Tag: public transport

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

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

 

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

 

The “consultation”

Extract from Flamingo Land/Iconic Developments consultation display

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

 

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

 

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

 

The main elements to the proposals

Extract from map showing proposals for Riverside site

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

 

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

Greenspace 

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

Drumkinnon Wood

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

The parkland along the River Leven

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

The pierhead

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

Viewing Tower

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

Transport

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

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

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

 

Are there any good elements to the proposals?

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Conservation

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

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

 

Public Enjoyment

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

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

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

 

 

Sustainable Economic Development

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

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

 

Sustainable use of resources

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

 

What needs to happen

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

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

August 21, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
The road from Balmaha to Rowardennan was like this much of the way, stop/start as cars squeezed past each other.

On Sunday afternoon, taking advantage of a break in the tropical storms which have been battering  Scotland, we went for a walk up Ben Lomond, a hill that everyone from the west of Scotland who is able to do so should walk up at least once in their lifetimes.   I walk, run or ski it most years.   The drive from Balmaha to Rowardennan required patience because of the volume of traffic.   It probably took us twice the time to drive it as it does in winter.

The Forestry Commission carpark at Rowardennan was full to overflowing. With all the official places full people were parking on the verges

We met all sorts: small groups of middle aged men with strong Glaswegian accents, a couple of Asian families, backpackers taking a diversion from the West Highland Way, students, a person with a learning disability, Dutch tourists, some younger teenagers who must have been still at school, a Sikh……….we heard probably a dozen different languages.   The number and diversity of people visiting Rowardennan and walking up Ben Lomond is a great thing.  It should be the people’s hill.

 

The infrastructure though is creaking under the numbers and needs a re-think…………………in fact its needed a re-think ever since the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park was created.

 

In the Dolomites and indeed in many other valleys in the Alps where small roads finish in a dead-end without much space for parking – as at Rowardennan – they do things differently.

Track between Gardeccia and Vajolet Huts

The main access to the Catinaccio group, off the Val di Fassa, is via this valley.   The road up to the Gardeccia is closed to private cars.    The valley is extremely popular – it leads up the famous Vajolet towers (where we climbed), offers great walking and a number of via ferrata – but people either walk up (rare), get a ski lift and then contour round into the valley or use the shuttle bus service from Pera.

Shuttle buses with Catinaccio group behind

The shuttle bus service operates from 7am to 6pm from the end of May until mid-October.   It took about 20 minutes and cost 10 Euros return, including the cost of leaving our car for three days.   It was extremely well used – we were concerned when we turned up at 7am whether we would get on the two buses waiting at the bottom – but coming back saw over half a dozen buses taking people up and down the route and waited just five minutes for our bus to fill and set off.

The parking provided for those using the Gardeccia shuttle bus

The road closure and shuttle bus service solves the problem of where people would park up the valley, takes the stress out of driving along the narrow road up to Gardeccia, provides jobs and is more environmentally friendly than people taking cars.   This is not the only side valley off the Val di Fassa where such services exist (see here for list).   So why don’t we do this in Scotland?   We could start  places like Rowardennan.

 

In fact, one of the action points of the east Loch Lomond Visitor Management Plan 2014-19 was:

“Consideration to be given to shuttle bus service provision from Drymen to Rowardennan.”

The new signs that have been put up on almost every free post along the Rowardennan Rd since Stirling Council assumed responsibility for parking enforcement in May.

This has not been progressed.  Instead, the focus has been on the expensive water bus service and  there has been an obsession with trying to control car parking:  in particular how to enforce the clearway between Balmaha and Rowardennan.

 

This has had the unfortunate effect of making much of east Loch Lomond inaccessible for people wanting to do short walks along the West Highland Way.  Apart from the public carparks at Milarrochy, Sallochy and Rowardennan, there is nowhere to stop.   Fine for fitter walkers, but for lots of people it means many of the joys of east Loch Lomond are now beyond reach.

 

A shuttle bus service would enable far more people to do shorter walks along east Loch Lomond, letting people walk between points of their choice.  It would also make Ben Lomond far more accessible – something like 50% of the adult population of Glasgow do not have access to a car and effectively have no way of reaching, Ben Lomond, what should be the people’s hill.

 

The Buchanan Community Partnership and recreation management on east Loch Lomond

 

Unfortunately, not only does the LLTNPA appear to be doing nothing to address this situation, it and Stirling Council appears to be about to make this worse.   The issue at stake is the management of the carpark at Balmaha.

