through various land management grants or even from hydro schemes) and what additional investment is needed
June 27, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Start of Clova hydro track which cuts back right to two hydro intakes, one on the Corrie Burn and the other on the Brandy Burn.                                                                                                                   Photo Credit J Neff

Glen Clova Hydro Construction Track

 

A week before taking action against the Cluny Estate track (see here)  the Cairngorms National Park Authority issued a planning contravention notice against the owners of the Glen Clova estate for failing to remove the temporary hydro construction track behind the hotel.  This is another very significant action from the CNPA and should be welcomed by all who care about the landscape.   First, because the CNPA approved the hydro scheme on the basis that the track should be temporary – its permanent access tracks which cause the greatest landscape impact with hydro schemes – so well done to the CNPA for putting the landscape before profit.   Second, because the CNPA are now prepared to enforce the conditions of the original planning application, unlike the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority who caved in to the Glen Falloch Estate when they applied to make the temporary construction tracks there permanent (see here).

 

My thanks to Jojo Neff, who has been monitoring hill tracks and passed on some photos (above).  Dismayed by what these showed, on Saturday I took the opportunity to have a look myself as part of a run round the Glen Prosen watershed.   In the course of that I came across another  temporary hydro track at the head of Glen Prosen which has also not yet been re-instated.

View from North East ridge of Coremachy. The track forms a large zig zag before traversing across the hillside to join the path to Loch Brandy and the second intake located there.

The track is visible from many points along the 8km ridge between Coremachy and Driesh.   I was too far away – and without binoculars – to be able to tell if the horizontal scar across the hillside is still a track (would welcome information on this) or has been re-instated but to a very poor standard.   The uphill section of the track is far more prominent than the lower part of the footpath to Loch Brandy.

A close-up shows that while the uphill section of the track has been narrowed – there was no planning permission for this – the quality of work has been poor
The pipeline, which you can just make out centre of photo is not an issue and will have blended into the landscape in a couple of years.

The planning application was approved by the CNPA planning committee in 2010.   There is no information on the CNPA planning portal at present following the decision letter.  As a result there is almost no information about the construction track.   All I could find was a reference to “temporary access tracks” in the Committee Report and this map which shows the pipeline, not a track, and indicates therefore there was no proposal for a permanent track:

The Decision Letter from the CNPA required the developer to produce a Construction Method Statement, which would have provided information about where the temporary access track was to be sited and how it was to be constructed and the ground then re-instated, but this information is not public.   Nor is there any information on the planning portal about when the work started, when it was “completed” or subsequent correspondence between the CNPA and the Developer.    I will ask for all this information under FOI but in my view the CNPA’s reasons for taking action should be public (and should not be limited to a one line entry on their Planning Enforcement Register).  It would also be in the public interest to know just how long negotiations had been going on before the CNPA decided to take enforcement action.

 

The owner of the land and developer of the hydro scheme appears to be Hugh Niven, who runs the Glen Clova Hotel, the Glen Clova farm – which has been supplying Albert Bartlett with potatoes for over 25 years (see here) – and Pitlivie Farm, near Carnoustie in Angus.  This according to information on the internet is the site of one of Scotland largest agricultural roof mounted PV installations.   An interest in renewables then.

 

Mr Niven had a run in with Angus Council Planning in Glen Clova just before the Cairngorms National Park was created.   In 2000 (see here) Angus Council initiated enforcement action against Mr Niven because he had created a new loch in the Glen without planning permission and there were sufficient safety concerns about the earthworks that the public road was closed for a time.  Two years later Mr Niven applied for, and was granted, retrospective planning permission for the works (see here).

 

There are lessons for this for the CNPA.  First, this is not the first occasion Hugh Niven has ignored planning law.  In this he is not unusual – many landowners still see planning authorities as imposing unwelcome restrictions on their ability to manage land any way they wish.  Second, back in 2000 it appears that Hugh Niven argued that what he had done was justifiable and the risk is that he will now do so again which will lead to years of wrangling.    While the creation of a loch might have been acceptable on landscape grounds, the permanent retention of this track is not and the CNPA therefore needs to avoid drawn into negotiations about how this scar could be ameliorated and take a stand.   This track needs to be removed and like the Cluny track, is therefore a fundamental test for the CNPA.  They deserve the support of everyone who cares about the landscape in our National Parks.

