Tag: planning

While working on Tuesday’s post, I was delighted to get a letter (see here) from the acting Chief Executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Charlotte Wright, who has confirmed my claims (see here) that there is NO masterplan at Cairngorm:

So, the acting Chief Executive of HIE now considers the word masterplan inaccurate when it was the  hie news release of 12th April, in which she was quoted, which introduced the term masterplan through its headline “Masterplan Agreed for CairnGorm Mountain”!   While I do appreciate Charlotte Wright might not have seen the HIE News Release which quoted, either it was a deliberate attempt to mislead the public, a lie in normal parlance, or HIE staff would appear to have no understanding of the difference between a “Business Plan” and a “Master Plan”.    Neither explanation inspires much confidence.

 

While the letter is in response to my FOI request, it contains another extraordinary claim:

The statement “we understand that CML have conducted a consultation with………….Scottish Natural Heritage”,  which to most people would imply that these meetings took place without HIE being involved, is totally disingenuous.    HIE staff appear to have been fully involved.   How do we know?  Through SNH’s FOI response to George Paton and myself which provided emails about the “consultation” meetings which included HIE staff members Keith Bryers and Susan Smith.   Here is an example:

Its worth reading the second main paragraph of the email to note the response to the criticism of the mess at Cairngorm last summer which was extensively covered on parkswatch – it may have been discussed but every little was then done about it!

The problems with lack of transparency and misrepresentation at HIE go very deep.   I had also asked HIE for the minute of the April HIE Board Meeting which approved the £4million loan to Natural Retreats but this is still not on their website.  How the £4m (see here) could be agreed by the Board when Charlotte Craig, the Acting Chief Executive, claims in her letter above that “the outcomes postulated in the Business Plan are not finalised or certain of certain”  is difficult to understand and I believe should be a matter of great public concern.   The failure of governance is even worse because the Board know Cairngorm Mountain must be trading at a large loss (see quote below) and should also be aware that Natural Assets Investment Ltd which owns them are effectively bankrupt, so then to approve a loan without an agreed business plan seems quite extraordinary.

 

The minutes of the February HIE meeting have now been published (unlike other public authorities there appear to be no Board Papers in the public realm)  and contain this reference to Cairngorm:

 

At Cairngorm, HIE staff were continuing to work very closely with operating company Natural Retreats, which was suffering from a complete lack of any significant snowfall to date during the 2016/17 winter season. Building local engagement through stakeholder relations remained a key area of focus. A revised masterplan for Cairngorm Mountain Ltd was expected to be presented to the HIE Board in June.

 

Ignore the misrepresentations to the Board – what local engagement to build stakeholder relations has taken place?  – companies don’t have masterplans, only business plans.  A masterplan would be for Cairngorm, not Cairngorm Mountain Ltd.  Perhaps this is an error in the minute but unless there is after all a masterplan, it looks like the business plan was due to be completed in June but for some reason was approved by HIE, incomplete, in April.   If this is the case HIE need to explain why.

 

Keen readers, who read all of Charlotte Craig’s letter, will have noted that HIE are, in response to my FOI,  refusing to divulge the business plan for Cairngorm on the basis that it contains “commercial information that is not publicly available and the disclosure of which would harm the legitimate economic interests of Natural Retreats” and that there is “no public interest in Natural Retreats’ competitors being given access to confidential business information” .     I think this is totally wrong and will appeal.  The public interest is surely in knowing why the business plan is so good that  HIE are prepared to commit a further £4m of public money to Natural Retreats when Cairngorm Mountain Ltd, in the 9 months till December 2015 (see here for full analysis), made an operating loss of £1,219,606 and ended up with net liabilities of £1,316,645.  To make matters even more risky at the end of the same period its parent company, Natural Assets Investment Ltd, had net liabilities of £22,831,678.    Just what is the public justification for lending public money to a company that  only continues to function due to guarantees from its ultimate owner, the hedge fund manager, David Michael Gorton?

 

What needs to happen

 

  • The HIE Board need to get a handle on what staff are presenting to them about Natural Retreats and the plans at Cairngorm
  • Charlotte Craig, the Acting Chief Executive, needs to get a handle on what staff are doing and writing in her name.
  • HIE needs to explain why its lending £4m to a company that appears effectively bankrupt and whose business plan has not been finalised.
  • Audit Scotland should start asking some of these questions
Photomontage of Option 1 for proposed redevelopment of Ptarmigan.  As well as the raised viewing tower, note the glass viewing area added to  design

I understand that Natural Retreats were not happy last week that their proposals for Cairngorm were obtained through Freedom of Information (see here).   As John Hutchison pointed out on twitter in response to my post, the secrecy at Cairngorm rather undermines – or perhaps reinforces the need for! –  the current Scottish Government consultation onengaging with local communities on decisions about land (see here).     While the draft guidance states there is no need for additional consultation where statutory consultation is required, it appears Natural Retreats and HIE are planning to submit a bog standard planning application without any specific consultation with the local community, let alone with the recreational community or conservation organisations, as would be required if a proper masterplan was developed.    No change then to the way HIE has always operated at Cairngorm, plans are developed in secret and then presented as agreed.

 

More development, high up on Cairngorm, is totally inappropriate

 

Design Option 2 for the Ptarmigan

 

Before considering why HIE are pushing the development of the Ptarmigan, its worth stating clearly why the proposal is fundamentally flawed:

 

  • Its near the summit of Cairngorm, one of our finest and best known hills.  Its not the sort of place where a National Park, whose mission is to protect our finest landscapes, should be allowing further development.
  • HIE and Natural Retreats will doubtlessly argue that the increased visual impact created by their proposals will not be that significant, but the job of the National Park should be to see that existing impacts are reduced, not increased.
  • In tourist terms, Cairngorm is covered in cloud for much of the time so why would anyone take a train up to near the summit to see…………….. nothing?   The concept is all wrong.  If you want to get people to take trains or gondolas up mountains, they need to finish somewhere with a view.  In Scotland, this means taking people half way up the hill where they might get a view most days of the year, like the Aonach Mor gondola, not onto the Cairngorm plateau.
  • Most tourists, however,  want more than a view, which after all you can see easily enough on film.  They want to experience the outdoors in some way, which means a walk.  Leaving aside the legal agreement, which prevents non-skiers from leaving the stop station, Cairngorm is not a good place for a walk most of the time – the weather is just too wild, though maybe Natural Retreats think will buy a ticket up the funicular so they can be blown about on a viewing platform.  Of course, Cairngorm in fine weather is wonderful, which is why so many people care about the place, but those days are far to few to support mass tourism developments high on the mountain

 

For these reasons further developments high on Cairngorm are objectionable in principle, something which conservation and recreational organisations have been trying to tell HIE for over twenty years.

 

Why do HIE and Natural Retreats want to develop the Ptarmigan?

 

While its not clear at present why the earlier plans to develop the Day Lodge were dropped, the current proposals suggest this is all about the funicular.   The risk of developing the Day Lodge into a visitor and conference centre is that on those wet and cloudy days, people would not have bothered to buy a ticket up the funicular.

 

The funicular was supposed to increase the number of summer visitors to Cairngorm but Natural Retreats figures (from last year) say it all:  “210,000 annual visitors (120,000 in winter and 90,000 in summer) with vast potential to increase”.    The aim of the new Ptarmigan development appears to be to try and attract more summer visitors to Cairngorm.:

Extract from slide obtained through FOI “Cairngorm Mountain Resort Development Plans”

 

The initial plan was to increase visitor numbers through the creation of three mountain bike trails down from the funicular top station, as mooted in press.   However, it appears the other public agencies made it clear they would not relax the legal agreement preventing people from leaving the top station.  This is not surprising. One could hardly justify mountain bikers  leaving the stop station while pedestrians were stuck inside.

Advice from SNH obtained through FOI

Once the mountain biking proposal was dropped, the only option was to try and think of ways of turning the Ptarmigan into a tourist attraction which visitors would want to visit even though they were unlikely to see anything and would not be allowed out for a walk.   Hence the proposals for viewing towers in the top two photomontages and for a wrap around viewing platform added on to the existing building (purple area below):

This and following slides all from documents entitled “Cairngorms Mountain Resort Development Plans” obtained through FOI

And, in order to give people an “authentic” taste of the outdoors, a board walk out over the top of the funicular tunnel was proposed:

 

Inside, the idea is first to provide a visitor attraction:

 

 

Then, a much larger cafe so people have somewhere to go and spend money after viewing the exhibitions.

 

And finally, to encourage people arriving at Cairngorm to buy the ticket up the funicular, a partial facelift for the funicular entrance and funicular itself are proposed:

 

Why the proposals are misguided and what needs to happen

Whatever you think of the designs – and the firms that have developed them, 365 and 442, have some very skilled people – the problem is they are for a development in the wrong place:

 

  • Adding glass covered walkways and viewing towers to a visitor facility is a good idea but not appropriate for Cairngorm
  • The proposals for the exhibition may be interesting, but the place for a visitor centre is lower down the mountain, where people can go out afterwards and experience some of what has been shown as in Coire cas.
  • The blingy funicular upgrade might be a great idea for Blackpool but not Cairngorm

 

The basic problem is that HIE are still hooked on trying to increase funicular numbers in summer, still trying to make their asset pay.  They don’t appear to understand most people who visit the National Park in summer want to be outside.  Why would such people ever want to take the funicular when they have the whole of Glenmore to experience?   A visitor centre might be a good option for a wet day but a visitor centre up the top of a mountain on a wet day will be a disappointing experience.

 

Maybe HIE has conducted proper visitor surveys providing evidence that lots of people visiting Glenmore would pay to visit such a facility and this has informed their decision to lend £4 to Natural Retreats – but somehow I doubt it (I will ask).   Consultation is not HIE’s forte.

 

A little early engagement with all interests (and not just public authorities) – as recommended by the Scottish Government – would prevent HIE adding to the financial disaster of the funicular, for which it of course was responsible.

 

Meantime, there is no sign of any proper plan being developed for Cairngorm.  HIE was tasked under the Glenmore and Cairngorm Strategy with producing a Cairngorm Estate Management Plan – there is still no sign of this or the proposed Montane Woodland Project on Cairngorm and in my view both should have been agreed BEFORE any development proposals.    The Cairngorms National Park Authority also asked Natural Retreats to produce a set of standards to guide their operations on the mountain and there has been no sign of this either.

 

Its time for the Cairngorms National Park Authority to start speaking up for Cairngorm and a first step would be to ask Natural Retreats and HIE to start consulting on all the other proposed plans before any development proposals are considered.  If they are also feeling brave, they could  point out to HIE and Natural Retreats that the priority for sustaining the local economy is maintaining winter visitor numbers, not summer visitors.

Thanks to the reader who submitted this to Parkswatch

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

 

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

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

SPG map

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

 

Visitors and visitor management at Balmaha

 

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

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

 

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

SPG diagram

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Developments in Balmaha

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What needs to happen

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Photo Credit Nick Halls

And there is yet more fly tipping down the bank.

 

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

 

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

Photo taken 5/5/17                                                                          Nick Kempe

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

What needs to happen

 

  • The LLTNPA needs to develop a proper litter strategy, as it promised to do several years ago and has never delivered – there is no mention of this commitment in the new Partnership Plan.  Without a co-ordinated plan, its target, to see a reduction of litter in the National Park over the next five years, is meaningless and will never be met.
  • The LLTNPA also needs to start telling the truth.  In the new Partnership Plan the LLTNPA claims “Much public investment has already been targeted in raising the quality of visitor facilities in the  busiest areas improving car parks, toilets, information points, litter facilities, viewpoints and campsites”.   Yes, its spent money on carparks, viewpoints and campsites – whether this has been well spent is a separate issue – but litter facilities and toilets??   So what is the gap between what is needed and what is provided?  The Partnership Plan is completely silent.   The LLTNPA continues to avoid the real issues facing the National Park.
Photomontage of option 1 for Ptarmigan contained in undated Cairngorm Mountain; Pre-planning feasibility document

After Highlands and Enterprise announced a masterplan had been agreed for Cairngorm, without actually releasing any details of its proposals (see here), I asked for these under Freedom of Information.  I was refused (see here) and on 24th April I submitted a formal review request as required under Freedom of Information procedures.  Meantime, a number of other FOI requests were submitted to other Public Authorities about what information they held about the proposals for Cairngorm and the first response was from Scottish Natural Heritage (well done SNH!).  Along with the response letter  were  over 20 MB of documents.

 

The information SNH has provided shows that HIE’s claim that “the CML Master Plan is commercially sensitive and cannot be published at this time” is complete rubbish.  There is NO commercially sensitive information in the document but HIE’s usual modus operandi is secrecy.  It appears HIE’s  main concern is to keep consultation about the proposals it has developed with Natural Retreats as limited as possible and to try and stitch up a deal with other public agencies before any consultation takes place.     This is wrong.

 

Its still not possible from the FOI material to tell exactly what is being proposed at Cairngorm and, I am pretty certain, SNH and the other public authorities don’t know either.  This is evidenced by an extract from a letter from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to Highland Council dated 17th March 2017:

 

The revised masterplan mentioned in the SEPA letter appears to refer to a brochure produced by Natural Retreats (one of several)  which contains this photomontage, again undated:

Spot the difference with the earlier version below:

Yes, the label to the green line has been removed but not the line itself!

 

HIE in their press release on 12th April announcing the “agreed masterplan” for Cairngorm, focused entirely on the Ptarmigan and Dry ski slope and made no mention of a funicular tunnel boardwalk, the shieling garage extension or changes to the car park contained in the “revised masterplan”. Its not clear therefore whether these are now being proposed or not.

Location of mountain boardwalk as contained within earlier version of the “masterplan”

What does appear to have happened though is that proposals to develop mountain bike trails across Cairngorm have been dropped, for the time-being at least:

 

Having debriefed after the meetings we have decided to drop any plans for Mountain Biking
from this masterplan which leaves our current plans focussing on the artificial ski slope and
improvements to the Ptarmigan (email from Natural Retreats 26th October 2016)

 

Diagrams of what was being considered did appear in earlier versions of the “Masterplan brochures” produced by Natural Retreats:

 

The pre-planning feasibility document is focussed on the two new developments announced by HIE, an extension to the Ptarmigan and a dry ski slope, which suggests it is the most up to date document about what is being proposed.  It also contains a statement which suggests that HIE and Natural Retreats are no longer proposing any proper masterplan as such:

 

Now normally a masterplan would require an Environment Impact Assessment – Flamingo Land is producing one for Balloch (see here)  – so no EIA, no masterplan.    HOWEVER, the screening response referred to is NOT on the Highland Council Planning portal although there is a decision letter dated 24th February 2016 screening opinion coire cas,  which contains this statement (the capitals are as per the letter) which is very clear:

 

Screening Opinion

It is considered that Environmental Impact Assessment IS required for the development described in the letter and information accompanying your screening request.