 

There have been calls from people in Balmaha that the community  should be able to benefit from the car park there for some time.    There is a very interesting record of how the proposal has developed – given by Kevin Lilburn recorded in the minute of the May meeting of the Buchanan Community Council (see here).   Basically the proposal had been that money raised from the car park should be split between Stirling Council, the LLTNPA and an organisation called the Buchanan Community Partnership.  The plan which was eventually agreed was that Stirling Council would lease the car park which they still own for 3 years to the LLTNPA who would introduce parking charges through their  newly procured Automatic Number Plate Recognition charging system.     The LLTNPA would take on the burdens of running the carpark and after costs would share income with the community.  The vehicle proposed to do this was the Buchanan Community Partnership

 

The BCP had been set up in 2003 to enable the local community to access and manage funds.  It appears responsible for initiating the negotiations that car parking charges should be introduced at Balmaha and part of the money from this used to benefit the local community.  The BCP has, according to Kevin Lilburn’s report to the Community Council  – information reinforced by its accounts – been in “suspended animation” for a number of years.    This is interesting as Kevin Lilburn is a Director of the Buchanan Community Partnership and information obtained under FOI FOI 2015 002 Response – Copy show that he represented that body on the east Loch Lomond Visitor Management stakeholder group, the body which is supposed to co-ordinate the implementation of the east Loch Lomond Visitor Management Plan (which now appears defunct) and indeed that he appears to have chaired meetings.     Although in theory open to anyone from the local community to join, there is other information to indicate the BCP was hardly a democratic organisation.   Information from companies house  (see here) states it is controlled by one person, Joseph Twaddle its Secretary, who had been secretary of the Community Council before he resigned.   The May minutes of the Buchanan Community Council record that “The view was expressed that the current BCC membership knew nothing about BCP meetings from the former Secretary”.  

 

All this though now appears about to become history.   According to the draft minutes of the Buchanan Community Council meeting in June  the Buchanan Community Partnership is about to be wound up and instead there are plans that a new organisation, the East Loch Lomond Community Trust, will receive the funds.

 

14) AOCB
KL advised that the Buchanan Community Partnership (BCP) board had decided to start a process that aimed to wind up the BCP. This had implications for the “community” share of the revenue that might result from the proposed introduction of parking charges at the Balmaha car park. He understood that the recently formed East Loch Lomond Community Trust might now have an involvement.

It was proposed & agreed that the Chair should write to the NP expressing our deep concern at the situation.

 

Reading between the lines of the minutes, it looks as though one shadowy organisation, the BCP, has been replaced by one that is even more shadowy.  Moreover,  there has been no communication from the ELLCT and the Community Council, the organisation which represents people locally.   Information on the Office of Scottish Charity Regulator’s website shows that the ELLCT was incorporated in October 2016 and sets out it general objectives but does not provide the names of the trustees or say what area it covers.  The only other public information that is available about the ELLCT is it appears to have registered for Just Giving.      You cannot therefore see who is controlling the organisation let alone what it intends to do.  Perhaps the National Park knows?

 

What needs to happen

  • The LLTNPA  should make all information it holds on the east Loch Lomond Community Trust public and explain why it appears happy to divert funds to an organisation which appears accountable to no-one
  • The LLTNPA needs to create an integrated vehicle management plan for the area.   Charging for carparks has all sorts of implications for recreation management, including the viability of a shuttle bus service to Rowardennan.   We bought our 10 euro return ticket in Italy and it covered carparking for three days.  The car park at Balmaha is not big enough to cope with the extra car parking capacity that would be needed to support a shuttle bus service but income from it could be used to kick start such a service.   The LLTNPA in giving away funds to an unaccountable group is reducing the likelihood of transport systems, which exist everywhere on the continent, being developed in the National Park.
  • At the National level, it appears that the law regarding community councils needs to change (the minutes show the reason these trusts and companies are being set up are because of legal limitations as to what community councils can do).   Now community councils are not perfect, they can easily be taken over, but as the saga on east Loch Lomond shows, the alternatives, companies or trusts accountable to no-one can be even worse.

 

And for any reader, who thinks I am being too radical, in Italy they are prepared to close to private vehicles not only dead-end roads, but major through routes.

Looking down onto a section of the road over the Sella Pass on a Wednesday. Note the cyclists.

The road over the Sella Pass, between the Val di Fassa and Val Gardena is closed between 9am and 4pm every Wednesday, except to buses and cyclists.    Imagine us doing  something as radical in Scotland?   What the closure does is enable hundred of cyclists to enjoy the challenge without having to think about traffic, which includes not just car but lots of motorbikes.   The Rowardennan Rd is a nightmare to cycle at present.   A shuttle bus service might make it a pleasure to cycle again with additional recreational benefits – and help promote a circular route on car free routes from Balloch to Rowardennan, across to Tarbert on a ferry and then back down to Balloch along the west Loch Lomond cycle path.    That would be a National Park which, like Italy, put outdoor recreation at the centre of how it manages the countryside.