 

As in the Cluny case, it appears that the developer does not lack resources: the latest accounts for Clova Estate Farm Ltd doesn’t show income (because they are abbreviated accounts – a fundamental issue in terms of business transparency) but does show the business has total net assets of £8,037,710.   Hugh Niven therefore has the resources to pay for the re-instatement of the hydro construction track.

 

Glen Prosen hydro track

The hydro construction tracks are on left half of photo with the bare ground behind resulting from clearfell of a forest plantation which appears to have taken place at the same time the hydro scheme was constructed

After completing the ridge on the west side of Glen Clova to Mayar and after coming across  a new bulldozed track on the plateau leading from Bawhelps to Dun Hillocks (which I will cover in another post) the head of Glen Prosen is scarred by new tracks and clearfell north west of Kilbo.

View from Broom Hill, Driesh in background

On returning home I checked the planning report from 2013  which made clear that the construction tracks would be temporary:   “Beyond the powerhouse there will be a temporary access road for construction to reach both intakes.”   Again well done to the CNPA for putting landscape before profit.

The Committee Report also concluded:

Landscape and Visual Effects
40. The landscape impacts of this proposal are minor, given the scale of the development and the location in the upper Glen Prosen. Conditions relating to the construction phase of the development have been proposed to minimise any short term impact. In addition, the set of mitigation measures proposed are likely to have a positive impact on the development site in the long term.

 

The trouble is at present the landscape impact is anything but minor, as the photos show, and this is mainly because the construction tracks have not been removed, although the clearfell has added to the destruction.  There were no signs of machinery on site and it appears therefore that the Glen Prosen estate, like the Glen Clova estate, thinks the work is finished and simply hopes to avoid the expense of re-instating these tracks.    It will be much easier for the CNPA to take action if they show resolution in addressing the Glen Clova track.  The message to landowners will be then loud and clear:  you cannot afford to ignoring the planning rules in the National Park.

June 26, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
Recent clearfell at the Rest and Be Thankful. The conservation section of the draft NPPP fails to address the issues that matter such as the landscape and conservation impacts of industrial forestry practices in the National Park Photo Credit Nick Halls

This post looks at the Conservation and Land Management section of the draft Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Partnership Plan (NPPP) which is out for consultation until 3rd July (see here).  It argues that the Outcomes (above) in the draft NPPP are devoid of meaningful content, considers some the reasons for this and outlines some alternative proposals which might go some way to realising the statutory conservation objectives for the National Park.

 

Conservation parkspeak

 

Call me old fashioned but I don’t see why the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park needs a vision for conservation – “An internationally renowned landscape where nature, heritage, land and water are valued, managed and enhanced to provide multiple benefits for people and nature” – when it has a statutory is duty a) “to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area” and b) to promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area.   The statutory duty to my mind is much simpler and clearer, the vision just marketing speak.

 

Indeed, the draft National Park Partnership Plan is far more like a marketing brochure than a serious plan.  This makes submission of meaningful comments very difficult.  Feel good phrases such as “iconic wildlife”,  “haven for nature”, “stunning and varied wildlife”, “vital stocks of natural capital”  are peppered throughout the document.  The reality is rather different, but you need to go to the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to find this out:

 

  • The Park has 27 designated sites assessed as being in “unfavourable” condition due to grazing pressures
  • Three river and 12 loch waterbodies in the Park still fail to achieve “good” status in line with Water Framework Directive (WFD) objectives.
  • The Park has 25 designated sites assessed as being in “unfavourable” condition due to pressures from Invasive Non-Native Species.

 

In other words progress during the period of the 2012-2017  Plan has not been what one might have expected in a National Park.    Instead of trying to learn from this and set out actions to address the issues, the LLTNPA is trying to bury failures under the table and to conceal its lack of a clear plan with marketing speak.  There is no need to take my word for it, the problems are clearly spelled out in the SEA:

 

The main weakness of the new plan over the extant plan is its lack of specificity combined
with its with its very strategic nature: given limited resources and the framing of the priorities in the
draft plan, it is unclear how intervention will be prioritised. For example, in the extant NPPP [2012-17], waterbody restoration and natural flood management measures are focussed in the Forth and Tay catchments. The new plan does not appear to include any such prioritisation and it is unclear if there will be sufficient resources to deliver the ambitious waterbody restoration measures across all catchments during the plan period. This key weakness is likely to be addressed by using the new NPPP as a discussion document to formalise arrangements and agreements with partner organisations on an individual basis (e.g. using individual partnership agreements as per the extant NPPP). However, it would be preferable if resource availability (and constraint) is articulated clearly in the plan document to help manage expectations;

 

Or, to put it another way, the NPPP outcomes are so “strategic” as to be meaningless, the LLTNPA has failed to consider resource issues and is planning to agree actions in secret with partner bodies once the consultation is over.     It appears that all the failures in accountability which took place with the development of the camping byelaws (developed in 13 secret Board Meetings) will now apply to conservation.