 

I hope that the Cairngorms National Park Authority will support this and insist a proper Environmental Impact Assessment is submitted before any planning applications are considered but also that a plan is produced for the whole mountain.  What needs to be avoided is a situation where Natural Retreats and HIE come back with additional proposals, such as mountain bike trails, at a later date.  There needs to be a comprehensive plan for Cairngorm.

 

One thing the material does show is that whatever is actually being proposed,  the “project” its well behind schedule:

 

 

I will cover the proposed new developments – which are to be financed through a £4m loan from HIE in detail in a future post.  Meantime here is a photomontage of the design and location of the proposed dry ski slopes (there is also a green option).   Comments welcome!

Cairngorm Mountain: pre-planning feasibility document
The flat headland opposite Ledard House, at the start of the southern path to Ben Venue.  Proposed campsite was to be located right of photo

That campsites can become “political” issues is demonstrated in Strathard where Fergus Wood, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board Member, lost his Council seat on 4th May (see here).  On 11th May he withdrew his planning application for a new campsite by the shores of Loch Ard on Ledard Farm (see here).

 

The Interests of Board Members of the LLTNPA

 

The day before I received a very interesting letter from the LLTNPA EIR 2017-039 Response Ledard farm refusing to disclose correspondence between the National Park and Fergus Wood about this application.   The reasons cited for this are “commercial confidentiality” and data protection:

 

Correspondence in relation to pre-planning requests for advice typically includes personal information and information that in its nature relates to commercial interests of an individual or business. The provision of a pre-application advice service helps in the delivery of an effective planning system, and it is important that such advice is provided confidentially. The practice of providing confidential pre-application advice to all planning applicants as required is common place across Scottish planning authorities and prospective planning applicants engage in the pre-application advice process with a reasonable and legitimate expectation of confidentiality
.

Note how the LLTNPA avoids saying whether the application contains personal information or commercial interests in this case.   In fact, if there was personal information such as phone numbers on correspondence, normal practice is simply to redact this.  Moreover, the fact there are commercial interests behind most planning applications is not the same as saying this is “commercial” information which might be exempt under our Freedom of Information laws.   While the public may not expect every piece of correspondence they have with the National Park or other public authorities to be publicly available, Fergus Wood is not an ordinary member  of the public but a Board Member.  What should be important in terms of ethical standards in public life is there is complete transparency where Board Members make planning applications.  Indeed the Scottish Government and Cosla has issued guidance on this http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0044/00444959.pdf.  

Procedures should be conducted in a consistent and transparent manner to avoid
suspicions that councillors may have prejudiced their positions

 

While this statement was written about councillors taking the decision, rather than making an application, the principle should apply to both.  Its quite clear the LLTNPA does not understand this at all:

 

“This individual would have had no expectation that correspondence regarding a proposed business development would be released into the public domain.”

 

The problem is there has been no transparency, Fergus Wood managed to fail to declare he was a Board Member when making the application, failed to engage with people (including neighbours who objected to the application) and he paid for this locally.   Local people do not like the way this case has been handled.    I am pretty certain the Park’s response to the information request will only make them even more suspicious should Fergus Wood submit a new application once he has stepped down from the LLTNPA Board.

While the Plan for the campsite was in name Mrs F Wood, the application was in both names, and the Code of Conduct for the National Park requires members to be transparent about the interests of their spouses/partners

 

 

Context for the objections to the Ledard Farm campsite planning application

 

There is a shortage of campsites in the National Park and, as been stated in previous posts, its positive that Fergus Wood, as a Board Member, has been prepared to cater for campers, if not in his backyard at least in view of his front garden.

Ledard Farm, home of Fergus Wood, just across the B829 from the proposed campsite

The unprecedented number objections to this planning application can, I believe, be accounted for by the camping byelaws.  The Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs, who rightly have long been arguing the need for new campsites across the National Park, in their letter of support for this application said they did so because it would make “a positive contribution to the Your Park Initiative”.   The problem in Strathard, however, is “Your Park”, the contorted “vision” the LLTNPA has for camping.

 

As partial compensation for the camping ban across most of the lochshores in the National Park, the LLTNPA needed to show it was doing something.  It therefore promised 300 new places to Scottish Ministers but to help meet this promised  decided with Forestry Commission Scotland to develop a campsite on Loch Chon, a little further west along Strathard, where very few people had previous camped.  The local community made representations about people being encouraged into the area without suitable infrastructure (the narrow road, supervision of the campsite etc) which the LLTNPA in its usual way said would all be addressed.    What’s become clear in the last couple of  months is that most of the re-assurances the LLTNPA made about that development are meaningless:  the Park has failed to adhere to its own planning conditions and just a couple of weeks ago I found out that the warden appointed to supervise the site had left and a Ranger was driving in each day, a one hour trip, to manage the campsite (and presumably provide the bottled water which was needed because the water supply had failed – as predicted (see here).

 

So, the context to the large number of planning objections to the Ledard Farm campsite was that local people were worried that large numbers of irresponsible campers – and the LLTNPA has spent the last three years selling a myth to local communities that campers account for all the ills in the National Park – would all end up around Kinlochard at the Loch Chon and Ledard farm campsites.  These places being where people could still camp in the National Park and far more attractive for camping than the “permit zones” on Forest Drive (see here).   Had Fergus Wood taken up local concerns about the Loch Chon proposal, and used these to inform his own proposals, he might have avoided the backlash.   Like other Board Members, however, it appears he had become complacent because all the complaints to the Scottish Government had fallen on deaf ears and he therefore believed the National Park could continue to bulldoze through whatever it liked.   He had forgotten about democracy, the unfair consequence of which in this case is only that the Tory Councillor and LLTNPA Board Member Martin Earl, who like Fergus Wood endorsed the ill-thought out Loch Chon campsite, appears to have benefitted at the SNP’s expense.

 

Merits of the objections to the Ledard Farm campsite

 

Despite this context, very few of the objections to the Ledard campsite application (see here) appeared based on NIMBYISM and most in my view were well argued.  Here are some of the main points made:

 

  • People referred to the Development plan context (which was also ignored at Loch Chon) stating that the size of the development was too large for the area
  • People pointed out that the development was on a flood plain – contrary to National Park policy
  • People argued that because of the open landscape character of the lochshore it would be much more appropriate to site a campsite on the north side of the A827.
  • People were concerned about an influx of campervans along a narrow road (a concern that is now probably unwarranted as its become clearer the LLTNPA will be unable to enforce the camping byelaws against campervans and there is little risks therefore of large numbers being driven into Strathard).
  • People were concerned about increased light pollution at night (the LLTNPA keeps promoting dark skies)

 

What the objections add up to is that this was a tourist development in the wrong place – I have to say that I tend to agree.  While in many ways the planning application was positive (provision for staff to stay on site)  it was still a development and would have introduced a high profile building close to the lochshore in a open situation:

 

 

 

There are plenty of better places for campsites in Strathard and if, as is rumoured, Fergus Wood intends to re-submit a planning application for a campsite once he has stood down from the LLTNPA Board, location will be all important.   I would hope that both recreational and local interests would welcome a campsite in the right place.

 

A wider plan for the area

 

While Fergus Wood’s proposed campsite has created massive controversy, on the other side on Ben Venue, the LLTNPA  consented on 3rd May to a small new campsite at Trossachs Pier, at the east end of Loch Katrine, just outside the camping management zone (see here for planning application).    There were just two representations against the proposal demonstrating that local communities are not against all developments, but this one is small and located in woodland.  It includes water and electric hook ups and an effluent disposal point for campervans in the car park, upgrade of public toilets to include shower/wet room, 8 low cost camping pitches and 8 camping pods.

 

The trustees of the SS Walter Scott (who include the chair of Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs, James Fraser, who like me is on the Committee of the Scottish Campaign for National Parks), who made the application, have developed the proposal from its initial concept in a short period of time and also raised the funds to build it.   This  puts the LLTNPA to shame and highlights their failure to deliver all the basic campsites they had promised to deliver in the Trossachs as part of the 5 Lochs Management Plan (which now effectively appears to have been dumped) (see here)

 

There is now the potential to develop a network of small campsites around Loch Katrine and Strathard which would enable people to make more use of the cycling and walking routes there.

Path which runs parallel to shores Loch Arklet between Inversnaid and Loch Katrine by Corriearklet

The path which was created to connect Inversnaid to Stronachlachar Pier, at the west end of Loch Katrine, is sadly unused and the camping byelaws (which takes in all the land between the path and the Loch despite the small numbers of people who ever camped here – its even more remote than Loch Chon)   make it useless for backpackers who don’t want to risk becoming criminals.  Meantime while Stronachlachar Pier is just outwith the camping management zone, campers are not welcome:

 

While this is yet another unlawful no camping sign in the National Park, the request is not unreasonable.   What is needed is a sign which directs people to a good camping spot locally.

 

If there was a small basic campsite at Stronlachar or Loch Arklet, this would create a network of  campsites in the west Trossachs (in addition to those at Trossachs Pier, Loch Chon and maybe in future Ledard Farm) which would allow lots of opportunities for short backpacking and cycle tours, for example at weekends.  In my view that is what the National Park should be about and I would hope that people in the local community would agree.

What needs to be done in Strathard?

 

The basic problem in Strathard is that the LLTNPA has tried to impose ill-thought out proposals which suit its agend but no-one else.  Fergus Wood has paid a price for that.   Strathard was never included in the 5 Lochs Management Plan but I believe what is needed first and foremost is a visitor management plan for the whole area.   Unfortunately, the LLTNPA instead of building on the  work for the rest of the Trossachs started by Grant Moir, now Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Kevin Findlater, former Chief Inspector with the police and others, has let that go and has nothing to replace it.   Visitor Infrastructure and management is therefore a shambles with all resources being diverted to policing the unenforceable camping byelaws.

 

The way forward therefore is the creation of a stakeholder group for Strathard – which in my view should be independent of the Park Authority who at present cannot be trusted on anything but be supported by it (in terms of staff time and resources) – whose mission should be to develop a plan for Strathard.   Such a group needs to consider the infrastructure and other issues identified by local residents as well as wider interests.

 

I would hope that such a plan included the following as starters:

  • proposals to develop a network of small campsites linking across the area (within which any proposal for a new campsite at Ledard farm could be judged)
  • the potential to introduce public transport at weekends and holidays (using school buses) to enable some increase in visitor numbers without encouraging more traffic
  • a reduction in the number of formal pitches at Loch Chon (which would be easy to achieve since many are already being overrun by vegetation) and abandonment of the current rules banning campervans from staying in the carpark or tents from pitching by the lochshore
Mid Glen Falloch, viewed from shoulder of An Caisteal.  The area It is now a mass of tracks, leading to hydro dams.  Foreground Allt Andoran, far right Eas Eonan and left background start of track up Allt a Chuillinn.  The hydro powerhouse is centre background, Derrydarroch to the right.

On 6th May, during the very dry spell, I went for another walk over An Caisteal and Ben a Chroin, almost a year to the day after a similar round The Glen Falloch hydro schemes (2) (with several visits in-between).   The walk provided yet more evidence of why Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority staff should never have approved these tracks (which in the original planning application consented to by the Scottish Government were to be removed) but also about the poor standards of restoration.    This is a disaster for a National Park whose 2012-17 Partnership Plan, which is supposed to guide everything it does,  starts with the statement that:

 

“we want the National Park to be an internationally-renowned landscape”.  

 

How does what the LLTNPA have allowed to happen in Glen Falloch contribute to that?    In the draft Partnership Plan 2018-23 which is now out for consultation (see here) it is telling that there is no evaluation of how successful the LLTNPA has been in achieving this aim.

The first Allt a Chuillinn intake centre, the other two intakes are beyond track you can see bottom left

Previously, I have stated that in my view the restoration of the ground in which the pipelines have been buried has generally successful and little  cause for concern with it often being quite difficult to make out the line of the pipelines.    While I believe that is still sometimes the case, the long dry spell has accentuated the differences in vegetation and its easy to see the landscape scars (above centre).   The land may take longer to recover than I had thought.

 

Allt Andoran Track 8th May 2016

Comparing the photo above (taken a year ago on a day with far less good visibility) with the first photo in the post taken a year later, you can see that the ground above the pipeline has recovered to an extent but has a long way to go.   The track itself, despite the vegetation down the middle, looks little different and forms a permanent landscape scar.

Close up of Eas Eonan track, showing poor restoration of the temporary access track that led to blue pipe over West Highland Line (centre left)

 

The Eas Eonan hydro track leads into an area of core wild land.  The new draft Park Plan states:

 

“The National Park provides opportunities for anyone to have their first experience of the ‘wild outdoors” 

 

There is nothing in the plan about how the National Park, through all the developments it has approved, has eroded that experience in the last five years.  Perhaps the  National Park Board and senior management team believe walking up a bulldozed track is a wild experience?    Its becoming harder and harder to have a wild experience in the National Park because of decisions made by the LLTNPA.  Removal of the tracks, as originally planned, would have preserved some of that.

Lower reaches of Coire Earb by the Upper Falloch, Beinn Odhar and Ben Dorain in background

Coire Earb is wild, and indeed falls within a core wild land area.   While there was an existing track by the upper reaches of the River Falloch, this ended 1 km before the new hydro dam and formerly was out of sight when you were descending the glen.   The decision by LLTNPA staff to allow the track to remain permanently has changed the experience totally.

The new section of track. The line of the pipeline is now more visible than it was a year ago.

Would not the hydro here have had far less impact on the landscape if the track has been removed as originally planned?

The Upper Glen Falloch hydro close up

May 2017
May 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The approval of the LLTNPA to the track extension to the hydro being retained has made it easier for the Glen Falloch Estate to drive vehicles off-road further up the glen.   A year ago (right) there was no evidence of vehicles being driven beyond the intake, now there are vehicle tracks beside it which are destroying the ground that was restored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vehicles are also being driven off the track with no regard for soil or vegetation.  The consequence is the track is in places likely to end up being 5-7m wide instead of the 2.5m (and 3m on steep hills and bends) which the LLTNPA recommends in its “award winning” good practice guidance which it has never enforced.