July 3, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

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

 

The LLTNPA’s visitor priorities are wrong

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Parkspin

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Commentary on Visitor Experience Outcomes and actions

VE1  Recreation opportunities

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

 

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

 

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

 

VE2 Water based recreation

 

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

 

VE3 on tourism businesses

 

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

VE4 Visitor Management

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

VE5 Diversity of visitors

 

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

 

What the LLTNPA needs to do

 

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

 

  1. The LLTNPA needs to re-write its plan  so it focuses on outdoor recreation and enjoyment of the countryside, not “the visitor experience” and base this on proper evidence and an analysis of what it has/has not achieved since it was created.
  2. The LLTNPA needs fundamentally to change its approach to visitor management from seeing visitors as a problem to recognising the right of people to enjoy the countryside.  This means dropping the existing camping byelaws and the proposals to extend them to the Loch Lomond islands and reversing other measures designed to reduce visitor numbers (such as removing gates from car parks)
  3. The LLTNPA needs to get back to basics in terms of recreational provision, developing a plan describing what infrastructure is needed from litter bins and toilets to new paths and improved public transport.   This should set out what can be funded from existing sources (there is money to invest, for example from Forestry Commission Scotland, through various land management grants or even from hydro schemes) and what additional investment is needed
June 20, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

Following the downpour at Cairngorm (see here and left) the photo above taken last week shows the impact of such flood events.  While Natural Retreats and HIE’s recent mismanagement of Cairngorm has contributed to this, the problems go back much longer and the large car parks for example contribute to the rate that water runs off the hill.  The motor car (which most people including this writer rely on for transport much of the time) has been central to the unsustainable development of Cairngorm ever since the ski road was constructed.  As part of the Cairngorm masterplan (see here) Natural Retreats included a section on transport.   The analysis and proposals in it are far more sensible than the Ptarmigan re-development or installation of snowflex artificial ski slopes above the Coire Cas carpark but do they offer a way forward?

 

Natural Retreats’s brief summary of the transport situation at Cairngorm, if you read past the marketing speak, is pretty damning:

Extract from FOI

Poor public transport, no imaginative solutions such as those used in the Alps (where school buses are used to transport people up valleys in the holidays), no bike or ski racks, a lack of path connections.   So what are Natural Retreats’ solutions?

While there are some good ideas here the package has a whiff of self-interest.    The short-term proposals should be easy to do, as they are all minor improvements, but could be read as a smokescreen for implementing parking charges at Cairngorm (which is one of HIE’s objectives).  There is no information about how they, or more importantly the medium and long term proposals, could be financed despite the owner of Natural Retreats, David Michael Gorton, being extraordinarily rich – but then the way his companies are operating currently at Cairngorm is to take money out of the area rather than invest in it.  Its not surprising therefore that the proposals such as hybrid buses, which the owner of Natural Retreats could afford to pay for now, have been scheduled as “Medium to Long Term”.   There is no indication that he is going to invest anything that does not guarantee large immediate returns (like car park charges) or will not rely on the public sector to pay for everything while NR take the profit.

 

The proposals have been developed without any consultation.  Under the Glenmore and Cairngorm Strategy, approved last year, Natural Retreats were supposed to be part of a Cairngorm & Glenmore Transport Working Group involving Highland Council, HITRANS, Forest Enterprise Scotland and the Cairngorms National Park Authority.  Its not even clear whether this group has ever met let alone been and its telling that Natural Retreat’s refer to a slightly different group of stakeholders in the transport section of the masterplan  including “the Glenmore Masterplan” (is this the same as the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy?), the CNPA, Cairngorms Connected and  Active Cairngorms.  In other words HIE’s and NR’s proposals don’t appear joined up with the plan developed by the CNPA.    There are a couple of specific examples of this.

 

NR’s proposals make no reference to the action point in the Glenmore Strategy that there should be a  “Feasibility study for improved public transport and park and ride approach”.    So, does Natural Retreats support a feasibility study or not and will it contribute to the cost?

 

There is also no reference to the proposal for a new cycle route up to Cairngorm, the cycle link, as set out in the map below:

On the other hand, HIE and NR have plucked out of a hat a new proposal for a “tourism train like that seen at Chamonix or York”.  I am a fan of the Chamonix train  – its free if you are staying in the valley – but to treat a back of a fag packet idea as a proposal without any consultation or working with other people on how it will be financed tells you everything you need to know about how NR and HIE operate.

