Tag: Scottish Government

September 19, 2017 Nick Kempe 7 comments

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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


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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

THE ORIGINAL PARAGRAPH WHICH FOLLOWED HAS BEEN CORRECTED FOLLOWING CLARIFICATION

The CNPA has confirmed with me, in response to a question (which I put as a potential FOI enquiry), that the applicants and other landowners whose land was covered by the Habitats Regulations Assessment saw the OBJECTIVEES of the Habitats Regulations Assessment. The developer has since clarified on Facebook that “An Camas Mor was not consulted on the inclusion of byelaws in the ‘The Habitat Regulations Assessment’.

 

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

September 14, 2017 Nick Kempe 11 comments
Old pine tree surrounded by regeneration at An Camus Mor, isn’t this what our National Parks are for?

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

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

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

Extract from CNPA committee report August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Camas Mor, rewilding and the Cairngorms National Park

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, the CNPA at present appears to give little priority to rewilding. Our National Parks, which could have offered a means to re-wild  parts of Scotland, have not had the drive or will to promote the potential of nature against the interests and wishes of landowners.  Meantime, apart from national nature reserves none of our other nature conservation designations – a major flaw – can be used to restore nature to places.   Our designation system is focussed on protecting what is there, not what could be.       We sorely need a means to promote re-wilding which is not entirely dependent on the goodwill of the landowner.
If Anders Povlsen, who is doing so much to re-wild Glen Feshie, or the RSPB rather than Johnnie Grant had owned this land,  I think it would be being quietly promoted as one of the jewels in the Cairngorms.   From a conservation perspective, the Scottish Government would have been far better giving Johnnie Grant £7.2m to buy up An Camas Mor than buying part of the Rothiemurchus Estate (see here), which was already fully protected.
While both the Scottish Government and the CNPA know that An Camas Mor sits at the centre of the main areas of woodland where Capercaillie now survive, they have seen the challenge as being to find ways to let the development go ahead without impacting too much on capercaillie.  Hence the detailed Habitats Regulations Assessment and mitigation proposals for An Camas Mor which, if enforced, will inevitably restrict access.   They could and should have looked at this from a completely different viewpoint.  What is the rewilding potential of An Camas Mor and what role could it play in saving the capercaillie (once again) from extinction in Scotland?
I have asked Gus Jones, convener of the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group why there are not capercaillie in the woods?    The first reason he gave is recreational use, and by that he did not mean walkers (I did not see another walker in two hours on what was an English bank holiday)   but the use of the forest for quad biking.
The people quad biking were very nice, obviously enjoying themselves and I even heard the tour leader, who had stopped everyone at a particular point, explain the orange marks on some trees marked those to be felled and this was being done to improve ground flora in the woods. How this fitted with the proposed development I am not sure!
The second is that part of An Camas Mor is used for pheasant breeding.
While specific, let alone conclusive research, is lacking,  even the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (see here) admits that pheasant rearing can lead to competition for food and drive other game birds (in which they include capercaillie) from the most intensively used areas while also attracting predators.
Now I am not against either quad biking or pheasant rearing, in the right place.   However, given the current parlous state of capercaillie, surely what the CNPA should be doing is engaging with relevant interests to help capercaillie re-colonise this site (and other such woods)?   This should include, if necessary, helping the current businesses relocate (if An Camas Mor goes ahead they will be finished in any case).
In a previous post  (see here)  I argued  we need an alternative plan for An Camas Mor and this  could be funded by the money which the Scottish Government apparently intends to invest in the development.   Having had a good look at the site, I believe the core of an alternative plan for An Camas Mor should be about how we can allow it to continue to rewild.  That would not cost much in itself:  narrow a few tracks to footpaths, restore other damage, remove human artefacts and rubbish and then leave nature take over..    It would then leave plenty of money to develop social housing elsewhere.
The only problem?  Landownership and how to change who controls the land.
September 12, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
Extract from paper on “Matters Arising” for Board Meeting 18th September, the decision as recorded in the minutes on the left

An extraordinary discussion took place at the end of the June Board meeting of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority in which Councillor James Robb, one of several councillors who will be leaving the Board this Autumn (see here),  proposed that the number of Board Members should be cut.  The reason for the proposal basically was that he felt there was very little for Board members to do, consequently the Board could operate with far fewer members  and cutting numbers would save money.

 

There followed a very open discussion – which would never have taken place in public under the aegis of the previous convener Linda McKay (all credit to new convener James Stuart) – in which basically Board numbers agreed with the proposal (it was clear during the discussion that Cllr Robb had discussed the proposal with some of the other councillors on the Board).   Hence the decision of the meeting, recorded in the minute, to approach the Minister and ask for a suspension of new appointments until numbers on the Board could be reviewed.

 

Unsurprisingly the proposal has been rejected by the Scottish Government. Our National Park legislation requires the Board to be composed of three types of members, those appointed by Ministers, those nominated by local authorities and directly elected members and the numbers of the three categories of Board Member to balance.   While reducing numbers of councillors and Ministerial nominees on the Board would be relatively simple, reducing the number of directly elected members would require electoral boundaries to be completely withdrawn, a complex business.  Also, I suspect the Scottish Government wants to avoid opening up the possibility of any debate in the Scottish Parliament about new or existing National Parks which would be created if the existing legislation was to be amended.

 

While I welcomed the open discussion and the honesty of Board Members – its not many people who voluntarily vote to make the posts they are leaving redundant – what was depressing was that not a single Board Member made a case for keeping Board Members, based not just on what they do at present but on what they could and should be doing.    It appeared from the discussion that Board Members feel they serve no useful purpose.

 

Now I can understand why that might have happened.  First, when Mike Cantlay was chair and Fiona Logan was Chief Executive, Board Members were  firmly told they were not to get involved in operational matters.   So Board Members who knew about footpaths, were told not to support staff on this and those that knew about conservation were told to keep clear of that while those simply with an interest in their area were also told to keep at arms length.    The reason for having Board Members with expertise or democratically elected and nominated Board Members disappeared.

 

Second, to keep Board Members occupied, Mike Cantlay and Fiona Logan then introduced the practice of monthly briefing sessions and seminars as a  way for Board Members to earn their £200 a day.  These meetings, rather than helping Board Members to speak freely, actually became a way of controlling them and under the next convener Linda McKay were turned into secret decision making forums which among other things developed the camping byelaws.   The National Park Board became increasingly autocratic and the result has been Board Members have been left unable to see a role for themselves.

 

What is very sad though is that Board Members have become so neutered that even under the new more open regime of James Stuart they cannot see a useful role for themselves.    I believe there are plenty of opportunities for the Board both to start showing leadership and also to start putting proper governance arrangements in place.  I think this should be based around a number of  areas of activity:

  1. Board Members should know what is happening on the ground and being done in their name.    This means them getting out to see everything from the hydro tracks that are destroying the National Park landscape to the inappropriate areas designated as “camping permit zones”.  This would enable them to make informed inputs into policy development and to scrutinise papers properly.   The current Board is totally failing to do this,  is  disconnected from what is happening on the ground and as a result cannot do its job properly.
  2. Elected Board Members, both councillors and those directly elected,  should be engaging with the local communities they serve and helping to articulate community concerns and aspirations.  That they are failing to do so I think was epitomised by the case of former Councillor Fergus Wood, who was resoundly defeated in the last election, in no small part because he had pressed ahead with a proposal for a campsite without consulting local people.  The same elected representatives for Strathard totally failed to listen to the concerns of the local community about the size of the Loch Chon campsite.  When push comes to shove, the democratically elected representatives have always listened to their Chief Executive before the communities they serve.   The large democratic deficit in the National Park needs to be closed and that will take time and effort.
  3. Board Members should be engaging with national recreational and conservation interests – the people with expertise in the Park’s statutory objectives to promote public enjoyment and conservation.  Had they been doing so I don’t think we would have ended up with  the camping byelaws or the land management practices which still dominate much of the National Park and are destroying its conservation value (whether intensive forestry with clearfell or overgrazing by sheep and deer).  Again, this will take time and effort.
  4. Board Members should be taking a leadership role to ensure effective partnership working with other public sector organisations.  I find it amazing that Councillor Members, having called a year ago for more effective working with local authorities to address litter (noted again in the minutes as an issue) do not appear to have done anything to assist with this process.   They appear to have no idea of how to do this and to have lost sight of the reason they form a third of the membership is to ensure effective joint work with their councils.  If the structures aren’t there, its their job to create them and they need to start doing so.   However, the issue of effective co-ordination goes far beyond local authorities.  The Board needs to have members meeting and networked with other public authorities such as the Forestry Commission, SNH  and SEPA and to have links with delivery organisations like Sustrans and Transport Scotland .   If they started doing so, the National Park might have a chance of delivering a partnership plan which made a real difference, instead of each sector just carrying on as it is managing what is left of ever decreasing public sector budgets.

 

It will be interesting to see if the Board Meeting next week has any discussion in public about creating a meaningful role for Board Members.  It appear from the fact that senior staff have marked this matter arising as “Closed” that they don’t want this to happen.

 

 

September 11, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
Looking from the pole which marks the centre of the proposed new town at an An Camas Mor towards the Lairig Ghru

Anyone who tries to understand human affairs from a global perspective will have probably greeted  last week’s announcement that a poll of readers of the Rough Guides had found Scotland to be the most beautiful country in the world with a deep shrug.

 

It is of course just a piece of marketing based on a very selective sample of people who are able to travel and choose to visit certain countries.   That Scotland came out top beating Canada, New Zealand and South Africa says a lot.  This was a poll of people from the English speaking world with what appear to be anglo-saxon perspectives.   A month ago I was in the Dolomites, where its not hard to find marketing blurb claiming that the Dolomites are indeed the most beautiful place in the world.  I wonder how many Italians were included in this poll?       And what about he mass of humanity who live in the third world, often much closer to the natural environment than we do, but whose experience of beauty is being destroyed by logging companies, mines and agricultural plantations which also displace them from the land.

 

Polls like this are not just an indulgence which should be accepted with a shrug.  They feed a racist view of the world, where we rarely stop long enough to consider what people from elsewhere and who are not like us may think, and which is blind to what capitalism is doing in our name to other parts of the world.  They also feed a privileged view of Scotland, which treats a few unspoiled land and city scapes (from Skye to Edinburgh) as epitomising the country and is blind to the many far from beautiful places where people actually live, with all the impact that has for health and human happiness.   Social injustice, which is everywhere and growing, is never beautiful.