 

The reason for this is that the LLTNPA has basically allowed a new wide track to be created to construct the hydro scheme but then allowed the batters (see diagram below) to remain in place with minimum attempts to re-landscape the flat surface of the track (a little bit of soil and peat has just been added to the outside edge of the track).  The result is that its very easy for vehicles to drive off the track while in landscape terms the track is still effectively 5-7m broad in most places.

Photo showing how original attempt to cover former track surface is failing, with former surface of construction track being revealed as turf has been eroded by cattle.

The design of the track together with the erosion caused by vehicles and cattle have had the result that in most places there is actually now less peaty soil by the track than there was a year ago (see above).

 

The failure to re-landscape the former road surface so that the remaining track moulds into the contours of the land has also made it easy for the estate to create new parking or working areas which add considerably to the visual impact of the track.

 

The pre-existing track  which ended a little further up the hill, was widened for the hydro construction,  not by cutting a further batter but by importing aggregate (left) to use as fill.

There little  attempt (photo above) to shape the the fill so it merges into the contours of the land.  The result is a broad bench cutting across the hillside.  In landscape terms, the track here is in effect still 5-7m wide rather than the 2.5-3m recommended by the National Park.

The 3m mark on tape measure is just to the left of the small stone holding the tape measure in place.

Even on the better sections, the track is far wider than the LLTNPA requires.  I took my 3m tape which is here fully extended on a section of track which slopes gently downhill.  I think a 2.5m track would have been more than adequate here (and probably less as you can see from the vehicle marks) but the actual track is more like 3.5m wide.   What is the LLTNPA going to do to address this?  The wider the track of course, the more it will stand out from a distance.  There is no evidence of the central grass strips which grace the Allt Andoran track (top photo).

If there was any serious intention to narrow the upper Falloch construction track this double gate would have been removed – another illustration of just how wide this track is.

 

 

Readers who have driven up the Glen Falloch or walked there will know that the construction compound is still in place and, during my walk, there was some evidence that some further work had been undertaken to restore the destruction caused by the hydro scheme.

 

Where turf has been stored successfully, then used alongside the track and cattle have been kept off, the restoration does look better, although the protruding plastic culvert tells a tale

The restored sections however are few in comparison to those that still need attention and at this rate the track is going to take years to restore to anything like an acceptable state.  That is unacceptable in a National Park whose current Plan incidentally states (and rightly so):

The outstanding landscapes and special qualities of the Park should be protected and where possible enhanced

 

What needs to happen

 

The LLTNPA needs both to learn from the Glen Falloch disaster but also find ways to reduce the impact of what has happened.   This is not just about Glen Falloch, but the forty odd other hydro schemes in the National Park, many of which have similar impacts.  Here is my first go at a list of actions that are needed:

  1. Planning decisions that have significant landscape implications should no longer be delegated to staff but considered by the Planning Committee, as in the Cairngorms National Park Authority.
  2. The LLTNPA should commission an independent report into the Glen Falloch hydro schemes which should fully involve those who are concerned about the protection of Scotland’s landscape, which should look both at the mistakes that have been made and how they can be reversed.
  3. The new Partnership Plan needs to incorporate a meaningful landscape policy which, like the Cairngorms National Park Authority, indicates areas where there will be a presumption against development.  Unless the LLTNPA does this, the current destruction of landscape in the National Park will simply continue.
  4. The LLTNPA Board should engage with the Glen Falloch estate and develop a plan on how to remove the hydro tracks granted consent by staff.  Over the next ten years the estate will receive a huge income from the hydro schemes which could still be used, as originally intended, to remove the tracks.
  5. Where existing tracks were widened, the LLTNPA needs to ensure that all the restoration meets the standards set out in its good practice guidance.   Tracks which are broader than the maximum and unfinished culverts for example should not be tolerated.
  6. The LLTNPA should put in place measures to control the off-road use of vehicles, particularly in wild land.
  7. The LLTNPA Board and senior staff need to get out more and take a look at what is being done in their name.
The unauthorised tip/storage area at the former Fiacaill T-bar loading area in Coire Cas has grown in  size

Publicly, all has gone quiet at Cairngorm, though these photos taken last week during the dry weather tell a tale.

 

Coire Cas

Unauthorised tip at White Lady loading area
Yet more dumping and evidence of a lack of care

The promised clean up of Cairngorm does not appear to have lasted long.

Evidence of the basic lack of care by Natural Retreats, even of what is new, is not hard to find:

Buttons from new shieling rope tow, paid for by Highlands and Islands Enterprise for a cost of £82,243 left lying on the ground.

Judging by this work, the new Sunkid tow may not have been properly installed in the first place – who is paying for this, HIE or Natural Retreats who supervised the works?

About 1/3 way up the Shieling track, there is evidence of water seepage  despite the long dry spell.  In my critique of the Cairngorms National Park Committee Report which approved the retrospective planning application (see here) I raised concerns about the impact of the track on the drainage:

  • There is no attempt to describe the extent of the area where works took place in breach of the planning permission (the application was for a strip of ground 30m broad).   This is important because without a description of what has been done, the CNPA is not in a position to stipulate what remedial measures are required.
  • Related to this, there is NO description of the impacts of the works on the hydrology of the area.

It doesn’t take any expertise in hydrology to appreciate that the track has not been properly constructed – patches are soft and spongy – and will not be able to bear regular vehicle use.  Indeed the photo below shows how its continuing to erode even in a dry spell.

 

Meanwhile the CNPA’s agreement to grant planning permission to this track retrospectively has done nothing to stop Natural Retreats’ staff from driving vehicles all over the hillside causing yet more damage.

Still, on the plus side, Natural Retreats do appear to have started to repair the monoblock outside the Shieling:

You can judge the quality of the repair for yourself.

Treatment of staff

 

Meantime, this advert  appeared recently http://www.environmentjob.co.uk/adverts/64102-senior-ranger.   The Rangers were the people who have tried to repair all the damage caused by Natural Retreats at Cairngorm – I met one last year re-seeding a bulldozed area, trying his best to restore the damage caused around the Cas Gantry by the “de minimis” emergency works there. The advert describes the Senior Ranger “as an important cog in the operation of Cairngorm Mountain”.   “Cog” tells you something.

 

Natural Retreats are proposing to pay the lead person with the expertise to care for the environment at Cairngorm all of £22-24k………and its worth reading the job description for what they are expected to do, including working bank holidays and weekends for no extra pay apparently……….tells you something more about how little Natural Retreats value their staff and the environment.   While the average UK salary is now apparently £27k, wages in Scotland are lower and wages in the Cairngorms National Park lower still.

 

The contrast between what Natural Retreats pay their staff – and they have taken over the Ranger Service from HIE – and the wealth of David Michael Gorton, the man who basically owns and controls the Natural Retreats suite of companies (see here) is striking.   According to efinancial careers (see here):

 

In 2002, London Diversified [the Hedge Fund he set up] spun out on its own. Initially, it did well. In 2004, Gorton and two others are said to have shared a 55m payout and the business expanded to around 70 people.

 

Yes, you have read that right, and this was just 14 months after David Gorton and two others had setup the fund.  London Diversified was subsequently hit by the financial crisis – caused of course by the casino capitalism of the city of which it was part – and the assets it managed collapsed from $5 billion to $300m.   David Michael Gorton though would appear to remain a very rich man  being party in 2015 to a £12.5m divorce settlement (see here).

 

The disparity – gulf would be a more accurate term –  between Mr Gorton’s wealth and the low pay at Cairngorm is not accidental, its connected and a reflection of our neo-liberal capitalist times.   The rich have got richer at the expense of others.    In my view the primary purpose of the Natural Retreats suite of businesses  has nothing to do with caring for the environment or the people working at Cairngorm, its a vehicle for making money for its ultimate owner and one way that is done is by paying staff as little possible.

 

The other way is to invest as little money as possible in the environment and that is reflected in what you can still see on the ground at Cairngorm.

 

Coire na Ciste

 

The area by the former Coire na Ciste chair lift, where planning consent has now been granted to remove the abandoned buildings (and rightly so), is still a dump.

The Aonach Poma loading gantry – its been in this state for almost 7 years now

The historic neglect at Cairngorm of course is not Natural Retreats’ responsibility – its the responsibility of HIE.   There have been no planning applications to demolish or remove the other abandoned infrastructure in Coire na Ciste and, because the masterplan for Cairngorm is still secret (see here), its not clear whether there are any such plans.

Natural Retreats’ lease however covers the whole ski area, including Coire na Ciste, and while the delapidated buildings and infrastructure may be HIE’ responsibility, Natural Retreats does have responsibility for the general amenity of the area.

Collapsed snow fencing,  approaching West Wall poma upload area

Natural Retreats also has a specific responsibility for maintenance of snow fencing, though its not clear if anything has been agreed with HIE about removal and replacement of old snow fencing in Coire na Ciste.

Abandoned chairlift sheaves which have been on the ground since 2012

Again, while this has not been caused by Natural Retreats, their purchase of Cairngorm Mountain Ltd has not resulted in any improvements to the historic delapidation and rubbish in Coire na Ciste.

Windblown? pipe January 2017 Photo Credit Louis Mullen

 

 

 

However, judging by the age of this pipe, Natural Retreats appears to have added to it.   The Allt na Ciste, within the ski area, has collected all sorts of rubbish and needs a clean-up.

 

What needs to happen?

 

The secret masterplan at Cairngorm needs to be made public and there needs to be a full consultation by HIE and Natural Retreats about how to address the historic neglect at Cairngorm as a precondition to any plans for new developments.

By Ross MacBeath

This post, following previous posts on the Loch Chon campsite in Strathard (see here) and (here) for example, looks at recent damage caused to the environment at Loch Chon by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.  The photos in this post were taken before the recent dry period.

Two new vehicle tracks have been created that are not on the plans

The Plans for the campsite at  Loch Chon specifically state  that  environmental damage to the site will be kept to a minimum and anything that is likely to cause such damage will be vetted by the Environmental Clerk of Works, part of whose role is to prevent any work likely to cause unnecessary damage to the fragile environment and eco system of the ancient wood. National Park Planning conditions (click to expand)

Topsoil and Excavations

Protection of Vegetation

Protection of Ecology

That said, where was the Clerk of Works when contractors decided to access the site from the B829 main road directly onto the hillside of the development. It should have been prohibited as promised by the LLTNPA’s Chief Executive Gordon Watson, who told us at the Strathard Community Council meeting on 4th July 2016 that pitches would be hand scraped.  This lead people to believe no machinery would be used on the hillside. Instead the LLTNPA contractor has created  two new tracks, the first down the full length of the hillside to the loch side path, the second joining the first at the new path just below pitch 19. Together these machinery tracks have caused serious environmental damage to the whole ecosystem. . This is a failure of the LLTNPA and their Clerk of Works to adhere to proper procedures put in place to prevent contractors from encroaching and damaging the fragile boggy environment within the ancient wood where their development is centered..

Tract 1 from the B829 down the hillside to the shore path

The creation of these tracks by the unwarranted use of vehicles  has disrupted a long swathe of the eco system stretching  down the the entire hillside forming some deep channels encouraging water to flow down the hill and creating new water courses in the process.  What should happen is that the Planning Authority should intervene and instruct the applicant to restore these areas to their original state.   However, the National Park Authority, as the body which applied for planning permission, have not set aside vegetation for restoration works as was stipulated as a planning requirement.  So it will be interesting to see how the Gordon Watson the Chief Executive of the Planning Authority will enforce the restoration on Gordon Watson the Chief Executive of the Park Authority.  How can there be anything other than a conflict of interest in this unhealthy arrangement.

 

Vehicle Track 1:

The image on the left shows Vehicle track 1 which runs down the entire slope to the lower transverse path by the shore.

Vehicle Track 2:

The image and track on the right side continues down to the path between pitch 19 and 20, a tree has been lopped off to clear the way for vehicles to pass.

There is also evidence of minor tree damage caused by vehicles:  another broken promise by the NPA who promised to safeguard trees

 

Are contractors acting on their own or has the Clerk of Works sanctioned this damage?

 

Besides taking vehicles onto the hillside, outwith the scope of the planning permission granted, the contractors have also made modifications to the layout of the camping pitches.  It is not clear if this has been agreed with the planning department or whether the Clerk of Works, who is supposed to be the intermediary and to vet all such operations, agreed to these changes in writing.     This is because the NPA does not, following a planning decision, publish information about whether any changes have been made to the planning permission they granted, as one might expect.   So, its not clear if the paperwork exists, but if it does, why are the documents not available for inspection?

 

 

For an organisation who claim conservation drive everything they do, the NPA have failed dramatically.  It would seem the need to keep the development within budget has a far greater value than the conservation of the ecosystem they swore to protect and care for during this unwarranted development.

 

The two vehicle tracks meet just below the road then continue independently down the hillside to various locations.

 

Vehicle Track 1

The disruption to the vegetation and underlying peat structure at root level is evident.

 

Environmental Damage - Track one of two hill track running down the full slope of the hill.

 

Vehicle track 1 branches off to the top of pitch 19

 

 

At each branch, or turn of the vehicle, a more intensive area of damage is found. The major problem this creates is not limited to the scars that will take years to heal but the creation of vertical groves that will allow water to enter and move more rapidly down the hill in new channels with a danger of forming new water courses.  This poses real risk to the soils and may wash them down the hillside forming a new stream..

Looking down Hill track 1 to the transverse “high path”

 

It is clear these two tracks have been used in the construction of pitches 19 and  20, as well as the paths used to access them, and other areas at this end of the campsite. In fact track 1 continues further down the slope to the path running along the shore.  It appears the vehicle tracks are being used to deliver materials for modifications to pitch surfaces, which were unsuitable for camping,  and in the process inevitably causing more damage.

 

There appears to have been no attempt either to protect the vegetation and little if any attempt to restore the damage.

 

 

Looking down the track from above pitch 19

 

The environmental damage is easily traced by the disturbed peat and the rust coloured remains of damaged mosses deprived of their water supply due to mechanical disturbance.and the churned up peat now waterlogged in many places.  This is  causing water to flow on the surface to collect In many locations where it did not do so before.

The track at this point diverges.  The branch straight ahead crosses the new transverse path and continues downhill.  The other branch, veering off to the left of the image above, is to the corner of the path where the vegetation and ecosystem around the corner has been churned up.  This has formed a collection basin for water which flows both under, across and down the sides of the path. making the path unstable (spongy) and diverting water from the natural water course down the sides of the path.

There is also evidence here of another tree being sacrificed to allow the vehicle to pass as well as  cross contamination of materials on the path sides, which extends far beyond the specified width of the path.