 

What needs to happen

 

While some of NR’s proposals could support the objective of the Glenmore Strategy that, there should be “Improvements to transport and access infrastructure will increase public transport and non-motorised access to the area from Aviemore and beyond; and walking and cycling within the area”, they are unlikely to “Make a significant change in the way people access the area to increase the proportion of non-car access” because of the way they have been “developed”.   Natural Retreats needs to start consulting the local community, business, visitors, conservation organisations and other stakeholders and to support structures set up in the National Park before it does anything else.

July 6, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments

IMG_6172

Dear LLTNPA,

I know at the behest of the Scottish Government both our National Parks have been promoting  scenic routes and as part of this some interesting sculptures have been created over the last year or so including the structure at Inveruglas.  To many people like myself though the natural beauty of the area speaks louder than any sculpture.  I was dismayed therefore to see the suburbanisation of the Rest and Be Thankful, which should be one of the finest road pass in Great Britain, that took place last year.  I wonder what  the drovers and the soldiers who built the military road have thought of the turning circle and installation of an urban style bus shelter between Beinn Luibhean and  Beinn an Lochain, two of the finest hills in the National Park.  I realise the plaque in the bus stop says responsibility for this lay with Argyll and Bute Council, Strathclyde Transport and Transport Scotland but could the National Park Authority really do nothing to influence this?  I am all for improving the public transport in National Parks but is this really the way to do this?

 

Happy travelling

 

Parkswatchscotland

May 6, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

In London, what appears to be a  very successful campaign  is developing to turn it into the world’s first National Park city.  The proposal won the support of the Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat and Green candidates for the London Mayor election.  Its proponents, from health experts to nature conservationists, architects to geographers, are now trying to win support from local councillors.   According to a poll in the London Evening Standard something like 90% of Londoner’s agree with the idea.

 

As the Greater London National Park City admits, the proposal is not for a National Park in the traditional sense.   It is not about the countryside, does not fit the criteria of the National Park legislation in England (see statement from National Parks England) and does not fit any of the international criteria for protected areas.   The City of London will still dominate.  It is though about further greening of the city.  The term “National Park” is being used because it has resonance, the power to convey a message.

 

Thereby, I believe,  lies a danger.  That the whole concept of what National Parks should be about is diluted, perhaps even polluted.   The risk is the term “National Park” no longer represents ideas about putting the natural environment first but rather becomes associated with attempts to fit nature better around human development.    To put it crudely, if the City of London merits the term National Park, what is to prevent us from building a city in the middle of the Cairngorms or over the top of Loch Lomond if the need arises?

 

The success of the campaign though does tell us something about the importance of nature to people.      People want to connect to nature but, because London is so large and difficult to escape from, the only option for many people is to green their our own backyard or treasurer the pockets of wildness among the skyscrapers.    People like David Lindo, who writes for the RSPB magazine about urban birdwatching, illustrate the point well and the London City National Park campaign pages have some fantastic photos of London wildlife.

 

Cities in Scotland, and indeed the rest of England, also have some wonderful wildlife – the discovery of water voles in the East End of Glasgow comes to mind – but because they are so much smaller, the  countryside is much easier to access.    If you want to connect to nature, it is much easier – if you have the income – to escape the city.  There are of course plenty of green initiatives in Scottish cities, people care just as much as they do in London, but I think our geography reduces the political pressure to green our urban environment.   The middle classes can and do get out – and its often to our two National Parks – areas where the natural environment should come first.

 

While our geography should make it easier to keep the concept of National Parks separate from Greening the City, I believe we need  to consider the relationship between our cities, where most people live, and our National Parks.

 

To give one example, if you agree with our National Park’s current statutory objectives to promote recreational enjoyment and understanding, their connectedness and accessibility  to the urban population should be one benchmark of their success.   By this measure, at present our National Parks are not doing well, aside from the arterial routes along the A9 and A82 and their railway lines, with large swathes of the inhabited off limits for those who have no car.