 

Even if we ignore, like the tourists, the ugly bits of Scotland, objectively, how can you compare the best bits, the beauty that lies in our hills, lochs and western seaboard with the high mountains of the Himalaya or the deserts of Australia or the savannah in Africa?   People can only answer questions about what they know about.   I love Scotland but then its the landscape of home.   If you polled everyone in the world about what was the most beautiful country I am pretty certain China, having the most people, would come out top and Scotland, being small, would come out way down the list.  That’s not much use to Visit Scotland though, in their mission to promote Scotland, so the hype and privileged world view that goes with it will continue.

 

Polls like this also ignore the reality that across the world humans are destroying the natural environment and natural beauty at ever increasing rates and although “peak” destruction in Scotland took place something like 200 years ago, it is continuing with the say-so, nay encouragement, of those in power.    The Herald in its coverage of the story  (see here) gave a wonderful illustration of the complacency of the current Scottish Government:

 

“A Scottish Government spokeswoman said its policies ensure developments are sited at appropriate locations”.  

 

Really?  It seems to me that only someone who had never visited An Camas Mor (photo above) or was blinded by business, greed and profit could ever say that.

 

And that is my greatest concerns about this poll, it lets those in power off the hook and will undermine our National Parks, which were set up to protect the landscape and find more sustainable ways for humans to relate to nature.  The thinking goes like this……..

 

….if Scotland is the most beautiful country in the world, then:

  • people cannot be really concerned about the proliferation of hydro tracks which has destroyed the landscape of Glen Falloch and Glen Dochart for example with the blessing of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority
  • surely, with so much beauty, we can easily afford to lose a few areas in our National Parks to development, whether to the An Camas Mor new town, Flamingo Land at Balloch or Natural Retreats at Cairngorm
  • people cannot be really concerned about how our landscapes are treated on a day to day basis, whether by Highlands and Islands Entrerprise at Cairngorm or grouse moor owners……….in fact, perhaps our landowners are right, its these land management practices which make the country beautiful
  • why on earth did parkswatch make a fuss about the beech trees on Inchtavannach being felled in the name of science?   This poll came after that felling and all the other destruction covered in the last 18 months and that doesn’t seem to have altered people’s perceptions of Scotland.
  • this just shows that people aren’t very concerned about the visual impact of blanket conifer afforestation and subsequent clearfelling by the Forestry Commission so we can just let these practices continue in the National Park

 

The point that our politicians and powers that be must not be allowed to forget is that, whatever Scotland’s position in the world, our National Parks have, since their creation, presided over a further degradation of the landscapes they were set up to protect.  What we need is not international opinion polls, which simply provide an excuse for our National Parks to continue as they are present, but a real change in direction which puts landscape and social justice first.

September 4, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments

Like many people, I suspect, I have been waiting for  months for another case of raptor persecution to occur in the Cairngorms National Park.  For under the current grouse moor management regimes that dominate much of the National Park, its not a case of “if” but “when” another raptor will disappear.   While its taken longer than I expected, last week the RSPB announced  a young hen harrier, which had been satellite tagged on the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate, had disappeared just north of Ballater.  As Raptor Persecution Scotland reported (see here) its almost certain this was on either the Invercauld estate, held by a Trust on behalf of the Farquharson family or Dinnet estate, owned by former Cairngorms National Park Authority Board Member Marcus Humphrey.   Their article documents known cases of raptor persecution in the area.

 

The Cairngorms National Park Authority issued this news release in response to the incident:

Statement: Hen harrier disappearance

1st September 2017

From Grant Moir CEO, Cairngorms National Park Authority

“A hen harrier has once again disappeared in the Cairngorms National Park, with a satellite tracker ceasing to transmit. The Park Authority is determined to stop these recurring disappearances.

“Earlier this week the CNPA met with Police Scotland to discuss how increased use of special constables can help to tackle wildlife crime in the Cairngorms National Park. We also continue to work on other solutions to these issues.

“The CNPA look forward to the establishment by Scottish Government of the independently-led group to look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management and will feed in to that review.”

(see here for link)

However, while such a solution might work in a National Park where the Board was determined to tackle landowners, unfortunately the reality at present from the destruction at Cairngorm to the profileration of hill tracks is that the CNPA does not appear to have the will or resources to use its regulatory powers.   So, even if the CNPA introduced a licensing regime – and was allowed to act independently of its minders at the Scottish Government – this might not change anything.
Another solution is to nationalise the land.  In many National Parks across the world land is in public ownership.  National Parks were set up in Scotland on the assumption that it would be possible to persuade landowners to cooperate.   They have now had 15 years to do so and some still blatantly ignore all the conservation objectives of the National Park.  I think its time therefore for people to start demanding that where there is evidence of repeated raptor persecution (or a repeated failure to meet other conservation objectives) on particular estates in our National Parks the Scottish Government should compulsorily purchase the estate concerned.  Tney could then transfer the land to a new National Parks land-management service, as exists in other countries, to manage.
August 22, 2017 Nick Kempe 11 comments
Some of the protesters who attended the CNPA planning meeting on Friday.  Protests by local people, while already significant, are likely to increase greatly in future due to the implications of the proposed Recreation Management Plan.   Photo Credit Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group

On Friday, to no-one’s surprise, the Cairngorms National Park Authority unanimously approved the revised planning application for An Camas Mor and in effect gave Johnnie Grant a further three years to meet planning requirements.   Paradoxically,  this new decision, I believe makes An Camas Mor  less likely than ever to go ahead.  This is mainly because of the measures proposed in the Habitats Regulations Assessment regarding access and the requirement for a Recreation Management Plan.

 

Its worth recalling here that the development of land for housing on the east side of the Spey in the area of ACM was first proposed by Aviemore Community Council  in 1987 and that every Scottish Government since the Scottish Parliament was created  have supported the development.  The original proposal from the old Highland Council development plan was transferred into the first Cairngorms National Park Authority Development plan and has been there ever since.   Despite this – and despite strong ongoing support from elements of the current Scottish Government,  support which the CNPA is not strong enough to challenge – so far the development lobby have achieved nothing. Not a single house built.    On balance, I don’t think that is going to change.  What follows explains why.

 

The flawed decision-making process

Despite the extensive implications of An Camas Mor for access, for both local residents and visitors, (see here) and (here) there was not a single objection to the application on the grounds that it would have an adverse impact on access and recreation.  The reason for this is no-one knew there would be implications until the CNPA published its secret Habitats Regulations Assessment last week, four days before the planning committee.   The Ramblers Association then issued a press release (see here) the day before the Committee Meeting raising serious issues about the proposals and Dave Morris, their former Director, wrote to every single Board Member on the day of the meeting (see here), but this was all too late. The CNPA denied the recreational community the opportunity to have any formal say in the planning decision.    This is fundamentally wrong and will, I believe, come back to haunt both the CNPA and the Scottish Government.

 

To make matters worse, it is clear the CNPA were aware of the recreational implications of ACM over a year ago.   Appendix 5 to Habitats Regulations Assessment is dated August 2016 and titled “Identification of woodlands with potential for significant recreational disturbance to capercaillie arising from An Camas Mor, and specification of the mitigation required to avoid such disturbance.  This document therefore had been finalised a month BEFORE the CNPA Board approved the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy, yet the CNPA were quite happy for that strategy – which had been subject to consultation with recreational interests – to be approved without any indication that it was already out of day because of what they were planning to mitigate the impacts of An Camas Mor.   That should hardly inspire trust in the CNPA from outdoor recreation interests.

 

The implications of the proposed An Camas Mor Recreation Management Plan

While the Habitats Regulations Assessment was produced without consultation,  the new planning condition which sets out the requirement for a Recreation Management Plan is very strong in terms of what it requires the developer to do to ensure the protection of Natura sites, particularly in respect of capercaillie.  Condition 11 reads:

 

“No development shall commence on site (other than site investigation works) until a Recreational Management Plan (RMP) that delivers the outcomes within the Habitat Regulations Appraisal that accompanies this decision and demonstrates that there will be no adverse effect on site integrity of any Natura sites, has been submitted to and approved in writing by the CNPA acting as planning authority.”

 

This was is re-inforced by the CNPA Press Release announcing the decision which states the applicant will have “to prove there will be no significant adverse effects to capercaillie in Badenoch and Strathspey as a result of the proposals before any development can start.”  

 

Prove is a very strong word and proving that the creation of a further 1500 households, most of whom will have an interest in outdoor recreation, right in the heart of capercaillie country, will have no adverse impact on capercaillie will in my view provide an enormous challenge to the developer.   Moreover proving that the soft mitigation measures outlined in the Habitats Regulation Appraisal (such as revegetation of certain paths) will be sufficient to keep visitor numbers at current levels will be  impossible to demonstrate.  As a result, I believe the applicant will only be able to prove they can mitigate the impacts of the development for capercaillie, if they can show they have plans to put in place powers of last resort to limit visitor numbers.   And that requires byelaws.

 

Besides the political stushie that any proposal for byelaws will create, they also have serious resource implications.   The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Rangers Service is huge compared to that in the Cairngorms (over 50 staff who consume a large huge proportion of the National Park’s resources) and have responsibility for enforcing the camping management byelaws.  Yet visit any of the camping management zones where camping is banned and I can guarantee that on each occasion you will find people in breach of the byelaws.   At Rowardennan on Sunday there was a tent on the beach – people weren’t actually camping, they were using it to change in to go for a swim – but were nevertheless committing the criminal offence of pitching a tent in a management zone.  The CNPA, in order to protect Natura Sites, could not allow such breaches to take place.  It will therefore need a huge police/ranger force – unless of course people are banned from Glenmore completely, which would destroy Aviemore as a tourist destination – to ensure people to keep to the paths, the outcome it says the Recreation Management Plan must deliver.

 

How will this be paid for?   The developer is now proposing that the future residents of An Camus Mor will pay for visitor management measures through ground rent or as the CNPA puts it “long-term funding for recreation management through the annual household service charge”..    The financial implications for future residents are significant, could well make the 25% of ACM that the CNPA says will be reserved for social housing completely unaffordable and is likely to act as a deterrent to potential purchasers.  The proposed Recreation Management Plan therefore significantly increases the financial risks associated with the development.