The vehicle track crosses over the path and continues on downhill

 

Hill Tract 1 leaving shore path

This environmental damage should have been avoided in the first place and it is obvious that the National Parks has failed in it’s duty of care. I wonder what the National Park, as Planning Authority, will do to enforce the reinstatement of the environmental damage created by the National Park itself?

 

When you build a transverse path across the hillside, this disrupts the natural flow of water downhill, with the potential to disrupt the whole ecosystem further down the slope.   Evidence of this redirection will be covered in a future Post on paths.

 

It is clear that Hill Track 1 has been created by vehicles accessing the upper hill path and pitches  in the campsite both from the B829 road above the campsite and from the lower shore path.

Vehicle Track 2

 

Vehicle Track 2 again starts from the B829 above the site and travels down hill to the junction below the road. Track 2 then cuts off to the North side.  The impact appears slight at first (top photo).

Track 2 continues down the hillside

As the ground gets wetter the impact increases.

 

The tree in the foreground has been lopped of to allow the vehicle to pass. contravening  planning and environmental protection conditions.    Its fine apparently that the National Park and its contractors chop down trees but not if occasional rogue campers do this.

 

Hill track 2 meets up with the path between pitch 19 and 20.

 

The track has had a significant impact on the vegetation and the boogy soils within the woodland.   There is something very wrong about a National Park Authority, which is supposed to be protecting the environment and  who claim to have procedures in place to prevent such damage, have caused this damage themselves.  The NPA appear to be incapable of setting up effective damage prevention procedures even where its paying for the works and the photos show vehicles have driven around the site at  will.

 

There is now a distinct possibility that there will be follow on problems with changes to the ecosystem caused by diversion of water courses by these tracks and other LLTNPA created water channels.

Beauly Denny restoration across A9 from A889 just north of Dalwhinnie. Meall Chuaich left background.  Photo 1/5/17.

 

In my last post on the Beauly Denny restoration (see here), I referred to the apparent contradictory views on who is responsible for ensuring the land is properly restored to its original condition, a requirement of the planning consent for the powerline granted by the Scottish Government.   The  restoration of much of the ground in the Cairngorms National Park falls well short of what we should expect in a National Park (see photos).

 

A Scottish Government official had told me the Cairngorms National Park Authority is responsible for enforcing the planning condition while an officer of the CNPA had told the North East Trust that they thought the Scottish Government is responsible.     I am grateful to the reader who draw my attention to the Guidance from the Scottish Government Energy Consents and Deployment Unit (ECDU) on this topic (see here).

 

Ostensibly the Scottish Government official was right.  The Guidance states:

 

ECDU, in consultation with the relevant Planning Authority, SEPA and SNH, who will all be asked to provide regular reports to ECDU, will monitor the performance of applicants in complying with the above conditions. The discharge, compliance and enforcement of deemed planning conditions is overseen by the relevant planning authority.

 

While there are complexities to the legal position of which is the planning authority in this case, the CNPA not having full planning powers, in practice the CNPA rather than Highland Council has taken the lead on the Beauly Denny (to its credit) so I think it is clear it is responsible for enforcing the planning conditions.

 

The problem however is the Guidance makes it clear that the Scottish Government is responsible for monitoring compliance with the planning conditions.  Its difficult to see how legally CNPA could start taking enforcement action unless the Scottish Government accepted this was needed:  Scottish and Southern Electric as developer could probably block any enforcement action in court on the basis that there was no evidence that the Scottish Government as the  official monitoring body was concerned about the quality of the “restoration”.

 

So what is the position of the Scottish Government on the quality of the restoration?

 

Next pylon south from that in top photo showing poor “restoration” around the tower and along the track. From a distance some of the landscape impact is reduced because of the large areas of muirburn but is likely to become more prominent as summer progresses.

 

From what I have been able to ascertain from a Freedom of Information request to the CNPA, the Scottish Government is doing very little to monitor critically the performance of SSE.   While I might be wrong about this – I have not for example asked the SG yet for the information they hold on this – what appears to be happening is the SG are  meeting SSE without SNH and CNPA present.   Indeed CNPA were kept so far out the loop that in July 2015 the liaison process had to be explained to them by SSE 150729BDUpdateMeetingNote.

 

This is important because  the CNPA has been raising serious concerns about the standard of the restoration.   First, the then convener of the CNPA Duncan Bryden wrote to SSE outlining their serious concerns after a Board visit to the site 250615trackrestorationSSE:

 

Despite a long period of period of pre planning and preparation it does not appear to the CNPA that the methods used are commensurate with National Park sensitivities (including Natura 2000 designations), nor the high- profile nature of the works, immediately adjacent to and often highly visible from the A9, Highland main line, National Cycle Route 7  and surrounding Munros.  For example, the original vegetation and turfs have not been removed and stored in such a way as to facilitate regeneration and there has been significant soil compaction and mixing of soil horizons.

 

These concerns were reinforced by CNPA officers at the meeting in July when the asked some SSE some crucial questions:

 

Why, given that certain activities had been planned, had they not then been implemented? Why, given that this was always known to be a challenging and high profile site, and that work was going on at present were the plans for re-vegetation/restoration not at more advanced stage?

 

The response from SSE, which claims to a company with aspirations to being green and socially responsible, avoids the issues 250615trackrestorationSSE Mr D Bryden CNPA Response 26 August 2015:

The photographic evidence in my view contradicts the claim by SSE that “there have been isolated issues surrounding the separation and storage of soils” and that the whole project has been very successful.    The Scottish Government needs to test the corporate governance speak against what can be seen on the ground.

Travelling down the A9 on 1st May I took photos of almost every tower you can see from the road. The impact on soils and vegetation is not hard to see as with this pylon south of North Drumochter Lodge

 

While I have not yet been able to work out the numbers of all the pylons, in the monitoring produced in October 2016 SSE states that for almost all pylons on this section of line “Re-instatement of the soils is to an acceptable standard”.  The photos I believe show otherwise and that the CNPA was completely right to raise concerns.

 

What needs to happen

 

What’s not in the public realm at present (as far as I have been able to ascertain) is whether the  CNPA’s concerns have been submitted to the Scottish Government, and if so what the Scottish Government’s response has been.   What is needed is join up between the Scottish Government’s ECDU and the CNPA and SNH.  While a first step would be joint monitoring meetings, I think there also needs to be a joint approach to remedying what has gone wrong.

 

Meantime, at the end of April there was some good news about the impact of the Beauly Denny on the landscape in the National Park (see here).   The pylons between Aviemore and Kingussie, including those that blight the extension to the Speyside Way (see here), are being removed.  Although the CNPA did not manage to block the Beauly Denny they did achieve removal of these powerlines as a compensatory measure.   The challenge now for the CNPA (and for landscape campaigners)  is not to allow the Scottish Government to treat that welcome “compensatory improvement” as sufficient and the Beauly Denny as job done while burying their heads in the new soils that have been created at Drumochter.

Slide from the secret Board Members Briefing Session in January 2015 obtained under FOI.  This meeting took place just  prior to the special Board Meeting which approved the revised Cononish goldmine planning application – why?

Scotgold Resources Ltd are holding two “consultation” events at Tyndrum Village Hall on 10th and 24th May between 10.30 – 20.30 on new proposals for the Cononish goldmine.  Their proposals are set out in a scoping report which is now on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Park Authority Planning Portal (see here).     The Report does not contain a clear description of how the new proposals differ from those already granted planning permission or the rationale for the changes.

 

The core of the proposal however appears to be that instead of a large proportion of the waste being returned to the mine (underground waste facility in map above) and the eventual restoration of the tailings facility (within orange line  above), Scotgold is now proposing that all the waste from the mine be left outside.

 

Proposal from scoping report

 

The consequence of this, which you can see by comparing the two maps, is that the waste from the mining operation will now cover a far larger area of ground.  Instead of the orange area in the first map, about half the ground within the boundary to the mining operation contained within the red line would be covered in mine waste.     In order to make this acceptable Scotland are proposing that the waste be shaped to look like hummocky moraine (outlined in blue).

Slide from Secret Board Briefing Session January 2015

To give an idea of the potential landscape impact, its worth considering the photomontage of the temporary tailings facility in the original proposal (above).   Under the new proposal it appears waste will cover over three times the area of ground.

 

The proposal to create artifical moraine out of mine waste

 

Extract from scoping report

While the proposal to create artificial moraine appears clever, it would be a major alteration of the landscape formed by glaciers.   There is an extremely fine hummocky moraine field at the head of the Cononish Glen around Dalrigh but none below the Eas Anie, the fine waterfall just above the mine entrance – that’s not an accident.  Hummocky moraine would never have developed here, its too close to the steep sides of Beinn Chuirn.  What Scotgold is proposing therefore is totally artificial and out of place in this landscape.   Its inappropriate for a National Park created to protect the landscape.

View up River Cononish to Ben Lui. While the gold mine entrance is just out of the picture, middle right, you can see how the ground on the slopes above the farm sheds is smooth (also shown top photo).

There is nothing in Scotgold’s scoping report to say how they intend to construct moraine out of mine waste.  Moraine normally comprise blocky till set within a matrix of grit and sand which holds the landform together and has done so successfully for thousands of years.   Scotgold have said nothing about whether the mine waste would contain the right mix of material to construct artificial moraine let alone how they would do this.   Nor have they said what will happen when the Allt Eas Anie, which flows through the middle of the proposed artificial moraine field, changes course as it will at some point and starts to erode into the side of the moraine mounds.   Will the whole thing collapse or will both burn and mound be held together with concrete?

 

In the original planning consent for the mine the LLTPNA made a number of requirements in respect to waste from the mine, including:

 

“removal of all materials within the TMF [tailings management facility] and recirculation pond  (which were not won from within the TMF) which shall be returned to the underground mine in the first instance until it reaches capacity, and the remainder used to re-grade the mine platform/processing building area; and the landscaping and re-vegetation of the track from the farm to mine platform)”

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

 

In my view they should stick with those conditions and uphold the original reasons for that decision.

 

What cost our landscape?

 

Whether the LLTNPA will do so however is another matter.

 

The new proposals appear to be all about money or, more accurately, saving Scotgold money in order to make a profit for their investors (who would appear no longer to include Owen McKee, the former LLTNPA Convener of the Planning Committee (see here) at the time the original planning application was approved).  Scotgold have been running a trial, following the alteration granted to the original planning permission in January 2015 which allowed them to store waste in bags, and my guess is that from that trial they have quickly discovered that there is not enough gold in the ore to pay for their original waste storage proposals or full restoration of the land (or for the jobs that that restoration would create).   It would be much cheaper simply to leave the waste on site, hence the present proposal.

 

Its dressed up of course with a few sops to the public:

The risk is the LLTNPA will use these sops as an excuse to approve the new proposal when a planning application is submitted.     What drove LLTNPA approval of the goldmine was the promise of jobs – the lure of gold – and this is reflected in the planning permission granted for the current trial:

 

 

The question for the LLTNPA – to which I will return – is whether the creation of a few temporary jobs justifies this destruction of the landscape and whether the proposals meets the LLTNPA’s legal obligation to promote sustainable economic development.

 

The need for transparent decision making

 

The list of secret LLTNPA Board Meetings since 2010 FOI 2016-002 Appendix A list topics at Board Briefing sessions shows that the number of such meetings puts those of the Scottish Police Authority which has recently been forced to go public into the shade.  Three considered the Cononish application:   13/12/10; 20/06/11 and 19/01/15.   Just why, in the case of the January 2015 meeting, Board Members had to be briefed prior to considering the application in public, should I believe be a matter of major public concern.  While the slides, some of which are included in this post, appear quite neutral – unlike some of the Your Park slides – the real issue is what was discussed.  We will never know as no minutes are kept of these sessions.

 

If Board Members are not capable of understanding the papers put to the public meeting, there are questions about their fitness to serve on the Board.  If the briefing was not for that purpose,  the only other explanation appears to be that the Board was in effect deciding what should happen in advance, in secret.  That is wrong.  The new LLTNPA Convener, James Stuart, really does need to stop this practice and make a public declaration that it will no longer consider planning applications in secret.  If he fails to do that, the Scottish Government should step in and require the LLTNPA to do so.

 

The other problem with the LLTNPA’s failures in terms of transparency is illustrated by the Owen McKee case.   Owen McKee had traded in Scotgold shares after consent had been given into the goldmine going ahead.   The LLTNPA conducted a sham investigation into what happened (see here for example) which concluded that the basis of that planning decision had not been undermined by Owen McKee’s actions.   The unanswered question is the degree to which Owen McKee, as Planning Convener, influenced other members to reverse their previous decision to refuse the goldmine application as inappropriate for a National Park because he hoped personally to profit from this at some time in the future.   Its quite possible of course that Owen McKee never thought of buying Scotgold shares until after the planning consent had been granted although its probably impossible to answer this question now.   The LLTNPA however never even asked the question which suggests that there were other agendas present.  If so, those may still be relevant to how the new proposal is determined.

 

The public should be very sceptical about the whole planning process.  As a start the LLTNPA should make public on its website all the information from the secret meetings which considered the Cononish application – the slides published above are not on the Park’s website – and the monthly monitoring reports which Scotgold has been required to provide since the current “trial” started.

Most people want to conserve the countryside but is what Ralia Estate means by “conserving the countryside” compatible with a National Park? (see below)

 

On Wednesday evening I went to have another look at the northern section of the access track which had been created for the construction of the Beauly Denny powerline and which was due to be restored last year (see here).  Its situated on the east side of the A9 behind the tree shelter belt and opposite the southern turn off to Dalwhinnie.

The north end of the track, which is blighted by a so-far unrestored large turning area

That post resulted in the North East Mountain Trust, who had been concerned about the original planning application, taking the matter up with the Cairngorms National Park Authority.   It transpires that the Estate had been involved in lengthy discussions with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency about the details of how they were going to restore the track, missed the deadline and the CNPA has now extended it until the end of 2017.    There was provision for this under the conditions attached to the planning consent which lasts until February 2018.    Unfortunately there are still no details of this on the CNPA planning portal (see here) where the last available document is dated July 2015.  If you are a member of the public, therefore,  not only does it appear that the estate has failed to restore the track within the deadline but also that the National Park has done nothing about this.   The CNPA is letting itself down and, I believe, making planning enforcement much harder for itself because of this lack of transparency.