 

Economic interests are being put before conservation

 

This failure in governance – about how plans should be developed – conceals a skewing of the National Park’s conservation objectives towards economic interests (in spite of the duty of the LLTNPA, under the Sandford principle and section 9.6 of the National Park (Scotland) Act to put conservation first).     The best example is the beginning of the conservation section where the LLTNPA outlines the main threats to the “natural environment” the Park faces:

 

  • Impacts on freshwater and marine water bodies from problems such as pollution from surrounding land uses [ e.g algal blooms in Loch Lomond];
  • Unsustainable levels of wild and domesticated grazing animals in some upland and woodland areas, leading to reduced tree cover and the erosion of soils, which are important carbon stores [the 27 sites according to the SEA];
  • The spread of invasive non-native species which displace our rich native wildlife; [we are given no indication of how much progress has been made tackling this over last 5 years]
  • The impacts of climate change leading to warmer, wetter weather patterns and a subsequent
    increase in flood events, major landslides and rapid shifts in natural ecosystems.

 

Omitted from this list are the many threats to the landscape of the National Park which is being destroyed by “developments”:  Flamingo Land, the Cononish Goldmine, transport routes and over 40 hydro schemes with all their associated tracks.

Netting above the A83 in Glen Croe has further trashed visual amenity in the glen while not stopping the problem of landslides.   The problem is the A83 takes the wrong route – almost anywhere else in the world this route would have been tunnelled but not in a Scottish National Park.
Scotgold has permission during its trial at Cononish to store 5000 tonnes of spoil in bags – think what 400,000 tonnes would look like.
The Beinn Ghlas hydro track in Glen Falloch – the whole of Glen Falloch, which runs between the two prime wild land areas in the National Park, has been trashed by hydro tracks which planning staff agreed could be retained (originally they were to be removed) without any reference to the LLTNPA Board.

In the world of parkspeak however all these developments will be classed as successes.  The reason?   One of the measures of success is “Planning & Development:  The percentage of the Park and/or number of sites with landscape mitigation schemes”.    The developments in the photos above have all been “mitigated” by the Park as Planning Authority – an “unmitigated bloody disaster” would be a more accurate description of what the LLTNPA is allowing to happen. 

 

Many of these developments also impact on the ecology of the National Park.  For example, despite all the fine words about water catchment planning and flood prevention there is NO consideration of the impact of the 40 plus hydo schemes being developed in the National Park on flooding (send the water through a pipe and it will descend the hill far more quickly than in a river) or the ecology of rivers.

Beinn Ghlas hydro scheme – the LLTNPA appears uninterested in evaluating the impact of channelling water off the hill through pipes

A more specific example is conservation Priority 11 which says the LLTNPA will “Support for land managers to plan and deliver multiple environmental and social benefits, alongside economic return, through the creation and delivery of Whole Farm and Whole Estate Management Plans”.  This is the same LLTNPA which, while claiming  28% of the National Park is now covered by such plans, has recently refused to make them public on the grounds they are commercially sensitive(see here).  If this is not putting commercial before conservation interests, I am not sure what is.

 

The few specific “conservation” objectives are not about conservation at all

 

The photo that appears on the page on Conservation Outcome 2, Landscape conservation

While there are very few specific conservation objectives in the NPPP, those that do exist are clearly driven by other agendas

 

Conservation Priority 4
Supporting projects that enhance opportunities to enjoy landscapes particularly along major transport routes and around settlements and also that better meet the different travel mode needs of visitors, communities and businesses. Priorities include:
– Implementing a strategically planned and designed upgrade to the A82 between Tarbet and Inverarnan;

-Continuing to review landslip management measures on the A83 at The Rest and Be Thankful.

 

Landscape conservation has been reduced to ensuring that people can enjoy the view from the road.  There is no consideration on the impact of those roads (visual, noise etc):

 

It is important that we ensure that key areas of the Park where people experience the inspiring vistas found here are recognised and enhanced. This means that key transport routes,  such as trunk roads and the West Highland railway line, along with the settlements in the Park, continue to provide good lines of sight to the stunning views of the iconic landscapes found here.