 

Implementing the Recreation Management Plan

The proposed Recreation Management Plan will have to cover not just An Camus Mor itself and Johnnie Grant’s remaining land at Rothiemurchus, it will have to cover much of Badenoch and Strathspey from Creag Dubh to Boat of Garten. This includes land owned by other landowners, namely Forestry Commission Scotland, RSPB and Seafield Estates.   The Habitats Regulations Assessment does not indicate what involvement those landowners had in drawing up the proposed mitigation measures or whether they have agreed to implement them – this information needs to be made public – but it would only take one landowner to refuse to implement the measures and the whole Recreation Management Plan,  and therefore the development, would fall apart.

 

What’s more, those landowners are entitled to ask for re-imbursement for all the costs of implementing the Recreation Management Plan.   RSPB have already indicated that they think the costs of this are considerable:

 

Based on their own assessment of mitigation needed in the Abernethy SPA to reduce
risks of disturbance to an acceptable level, they have estimated the capital costs of
mitigation across the network SPA and supporting woodland in Badenoch and
Strathspey to be in the region of £650k to £900k. They also estimate that a five to six
person ranger service would be required in perpetuity to support recreation
management.

 

I think that these projected costs are likely to go up significantly once all the landowners start thinking through the implications and costing what they need to do.

 

Moreover, while I am sceptical enough to believe that the landowners involved might only be too happy to limit access – there are those in Forestry Commission Scotland who have always resented the removal of their ability to make byelaws controlling access since the Land Reform Act – whether they would be prepared to sign up to permanent recreation management measures on their land in perpetuity which limit their right to take their own decisions is questionable.   This would mean landowners signing away some of their rights to manage land – it would almost certainly need expensive legal agreements –  which in planning terms normally requires compensation.   The other landowners are thus in financial terms now in a position to hold the developer to ransom and name their price.   This adds further significant risks to the financing of An Camas Mor.

 

It is also another reason why the only way that Johnnie Grant, as Developer, will be able to  guarantee delivery of the Recreation Management Plan on other landowners’ property is if he can show the CNPA has agreed to use its byelaw making powers, under either the Land Reform Act or the National Parks Act, to deliver the mitigation measures.  This is because even if Johnnie Grant agrees a suite of measures and a price with other landowners, he also needs to show what will happen if these don’t work.   Will he, for example, be able to increase management charges for ACM residents to pay for whatever measures are needed?       If there are any doubts about Johnnie Grant’s ability to pay for delivery of the mitigation measures, then the only way he can guarantee they are delivered is if the CNPA agrees to use its byelaw making powers.

 

Legally, this creates lots of issues.  It is highly questionable whether any public authority has the right to use its powers both to control how other land owners manage their land and to limit public rights of access when the only reason for this is to deliver a private development.  While I believe the CNPA will eventually have to consult on the proposed Recreation Management Plan and when it does I predict a huge public outcry which will shake the politicians, in terms of the current planning decision it appears that the CNPA have acted ultra vires.   As a result, there is a strong case that it could be legally challenged and called in by the Scottish Government.

The involvement of the Scottish Government and the financial risks associated with the development

I have had it reported on good authority that at the Planning Committee on Friday Johnnie Grant’s planning consultant  said words to the effect that  the Scottish Government has agreed to help fund the development if planning consent is given.   While this helps explain the CNPA decision it also opens the door to questions now being lodged under the Freedom of Information Act asking about the Scottish Government’s involvement in promoting and financing an inappropriate development in one of our National Parks.

 

In a post last week I drew attention to the high financial risks to the developer and in particular the need to meet costs up front.   While the revised planning conditions no longer require the developer to pay for health infrastructure (the CNPA now say sufficient facilities are in place to cope with the new demand) in other areas the development costs have increased, for example, “members agreed that a new bridge for pedestrians and cyclists must be delivered before 200 homes are occupied.”   That means more money the banks will have lend up front without any guarantee they will get it back.

 

Meantime, due to the current crisis in our wider capitalist economy and the relentless downward pressure on wages, the number of people able to afford first or second homes at An Camas Mor are becoming thinner on the ground.   This I believe helps explains why the Developer has been having discussions with the Scottish Government about helping to finance the development (the latest information I have had is that the £7.2m Johnnie Grant received from the Scottish Government to buy part of Rothiemurchus has already been spent and is not available to contribute to the development).

 

The need to develop an alternative plan

The question then arises that if if the Scottish Government is prepared to finance Johnnie Grant, why not use Scottish Government finance- rumours suggest this could be £9m –  to fund an alternative plan?

This letter from 2014, tweeted by the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group summarises the reasons why people should be sceptical about whether An Camas Mor will deliver social housing

£9m could pump prime a significant development of social housing, which is what the National Park needs to meet the needs of the local workforce, who are according to National Park Plan paid significantly less than the national average.   If our Public Authorities had spent the last 30 years bringing empty houses into use and promoting new affordable housing, instead of endless luxury housing for use as second homes and waiting for An Camas Mor to go ahead, the housing problems in the National Park would have been solved by now.  The dualling of the A9 makes it is far less important that such housing be located in Aviemore as it opens the option of improved bus connections between settlements.

 

£9 could alternatively pay for the pedestrian/cycling bridge over the Spey and other recreational infrastructure, greatly extending opportunities for informal outdoor recreation for those living in Aviemore while reducing current impacts of residents on natura sites,  without any need for the new development to go ahead.  In other words the Scottish Government could pay to implement for the good ideas in the Habitats Regulations Assessment – and there are some – without any need for the development going ahead.

 

What needs to happen

The recreational implications of An Camas Mor going ahead are enormous and very complicated and legally provide extremely strong grounds  for the Scottish Government to call in the application, both because it appears that the CNPA has acted ultra vires and also because the proposed Recreation Management Plan is incapable of implementation.    I hope conservation and recreational organisations now join together and call on Ministers to do this.

 

Its time too I believe for local residents and the conservation and recreational NGOs to get together and develop an alternative plan.  Unfortunately I don’t think the CNPA would be allowed to do this even though its exactly the sort of initiative it should be leading.   An alternative plan should aim to deliver the housing that is needed by the local workforce, protect nature and promote outdoor recreation where this is appropriate.    People should be demanding that the Scottish Government agree in principle to finance the implementation of such a plan, which would deliver considerable public benefits, instead of financing private developers to the overall detriment of the National Park.

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

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

 

The abandonment of the precautionary approach

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

The level of support for the proposals

 

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

 

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

 

The wider picture

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

July 11, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Following my post on the unlawful application of the camping byelaws to campervans (see here), Rob Edwards’ excellent article in the Sunday Herald (I have an interest!) prompted an interesting piece http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2017/07/10/wild-land/ from Mike Small which is well worth reading:

 

“Scotland’s divorce from nature is intimately connected to its divorce from land. But whilst we struggle to overcome the engrained iniquity of land ownership we can do something about access to land. From the country that gave the world John Muir the shambles of the national park is pretty depressing”

 

What has been happening in the National Park though is more than a shambles, its been a deliberate attempt to exclude people from an area which was made a National Park in order to enable people, primarily from the Glasgow conurbation and many of whom have little money, to enjoy the countryside.   That was an old socialist aspiration.  Its not a coincidence that the same post-war Labour Government that created the NHS also passed the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.     The camping byelaws, which are only part of a much wider attempt to make the National Park a socially exclusive zone, are now unravelling partly due to incompetence but also because, thankfully, other public authorities have respected people’s rights.  In this case the key right is that of people to sleep overnight in a vehicle on the road network.

 

The LLTNPA’s record on developing the byelaws and the right to stay overnight in vehicles

 

Rob Edwards obtained from the Park a very interesting explanation for its U-turn on campervans, which once again demonstrates the rotten governance that has been at the heart of how the byelaws have been developed.

 

“The park authority pointed out that caravaners staying weeks or months on two old stretches of road by Loch Earn had damaged the park’s unique environment.  “Our clear legal advice was that they weren’t part of the formal road network and that the issue could be addressed with bylaws” said the authority’s chief executive, Gordon Watson”.

 

I was surprised at this claim because if Gordon Watson or the Park’s lawyer had asked Transport Scotland – the body responsible for the trunk road network  –  they would have known that the laybys on the A85 along the north side of the Loch Earn were part of the formal road network and therefore under the byelaws as approved by the LLTNPA Board and Minister, people could sleep there in vehicles.     Transport Scotland provided me with a list of all trunk road laybys LL&T National Park Lay-Bys they were responsible for in December 2016.  Here is the extract for the A85 along the north shore of Long Earn:

While I have not converted the references from eastings and northings to grid references I am fairly confident they include all the laybys along Loch Earn where encampments used to take place

Maybe, however, the Park’s lawyer knew something Transport Scotland didn’t?   Its quite clear though that other LLTNPA staff did not know either because, as late as summer 2016, a year after the byelaws were approved by the Board in April 2015, staff were asking Transport Scotland which laybys were part of the formal road network:

(You can read the full correspondence – I am grateful to Transport Scotland for co-operating with my FOI request – here, here and here)

Note, how Carlo DEmidio, the senior manager appointed to improve the Park’s project management (and who has since left the Park) did not know either which laybys were official – perhaps he did not have access to the legal advice provided to his Chief Executive? – and his statement “We just need something that we can use to justify our position when it comes to enforcement and signage”.   That does not sound like a Park Authority following legal advice, that sounds more like a Park Authority hell bent on banning campervans whatever the legal advice.

 

Unfortunately, it may be very difficult to find out the truth on this because legal advice is privileged and exempt from Freedom of Information rules.  Whatever the legal advice the Board had prior to approving the byelaws, once Park staff found out that the laybys on North Loch Earn were part of the public roads network, they should have advised the Board.

 

Instead what appears to have happened is that Park staff, without reference to the Board or apparently the Scottish Government (see here), changed the wording of the camping byelaws.  Now under English Law, significant changes to byelaws would normally require further public consultation before going back to the Board for approval but in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park none of this happened.     In my view that leaves the legality of the entire byelaws open to question but they key point here is the changes, which were significant, made it even more difficult for the Park to ban people from staying overnight in vehicles.

 

This is because the original version of the byelaws only allowed people to sleep overnight in vehicles on public roads:

 

(7) No person shall sleep overnight in a stationary vehicle within a Management Zone unless:

(a) they have been authorised to do so by the Authority under byelaw 12; or

(b) the vehicle is on a public road and such activity is not prohibited by the relevant roads

authority.

 

The key term here is “public road” which was defined to mean:

 

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

 

You can see from this why it was so important to work out which laybys on north Loch Earn among other places were part of the public roads network and which not.