 

 

The CNPA did though state to NEMT  that, should the Estate fail to restore the track as per the planning permission it granted by the Park Authority, once the CNPA planning permission lapses the ground would  need to be completely restored, as per the Section 37 Electricity Act consent for the Beauly-Denny.  They said the Scottish Government would be responsible for enforcing this. (I am unclear how this can be reconciled with earlier advice I received from the Scottish Government that  “In relation to the enforcement of conditions on planning consent, this is primarily the responsibility of the relevant planning authority, i.e. the planning authority within whose area the development is taking place”).   If it comes to that, four years will have been lost in which this land could have been restored properly to the benefit of both landscape and wildlife.     Funny how delays in our planning system are always portrayed as being the fault of planning authorities when in fact by far the biggest delays and created by developers/landowners.

Tower 125 just beyond the end of the track. There is a patch, just behind the tower, where vegetation is recovering, unlike the scar in the middle distance

Meantime, the Scottish Government is even less transparent – one rule for local government, another for national government – and removes planning applications it approves from the public realm.  There is therefore no convenient means for the public to find out how the restoration of the Beauly Denny is going.  I resorted to a FOI request to the CNPA about what information they held and was – again very helpfully – provided with information about the restoration of land under the 76 towers and approx 28km of track that are within the National Park boundary.

Extract from SSE monitoring report October 2016. The Drumochter track is 25a and the FT reference is short for the Fort Augustus to Tummel section and followed by the number on the tower.

According to SSE most of the restoration for which it is still responsible is going well – or rather is “of an acceptable standard”.  I think the photos show otherwise, as does a report the CNPA’s peatland officer in 2015  (see here) – well done him and the CNPA.     What the papers, which I will come back to in further posts, show is that SSE is just hoping all the destruction which it caused will regenerate naturally, whereas the CNPA and SNH are concerned whether this is going to happen.    The problem is the CNPA appears to have very little power to make SSE do anything – although if it went public with its concerns that I think would make a significant difference.

Photo of ground north of tower 125. Stones have been mixed with soil and insufficient turf retained to resurface the whole. To make matters worse clumps of turf have simply been dumped on along with stones on the surface.

So why has Ralia estate taken over the burden of restoring the land from SSE?

 

 

The amount of work – and therefore cost – in meeting the approved design plans for the track are considerable.   The 4.7 km of track needs to be reduced from its current width of 5-7m to 3m.

So much aggregate has been imported to construct the track that even where turves have been properly stored, re-landscaping will be a real challenge.   The planning permission granted by the CNPA specifies that excess materials will be removed, which would make landscaping considerably easier – a great requirement but will the estate do it?

 

The job will not be made any easier because so much of the temporary construction work was so poor.   If this track is to be halved in width, so will the drainage pipes.

Bizarrely, among all the protuding pipes, there was one example of a culvert which had been properly finished – at both ends too!   Unfortunately, the track here was even wider than normal, 7m rather than 5m, and at least one of the finished culverts will need be ripped out if the track is to be reduced in width to 3m.    If this work was done by SSE, one wonders why?  If by the Estate, that would suggest they are intending to keep the track at its current width, contrary to planning requirements.

The reason why the estate wanted to retain the track though quickly became apparent.  It makes it much easier for the gamekeepers to manage animal traps or, from their viewpoint, “to conserve the countryside”.   This was the first time I had seen a live bird in a Larsen trap in 100s of visits to the hills (not a coincidence, they are usually tucked away like this) and I found it quite distressing but then I see crows as beautiful creatures, one of the most intelligent of all birds, and not pests.   The crow was hopping up and down and beating its wings against the side of the trap – that’s what’s meant to happen, it attracts other crows wishing to defend their territory.    All my instincts were to free it but that, I recalled somewhere, is a criminal offence.

The ostensible purpose of Larsen traps is that the flapping crow (or other corvid) attracts others which are then lured into one of the two traps.    In Scotland only hens’ eggs or bread are allowed as  bait (as here).  The theory and use of these traps from the landowner viewpoint is set out in guidance from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (see here).     The trap in the photos appeared to meet all animal welfare requirements about provision of water, food and a perch for roosting at night.   While Scotland has stricter requirements than England on the use of these traps, under General License under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, it seems to me there is question about whether this General License should extend to National Parks.

 

While the GWCT claim there is little evidence of raptors being caught in such traps and that live traps such as this allow protected birds to be released,  that claim needs to be taken with a pinch of salt given the level of persecution of raptors on grouse moors.  Why would estates ever report if hen harriers, say, were found in such traps?  Maybe I am unobservant, or always unfortunate in my timing, but while there were large numbers of grouse about (and some song thrush, pied wagtail and wheatear) there was not a sign of a hen harrier.

 

What was clear was that the estate was trapping anything else that might prey on grouse.   The tracks make maintenance of such traps easier for estate staff.

 

A  multi-catch cage trap was located slightly further away from the track – as recommended by GWCT – part of the reason being to avoid the public coming into them while in use and becoming distressed.  What is clear to me is the CNPA, by granting planning permission, for the retention of this track has made it much easier for estate staff to trap and kill anything that is perceived as a threat to red grouse.  The CNPA talks about the need for balance between competing interests, but in terms of species there is no balance.  Everything is about increasing numbers of red grouse.

Ralia estate: Grouse shooting in Inverness-shire

While as the link shows, the numbers of grouse at Ralia have increased dramatically, what is not reported is the numbers of other species that predate on them.

 

The CNPA’s consent to Ralia Estate retaining this section of track appears to have had little impact on their off-road use of vehicles.     Indeed, Ralia estate appears to be creating further tracks without any planning permission.

The track that has been developed along the line of grouse butts on the north side of the Allt Coire nan Cisteachan.    The installation of a water bar means, I believe, that this counts as a constructed track and should have had full planning permission – its purpose, along the line of grouse butts is only too clear and has nothing to do with agriculture (where developments only require “prior notification”).

The track, as you can see far right, runs up in front of the grouse butts

 

New track, running up south side of Allt Coire na Cisteachan and branching off track used by many walkers to access A Bhuidheanach

The constructed nature of the track on the south side of the burn is even more obvious and to an appalling standard (I will report it to the National Park).  Although the newly “constructed” section is short,  its intention is clearly to enable vehicle access up the hillside easier and yet more scars on the Drumochter.

End of the 20m section of track showing erosion created beyond

The issue at Drumochter therefore is not just about restoration of the Beauly Denny or planning permission for hill tracks and what they are then used for – although both have had major and unnecessary impacts on the landscape – its about what off-road use estates should be allowed to make of vehicles in the National Park.   In my  the National Park could contain and control all these issues through the use of byelaws which introduce licenses for hunting.   Such hunting licenses could require estates not to use vehicles off-track or trap any animal without explicit permission.

Photo taken Sunday 19th March and posted by Donald Morris on the Save Cairngorm Mountain facebook page – great source of information for what is going on at Cairngorm. Natural Retreats were burning off the old snow fencing which they had previously committed to remove from the mountain.

After Highland and Island’s Enterprise announcement that they had agreed a new masterplan for Cairngorm, along with a £4m loan to Natural Retreats (see here),  I asked HIE for a copy of the masterplan and any associated plans for the proposal- such as a business plan providing evidence for the proposals:

HIE Response

“At the HIE Board meeting on 11 April 2017, the Board approved CML’s [Cairngorm Mountain Ltd’s] new Master Plan.  However, the CML Master Plan is commercially sensitive and cannot be published at this time.”

Comment

The business plan – although HIE has avoided answering whether such a plan exists – could be commercially sensitive and thus exempt from FOI law,  but a masterplan is a planning document and should be available to the public.

I also asked for a list of all organisations HIE has consulted on this proposed and any information relating to that consultation:

 

HIE Response

“CML will be the applicant in terms of any forthcoming planning application. Both HIE and CML have been involved in prior consultation with CNPA, THC [Highland Council] and SNH.”

Comment

HIE have failed to answer whether they hold any information relating to this “consultation”  with other public bodies.

My final request was asking HIE to clarify whether whether Schedule 4 to the current lease, which was about the requirement to deliver a new day lodge as part of the lease, has been revoked:

 

HIE Response

At the HIE Board meeting on 11 April 2017, the Board agreed that the legal documents will be amended to accommodate the new projects.

Comment

This is the only informative part of HIE’s response.  What it means is that the HIE Board have agreed to drop the legally binding requirement in the original lease with Natural Retreats to develop a new Day Lodge.  Its significance is that this was an opportunity for HIE to terminate their lease with Natural Retreats.  They have chosen not to do so.

The failures and lack of accountability of HIE

 

It is not unreasonable to ask how a public authority, funded by public monies, believes it is acceptable to put out a press release stating a masterplan has been agreed at Cairngorm but then keep that masterplan secret?

 

The proposal for a masterplan at Cairngorm formed part of the Glenmore Strategy agreed by the Cairngorms National Park Authority last year.

While I cannot find any reference to a masterplan in the CNPA Local Development Plan agreed in 2015, the footnote to the table above indicates that the masterplan is a spatial plan and therefore, its fair to assume, a masterplan in the formal planning sense.  Even if not, in terms of good practice, one might have hoped HIE would have taken some heed on the Scottish Government Planning Advice Note on developing masterplans (see here).

That guidance I believe is very relevant for Cairngorm.   It requires site appraisal – for Cairngorm that would mean a look at the ski area as a whole – and consultation with local communities:
“When creating successful places, people must be at the heart of the process. The local community’s understanding of the needs of an area are invaluable in establishing priorities and arriving at a vision for a place. Once the local community and key stakeholders (the community in its widest sense) have been identified, early discussions can provide a wealth of information about the area’s history and how it functions. An engagement plan could be devised to identify mechanisms for involving the community. These will establish opinions and confirm local people’s aspirations for the place. Various types of interests may have to be engaged in different ways.”
 
While because of the special nature of Cairngorm, I would argue that consultation should be far wider, and involve for example recreational (e.g skiers and mountaineers) and conservation interests, the important point is there has NO consultation at all.   HIE has apparently agreed what it wants to happen at Cairngorm with Natural Retreats and how to fund this through public money without any consideration of other views.    A top down solution that again is likely to end in tears.

Natural Retreats is not fit to manage any development at Cairngorm

While HIE and Natural Retreats have kept all information about the proposed dry ski slope secret at present (e.g its location) one detail emerged on the Cairngorm Mountain facebook page on 13th April where they said it would be constructed out of snowflex .  This raises some intriguing questions because the nature of the product http://www.snowflex.com/ which is “solid” rather than other types of artificial slope:
  • with no spaces for vegetation to grow through, it is likely to have a greater impact than other potential products on the vegetation and soils at Cairngorm;
  • without holes in the matting, there is higher friction and this means snowflex requires a water misting system which cannot operate in low temperatures because it freezes up;
  • because of the high friction, snow flex also needs to be installed on steeper slopes (unlikely to be of use at the Shieling rope tow which was installed for beginners).   While the manufacturer states it can be used when frosted, in such condition it can only be used by better skiers and boarders.  Not much use then for beginners in winter then;
  • if my understanding is correct and you cannot use piste bashers on snow flex, then if partly snow covered, snow flex could not be used at all (it would be like skiing over grass patches but worse).

 

There is nothing wrong with snowflex as a product, the trouble is its not designed for use in a mountain environment year round.  Its advantage over other products comes in artificial snowparks (artificial half pipes etc).  One wonders therefore if a summer snowpark is the secret plan for Cairngorm?.

 

If there is any case for an artificial ski slope at Cairngorm, it would be to provide a beginners area when there is insufficient snow and to link to the piste system.   This has been done in other parts of the world using different materials.

 

The revelation about the proposed use of snowflex just provides further evidence of Natural Retreats’ lack of competence to manage the Cairngorm ski area.

 

Cairngorm Estate Management Plan

 

Meantime, there is no sign of HIE’s  proposed estate management plan which might one have hoped excluded practices such as taking skips up the mountain to burn off fencing (first photo) and which needs to be considered along with any masterplan.

Aerial view of the proposed development area included in he scoping report from Peter Brett Associates

At the beginning of April, Flamingo Land (see here for most recent post and links) asked the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority whether an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) would be needed for its proposed development at Balloch  (see here)   The response of the LLTNPA on 13th April (see here) was that a full EIA will be required:

 

The development is permanent and will have an impact on a large area (33.5ha) and will have an impact on both visitors to the National Park, residents and businesses.  The proposal is complex and large scale.  The construction period is likely to be long and any impacts during construction will be prolonged in terms of construction traffic, noise and pollution.  The operation of the development also gives rise to potential significant environmental impact in terms of landscape impact, traffic increase and noise nuisance

 

The response was rapid I believe because the LLTNPA could hardly have said anything else.    So, what can the concerned public learn from the 125 pages of report submitted with the request for a screening opinion?

The most striking thing about this proposed development in our National Park is its size, 33.5 hectares, almost twice the size of the West Riverside Site marketed by Scottish Enterprise (map above).  What the top photo illustrates graphically is how Flamingo Land, through its purchase of Woodbank House, has in effect gained control of all the undeveloped land on the north west side of Balloch and its proposed development will effectively surround Loch Lomond shores.   Its power will increase further if Scottish Enterprise, as its proposing, eventually sells it the West Riverside Site. Land.   In effect the southern gateway to the National Park is being handed over to a private business.   There are legitimate questions about whether this is in the public interest and whether, whatever developments might eventually go be agreed by the LLTNPA,  the ownership of the West Riverside site should remain in public ownership or, alternatively, be transferred to the local community.

The EIA Report makes a reference to the site as being vacant and derelict – a myth that supporters of the development are using to justify the development – and states that there is a desire across  Glasgow Region to treat such land as an investment opportunity.   The trouble is the portrayal of the West Riverside site as derelict is  not true as the photo above shows.  Yes, there are pockets of dereliction and Woodbank House is in a sad state of disrepair.  While the West Riverside site may  not be the best green space in the world there is far more green than dereliction and, contrary again to claims in the Balloch Charrette, its well used by people.  Indeed much of the  greenspace is the  product of earlier restoration of what was formerly the line of the railway.

There are even pockets of wild along the shores of the River Leven.    If this is developed into a constructed river walkway, as the LLTNPA and Scottish Enterprise appears to wish, how will visitors to Balloch be able to access nature?   That is after all what the National Park is meant to be about?

 

The developers will argue that  people will still be able to access Balloch Country Park on the other side of the River Leven but this is inaccessible.   The EIA makes no mention of the long-wished for pedestrian bridge across  the head of the River Leven  which would enable people visiting Lomond Shores to access the Country Park.  That might offset to some extent the development of this site but the omission of the bridge from the EIA scoping requests indicates Flamingo Land has no intention of paying for this.