 

Biodiversity in the National Park

 

The new NPPP actually represents a considerable step backwards from Wild Park 2020 (see here), the LLTNPA’s biodiversity action plan, which is not even referred to in the NPPP.    The vision set out in Wild Park (P11), which is about restoring upland and lowland habitats, enriching food chains (to increase numbers of top predators) woodland re-structuring etc, is worth reading – a far clearer and coherent vision than in the NPPP.  That should have been the NPPP starting point.

 

Wild Park  contained 90 specific actions, which were due to be reviewed in 2017 – “the Delivery and Monitoring Group will undertake a mid-term review in 2017 of progress overall on the projects and programmes in Wild Park 2020” .  There is no mention in the NPPP about what has happened to that when it should have been central to developing the new plan.   Part of the problem is the LLTNPA has taken very little interest in conservation over the last three years – there are hardly any papers to the Board on conservation issues  as all its focus and the Park’s resources have been devoted to camping management.

 

The weakness in Wild Park was that while it included many excellent projects, these were mostly limited to small geographical areas and many were located on land owned by NGOs (eg a significant proportion of all the projects were located on NTS land at Ben Lomond and the Woodland Trust property in Glen Finglas).   There was nothing on a landscape scale and very few contributions from Forestry Commission Scotland, by far the largest landowner in the National Park.   The draft NPPP claims  (under conservation outcome 1) to want to see conservation on a landscape scale but contains no proposals about how to do this apart from setting up a network of partnerships.   This begs the question of why these partnerships will now work when we know over the last 15 years similar “partnerships” have failed to address the main land management issues which affect landscape scale conservation in the National Park, overgrazing and blanket conifer afforestation.

 

What needs to happen – biodiversity

 

First, the LLTNPA needs to have some ambition.    On a landscape scale this should include a commitment to a significant increase increase in the proportion of forestry in the National Park which is managed in more sustainable ways.   The SEA describes this as “there is an opportunity and interest in increasing the amount of woodland under continuous cover forestry (CCF) systems. This would reduce the amount of clear fell and associated soil erosion and landscape impacts”.  So, instead of failing to mention the Argyll Forest Park, why is the LLTNPA not pressing the FCS to change the way it manages forestry there?      How about aiming to convert 50% of that forest to continuous cover forestry systems over the next 10 years?  

 

And on a species level, there is no mention of beavers in either the NPPP or SEA.   Amazing the lack of join up:

Why is FCS building artificial dams when beavers could do the same job?

Wild Park described one indicator of success in 25 years time would be that “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 LLTNPA should bring that forward and actively support beaver re-introduction projects now.

 

Second, there needs to be some far more specific plans (which the Park should have consulted on as part of the NPPP to guage public support) which are both geographical and theme based.  Here are some examples:

 

  • So, what exactly is the plan for the Great Trossachs Forest, now Scotland’s largest National Nature Reserve, which is mainly owned by NGOs?  (You would have no idea from the NPPP).
  • How is the LLNPA going to reduce overgrazing?
  • What about working to extend the Caledonian pine forest remnants in Glen Falloch (which would also hide some of the landscape scars created by hydro tracks)?
  • What does the LLTNPA intend to do to address the widespread persecution of species such as foxes in the National Park?
  • What can the National Park do to address the collapse of fish stocks in certain lochs or the threats to species such as arctic charr (whose population in Loch Earn is under threat from vendace).

 

I hope that people and organisations responding to the consultation will add to this list and demand that the LLTNPA comes up with a proper plan for the next five years and argue for the resources necessary to deliver such objectives.

 

What needs to happen – landscape

 

First, the LLTNPA needs to start putting landscape before development and state this clearly in the plan.    There should be no more goldmines, large tourist developments (whether Flamingo Land or on the torpedo site at Arrochar) and improvements to transport infrastructure (which are needed) should not be at the expense of the landscape.   Tunnelling the A82 along Loch Lomond – which has been discounted by Transport Scotland as too costly – should be put back on the agenda.