 

In the version of the byelaws which was published in November 2016, however, just over three months before they were implemented, the terms “public road” and “roads authority” had been dropped and replaced by the term “road”.   This was defined to mean “a road for the purposes of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984” and this inadvertently  changed the whole scope of the exemption in the byelaws which allowed people to sleep in vehicles.   This is because under the Roads Traffic Scotland Act  a road is defined to mean any road over which there is a right of passage, private or public.    It gave campervans a legal right under the byelaws to stay on anything that looked like a road (such as forest tracks), including its verge, in the camping management zones.  Hence why the Park has refunded people who bought permits not just on the public road network at Loch Earn, but also in permit areas created on what appears to be a private road at Tarbert.

 

What needs to be done

 

The Park in its response to Rob Edwards was trying to hide behind legal advice in order to defend its unlawful attempt to charge people in campervans for staying overnight on the road network but also to save face with local communities:  I am sure St Fillans Community Council will be dismayed.  Having been told the byelaws could prevent encampments in laybys, its now clear they did not know what they were talking about and that the whole justification for the byelaws has been a con.

 

Its worse than that though.   Perhaps Park staff could explain on what legal advice they had decided to allow caravans to stop off overnight in laybys in the camping management zones while still trying to ban campervans?  The definition of “vehicle” remained unchanged between the two versions of the camping byelaws and clearly included campervans: ” “vehicle” means a mechanically-propelled vehicle or a vehicle designed or adapted for towing by a mechanically-propelled vehicle”.  I doubt any lawyer would have made a distinction between campervans and caravans and my conclusion is the staff having been making up the implementation of the byelaws as they go along. Acting beyond their powers.  Dave Morris, for it was he, was right to call for Scottish Ministers to investigate.

 

The LLTNPA Board now needs to issue a clear statement of whether the camping byelaws still apply to people sleeping in vehicles and if so, in what circumstances people could be prosecuted.   My own view is that they should clearly state that no-one who is abiding by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, whether in a campervan or tent, will be prosecuted.  As importantly the Board also needs to  re-affirm that a primary purpose of the National Park is to enable people to enjoy the countryside and that overnight stays in tents and campervans are an essential part of this right.  It should then get on with providing the facilities that campervanners and caravanners need rather than wasting more resources enforcing the unenforceable.

July 10, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

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

 

The LLTNPA response to Ledcharrie

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Coilessan track

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A comparision between the two National Parks

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What needs to happen

 

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

June 21, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
This afternoon, following the debate last week (see here), there is motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for an independent inquiry into the way the Scottish Parliament deals with Information Requests:

That the Parliament condemns the Scottish Government’s poor performance in responding to freedom of information requests; calls for an independent inquiry into the way that it deals with these, and agrees to undertake post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

 

This issue should transcend party politics (the motion is being proposed by Tory MSP Edward Mountain).  To me, the motion does not go far enough and the inquiry should include all public authorities.

 

There is an amendment to the motion from Joe Fitzpatrick (SNP) which I also think is also very welcomes:

 

“insert at end “, and welcomes commitments by the Scottish Government to adopt a policy of pro-actively publishing all material released under FOI to ensure that it is as widely available as possible.”

 

This provision too should be applied to ALL public authorities.   As evidence for this, so far this year the LLTNPA has published just two pieces of information it has supplied under Freedom of Information or the Environmental Information Regulations (see here).    The LLTNPA responds to most information requests under the EIRs and so far this year I know there have been at least 43 requests for information under the Environmental Information Regulations as each are numbered (see here for latest).    2 out of 43 means the LLTNPA publishes less than 5% of all information responses.  I have written to Joe Fitzpatrick suggesting that it should be obligatory on all public authorities to publish all responses.

 

The latest response from the LLTNPA, which followed my request for the Park to make public the management plans it had agreed with estate owners,  raises another issue about how public authorities are circumventing Freedom of Information – by refusing to release them on grounds of commercial sensitivity or confidentiality.

 

Central to the purpose of our National Parks is the way land is managed and it is right that our National Park Authorities work with landowners to improve this.  That a National Park Authority is, however, refusing to make public what it has agreed with individual landowners about how their land should be managed  is, I suggest, a matter for serious public concern.  Just why the National Park needs – or why private estates would supply the National Park with – commercial information I am not sure  but the simple answer is for the LLTNPA to remove the commercial information from the estate plans it has agreed and make them public.  The Cairngorms National Park Authority publishes estate management plans on its website http://cairngorms.co.uk/caring-future/land-management/estate-management/  so why can’t Scotland’s other National Park?

 

The LLTNPA has also recently refused to release monitoring data for the Cononish goldmine  on grounds of commercial confidentiality EIR 2017-041 Response cononish.   This raises equally serious issues.  What the LLTNPA appears to be saying is that it won’t make public information which would show the extent to which developers are abiding by planning conditions.

 

This is not just an issue with the National Park.  Its part of a much wider neo-liberal agenda to liberate private companies from the constraints of law and regulation.  Aditya Chakrabortty put this extremely well in a fine article in the Guardian yesterday https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/20/engels-britain-murders-poor-grenfell-tower:  

 

Accountability is tossed aside for “commercial confidentiality”, while profiteering is dressed up as economic dynamism“.

 

It would be hard to find a better description for how the LLTNPA is operating at present.

June 21, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

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

 

Where is the review of the current NPPP?

 

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

 

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

Extract from NPPP Review

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

An outcomes based plan

 

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

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

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

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

The secret and biased consultation process

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

How does the NPPP fit with other Strategies and Policies?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What needs to happen

 

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

 

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

 

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

June 14, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
This entry on the Risk Register made me smile, because its an acknowledgement that CNPA is taking social media like Parkswatch into account, but illustrates concern about the wrong thing. The risk should be whether the CNPA is delivering the objectives for which it was set up. If it delivers these, it will earn a good reputation.

The agenda for the Cairngorms National Park Authority meeting last Friday (see here) was brief: Chief Exec’s Report, Corporate Performance, Risk and Mountain Hares.   While I was not at the meeting and cannot report what was decided, there were some positive signs in the  papers.

 

Mountain Hares

The paper on Mountain Hares appears to have been in response to to One Kind’s current campaign calling for a ban on hare culls in the National Park- the CNPA has received 450 postcards  –  and coverage by Raptor Persecution Scotland, the press and Parkswatch (see here) on hare persecution.  While the paper is brief and mostly factual – the CNPA has no idea of how many hares are slaughtered in the National Park – the final paragraphs at the end signal a welcome step in the right direction:

 

13. The cull of any species should be justified on sound environmental or economic reasons that are in the public interest.   In the case of deer, culls are justified on the grounds that they allow the restoration of depleted habitat and in the longer term lead to a healthier environment and consequently a healthier herd.   Hare culls similarly, may be necessary in some locations e.g. to allow woodland regeneration or  to prevent damage to planted trees.  The CNPA have concerns about the public interest justification and scale of culling for the primary purpose of tick control.
The clear message is CNPA staff do not think culls for tick control – hares are alleged to pass on ticks which carry the louping ill virus to grouse – are justified.    The paper contains no proposals to address this although the National Park could, if they wanted to, stop culls through the creation of byelaws for conservation purposes.  I hope they will propose they could pilot this as part of the Scottish Government’s Review of Grouse Moor management.
 
14. CNPA accept that culling of hares may be justified and necessary in some circumstances but we do not advocate large-scale culls unless there is clear evidence to demonstrate  extremely high densities which are causing significant problems.
Unfortunately there is no reference to why hare numbers may sometimes reach such high numbers – the answer is in good part because of an absence of predators, particularly golden eagles, in the National Park.
15. The CNPA want to see greater transparency on what level of culling is taking place in
the Cairngorms and the reasons for culling. Mountain hares are an important species
in the Cairngorms and we want to ensure healthy populations across their natural
range.

 

While no actions are proposed in the paper,  the logic in the report suggests that the CNPA will have to take action in the near future, not just on hares but to protect other species.  If the cull of any species needs to be justified on environmental or economic grounds – and remember the Sandford Principle means conservation comes before the CNPA’s other statutory objectives, including sustainable economic development –  then besides hare, the CNPA needs to look at all the other species that are killed in the National Park including corvids, raptors and mustelids.    Moreover, if there needs to be transparency on the number of hares being killed, but if hares, as the CNPA acknowledges, then why not other creatures?     The CNPA could deal with both of these issues by creating byelaws to replace the general license (which allows certain animals to be killed without permission) with specific licenses where culls could be justified on environmental grounds and required landowners to report on species populations as part of this..

 

Raptor tagging

 

Under the Chief Executive’s report there is a very brief paragraph which was given coverage by Raptor Persecution Scotland yesterday (see here):

 

Civtech – The CNPA & SNH have launched a Civtech challenge on raptor persecution. Details at   http://ow.ly/BR1V30c4bo5
The idea is is try and find a solution to the problem of satellite tags being destroyed when raptors have been unlawfully killed and data about their final whereabouts therefore being lost.  This initiative was not included in the Government’s recent announcement of a package of measures to address Raptor Persecution and I assume therefore its come from SNH and the CNPA.  If so, that is again welcome.  Our public authorities should be able to act independently of the Scottish Government.
Like Raptor Persecution Scotland I think the initiative is well-intentioned but I don’t think it will cause too much concern to the people who are unlawfully killing raptors.  Even if you could establish the exact position of a raptor before it died, and therefore the landowner who was likely responsible, it would not prove who did it.  To convict someone of a criminal offence, the evidence needs to be beyond reasonable doubt.  An estate has two gamekeepers, how do you prove which one did it?  Its because of this that I think the Scottish Government’s attempt to improve enforcement of the criminal law won’t make much difference.
While its worth trying to improve information about where and when raptors disappear, where new thinking is really required is on what other measures, apart from the criminal law, would deter raptor persecution.    I would suggest that the removal of the right to hunt, which could be done on the balance of probabilities (rather than requiring evidence to be beyond reasonable doubt as in the criminal law) would hit the people who allow this persecution to continue where it hurts.  It would remove both the enjoyment they get from hunting and the income this brings in.  Its likely to be a far more effective deterrent than the criminal law.     Unfortunately, I think it will take a lot more public pressure before that happens.

Resources

One of a number of risks in the CNPA risk register which relate to limited resources

It was good to see the Board Papers highlighting that limited resources, which result from the imposition of austerity,  pose serious constraints on the CNPA’s ability to deliver on their plan let alone undertake new initiatives.  Instead of our National Parks pretending like other public authorities they can make austerity work, we need organisations which are open about the impact of cuts and can articulate what they could do – and what differences this would make to visitors, residents and wildlife – if they had the money.    The CNPA appears to be more open about this than the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority which continues to present itself as perfect in every respect (but then maybe that’s because it has too much money, as demonstrated by the large resources wasted on trying to implement the camping byelaws).