 

The EIA scoping Report is very vague about Flamingo Land’s plans which are listed as follows:

 

  However, other parts of the report give an indication of what this includes.

As if the existing Drumkinnon Tower at Loch Lomond shores was not enough, the report includes an outline visual impact assessment of a 100m high viewing tower.  Its appears that to compensate for the removal of greenspace  at Balloch, the idea is visitors should be able to view nature from afar.

 

 

 

You don’t need a viewing tower to see Ben Lomond from Balloch but  any viewing tower will have a signficant impact on the views south from the Loch Lomond National Scenic Area, including from the summit of Ben Lomond.   The EIA, though, apparently believes a solution could be found: “consideration should be given as to how to mitigate expansive southerly views from this popular hillwalking viewpoint”.    A friend suggested it could be very slim and reflect the shape of a Flamingo’s neck.

There is another apparent give away in the scoping of the Zones of Theoretical Visability (ZTVs).   On the maps that depict what can be seen from where there are three references to a “chute” which occurs nowhere else in the document.   Is this why the proposed Leisure Development feature is 50m high?    Is this an enormous water slide?   It appears the Sunday Herald was fully justified in referring to the proposal as the blingy bling banks of Loch Lomond (see here).    Such evidence as can be gleaned from the EIA documents provides no re-assurance about what Flamingo Land is going to propose but what it is it appears to be an intensive tourist development.

 

Such development is, I believe,  not appropriate for a National Park.   National Planning Guidance re-inforces this:

A good reason, one might have thought, for the LLTNPA to reject the proposal but the EIA provides an indication of why this might not happen:

This reads as though the application has already been agreed, its only the fine detail that needs to be sorted out and all can be mitigated.   It makes one wonder if the 100m viewing tower and leisure development are being proposed to divert people’s attention from other aspects of the plan, which are fundamentally about development on greenspace at one of the main entry points into the National Park?   The scenario is that following the inevitable public stushi on the viewing tower, the LLTNPA rejects that aspect of the proposal and tries to market the “compromise” which follows to the public as somehow meeting the statutory objectives of our National Parks.

 

The EIA contains a number of proposals for consultation, mainly with statutory bodies – potential for lots of wheeling and dealing behind closed doors – but nothing I could see about engaging with people who care about National Parks in Scotland, including the people who signed the petition against Flamingo Land.  So, how about Flamingo Land starting their consultation by asking the public about the viewing tower and leisure chute?

 

 

On Wednesday, James Stuart, new convener of the National Park had an agenda piece in the Herald to promote the consultation on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park draft plan (see here).  It included a commitment to engage properly recreational organisations – a implicit indictment of the way the LLTNPA bludgeoned through its camping byelaws – but a welcome step in the right direction.    The response from Dave Morris (above) shows the disastrous consequences.

 

The wider point though is the LLTNPA did not just fail to consult with representative organisations, they failed to consult any of the people who actually camp and stop in campervans along the loch shores.  I saw a good illustration of this yesterday morning driving up the A82 to climb on the Ben.  There were campervans everywhere, in the Transport Scotland laybys which are exempt from the byelaws, on road verges (which are also exempt although the LLTNPA has not recognised this), in car parking areas where they are not (unless covered by the permit system as at Inveruglas and off-road.

 

campervans at Tarbert

 

 

 

 

 

Anyone who actually slept the night in the campervans in the above photo were committing criminal offences although I doubt any of the owners knew it.   What the photo illustrates is the byelaws are completely unenforceable – for campervans anyway.  If challenged by a Ranger all the campervan has to do is move onto a road verge or into a layby.    Complete nonsense.  The LLTNPA would have never got itself into this mess if it had actually talked to the people who use campervans.    So, how about some proper visitor surveys – instead of the latest dumbed down ones that say nothing – asking people what they need?  I suspect the answers will include “be left alone to make our own decisions” and Chemical disposal points.   Where are the chemical disposal points in the National Park (I have asked) and what are the plans to increase them?   Err……………..

 

And over to the Cairngorms National Park Authority

 

Following its lengthy coverage of National Parks in January, Scotland Out of Doors on Saturday included an interview Hamish Trench from the Cairngorms National Park Authority.  Its right at the start BBC out of doors.    Mark Stephen asked some searching questions about what partnership actually means and whether some partners have more power than others – highly recommended.    While Hamish Trench’s answers were carefully worded, the really important thing is that CNPA staff appear prepared now to articulate a vision for the National Park integral to which is large scale conservation.   While I don’t believe this can be achieved through the current ways of partnership working, which favour landed interests over everyone else, the fact that the CNPA is promoting this vision in public is in a sense a challenge to those interests.  Intelligent questions from the media, such as those put by Mark Stephen, can only help  change the parameters of the debate.

By Nick Halls

Damage to the new gates at the Torpedo station put in place to stop flytipping. Outside the gate fly tipping down onto the shore seems to be continuing.

 

In my last post (see here) on the torpedo station, I stated that the gates blocking the old main road were both locked, thereby preventing vehicles entering the area.    Recently, the southern of the two gates has been burst open and badly damaged. It was ajar for a period and it was not clear whether this was ‘official’, and signified that fly tipping was being cleared, or that it had been ‘unofficially’ opened to allow further tipping to take place.  The photographs here, taken on Saturday 15th April,  give some impression of the current situation.  The evidence seems to indicate that both situations seem to prevail.

 

The right-hand side of the southern gate has been more or less destroyed, and the left-hand side is off the hinges. It does not look as if this ‘official’, and adds to the impression of dereliction of the site, but in a very public place, right next to the main road.

Southern gate view east from main road

 

The previous obstructions, which seem to be water filled road barriers, remain together with an old concrete post from a dismantled building. Again, this gives the impression of dereliction, destroying the landscape quality of what could be an attractive outlook to the opposite side of the Loch.

View from inside the gates

Inside the destroyed gate it would appear that either pedestrians or the occupant of a vehicle has thrown down litter as if in an urban street. It is very depressing to see this type of littering but it is in accord with how such derelict spaces are treated whether in an urban environment or the countryside. It is characteristic of the state of many of the parking places along Loch Lomond side and elsewhere in the National Park.  Again, the whole scene destroys the quality of the outlook behind.

 

Immediately beyond the gate it appears that fly tipping from vehicles has taken place recently.

Fly tipping down the bank onto the sea shore.

One gets the impression that fly tipping at this site is regular and is generated locally, and one would imagine that someone in the community is aware of the culprits. Only some sort of enforcement action is likely to reduce the progressive degeneration of the whole area.

 

 

Further along the road walking towards the derelict torpedo station there is further evidence of  fly tipping of building debris – which suggests that this might be commercial tipping. See photo above and two below.

 In the two photos above, the fly tipping along margin of the old main road leading north towards the derelict torpedo station appears to be very recent, since my last visit.

 

On the section of the old main road on either side of the bridge over the Allt a’Bhalachain, where two dumps of corrugated iron were shown in a previous report, these have now been cleared – in a pretty crude fashion – the scars of which will probably take some time to recover.

Sites where where dumped material has recently been cleared from the verges of the old main road.

However, the material seems simply to have been transferred to the fly tipping area within the derelict industrial area of the torpedo station.

 

There is evidence of a rather crude and superficial attempt to clear fly tipped material from the what was formerly the main dumping ground. The work seems to be ongoing as there is a container, presumably awaiting to be used to remove material from the site.

However, while material is being cleared the amenity of the area is hardly improved, and the whole process gives the impression of doing the barest minimum to conform to the demand from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority to clear the site.

Main dumping ground on the derelict industrial site of Torpedo Station

The quality of the work, whether complete or still in progress, gives the impression that the owner/contractor is doing the barest minimum and could not care less about the amenity of the area or that it lies within an area of outstanding scenic quality within a National Park.

 

Repeated visits to understand the situation that prevails brings it forcibly home that the derelict torpedo station will be very costly to clear up, as a brown field site, and equally costly to develop into the sort of tourist development presented in the planning application (see here).

 

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this site will remain in a similar state for decades to come and that the M.O.D. should be compelled to tidy up the mess they left.

 

Despite the recent work to clear up the site the corrugated asbestos, featured in my last post, remains untouched so far.

 

There are two dumps of what appears to be asbestos in fairly close proximity

 

 

 

The LLTNPA’s priorities are all wrong: it  should be focussing its efforts and resources on environmental dereliction, fly tipping and the litter problem in the National Park instead of trying to ban innocent campers.

Extract from secret Board Meeting about implementation camping byelaws. The claimed antisocial behaviour has been grossly overstated as has its popularity as a camping destination – too inaccessible for most.

By Ross MacBeath

What differentiates a campsite from wild camping?   Most people would say at the very least the existence of  services such as the provision of drinking water and toilets.  The evidence from my visits to  Loch Chon the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority cannot even provide a reliable water supply for the £7 a night charge  (see here for post and here for a set of photographs of wider issues with the campsite).

 

The reasons why the water supply at Loch Chon is defective

 

One of the first principle of designing a private water supply it to ensure the availability of water from the source stream by carrying out a year long study of peak water flow. What follows below shows that  these investigations were either not carried out or ignored but its worth considering first why the LLTNPA has behaved in this manner..

 

Gordon Watson at a Public Meeting with Strathard Community Council on the 4th July 2016 stated that the Loch Chon campsite was chosen for it’s suitability and merits as a campsite rather than its availability.  The slide above, which was obtained subsequently through FOI, shows that this is not true and that Loch Chon was the ONLY option  that would allow the LLTNPA to deliver the  number of pitches they had promised to Scottish Ministers by 1st March to enact their byelaws.

 

What this shows is that the LLTNPA intended to build a campsite at Loch Chon no matter what.  For how the LLTNPA dealt with its planning permission to itself (see here). This is reprehensible behavior on all counts and LLTNPA are quite clearly paying the price with a defective water supply. But ultimately it’s visitors and communities who will pay the real price for this unwarranted development going forward.

 

Peak water flow and the LLTNPA Loch Chon water supply

 

An unsightly installation with loops in blue water pipe makes a poor impression.  When taken together with the positioning of the intake manifold, which is partially out of the water, unsecured and likely to be dislodged the first time the stream is in spate, it provides a rather damming but realistic indication of what was initially installed.

 

Just while we’re looking at this image, you can see that the concrete floor of the culvert under the bridge is smooth and curved.  This is done intentionally to stop materials collecting on the surface.  When the stream is in spate, large boulders are transported in the torrent of water and the smooth culvert base ensures they can roll right through preventing them from  causing an obstruction under the bridge. We will see why this is important later in the article.

 

Another important factor in providing a water supply is water pressure

 

One measure of the effectiveness of the water supply is determined by the water flow from the taps, which is of course dependent on the water pressure.  Water pressure in turn determined by the difference in elevation between the tap and the intake manifold.  The greater the height between the two the greater the pressure.

 

At this development the Park Authority have chosen to place the intake manifold almost 2  metres underground just by the road bridge over the stream  though it is still above the level of the taps which are further down the slope.  Not sufficiently high though to provide a sufficient head of water which is responsible for many of the issues with the water supply.   It would seem clear then that the intake manifold is in the wrong pace. It’s a basic design flaw and still goes uncorrected even though the LLTNPA is aware of the fact.

An essential requirement is that the intake manifold is always underwater

 

You would think that making sure the intake manifold is always under water would be a given. Yet here we are at Loch Chon on the 12th  March 2017 with the manifold almost completely uncovered  drawing air into the system.

 

Water intake pipe is aove the water level of the river drawing air instead of water.
Image 12th March 2017 lying on surface at water level

 

The problem is clear that the stream does not have sufficient water flow in dry periods.  This was evident during a dry spell starting before March 1st and through 12th March when the water supply failed intermittently when the intake pipe was not fully submerged causing air to be drawn into the system. In this location there is sufficient depth of water the intake is just not positioned properly.

 

 

Of course once the air lock is in the system it won’t self clear easily as water won’t flow up hill.  So many basic principles have just been overlooked cumulatively resulting in poor system design. This is a contributory factor together with the failure of staff, the clerk of works and the contractor to understand the basic requirements for implementing such a water supply.

 

One must ask who is managing this project, clearly the people involved with the development at Loch Chon have little or no understanding of stream feeds to private water supplies or their design. This lack of capability is worrying in an organisation which claims to wish to provide more campsites.   The LLTNPA is evidently not up to the task.

 

One week later the water was partially on, there was drinking water but no toilets

 

One week later on the 19th March 2017 the intake pipe was submerged once more, after some rainfall, however the water to the toilets and wash hand basins was still off.  You can see here the pipe had been removed from the clips removing the ridiculous upward loops in the water feed pipe.

 

Recent rainfall has caused the stream level to rise and cover manifold The Intake Manifold under the surface of the stream after rainfall

The water supply was still causing issues, drinking water was  available but toilet flushing was not.

Two weeks later there is still no effective water supply

 

On the 2nd of April the water supply was again only partially functioning the intake manifold was submerged  and there was water.   This time while one toilet was working the drinking water wasn’t.  3 of the 4 toilets remained locked.  The disabled toilet wass open and functioning with wash hand basins.

 

Another week on engineers were working on the system and some water was flowing

 

10th April 2017 – Water was now available from the outside taps though pressure was so low the auto shut off taps fail to operate correctly.  Well at least there was drinking water on site.  Although container filling took a while, it was better than nothing.

 

Again only one toilet was unlocked but I am pleased to report  it was flushing and the wash hand basin was operational. The other three toilets remain locked and strangely it was not the disabled toilet that was open.

 

It had taken the LLTNPA well over a month since the date the campsite was officially open to get even a basic water supply in place.  This was my first visit where toilets and drinking water have been available together but it is clear the LLTNPA are not out of the woods yet with low flow rates and intermittent supply. The test will be when all 4 toilets are in operation and water still comes out of the taps.

 

The engineers were working on the system when I arrived and allowed an opportunity to see whats inside the container next to the toilet block. It does look like there is a leak in the container roof.

 

The confusion over the hot and cold taps had also been sorted and there were now neutered tap tops both supplying cold water.

 

The  LLTNPA have been busy correcting some of the issues above and creating others

 

My visit on the 10th of April 2017 showed some changes.  The main visible differences one week on were  up by the intake manifold.  They had cut the pipe back and fitted a black sheath which is far less  intrusive.  The had also removed the old stainless steel manifold and fitted a cage to cover the end of the pipe.  However the pipe end is open and directly facing into the water flow with nothing to prevent  pebbles and smaller items being transported down the stream from finding their way into the system, so anything smaller than the mesh can also enter the intake pipe.  I think this may pose a problem for the future, potentially causing blockages in the intake pipe and significant costs and disruption to clear it. Some form of strainer or baffle is surely required.