Try getting to:

    • Ben Lomond from Glasgow – our aspiration should be that everyone from the Glasgow conurbation should experience the view from Ben Lomond once in their lifetime but the only way to get to Rowardennan by public transport is by expensive private waterbus in the summer months
    • Braemar from the south – Balmoral is, for better or worse, one of our most famous tourist attractions but  even as a tourist, after viewing Holyrood palace, you cannot jump on a bus to Deeside but have to go the long way round to Aberdeen.  Blairgowrie to Braemar is 45 minutes or so by car, 5 hours and 30 minutes by bus.
Lochnagar, an iconic mountain like Ben Lomond which is very hard to access without a car
Lochnagar, an iconic mountain which, like Ben Lomond, is very hard to access without a car

There are many other examples, particularly of dead-end roads that provide the main means of access to some of the core areas of our National Parks.   This is a challenge if you are a hillwalker or mountaineer with a green conscience but its also an issue, to use the current political terminology,  about social inclusion, equality of access and social justice.   Its another very good reason for the new Scottish Parliament to review our National Parks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 3, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

There was more press coverage last week about the reduction in cycle storage capacity on the West Highland Line http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14388363.Campaigners_warn_that_train_refurbishments_will_slash_space_for_bikes/   

On Friday I received a response to my letter to Gordon Watson about whether the Park had made any representations about the impact this would have on tourism in the Park.  I covered the potential impact on the National Park in a previous post http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/03/18/public-transport-national-parks-1/     As is usual, the reply was in the form of an FOI response: the answer appears to be that the Park has made no attempt to influence Transport Scotland or the Government on this issue FOI 2016-011 Response

 

I hope that tourism and cycling interests will now put pressure on the Park to speak out.  While there is an unspoken rule between public authorities that they do not criticise each other in public, Transport Scotland is listed as one the Park’s key partners in the LLTNP Partnership Plan 2012-17. You might have thought therefore that Transport Scotland would have consulted the Park about the reduction in cycling capacity on the West Highland Line and – assuming they failed to do this – the Park would have made representations when the news became public.

 

You might also have thought that Transport Scotland was signed up to the transport objectives set out in the Partnership Plan and the Park would be deeply concerned by the proposals to reduce cycling storage on trains which can only undermine that plan.   Among the statements in the plan are the following:

  • “There is great potential for improvements to scenic routes, viewpoints and public transport” – but not apparently if you want to put your bike on a train to Tarbert and take the cycle route back to Glasgow
  • “There is a lack of value attached to maintaining existing infrastructure and assets to a high standard to support tourism”  –  as now is further evidenced by the proposal to reduce cycle storage capacity on trains
  • “Creating, co-ordinating and promoting a wider range of well integrated transport options which will appeal to visitors…………….”  but not apparently if this is about increasing opportunities to take your bike on the train

Partnership Plan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The statement that “linking public transport and recreation and tourism is crucial” is spot-on but if those words are to mean anything, the Park needs to speak out about changes to trains which will undermine this and make the links far worse for cyclists.   Transport Scotland, meantime, need to start acting as a partner to the plan instead of unilaterally.   Bizarrely, they are not listed as a relevant organisation in VE (Visitor Experience) 11 on sustainable transport.   Perhaps the new Environment Minister, who chairs the annual reviews of the Park’s Parternship Plan, will knock some heads together but I suspect it will need more campaigning to achieve this.

March 18, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

When I was out on Monday on west Loch Lomondside I was struck by the number of cyclists.  It was a lovely sunny day and lots of people were out on the main National Cycle route.     Get the West Highland Line to Tarbert and cycle back to Glasgow or Dumbarton- a great day out.

 

The Cycle Campaigns, Spokes and Go Bike, are now both protesting against the design of the trains that are being refitted for the the West Highland Line Scenic route.   They will have only two places for bikes instead of six as at present (which are often fully booked)  or as they put it a 66% reduction in cycling capacity http://www.spokes.org.uk/2016/03/cuts-coming-to-train-bike-spaces/.  The cycling campaigns have highlighted the impact for tourism in Fort William and Oban but there will probably be as significant an impact on Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and the ability of people from the Glasgow conurbation to get out for a day cycling.    Coupled with the camping ban, which will make cycle touring along west Loch Lomond much harder, this is not good news for cyclists in the National Park.

 

There is also huge potential to cut down on car use in our National Parks through promoting travel by train and then bike (the A82 on a holiday weekend is a nightmare).   Lots of people drive out to the head of Loch Long to walk up the Cobbler but the Arrochar/Tarbert station is not close enough to make this an attractive walk.  Make it easy to put the bike on the train and increase the number of trains and we could open up these hills to many more people.   I believe this is something the National Park should be advocating.

 

I have emailed Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive of LLTNP today, asking him if the Park has made representations to the Minister about the impact of reducing cycle places on the West Highland Line.  The Park sits on the A83 landslip group that is chaired by the Minister so they should have plenty of opportunities to get the message across and the importance of looking at public transport and cycling as well as roads on the western side of the National Park.