 

Nature conservation targets

What the figures from the Corporate Performance report tell us is that the CNPA is failing in its nature conservation objectives.  The percentage of designated features has gone up from 79% to 81% but is way below the 90% target for next year.   If this had been due to dates of monitoring visits, I would have expected the report to clearly stated this.  Instead, the accompanying report says that this reflects “the national position”.  How shocking is that?    What it tells you is our National Parks appear to have been making no real difference to nature conservation.
That’s not entirely true of course, there is plenty of evidence to show from raptor persecution, that a significant number of landowners in the Cairngorms won’t co-operate with Nature Conservation so, while CNPA staff may have been trying very very hard, its made relatively little difference.   This is an argument for a different approach, which puts land reform at the heart of the vision for our National Parks and how they should operate.

An insight into the political challenge

 

“An MSP survey carried out in December shows 100% have heard of the Cairngorms National Park and a third say they know a fair amount or know it well. A little under half (43%) are favourable towards the Cairngorms National Park with 51% claiming to be neutral. Both national parks are held in strong regard at the Parliament, stronger than may be expected given the level of awareness compared to other organisations.”
I found this extract from the corporate performance report pretty shocking: only 43% of MSPs are favourable to the Cairngorms National Park (the target was 50%).    Since we know that the Labour, Lib Dems, Tories and Greens are in favour of more National Parks, its hard to avoid the conclusion that the majority of SNP MSPs (who avoided the debate in the Scottish Parliament on new National Parks (see here) don’t like the existing ones either.   If that is so, it goes a long way to explaining the lack of resources.
Our MSPs really do need to start seeing our National Parks as a means of doing things differently, particularly the way we manage the land.
June 13, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
The debate on the failure of our Freedom of Information laws in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon on a motion proposed by the Labour (Corbyn supporting) MSP Neil Findlay, following pressure from journalists and the recently retired Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew is very welcome (see last business of day).  Here’s the latest evidence from the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority of why its needed:
 
“Please provide me with any information the LLTNPA holds about the secret Board Briefing sessions held on the Cononish goldmine on 13/12/2010 and 20/06/2011”

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

The role of the Scottish Government in National Park decision making

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

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

 

I have appended the motion, which is worth reading:

 

Leading Journalists Criticise the Scottish Government over FOISA

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

 

June 7, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

What has been going on, and going wrong, in Scotland’s two National Parks since they were created has been a microcosm of our society as a whole and I believe reflects the current crisis in capitalism.  Increasing inequality, public authorities whose main purpose is to facilitate business interests (whether through outsourcing services or paving the way for developers), a wilful disregard for people and other species.   I have avoided mentioning the General Election since it was announced (see here) but what happens tomorrow is very important to the future of our National Parks, despite what I regard as the sterile political “debate” that has been conducted in Scotland.

 

I am a Social Worker by trade and have sometimes question how I can justify time campaigning for better National Parks when there are so many homeless people on the street and we live in one of the richest countries in the world (whether you see Scotland or Britain as your country).   I don’t however think that social justice and access to the natural environment are separate issues.   Historically some of the greatest campaigners for the countryside ( Patrick Geddes in Scotland who was both a Professor of Botany and a Professor of Sociology) were also  campaigners for social justice and its no coincidence that the post-war Labour Government created both the NHS and National Parks:

 

“the enjoyment of our leisure in the open air and the ability to leave our towns and walk on the moors and in the dales without fear of interruption are……….just as much part of positive health and well being as are the building of hospitals or insurance against sickness…….This is not just a Bill.  It is a People’s Charter……..”  

(Lewis Silkin introducing the National Park and Access to Countryside Act 1949).

The Party manifestos

 

I have taken a  look at the Scottish political party manifestos to see whether they any are making the links between social and environmental justice and have any vision for the role National Parks could play in delivering this.

 

The SNP manifesto is interesting because while it articulates a vision for social justice, including at the UK level, there is almost nothing on the environment apart from climate change and no mention of National Parks.   In my view it reads a bit like one half of the labour programme from the 1940s, albeit not fundamentally challenging the philosophical basis of neoliberalism.

 

The Scottish Labour Manifesto repeats the UK manifesto and at least recognises what is going wrong:  “The balance needs resetting: our air is polluted, our farms face an uncertain future, our fish stocks are collapsing, our oceans are used as dumping grounds, our forests, green belt, National Parks, and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are all under threat.”   The proposals to redress the balance are mainly focussed on improving enforcement of environmental and other laws, which though welcome, is only half the challenge.   There is little articulation of what a fairer Britain means for our landscapes.

 

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto also makes no mention of National Parks and focusses mainly on the risks that the protections offered by European environmental laws could be undermined by Brexit.  The assumption is these laws are working and there is little vision for a different future (apart from a ban on the neonicotonids which are destroying bee populations).

 

The Scottish Green manifesto is brief and although the most radical makes no mention of National Parks.  Unfortunately the Party with perhaps the most potential to shift the terms of the current debate is hardly participating in the election – a missed opportunity.

 

Interestingly its the Tory manifesto which appears to offer the most holistic vision:

 

We can no longer think of economic development as a competing force against
environmental protection. Earlier this year, the Scottish Conservatives set out our
approach to environmental policy in a comprehensive policy document. The paper
included ambitious plans across seven key sections including the circular economy,
biodiversity, energy, homes and transport. In it, we have argued for the setting up of
new national parks, the introduction of a range of non-fiscal incentives for the use of
electric vehicles, new urban consolidation hubs to reduce traffic emissions or further
development of district heating networks. Our approach will provide a greener and more
sustainable Scotland for us all. We set ourselves this task because we believe it is one of
the greatest challenges of our times. It is for this generation to tackle the issue and ensure
that the next will live in a better, more productive and more sustainable world.

 

The debate on the establishment of New National Parks – Scottish Parliament: 24 May 2017

 

In the middle of the election campaign there was a debate in the Scottish Parliament on new National Parks, which you can see on Scottish Parliament TV (see here) .   The motion, put by the Tories,  was

 

“That the Parliament recognises the value of Scotland’s outstanding natural beauty, which creates jobs, contributes to the economy and attracts millions of tourists from Galloway and West Dumfries, the rest of Scotland and the world; notes what it sees as the success of the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs national parks in conserving and enhancing the natural heritage of these areas, and notes the calls on the Scottish Government to conduct a review of national parks and consider the establishment of new ones.”

 

What the Tories have recognised is that people care about the landscape and this can be good for the economy.   The debate showed however that in Scotland the whole framework for discussion for conservation and enjoyment of the countryside is being held in a resolutely neo-liberal framework, which assumes neo-liberalism and  austerity is here to stay (despite the possibility of an earthquake south of the border tomorrow which no-one could have anticipated 6 weeks ago).

 

This was summed up by the Minister of the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, at the end of the debate where she said she did not share the optimism that new National Parks could be set up with little cost and that the reality is there is less money and that the money has to come from elsewhere.   She described the silence on this from the other contributors to the debate as telling.  She went on to say that the  “costs associated with all 7 Natonal Parks (as proposed by the Scottish Campaign for National Parks of which I am a member) would run into tens of millions…………….in the current circumstances there is no likelihood of being able to assign the finance”           While she applauded the “desire to protect Scotland’s iconic landscapes”  she also stated “National Parks are just one designation that can boost economic development of an area” suggesting she sees National Parks as a means of economic development, albeit one we cannot afford.    The response from the Tories to this challenge was that new National Parks was all about getting the right Business Case but they did not challenge the austerity narrative, suggesting they agreed with Roseanna Cunningham, that the main issue is about how we spend limited resources.

 

They are not alone in this.  In Wales the Labour Government has been trying to change the law on National Parks in order to “free up” economic development (see here).  A reflection of the schism between the economic philosophy of the Corbynite UK labour party and the labour party in the devolved administrations.

 

I found the debate very disappointing.  It provided little indication at present that our politicians in Scotland are able to articulate a vision which is not entirely based on money and that National Parks matter for reasons other than our neoliberal economy (though Alison Johnstone from the Greens did make the case for National Parks protecting mountain hares).

 

I still haven’t decided how I will vote tomorrow.  The possibilities of alternative visions of society – in which National Parks could play an important role – which were around during the Independence Referendum appear to have shifted to south of the border.    I hope they remain after tomorrow as I think this could help rejuvenate visionary thinking and debate in Scotland.

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

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

 

On the plus side:

 

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

On the negative side:

 

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

In the category, too early to tell:

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

 

Wildlife persecution and our National Parks

Muirburn on Ardvorlich Estate, Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

June 5, 2017 Nick Halls 4 comments

By Nick Halls, resident of Ardentinny

The LLA has given extensive coverage to the impact of the byelaws on Loch Lomond in its annual review available online (http://lochlomondassociation.co.uk/LLA17WEB%20-%20Rev1.pdf)

The changing landscape of the National Park

 

I monitor the evolution of the Bye Laws and the incoherent manner of the implementation, by means of observation, talking to campers, visiting designated sites, reports contributed by ‘Parkswatchscotland’, and articles in magazines of Representative bodies of the physical activities in which I engage, which include camping associated with watersports and terrestrial activities.

 

I supported the creation of a National Park and worked to have Argyll Forest Park included.  I have lived in the area of the LL&T National Park since 1969 and experienced nearly half a century of change, much of which has degraded the environment, depopulated communities of young people, reduced indigenous economic activity and local job opportunities. Not all of which lies at the door of the NP Authority, but it has done little to either slow or reverse the processes, despite the objectives of the NP. In fact, the NP Authority seems to reinforce the destructive impacts from which I imagined it would protect the area.

 

I observe daily the destructive impacts of motorists, near roadside camping, day visitors and egregious behavior of residents. I live amongst the land management practices of farmers, estates and Forestry Commission Scotland(FCS) and observe the degradation of the scenic quality of the National Park with dismay.

Conifer afforestation cutting off access to the hills and taking over former habitations that once provided places to camp – photo Nick Kempe
Deer fence and gate, Stob an Fhainne, north of Loch Arklet    Photo Nick Kempe

I have also noted the restriction of pleasurable free access, arising reversion of farmland to scrub and the ‘clear fell’ practices of FCS, encroachment of invasive non-native species, and enclosures designed to exclude deer. The hills are almost inaccessible other than by over used ‘popular’ routes – creating obvious landscape scars.