 

Cage fitted over intake pipe, small stones of dam will be washed away with first rains In dryer weather the water level fails to cover the intake pipe

Click on images for zoomed view

 

The second and most important is the placement of the intake port on to the surface of the culvert, these images are very telling considering the recent weather has been wet followed by a short dry spell, the level here has dropped 20 cm since last checked.3 weeks ago.

 

This indicates the Peak flow of the stream may be very small in dry weather.

The problem is clear, the peak flow of the stream on dry days is so small that the water level in the culvert is no more than a centimetre or so and doesn’t even cover the intake pipe.  To solve this a small dam, and I mean small, has been created with stones and gravel where the depth of water behind this is sufficient to cover the intake pipe.

 

Culverts are designed to prevent debris collecting

As we discussed already, the smooth curved floor of the culvert is designed to prevent debris collecting in this location.  The Debris (dam) (photo above) will be removed by fast water flow.

Even with the current level of water flow the smaller stones and gravel around the intake pipe will be washed away eventually breaking the dam causing the water level to drop below the intake pipe and the water supply to fail.

 

In Spate the stream will remove all debris

With any heavy rain storm the stream will be in spate, the force of water will clear all of the rocks forming the dam in the culvert.  When in spate the stream can also carry branches and fallen trees down through the culvert but now with the fixed obstruction of the mesh cage there is a possibility that these will damage the cage or more likely get jammed on it causing a build up of debris in the culvert. This is not good practice and I would think it should be avoided.

 

The arrangement of the pipe has changed, now entering the river bank at a much lower level, the pipe is not secured on it’s traverse across the culvert and the gap underneath will most likely collect sticks and other vegetation then a build up of debris will possibly  occur.

 

Two months on and no further forward.

 

Around 2 months since the water problems became public and it would seem we are right back where we started with an intermittent supply determined by rainfall.   The National Park Authority really have to get their act together on this and stop penny pinching.  There is a problem with the water supply and it’s clear what it is.  In dry spells there is no water.  Get it sorted!  The solution is simple providing the stream does not dry up altogether, and only time will tell if that’s going to happen.

 

One thing remains clear, the LLTNPAs current solution is unlikely to work effectively even in the short term.

The real problem here is systemic failures within the LLTNPA

 

The LLTNPA Board should have been well aware of these problems as some apparently visited the campsite but have denied their existence in almost every public forum, even at their own board meetings.  I’m aware of one occasion where their spokesperson stated “As with any new site, there have been some snagging issues such as the running water which was unavailable for a few days due to a temporary problem with the new connection”  at least finally giving a nod to a problem everyone knows exists.     41 days of no water, limited water or intermittent water supply is hardly reflected by their “temporary problem”.   I believe it’s clear from the series of images here that the  problem has existed from the beginning and the vagaries of Scottish weather has determined if water was available or not. The solutions created  just promise more of the same – an ineffectual, intermittent water supply.

 

See here for video on the 19th March and here for the 2nd April

 

In the strange world of infallibility the LLTNPA inhabit even when they’rere wrong, they say they’re right and put out statement claiming all is well, whether it’s true or not.  This was certainly what happened at their board meeting on the 13th of March when numerous board members patted each other on the back for a job well done at Loch Chon and for getting the site finished on tiime.   This was witnessed by seven members of the public but should have been recorded for all to see.   Quite a surreal experience to see a National Park Authority  behave in this way.

Plans to rebuild the Day Lodge and turn it into an international conference centre have been dropped

Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s news release on 12th April (see here) on its latest plans for Cairn Gorm – or “CairnGorm Mountain” in marketing speak – was widely taken up by the press.    HIE must be delighted there was so little critical coverage but their announcement raises a number of serious questions.

 

The truth is that the long promised masterplan, if it exists, is not yet public and the only agreement there has been is between HIE and Natural Retreats, the organisation that now run Cairngorm.   Nothing resembling a plan has been issued or is available on either the Cairngorm Mountain or HIE website.    So, for example, no indication has been given about where the proposed dry ski slope will be located nor how that proposal will meet environmental requirements.   The design and location of the dry ski slope and proposals for environmental mitigation are absolutely crucial for determining whether the Cairngorms National Park Authority should give ANY consideration to the new “plan” – yet HIE claims the masterplan has been agreed.  Either there has been yet more shady behind the scenes negotiations or this is pure spin!   I suspect the latter.

 

However, there is a reason I believe for the spin and that is if HIE can get a head of steam up behind the proposal and convince people that in this lies the economic salvation of Speyside, it will make it much harder for the Cairngorms National Park Authority to reject the proposal, however awful it might be.     Hence the emphasis in the News Release about the new jobs that HIE claims will be created – 35-45, but nothing of course about pay or working terms and conditions – and this just a few weeks after Natural Retreats had been threatening to make a large proportion of the workforce at Cairngorm redundant.

 

Rather than a masterplan, what has been made public is that HIE has agreed to re-direct the loan of £4 million its Board had previously agreed with Natural Retreats to construct a new Day Lodge (see here for legal agreement obtained under FOI).  It is now being proposed that the loan should be used for the construction of a dry ski slope and to make changes to the Ptarmigan Restaurant at the top of the funicular, doubling the size of the restaurant and creating a viewing platform.

 

The rationale behind the Ptarmigan part of the proposal is obvious, to increase numbers of people using the funicular, but whether it is sensible is another matter.  The funicular has been a disaster from start to finish, both for skiers and day visitors, but HIE management and funding of the Cairn Gorm estate has been driven by the need to justify it and  keep it afloat financially:  HIE’s one and only idea about how to do this up till now has been to increase the numbers of paying visitors in summer.  Why take the funicular in summer though when all you can do is walk around inside the Ptarmigan restaurant,  because the soils and vegetation on Cairn Gorm are just too fragile to sustain thousands of visitors, or be escorted to the top of Cairn Gorm and back by Rangers for a price.   The wrap around viewing platform proposal would appear to be an attempt to enable more visitors to experience fresh air – or should that be the more usual howling gale at the top of Cairn Gorm? – and expansion of the restaurant designed to allow people to sit around for longer periods at the Ptarmigan spending money.

Back of the Ptarmigan January 2016 – why anyone would want to walk around a viewing platform to look onto this is unclear.

The key problem for though for HIE is when Cairn Gorm is shrouded in cloud, as it is for much of the year, why would anyone visit?  Not many people want to pay a £12 entry fee (the cost of the funicular) to a restaurant.  On clear days, given the legal agreement in place preventing funicular users leaving the stop station, for those fit enough to do so, its much better to walk up Cairn Gorm and, for those who are not, to walk elsewhere. The whole concept of attracting people to the top of the mountain to sit inside is fundamentally flawed  yet HIE persist with it.   The wider flaw in their thinking though is the belief that people visit National Parks primarily for a manufactured tourist experience rather than for the great outdoors.   A strategy built on trying to extract large amounts of money from people for poor experiences is just not going to work.

 

What you can charge money for at Cairn Gorm is for skiing and there is a hint in the news release that at long last HIE realise that if they want to make the Cairn Gorm ski facilities financially viable, they need to make it a better place for skiing.  One part of that is to try and compensate for poor snow cover as this year- hence the dry ski slope proposal in an attempt to guarantee beginners a ski experience.   That however will not bring in enough people to make the ski area financially viable.   What’s needed is a complete re-think of skiing at Cairngorm within the context of the challenges posed by global warming.  There is no sign of HIE doing this, instead they are “lending” money to Natural Retreats.

 

Financial questions that need to be asked

 

The first  question HIE needs to answer is what, if anything, are Natural Retreats going to invest in the Cairn Gorm ski area?  While the HIE News Release referred to HIE’s  £4m loan to CairnGorm Mountain Ltd, it said not a thing about any financial contribution from Natural Retreats.  I suspect that this is because Natural Retreats are contributing nothing.   CML  at the end of December 2015 had net liabilities of £776,328 and while 2016 was a good ski season, 2017 has been awful and its safe to conclude CML has no money to invest – that is why is was threatening to lay off staff just a few weeks ago.  Its owner, Natural Assets Investment Ltd is ostensibly in a far worse financial position, with net liabilities at 31st December 2015 of £38,083,245  (see here for consideration of both sets of accounts).

 

The second question HIE needs to ask is on what basis do they believe CML will ever pay the loan back given the losses currently being made by the company?   CML had a £1,219,606 operating loss in the nine months to December 2015.  I assume HIE has already produced a set of visitor projections to the new Ptarmigan and the dry ski slope that shows projected income exceeding projected expenditure and how the loan will be repaid.   While any such projections should be treated with healthy scepticism – remember how the funicular would have paid for itself by now – HIE needs to explain how any projected extra income will also offset the current massive operating loss.

 

The third question HIE needs to answer therefore is why is it lending money to a company that is basically insolvent and dependent on the goodwill of hedge fund manager, David Michael Gorton, the ultimate owner?   When selling CML HIE retained most of the assets at Cairngorm, including the land and lift infrastructure.   Why not then simply pay for the new assets itself and retain them in public ownership rather than lend money so they end up in the hands of a hedge fund manager whose companies appear to be going bust?   The safe way to get the money back would be to keep the asset and then to charge extra rent to CML for the use of those assets?

 

I suspect the reason this option is not being taken is because of neoliberal dogma, that public assets and public investment are bad and everything is best done through the private sector.    The financial evidence in this case (as in many others) suggests otherwise and that HIE is creating a disaster at Cairn Gorm.  HIE will no doubt claim that it will secure its loan as it it did in its agreement with CML over the day lodge (see link in paragraph 4 above).   That agreement states CML cannot sell the new assets financed by the HIE loan without permission.   That sounds fine until a company goes into liquidation – and CML appears heading that way – when its assets are distributed among all creditors which would inevitably result in HIE getting back less than what it put in.  I am not an expert in these things but  its looks to me as though its almost impossible for HIE to secure its loan properly.

 

The wider questions about Cairn Gorm

 

Part of the justification for selling Cairngorm Mountain to Natural Retreats was to enable much needed investment in facilities to be financed by the private sector – the latest investment announcement suggests that is no nearer to happening.  If investment depends on the public sector, the obvious question is why have the private sector involved at all?

 

The answer is that sometime the private sector has expertise that the public sector lacks.  However, Natural Retreats was a new company with little experience and no expertise in skiing – so why then did HIE choose them?   There were – and are now – local people and businesses who are prepared to work together and manage Cairn Gorm for the benefit of everyone and keep money invested in the local area.    The biggest question therefore which HIE needs to answer is why its still pressing ahead with financing Natural Retreats instead of putting its efforts into supporting a community enterprise to takeover and run Cairn Gorm?

 

It would appear from the HIE News Release is that the proposal to redevelop the Day Lodge has now been abandoned.   The delivery of a new Day Lodge was a condition of HIE’s lease with Cairngorm Mountain and set out in Schedule 4.  That schedule now needs to change and it appears therefore that HIE would, if it gave notice to Natural Retreats to terminate the lease now, be secure from any legal challenge.   It has no excuse for not doing so.

 

The public investment at Cairn Gorm is a good thing – its just being given to the wrong people for the wrong purpose.  Its time our politicians appreciated this and started arguing for alternatives.

New bridge over the Allt Breac Nic, Stuc a Chroin in distance.   The pipe has been concealed under the bridge, as per LLTNPA good practice guidance.    Photo Credit Derek Sime.

The Munro Society has started to monitor hydro schemes – a very welcome development – and my thanks to Derek Sime who sent parkswatch a number of photos of the Keltie Water Hydro Scheme, situated between Callander and Stuc a Chroin.   While the Keltie Water forms the eastern boundary of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park all the development associated with the hydro scheme lies within it.   The hydro scheme was originally approved in 2013, revised plans approved in 2014 (see here) and map below and apparently constructed in 2016.

Location and site plan for Keltie Water hydro scheme 2014 from LLTNPA planning portal

The track up the glen by the Keltie Water from Braeleny farm is the starting point for a number of fine walks, including the southern approach to Stuc a Chroin, along the prominent rounded ridge from Meall Odhar, and a wonderful round from Beinn Each to Meall na Fearna taking in Stuc a Chroin and Ben Vorlich.    Derek’s photos, which are mainly of the access track and the pipeline – there are none of the two intakes  – show some good and bad things about the hydro scheme but on balance this appears one of the better schemes in the National Park.

Photo credit Derek Sime

 

The power house is situated close to Braeleny Farm, has been finished with natural materials and is quite tucked away.   It will have almost no landscape impact on the glen, which becomes wide and open higher up.  The construction compound to the left of the building has been restored well – from this distance you would hardly know it had been there – and for good measure Drummond Estate have added three blocks of tree planting.   While in the wrong place, tree planting can look artifical, not far  south of the powerhouse on the far side of the river (outside the National Park boundary) there is a large block of forestry while further south, along the Keltie Water, there is some fine native woodland and the planting here has the potential to link to that.

 

Generally the LLTNPA has ensured the power house elements of hydro schemes in the National Park have been done well – their planners I think are more comfortable with buildings than landscape – and this is appears a good example.

Photo credit Derek Sime

The other element of hydro schemes that the LLTNPA have generally ensured is done well is restoration of the ground in grassland and peatland areas.   If peat and turves are removed and stored before the trench for the pipeline is dug, once replaced the ground should recover quickly.  A multitude of stones on the surface as along Glen Bruar (see here) is a sign that contractors have mixed up excavations with top soil and vegetation.  While you can see some stones on the surface here, generally this section of pipeline restoration appears to have been done well and is likely to recover quickly.  In two years it may not be possible to see the line of the pipeline.

 

The section of pipe on the left of the photo is another matter.  It is one of several which appear to have been abandoned as all machinery has been removed from the site and there is no sign of ongoing works.   There is no need for this and it is not acceptable.  Sadly abandoned sections of pipe are a feature of a number of other hydro schemes in our National Park – its cheaper to leave them in situ than recycle them – including Glen Bruar.  (Its also yet another example of why the litter left by a few irresponsible campers needs to be seen in perspective).

Photo Credit Derek Sime

 

The restoration of the ground just south of the bridge over the Allt Breac Nic and beyond it on the left side of the track appears less successful, with far more stone visible and what appears to be a boulder dump by the sheep on the far left.   I suspect part of the reason for this is the ground before the bridge slopes steeply and the depth of soil here was less.    Where the soil is shallower its much more difficult to separate vegetation and topsoil from rocks if the work is done by machine as it invariably is nowadays.  This is a problem not just at Glen Bruar but on sections of the Beauly Denny powerline.   If our National Parks are serious about ensuring the highest standards of restoration I believe they need to consider and support the development of  alternative “construction” techniques in areas of shallow soil.    Meantime the LLTNPA needs to consider how its going to make the restoration of this area effective.