Powerlines at northern end Loch Lomond dominate much of the landscape of what is supposed to be a world class walk, the West Highland Way

Second, I would like to see the LLTNPA have a bit of ambition and make an explicit commitment to restoring  historic damage to landscapes.   What about burying powerlines as is happening in English National Parks (there is one small initiative at present in the LLTNP)?   How about restoring damage to the two wild land areas on either side of Glen Falloch, particularly the old hydro infrastructure south of Ben Lui, the largest area of wild land in the National Park?

Alt nan Caoran Hydro intake south of Ben Lui and Ben Oss – you can just see pipeline above centre of dam

The LLTNPA Board should also commit to a complete review of how it has managed the impact – “mitigated” – the construction of hydro schemes, engaging the people and organisations who have an interest in this.   The big issue here is the hydro construction tracks, which the LLTNPA now allows to remain in place, and which have had a massive deleterious affect on the more open landscapes in the National Park.   The LLTNPA’s starting point in the new NPPP is that there should be a presumption against any new tracks in the uplands and therefore that all hydro construction tracks should be removed in future.  There should be a review of the tracks which have been agreed over the last five years and a plan developed on how these could be removed (the hydro scheme owners, many of whom are based in the city, are not short of  cash and could afford to do this – that would be a demonstration of real partnership working).

 

Finally, as part of any plan to restructure conifer forests in the National Park, the LLTNPA also needs to develop new landscape standards for Forestry which should include matters such as track construction and felling.   There should be a presumption against clearfell.

 

What needs to happen – resources

 

Just like the Cairngorms NPPP, the LLTNPA NPPP makes no mention of resource issues.  Instead, the underlying assumption behind the plan is neo-liberal.  The state should not provide – in this case the National Park cannot expect any further resources – and the priority of government is to enable business to do business, which (according to the theory) will all some  benefits to trickle down to the National Park.

 

This is totally wrong.  We need a proper plan which sets out what needs to be done, how much this will cost and how this will be funded.    The Scottish Government could of course and probably would say “no” but things are changing politically and proper financing of conservation (and well paid rural jobs) are key to the third part of the NPPP which is about rural development.

June 23, 2017 Nick Kempe 10 comments
Part of upper section of Cluny Estate track, Glen Banchor

On the longest day, the Cairngorms National Park Authority initiated enforcement action against the Cluny Estate for the unlawful track up Carn Leth Choin at the head of Glen Banchor (see here).

 

The latest entry on the CNPA’s Planning Enforcement Register

 

This is extremely welcome.  In March the CNPA had written to me stating that they had been in discussions with the estate about restoring the track voluntarily but if the estate failed to do this the CNPA would take enforcement action (see here).  The addition to the register indicates the estate is refusing to do this and the CNPA have been as good as their word.    They deserve support from everyone who cares about our National Parks for initiating this action and will, I suspect, need ongoing support through what is likely to be a long and complex process.  Its not easy to bring recalcitrant landowners to heal while removing tracks is not easy.   It has been been done in the cases of a handful of hydro schemes, but these have been lower down the hill.  The only time a track has been removed on high ground was when the National Trust for Scotland removed the bulldozed track on Beinn a Bhuird.  This took place over a number of years, being completed in 2001, and took both significant investment and expertise.

 

Still,  the Cluny Estate appears to be owned by the Qatari Royal Family (see here) who, even if they are under lots of pressure at present due to the blockade from their neighbours, are not short of a bob or two.  There is no reason therefore why the restoration should not be to the highest possible standard.   While they are about it perhaps the Qatari Royal Family, if its indeed they who own the Cluny estate, should also pay for the restoration of the lower part of the track which was constructed at an earlier date and is, I understand, outside the current enforcement action.

The lower section of the track up the shoulder of Craig Leth Choin is apart from the landscape impact, too steep and will be constantly subject to erosion

The significance of this action by the CNPA is far wider than just this hill track.  In my view the Planning System in our National Parks (and indeed Scotland) has fallen into disrepute because enforcement action is hardly ever taken.  The emphasis has been on co-operating with people who, like the owners of the Cluny estate or Natural Retreats on Cairngorm, appear to have no respect for the planning system, drag out processes of negotiation for years and do anything they can to avoid doing what is right.    This therefore needs to be seen as a shot across the bows of all landowners in the National Park (its not the only one, as I will demonstrate in a future post).  The CNPA need to see it through.   I believe it will only take a couple of enforcement cases, where landowners learn what the costs of ignoring the planning systems are likely to be, and the whole attitude of landowners and their advisers to planning will change.

 

This is therefore a crucial test for the National Park and they should be congratulated for their new approach.