 

 

 

I am an ‘immigrant’ to the area but note with concern the progressive emigration of the indigenous population, for education, employment and improved life chances. My son who attended Dunoon Grammar, has only one or two school friends left in the area – he is now working in Canada. The indigenous population is progressively concentrated in suburban localities, while much of the more desirable property is used as either second or holiday homes or occupied by elderly retired incomers.

 

I believed naively the creation of a National Park would mitigate the damaging impacts arising from residents, land managers and visitors. I have been profoundly disappointed.

 

I have concluded the Governance of the National Park Board exemplifies the manner in which established vested interests, that actually have their ‘hands on the levers of power’ in Scotland, operate to secure influence by attaining appointments on the Boards of arms-length government agencies, that purport to serve the wider public interest, and then betray ‘people’s’ trust by subverting them in their own interest.

 

The eradication of space for camping from the National Park

 

It seems incredible that charging for camping, and by extension access, for a legal recreational activity in a National Park could ever have received endorsement by an SNP Minister of the Scottish Government. It discredits the very existence of the Scottish Parliament – and devalues the legislation it passes.   Justifications presented in support of Bye Laws were flimsy at best, but could be presented as blatant misrepresentation to secure a predetermined outcome.

 

Provision for any sort of camping has been eradicated from the area progressively from the time I first arrived in 1969 – as camping sites evolved into first caravan parks then chalet developments – both much more intrusive than temporary camping. As confirmed by reference to OS and Bartholomew Tourist maps published prior to 1989.

Ribbon chalet/caravan development Ardgoil with conifer afforestation blocking access to hillside above – Photo Nick Kempe

These concentrated seasonal residential eyesores impose more pressure on public infrastructure, particularly sewerage and waste disposal, than any number of transient campers. They also degrade the natural qualities of the NP by a progressive urbanization, and pollute the aquatic environment surreptitiously – the shores of Loch Long, Loch Goil & Loch Lomond reveal plenty of evidence – fly tipping, cotton buds, toilet paper & sanitary towels are not dropped by shipping!

The enclosure of Loch Shores – Loch Lubnaig Photo Nick Kempe

 

 

Significantly, under current legislative conditions, land that was once accessible has been converted into curtilage by close spaced semi-permanent temporary residences – a surreptitious usurping of what was once a ‘common good’ into exclusive compounds.

 

 

The architecture of these developments contrast with the vernacular building style, stimulating images of beach front caravan sites of a coastal resort or over-crowded chalet developments in an alpine resort. They fundamentally erode the integrity of the ‘uniquely  Scottish’ nature of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs, so admired by artists of the 19th and 20th Century.

Painting of Ben Lomond from shore at Balloch, Hunterian Gallery, Glasgow Uni – a great illustration of the philistine destruction implied by Flamingoland

 

Overgrown former entrance Suie Field – photo Nick Kempe

When I first arrived ‘wild’ camping was easy, but progressively every spit and exploitable piece of lower land has been either privatized, trashed by industrial forestry practice or over grown by non-native invasive species, such as Japanese Knot weed, Rhododendron, not to mention windfall, bracken & scrub.

 

A contributing factor has been decline in cattle & sheep farming, so formerly grazed areas are now overgrown. Suie Field and Cuilag exemplifies this feature, where the residual preferred camping options are now on the shingle beach.

 

The current situation is that there are very few accessible spaces to camp, and those that remain are intensively used by day visitors and campers. Progressive ‘privatization’ of accessible spaces and increased use of private cars for short visits to the NP have concentrated use, but the services to accommodate the use have not been provided.

 

All of this has been made explicit by numerous reports, press comment and user groups. It is not a recent ‘discovery’, it is as plain as the ever-lengthening noses on the faces of spokesmen for the NP Authority.

The bins originally proposed for the north Loch Venachar car parks included recycling facilities but LLTNPA staff cut bin provision and toilets from the original plans contained in the 5 Lochs Visitor Management Plan Photo Nick Kempe

Many former informal sites have been converted into car parks/picnic sites – in favour of motorist and day visitors, at many of them camping is frowned upon. This exemplifies considerable public investment for one category of visitors at the expense of low cost provision for another. The necessary infrastructure for such concentrated use by day visitors has not been provided, such as bins, garbage disposal and toilets. There is no coherent provision to accommodate the requirements of visitors of any sort.

 

North Loch Venachar, where informal campsites were proposed just 5 years ago in 2012 were redesigned to make camping difficult before the camping byelaws banned camping here completely and instead there are permit places in a muddy field on the other side of the road. Photo Nick Kempe

It escapes me as to why picnic tables proliferate, while being less than essential, while nice camping spots are eradicated. What ideology of visitor management validates this preference?

 

Evidence indicates campers are to be progressively driven from the Camping Management Zones and LL & T NP more generally.

 

The real problems faced by the National Park

Fly tipping of garden and other waste at Cuilag – unlikely to have been done by visitors – photo credit Nick Halls

The actual problems the NP has to confront are not ‘visitors’ but egregious land management practice, rural decay and the reversion of uneconomic farmland to marsh and scrub and fly tipping by residents. This ignores the vast tracks of land rendered inaccessible by industrial forestry practice, within which were farm towns with improved walled enclosures, charcoal burners platforms & hut platforms – reasonably drained and near water. All of which used to provide opportunities for camping.

 

This destruction of amenity is substantiated by pictorial evidence supporting reports – but to designate this sort of terrain as desirable camping locations, and charge for using it, is incomprehensible. There must be issues arising from Trades Description and Fraud legislation.

 

I cannot understand why Scottish Sports Association has not put pressure on both Sport Scotland and Ministers to review the operation of the Boards of both NPAs? The lack of consultation with representative bodies for sports and recreational activities is itself a disgrace, [except sporting estates] but the complete indifference to representations from bodies of all categories of users of the NP’s in preference to a spineless subservience to the interests of landowners/managers and influential residents surely cannot be tolerated any longer.   Particularly so, as private interests seem to be obscured by the practice of holding unrecorded ‘pre-agenda’ meetings to ensure outcomes of subsequent Public Meetings, during which interests of Board Members are not declared or recorded.

The newly “restored” hydro track to the top of the Eagle Falls, Glen Falloch. The original planning permission by the Board required the track to be removed but this was overturned by staff

Specific concerns arise in the case of hydro works in Glen Falloch, unrestricted construction of intrusive estate infrastructure on wild land, appallingly unaesthetic commercial forestry practice, and to top it all the, proposals for ‘Flamingo land’, as if a Scottish National Park is the equivalent of Center Parks or a Funfair, or in the case of Lomond Shores, Blackpool!

The LLTNPA want to develop the shoreline on right into Flamingo Land, Ben Lomond left – photo credit Nick Halls

It makes one wonder if the Board/Authority can distinguish between a Regional Park recovered from an industrial wasteland in the midst of a conurbation and conserving an iconic area of wild land, the history of which underpins the Scottish national identity.

 

I note the CV of James Stuart, it will be of interest to see whether he is just another ‘safe pair of hands’ appointed to protect vested interest, or whether he can change the culture of the LL & T NP Board. It will also be interesting to see whether the new councillors serving the constituencies within the NP boundaries, will treat the NPA as just another local authority and a vehicle for promoting their electoral interests.
Whatever emerges I fear it will not enhance the reputation of NP’s in Scotland, or enhance the environmental quality of the land for which the NP Board have planning responsibility. It will demonstrate how Scotland is ‘actually’ governed, and how little real concern exists for a ‘Fairer and more Equal’ Scottish Society.

 

Attitudes of Park staff

 

Recently, I was informed by a Ranger that the bye laws were necessary to exclude ‘travellers’ from the NP [by which I assume he meant Tinkers/Gypsies] who annually made a mess of camping places – to co-opt my sympathy on the assumption that I would naturally agree that such lower order socio-economic scum should not be allowed use the NP, or upset the largely middle class ‘blow ins’ who have replaced the indigenous population. There is no evidence whatever that the mess left by visitors both day and overnight can be attributed to any particular sector of society, other than highly subjective guesswork. There is ample evidence that the fly tipping, of which there are examples everywhere, is the responsibility of residents.

 

He also mentioned that tidying up the NP, by exclusion of campers, was an imperative because foreign visitors, particularly those traversing the West Highland Way, remarked on the quality of the Scottish Scenery but bemoaned the litter everywhere. This underlines the lack of a litter management strategy, but hardly validates the exclusion from preferred camping sites nowhere near the West Highland Way.

 

It is hard not to conclude that training of NP personnel involves reinforcement of social prejudice, that evidence they see every day must throw open to question.

 

Politics and the national interest

 

In the context of the lead up to an election in which constitutional issues will be influential, opinion about the detail of the ‘actual’ governance of Scotland is relevant.
It is appropriate to comment on abuse of position and influence and disregard for Scottish Law, in pursuit of objectives that reinforce social exclusion and private interest at the expense of the ‘common good’.

 

There is such dissonance between political pronouncements and the reality that it raises concern that Ministers of the Scottish Government consciously collude or are out of touch!  One wonders whether civil servants, parliamentary secretaries and constituency workers, who presumably monitor the press and other media, are keeping Ministers properly informed – or colluding in misrepresentation and abuse of power and due process – because they are in sympathy with it!


This raises the issue of ‘who actually governs Scotland’ and whether the declared social aspiration of the SNP  is being subverted or are just hollow. Strong & Stable [actually indecisive and floppy] versus Fighting for Scotland’s interests [actually weak and ineffective] while incapable of implementing any change worthy of notice, and presiding over socially regressive initiatives reinforcing the least palatable aspects of the Scottish social scene, of which they seem blissfully unaware.


The Governance of the NP Authorities and the accountability of senior officers is the issue under consideration, but the devious unaccountable nature of HIE, SNH, MOD, SEPA, FCS & the landowning interests with which they apparently closely identify is also becoming explicit.


The question has to be asked, ‘who disinterestedly speaks for the actual benefit of the majority of Scottish people’, and whether their voice should be heard?   The evidence seems to suggest that democratically organized representative bodies, charities and voluntary undertakings are treated with contempt.

May 23, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
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.

May 12, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
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.

May 11, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
Photo credit Luss Estates – from last weekend

Contributors to Parkswatch have, over the last 15 months, regularly highlighted the failures of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority to provide basic facilities for visitors.  We are not the only people who have been saying this of course but in an extremely welcome development, Luss Estates, who I understand have been trying to influence the LLTNPA behind the scenes, have gone public.   Their press release, about what went wrong at Luss over the weekend, is very powerful.