 

Photo Credit Derek Sime

Prior to the construction of the hydro there was an existing track to Arivurichardich.  This was upgraded to enable the construction works to take place.  Drummond Estate’s planning application asked for the tracks, after restoration, to be 2.5m wide.  The LLTNPA, stuck by their Planning Guidance and made the following requirements:

 

Notwithstanding the approved plans and for the avoidance of doubt these tracks shall be reduced to a width of between 2 metres, and 2.5 metres (at essential turning areas and steep gradients only), (to be agreed in writing by the Planning Authority), and shall have a grassed central strip.

 

What the photo above illustrates is that this requirement has not been met.  This straight section of track is more than 2m wide.  You can also see how aggregate from the track has spilled down the slope to the right, broadening it still further.  There is no sign of a grass central strip.  Perhaps that will be put in place this spring?     The problem here is not with the conditions the LLTNPA required in this case, its the enforcement of them.

A close up of the area between the two bridges (above) illustrates a number of areas where restoration work could have been better.  Left of the track large amounts of stony substrata has been mixed up with the peat and may change the type of vegetation that grows back here .   Another piece of abandoned pipe is visible to the right of the sign.  The track itself is clearly broader than the 2.5m the LLTNPA allowed for bends and junctions.   And, while I am not against all signs – this is part of a core path network – did it really have to be bright red?

Photo credit Derek Sime

The old bridge south of Arivurichardich (above) over the Keltie Water was washed away on 18 August 2004, during a violent thunderstorm which sat over Stuc a’Chroin, and which was also responsible for sweeping away a number of other bridges in the area, including that on the public South Loch Earn road at Edinample.     Since then the Keltie Water has been uncrossable when it has been in spate, and while of course the hydro pipeline will reduce those levels in future, the two bridges help make the area more accessible.  This is a  benefit on what is part of a core path network.

 

What Derek Sime’s photos illustrate is that the problems with this hydro scheme is not about its location but about the way its been finished.   The officer’s report recommending approval for the scheme is very thorough and show a good appreciation of the landscape:

 

The site is within an expansive and unspoilt glen comprising a mosaic of sensitive habitats and watercourses featuring unique geological rock formations.

 

It then recommends a number of specific conditions which I think are welcome.   For example, one condition was that the two dam intakes should be finished in local stone.  While use of local stone to finish dams forms part of the LLTNPA’s Good Practice Guidance, in reality most dams and intake structures within the National Park have been finished in concrete and no requirements made to abide by the Park’s own guidance.   So, the requirement in this case is very welcome.  It would be interesting though to see if this has actually happened here – photos please!

 

It will be interesting too to see hat the LLTNPA does to ensure the other conditions it has made, particularly regarding the width of the track, are enforced.   One problem with monitoring all of this – and it will be a challenge to all the Munro Society volunteers who are adopting hydro schemes – is that the LLTNPA is not adding any information to the planning portal once a decision has been made.   There is no information publicly available about the Keltie Water hydro scheme since it was finally approved in 2014.  Its impossible to see therefore whether Park enforcement have done anything to address the problems illustrated in the photos.  The result is if you, I  or Munro Society volunteers want to find out what has happened we have to submit Freedom of Information Requests.  That is wrong and needs to change.

 

If, following the People and Places planning consultation,  the Scottish Government publishes a new Planning Bill  it should include a requirement to make Planning Authorities publish on their planning portals information relating to the implementation of planning consents, including whether planning conditions have been met .   One would have hoped a National Park would be doing this anyway.  In the case of the LLTNPA it appears it is frightened that if it made this information public, that would expose its failure to take proper enforcement action against landowners.

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

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

 

The positives

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Private interests and the public interest

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

This raises two questions.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

By Nick Halls

Northern Gate, preventing access to old road and former Torpedo range site. The gate was recently installed, apparently under a road closure notice which was related to the planning permission for the development of the site. That planning permission has however lapsed.   All photos Nick Halls.

Following the post about the planning blight at the site of the former torpedo factory and range on Loch Long  (see here),  I went to take a look for myself.  I wanted to take a look at the impact of the gates that have blocked off the old road and check if any of the flytipping had been removed as required by the Amenity Notice.   This was served last August and  gave the owners four weeks to clear the rubbish from the site.  Since then, the minutes of the Arrochar, Tarbert and Ardlui Community Council Area Forum held in March  (see here) have not just confirmed that Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority is giving the owners four to five more months to remove the flytipping (on top of the six months since the Amenity Notice deadline expired) but also that there is asbestos on site.

View south down the old main road towards derelict Torpedo factory.

It is possible to by-pass the gate on foot which, in respect of the danger from asbestos renders the gates ineffective, and, although the gate prevents fly tipping from vehicles, it does not prevent people disposing of bags of garbage which are being thrown down towards the shore line.

Garbage thrown down from within the northern gate from shore side of old road

Stuart Mearns, the Park’s Head of Planning, spoke too soon when he stated (as recorded in the  Forum minutes)  “that at least there would be no more fly tipping” on the site.

The southern entry to the site and the old A83  has also been blocked off with similar style gates

Dumping from vehicles is still possible also at the southern gate and is still happening.

Building materials and general garbage tipped down bank by vehicles on the main road side of the southern gate

The next photos are of tipping and garbage disposal within the gated area, on the area that was the former torpedo factory, on a road that leads from the old main road into the decayed industrial ruins.

View south
View south east

There are a series of dumping spots on the western side of this road (see below) mostly containing what appears to be builders/commercial rubbish.

View west

Two of the fly tipping sites contain what appears to be corrugated asbestos.  Both of these sites are east of the old road on what was the site of the torpedo factory.

View north west

 

Note: the old main road runs behind trees in the background, so the asbestos risk is well away from the former public highway.

View north west, site immediately beside the one shown above

If this is the asbestos and it influenced the decision to close the old main road, it would have cost less to remove than to install the gates!  It is also situated on the grounds immediately beside the industrial ruins of the former torpedo factory – not particularly close to the old main road.

 

The industrial area of the former torpedo factory is a potentially heavily polluted ‘brown field’ site, which should have been cleared by the M.O.D., as they constitute the polluter/previous owner. On the basis that the ‘polluter should pay’ it seems likely that the responsibility still lies with the M.O.D. even if the site has been sold to a possible developer.

View south along the old main road

There is much less evidence of fly tipping along the southern section of the old main road, beyond the access loop leading through the ruins of the former torpedo factory.

Fly tipping and garbage along the northern part of the old main road

The quantities are not large and appeared to be fairly straightforward to remove. Again, clearing the roadside might have involved less effort than placing the gates – with an unnecessary restriction of access.

Parts of a broken-up fiber-glass boat, in three parts thrown off bridge into stream passing through site. The stream above the ruined factory site looks as if it is quite natural, and constitutes quite a scenic view, were it not for the dumping.

 

Remains of demolished building, which might have been residential or administrative. Note also the remains from what appears to be some sort of forestry operation involving stripping bark and branches, which presumably took place elsewhere, and then disposed of along the roadside.

Much of the fly tipping along the sides of the old road is fairly easy to remove, or does not pose a particular health risk.

 

The forestry operation debris, although unsightly will eventually break down and become over grown – but it still constitutes fly tipping – always assuming it was carried outout with the owners consent.

Most of the unsightly material seems to be the remains of demolished buildings, which have not previously given rise to concerns, whether on health and safety or amenity grounds, and have been in this state for decades.   The blight at the former torpedo testing site is far greater than the flytipping and while the LLTNPA needs to address the flytipping, a much bigger challenge is to clear the site up and make it fit for public enjoyment again.   Its a prime site in the heart of our National Park, a disgrace, a challenge and an opportunity.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority Board is meeting on Friday to discuss and approve its new Partnership Plan, the overarching Plan which guides what it will do over the next five years (see here for the 60 page plan and supporting documents).    The LLTNPA’s announcement about this can be read (here).   Its positive the Board is devoting a whole meeting to consider the plan – it deserves this.  What follows is not a comprehensive evaluation of the Plan  but rather an attempt to highlight some key issues for those who aspire to create  National Parks in Scotland which are worthy of the name.

 

Positive changes in the revised plan

 

It is clear that the CNPA has listened to criticisms of the draft plan and has made far stronger statements/commitments in certain areas.   Among the specific changes which should be welcomed are:

 

  • to eliminate raptor persecution in the National Park (an ongoing issue as recent disappearance of a golden eagle on the North Glenbuchat estate shows (see here)
  • the recognition of the role of moorland management in creating flooding downstream
  • the statement that the Park will  “plan proactively” for beavers
  • the presumption against new bulldozed tracks in the uplands
  • the commitment to join up the path network in the eastern Cairngorms  and to create a new long distance walking route, the Deeside Way

 

There has also been some strengthening of the general statements that underpin what the Partnership Plan should be about, particularly the creation of a section on public interest priorities for landuse in the National Park  This includes the role that National Parks can play in combating climate change, reversing loss of biodiversity and landscape scale conservation as well as how the National Park can promote best practice in terms of recreational visitors and empowering local communities.

 

All this is positive and suggests there are people within the CNPA who have clear aspirations for what the National Park could deliver.

 

Weaknesses in the revised plan

 

While the revised plan is more aspirational than the draft, it still seems to me to fall short of what we should expect from a National Park.   Here are some examples:

 

  • In announcing the Partnership Plan the CNPA cited the inclusion of a target of 5000 hectares of woodland restoration in the next five years as showing its conservation intent.   5000 hectares sound a lot until you consider that the total area of the Cairngorms National Park is 4528 square kilometres or 452,800 hectares – so the target is to increase the amount of land with woodland cover in the National Park by about 1.1% in the next five years.  Nothing in that target that remotely threatens to change the way that “sporting” estates are managed.  Indeed its unclear if grouse moors or stalking estates are going to contribute anything to this target or whether it will be delivered by the NGOs and Forest Enterprise.
  • Connected to this, the Plan states that public interest land-use objectives, such as increasing woodland cover, should be delivered “in conjunction with private objectives”.  In effect this means the objectives of sporting estates.   If these remain untouched, will anything change as a result of the plan?  My reservations are re-inforced by the section on deer management which contains actions like the further development of methodologies for establishing the “right level” deer grazing.   This type of approach that has been taken for years without any meaningful results.   There are no commitments from sporting estates to change what they do.
  • These weaknesses derive from an ongoing commitment by the CNPA to using the voluntary approach, and that alone, to achieve its statutory objectives:   “All sectors must work together to deliver for the Cairngorms”.   There is not, as far as I can see, any fallback position in the Partnersip Plan which sets out what the CNPA will do if this voluntary approach, once again, fails to work.  What is the CNPA going to do if golden eagles are still disappearing in the Cairngorms this time next year?    There is no plan B.  Worse, in my view, if there is no stick there is absolutely no incentive or reason for private sporting estates to change how they manage the land on a voluntary basis.
  • The basic omission in the plan is about how the CNPA will tackle powerful interests in the National Park if they fail to act in the public interest.   Land Reform is one way that the power of landed interests could be tackled but, while there are welcome statements in the Plan about  empowering local communities, there is nothing to say how land reform might help the CNPA meets its statutory objectives.   This is not just about land though – the CNPA rightly recognises low pay is a serious issue for the majority of those working in the National Park, but makes no proposals for how this might be tackled.   Instead it wants to see the contribution tourism makes to the economy in the eastern Cairngorms increase – more low paid jobs?   When one of the statutory objectives of the National Park is sustainable economic development, its a major omission when the Park Plan has nothing to say about whether changing the way land is managed could create more and better jobs.
  • At least though the CNPA is clear – unlike the LLTNPA whose thinking is far more overtly neo-liberal (they even have a commercialisation strategy) – that public investment is key to the future of both conservation and the people living in the National Park.

The Plan reads as if the CNPA has identified most of the key issues, its just not worked out yet how to deliver its aspirations.

 

Omissions from the Partnership Plan

In my view, in addition to any plan to tackle vested interests,  there are two further major omissions from the plan

  1. A lack of a vision for wild land and rewilding.   While near the start of the Plan there is a map showing wild land in the Cairngorms, the Plan says nothing about how this will be protected or enhanced apart from there being a presumption against new tracks.   There is no commitment to restore land that has been trashed by past developments – surely the National Park should be identifying tracks and other developments that impact adversely on wild land landscapes and which we should aspire to have removed?   Nor does the Plan explain  how the Park’s commitment to new hydro schemes fits with wild land.  While re-iterating its opposition to windfarms, on landscape grounds, the CNPA seems to see hydro as unproblematic – there is plenty of evidence that this is just wrong (see here for example).   The lack of vision however goes further than this:  is there nowhere in the National Park where the CNPA would like to see natural processes predominate and where nature should be allowed to take its course; what about the re-introduction of species?   The beaver is mentioned, but there are no firms plans, while of lynx, which would help reduce numbers of roe deer, there is not a mention.   This is an opportunity missed, an opportunity for the National Park to take a lead that would inspire people.
  2. What resources are needed.   While there is much talk of partnership (and indeed even a statement that partnerships are a way of bringing resources together), there is no systematic attempt to describe what resources the various partners can definitely contribute to make the Plan happen (an exception is a list of major capital investment projects both private and public).  Nor is there any attempt to describe the resource gap, things that the Partners would like to do if they had the resources.    What most striking about this is its completely unclear how the Park’s conservation objectives in the Plan will be financed (apart from the Peatland Action project).

 

What next?

 

The Parternship Plan, once amended/approved by the Board needs to be approved by the Minister for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham.    While there is a lot of good things in the Plan, much of this, particularly the conservation objectives, are likely to unravel because they are totally dependent on the voluntary principle.   If the Minister really wants objectives such as the elimination of raptor persecution to be achieved, she would be wise to ask the CNPA to develop alternative mechanisms to ensure the Partnership Plan is delivered.

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

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

 

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

 

The site of the former Highland Way hotel

Luxury Lodge in construction November 2016

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Oak Tree Inn

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

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

 

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

 

Balmaha Waterfront

 

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

 

The cumulative impact of “luxury” tourist accommodation in Balmaha

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Balmaha – a tale of developing social segregation and exclusion

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

By Save the Cairngorms Campaign

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Addendum

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

By Phil Swainson

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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