A link was also provided to a number of further photos (see here) which every politician in Scotland should take a look at and then start asking questions.

The problems, which were entirely predictable given the spell of fine weather we have been having,  did not just affect Luss but were evident in other hotspots in the National Park.   This point was well made in another welcome press statement from the Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs:

 

“Call to Get Back to Basics

The Friends of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs Chairman, James Fraser has made an urgent call for local public sector agencies to get back to basics to tackle litter, toilet and traffic management issues in a more effective way at popular lochside visitor hotspots such as Luss and Balmaha.
He said: ” Over the past weekend both locations were overrun with visitors and were unable to cope and it was evident public bodies such local authorities and the National Park Authority are not geared up to deal with the basics such as emptying overflowing litter bins and  resolving traffic management problems at busy times. The current arrangements are wholly  inadequate and urgently need to be addressed to ensure there is no repeat of the shambles which took place last weekend.”
He added:” I understand new arrangements are supposed to be in place for different parts of the area with Councils taking on more responsibilities for traffic management and parking from the police but it is evident from the chaos with road blockages and indiscriminate parking at the weekend the Councils are ill prepared and  have not staffed up at busy weekends to deal with the problems.”
A flood of complaints were lodged by visitors and local residents over the weekend and many were ashamed by the dreadful state of the areas which fell well short of what is expected in a National Park.”
What is great is the public are now also complaining, as you can see from this post on Walkhighland about litter at Inveruglas.  Its also well worth a read and it would be hard to beat the patronising attitudes in the LLTNPA response to the complaint:
“It is unfortunate that more education needs to be done with the users of the park in terms of how they deal with their waste when in such beautiful locations.”
This shows just why the LLTNPA is failing, everything is someone else’s problem.
 

Visitors to the National Park are being ripped off by our public authorities and getting nothing in return

Meanwhile, as Magnus points out the LLTNPA charged him £4 to park his car while he was out hillwalking,  fees to pay bureaucrats to patronise the public.
And its going to get worse – the LLTNPA is at present trying to lease the carpark at Balmaha from Stirling Council where it plans to install another Automated Number Plate Charging system (three were originally planned, one at Inveruglas) so it can charge visitors – again without them getting anything in return.
Photo Credit Fiona Taylor
Argyll and Bute Council are doing the same in Luss.  If you want to go for a hill walk in the Luss Hills, a healthy activity which the National Park should be encouraging, and and use the car park you are likely to end up paying £7 for the privilege.   No-one in the LLTNPA seems to care – they would prefer people to park on the kerb so that they can then patronise visitors for not showing enough consideration for “beautiful locations”.

The connection between the LLTNPA’s  failures to provide infrastructure for visitors  and the camping byelaws

Illegal tent snapped from passenger seat of car west Loch Lomond Saturday 6th May
Contrast the photo above with the photos in the Luss Press Release.   Yes, the photos above was from the car and its not possible to tell if the campers were adhering to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, but ask yourself what is the problem the LLTNPA should be tackling?
Should they be devoting a huge proportion of their human and financial resources to trying to chase campers away from the loch shores, whether or not they are camping according to SOAC, or should they be tackling the problems highlighted by Luss Estates and Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs?
What neither Luss Estates or FOLLAT have been prepared to say publicly as yet – and both supported the camping byelaws, albeit far from unconditionally – is that the camping byelaws account for many of the failures of the LLTNPA, including a failure to co-ordinate work with Local Authorities on everything from litter collection to car park charging.     While the evidence shows the byelaws are unravelling anyway – see yesterday’s post (see here) – as long as they continue to direct their resources towards managing what they are not fit to manage, the National Park will continue to disgrace Scotland.

What needs to happen

James Stuart, in his speech to become convener, hinted that the LLTNPA need to change focus.  He did not go far enough but his challenge now is to reverse the parrot like statements from the Park and the Scottish Government officials that the byelaws are here to stay, admit the LLTNPA has made a serious error which is preventing resources being spent where they are needed, and start engaging with organisations like Luss Estates, FOLLAT and the recreational organisations, as well as local communities,  to develop a new approach.

 

The new National Park plan is the obvious place to start.   The LLTNPA needs to “get back to basics” as FOLLAT puts it and stop pretending that they are some sort of business whose main purpose is to raise income for itself rather than cater for the needs of visitors.  Parkswatch will feature a number of posts on the new draft Partnership Plan in the next few weeks and would encourage all those who have complained to the LLTNPA, to respond to it in due course.

April 27, 2017 Nick Kempe 5 comments
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.

April 16, 2017 Ross MacBeath No comments exist
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.

March 27, 2017 Ross MacBeath 1 comment
By Ross MacBeath
View from 1 of 3 existing pitches in Zone B. This overlooks roundabout at entrance to forest drive Zones B and C.
Entrance to Forest Drive Zones B and C

Forest Drive

In order to stop people from camping by the loch shores and to meet their commitment to Scottish Ministers to deliver 300 “new” camping pitches, the LLTNPA had to find somewhere else for people to camp – so they leaned on Forestry Commission Scotland to use their land and have “created” no less than 76 permit places (just four of which are for campervans) along Forest Drive north of Aberfoyle.   In the past, the camping here has been mainly by Loch Drunkie, which has a few places close to the loch side which are good for camping, and the south shore of Loch Achray.   I went to have a look at the “new” areas and this post focuses on “Zone C”  so readers can understand the implications of what the LLTNPA is doing to campers.

Forest Drive Camping Zone C

The National Parks new maps of Zone ‘C’ indicate large expanses of open ground in a woodland locations with what looks like ample opportunity to choose a camping place by the waters edge or in among the trees.

 

Arriving just after 4 PM I  found locked gates, a now common occurrence in part of a park wide policy of denying access to visitors outside office hours.  Worse, it seems the code for exit is only granted if payment has been made through their permit booking system, effectively making access to our National Park on a pay as you go basis. Information on the Three Lochs Forest Drive page  states that “The drive is open to vehicles from Easter to October, daily from 9am”  The byelaws however started on of 1st March so this means there is a denial of access to 72 camping and 4 motorhome places until the 16th of April this year. Surely not!   Or maybe the LLTNPA just  need more time to get some camping provision in place at Forest Drive.

 

Access to Forest Drive and other gated facilities is in disarray

 

The Three Lochs Forest Drive page tells us access will be available until 4 pm and the exit gate locked at 5 pm after which a code is required to exit.  Other locations have different opening and closing times and the T&Cs for Loch Chon contradicts itself.  Confusion reigns and the National Park and Forestry Commission need to get their act together because at the moment it is the visiting public that is suffering through wasted journeys and uncertainties.  It is unacceptable to lock out visitors after encouraging them them  to drive for an hour and a half gain access to forest drive only to be turned away by a locked gate. Quite clearly visitors are being excluded from this area of the National Park at a time when access is most desirable, in the evening after work or as in this case, Sunday afternoon.

 

Camping Zone C

A Camping Zone without camping pitches

Camping Zone C is a short distance along a wider than expected compacted hard core road, not what the the term “Forest Drive” conjures up, more of a  superhighway.  The vista beyond the boundary sign, though beautiful, was clearly not the camping ground expected. The description on the LLTNPA  booking site warns of some “uneven terrain in places” but nothing like this.  In point of fact the entire zone is uneven in the extreme, except for a path that’s not indicated on their map. It’s is not an area one would choose to enter or cross if it could be avoided never mind to search out and use a camping pitch. A clear case of false advertising and  LLTNPA will find themselves challenged legally about this and many similar misrepresentations that comprise their  so called “camping provision”.

 

North West corner of permit zone 'C' with first perimeter post back right.
First view of Camping Zone C – a shocking place to camp

This entire zone is unsuitable for recreational camping

 

Not seeing anything that resembles a camping place from the road, I walked around the perimeter marked out by a line of yellow topped wooden posts.  This gives a view from the perimeter in to the Camping Zone and I hoped I would be able to identify potential camping places along the way. You can view progress by clicking on the grid below and scroll/ click through the gallery to view each image in turn.

.

Zone C view from North perimeter towards loch View from First perimeter marker pole towards South East View west to secon perimeter post View to centre of Zone C sowing nature of wooded area. Looing back to post 2 showing density of wooded are on north perimeter View west to the west end of loch South westerly boundary post, view alomg loch side toward east Loch shore line prone to flooding. Continuation of shore line towards the east showing slope and rough gound. Shoreline further towards east, very rough and slope down to lochside First sight of Pitch 1 from perimeter walk round Boggy area to the west of Pitch 1 Boggy area to the west of pitch 1, showing water depth.

No natural pitches and the two created are not suitable as they stand

 

In the absence of any natural pitches big enough to take a tent, the National Park Authority have been forced into a botched attempt to create them to meet their requirements to deliver at least two pitches in permit zone C. Form a visitor perspective, you would expect to have a choice of at least 6 to 10 prime locations in a zone of this size

The two pitches are concentrated is a small area beside the path and it's true extents are shown in green.
Camping Zone C showing location of two pitches in green

The National Park Authorities Camping Permit Conditions state:

  • “Avoid pitching your tent on ground that is already trampled or has dying vegetation cover. Pitch on durable surfaces, such as gravel, and grasses.
  • Choose a safe place to pitch your tent.  Your choice of where to pitch your tent is at your own risk.”

Zone C – camping pitch 1

 

Pitch 1 is a semi natural pitch on at a loch side location. The pitch is bounded by the loch to the south, a bog to the west and a slope to all other aspects.  The area is constrained and was too small for a tent.

A small loch side area on a gentle slope, has been enlarged by cutting back heather to accomodate small tent with hazards.

Ground work in the form of cutting away a heather patch has been required to increase the area to allow pitching a small tent.  The works have been botched insofar as they have not removed the heather roots so regrowth will occur this season but more importantly, in cutting back the heather, the Park Authority have left sharp heather stalks which will hole any tent floor pitched upon it, not to mention the possibility of stabbing injuries to humans. The site slopes to the loch and is waterlogged.

Sharp spikes left after heather cut back to enlarge pitch - puncture hazard Heather spikes causing hazard

The water level is 2 inches below the camping surface making it wet and the shore line is soft and in danger of collapsing under human loads at the edge.  The loch is deep at this location and this poses a threat especially to children. The lack of level space to manoeuvre around any camping pitch is a issue.  This pitch is just not suitable for recreational camping except perhaps for the smallest of tents in dry weather and if  ground cover issues were resolved.  However this camping pitch breaches advice in the Camping Permit Conditions insofar as it does not constitute a safe area to camp.

Zone C – Camping pitch 2

 

It’s hard to understand who would believe the mere strimming of an area in this location would result in a serviceable camping pitch.  The Park Authority have chosen an area beside the existing path down towards the loch shore view point just off the main track.

Branch off path to pitch 2

They have cut a the heather back to form line through the dense vegetation which its easy to walk past.  It is not a path with a hard surface nor is it a typical worn path only a gap in the vegetation, it’s highlighted above with flash.

Pitch 2 - Heather cut back leaving 4 - 6 inch spikes in the middle of pitch

On reaching the end in this short ‘path’ there is a second area that has been trimmed back to reduce the height of vegetation in the mass of moss, heather and thick grasses that blanket the zone. It remains 6 – 8 inches thick and is not a suitable surface for pitching a tent and securing tent pegs to the ground is problematic. As before, the cut heather stalks have been left 4 to 6 inches long which would cause injury to any person and tent using this site.  The site is small and there is nowhere to erect a seat , use a stove  or lie down to relax.

Heather spikes pitch 2 Thick vegetation covering on pitch 2 - unsuitable for pitching tent or recreational camping

Cooking, even with a stove would pose a real fire risk and without firm ground as as stated in their own Camping Permit Conditions, recreational camping cannot take place.

Tick and Midge Haven

The nature of the vegetation cover interspaced with standing water makes this Zone an ideal breading ground for midges and ticks, the dense vegetation provides an insulated layer at root level that allows insect eggs, larvae, pupae, nymphs, or adults to overwinter in all but the severest conditions thus guaranteeing large insect populations in the summer months.  Not a place you would want to spend time.

Spectacularly failed, even when doing nothing.

 

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority and their board are responsible for misleading the public and other agencies on a massive scale.  It is clear they have failed to provide equivalent camping pitches for those camping out of cars.  The very campers they have banned from all their management zones. Its hard to imagine camping of any type being viable anywhere in Zone C.

 

Besides double counting existing pitches as new provision (Loch Lubnaig and Sallochy to meet their target of 300 new places) the LLTNPA are trying to muddy the waters by renaming out of car camping style as a wild camping experience both at Loch Chon and elsewhere.  They are doing this so they can justify the poor provision at Loch Chon, their failure to provide new facilities and for doing absolutely nothing to ensure there are viable places to camp in the locations they have decided to allow camping by permit.    We can see this from the images for zone C and the many other camping zones that are devoid of any places which it is feasible let alone good to camp.

 

It’s time for the Scottish Government to scrap these byelaws, the LLTNPA have spectacularly failed to meet their commitments and are not competent to manage camping.

March 1, 2017 Nick Kempe 6 comments
Slide presented to secret Board Briefing sessions showing levels of “informal” camping in the National Park. The Park never included this information, based on data from Park patrol records, during the Your Park consultation as it undermined their claims that byelaws were needed because of the sheer volume of campers.

Today probably marks the most retrograde in the history of access to land in Scotland since the Trespass Scotland Act of 1865 as the camping byelaws come into force.  When even Radio 3, not renowned for covering the great outdoors, announces on its 7.30 news headlines that campers in one of Britain’s prime beauty spots will be guilty of a criminal offence with a fine up to £500, the wider public may start to realise what is happening:  that the right to peaceably enjoy the countryside is being removed by a National Park whose statutory purpose is to promote the right to enjoy the countryside.

 

As I am writing this there is a  debate on Radio Scotland about the new £200 penalties for using a mobile phone while driving a car – using a mobile can kill people but is a civil offence.  Camping according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and harming no-one in the best places to camp in the National Park is now a criminal offence with a fine of up to £500.      How is that right or just?

 

The URL for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park media release announcing the implementation of the byelaws (see here) says it all.   The Park welcomes campers………….by banning them!   The rest of the release is the usual parkspeak…………………………

 

Parkspeak

“Between March and September, people keen to camp or stay overnight in a motorhome or campervan at one of the many popular and picturesque lochshore locations throughout the Park, can do so by buying a camping permit or booking a pitch at a campsite.” 

Comment.  Not true.   A large proportion of the lochshores have no provision for camping at all and there are only 20 permits for campervans for all four management zones.

 

 

Parkspeak

““The camping management zones are focused around the national park’s busiest lochshore locations which attract very high numbers of campers year on year.”

Comment.  Lie.  The management zones includes lochs where there was very little camping, like Loch Arklet, and other areas, where again there is very little camping, as is clearly shown by the Park’s own data (above) presented to the LLTNPA Board in 2013 but then suppressed.

 

 

Parkspeak

“This volume, combined with the antisocial behaviour of a minority of campers over a number of years, has a significantly damaging effect on the environment and a negative impact on other visitors and local communities.”

Comment.  The Park’s evidence of significant damage to the environment consists of photographs such as the one below presented to yet another whole day secret Board meeting on 19/09/16:

Obtained through FOI

I am against litter, but to claim this is significant damage to the environment is, forgive the pun, rubbish.  There is a small patch of burnt grass and litter which could be cleared up in 10 minutes – that’s it.  Because of “damage” like this which is caused by about 1% of campers  the Park wants to remove camping rights from everyone else and turn them into criminals.   The police officer I met the other week by Loch Venachar House, home of Linda McKay, the Park Convener who retired yesterday – and note in the insert in the top slide the little red symbol at the east end of Loch Venachar denoting high levels of camping just next door where she was building her new house (see here) – who had often camped there, put it to me that the few are spoiling it for the many.  When I asked him though, “what about the rights of the many”?, his comment was “right enough”.    

 

In fact the LLTNPA has never taken any objective view of damage at all as these  recent photos from north side of Loch Venachar show:

19/01/17 Milton of Callendar farm

Which is worse, the rubbish left by campers or that permanently dumped around Milton of Callendar farm just north of Loch Venachar?

Another view of the rubbish looking south to Loch Venachar, so how can the LLTNPA claim that a little burned patch of grass constitutes damage compared to all the ground damage done here?

How many trees have been cut down here along the road compared to those chopped by a very small minority of campers? I suspect on this small stretch of road more trees have been chopped by the roads department than are chopped by all rogue campers in the Park in a year.

 

 

All these photos are taken in the North Trossachs Management zone (see below) – so you can’t camp, not that you’d want to, in the field next door to all the rubbish dumped around the farm because of the risk that you might do damage to this fragile environment.  What  is the LLTNPA doing about the real damage that is taking place in the National Park?

 

 

The risk of this failure to look at damage objectively, and the failure of civil servants to scrutinise the LLTNPA’s arguments,  is that the same arguments will be used to justify camping bans or other restrictions on access rights right across across Scotland.

 

Parkspeak

Gordon Watson, Chief Executive of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, said: “Camping is one of the best ways to get out and enjoy the stunning surroundings we have in the National Park and there is every kind of camping experience on offer here.

“The new byelaws do not change that. Whether you’re an experienced camper, coming on your own or with your friends and family, there is still a wide choice of places to camp in the National Park. To support this we have opened a new campsite in the Trossachs at Loch Chon and are promoting some excellent locations to ‘wild camp’ with a permit.

Comment.  This is laughable.  How does introducing bye laws that will criminalise people for camping responsibly not change people’s ability to enjoy the Park?   The facts are up to 850 tents have been recorded on popular weekends and the Park is now intending to reduce this to around 300 places:  of these 300 places a number are in campsites and yet more around Forest Drive, one of the least popular places for camping in the Park.  Freedom of access has been replaced by Big Brother telling people where they can camp.

 

Parkspeak

“Most laybys are regulated by roads authorities and are not affected by the new camping management byelaws. A small number of laybys within the Camping Management Zones are regulated by the National Park camping management byelaws.  These will be clearly marked with signage about the byelaws. Anyone can stop and rest in these laybys during the day but you cannot sleep overnight in your vehicle. Where there are places for motorhomes to stay overnight, there will be specific signs making this clear. Permits for staying overnight in these spaces should be booked online in advance at here.”

Comment.  Park staff and civil servants changed the wording of the byelaws to remove the reference to laybys from the definition of what counts as a road and to include private roads (see here).   This is important because its NOT an offence to sleep overnight in a vehicle if you are on a road within a camping management zone and since the legal definition of a road includes the verge it means campervans can stop off alongside roads throughout the camping management zones and, on quiet roads without parking restrictions, on the road itself.    While it is positive the LLTNPA has confirmed people will be able to stop overnight in roads authority laybys, the statement that people cannot stop in a small number of other laybys and these will be signposted raises a number of serious issues:

  • First, what is the legal basis of the Park’s belief that certain laybys do not count as part of the roads network?   What in law is the distinction between an informal and formal layby, and how can the Park justify treating them differently in terms of the current wording of the byelaws?    It is very hard to envisage any informal layby that would not be counted as being part of the road verge and therefore exempt from the byelaw provisions which allow people to sleep overnight in a vehicle on a road.
  • Second, since laybys were originally included in the definition of road but are now excluded, even if one accepted the Park was right in their interpretation and laybys are not included in the normal legal definition of a road, what this would mean is that unelected officials have in effect  changed the meaning of the byelaws or made a “material change”.  This is unlawful.  Its the LLTNPA Board and the Minister who have the right to take such decisions, not officials.   The Minister approved the byelaws subject to minor changes in drafting by officials or “points of detail”, not fundamental changes in their scope (see here).
  • Third, the LLTNPA Board, when it approved a signage plan at its December Board meeting, did not agree to any  signage being placed at stopping off places – something I criticised because people would not know where it was legal to stop.  There has been no Board meeting since.  Either another decision has been taken by the Board in secret or officials have again usurped the rights of the Board to take such decisions.

 

On account of this, if the Park tries to put up any signs along roadsides that suggest it is illegal to stop off and spend the night in a vehicle, I think they will be open to legal challenge.

 

Parkspeak

“Given the dramatic transformation seen on east Loch Lomond since bylaws were introduced there in 2011, we are confident we will see improvements with more responsible behaviour and less damage to the environment.”

 

Comment   The changes on east Loch Lomond have followed a package of measures including focussed policing.   The LLTNPA is intending to apply just one of those measures, a camping ban, to the rest of the National Park.  The situations are however totally different.   For example, the road to Rowardennan is a dead-end and is a clearway where it is very hard to stop off in contrast to major through roads like the A82 which have 100s of stopping off points.   The LLTNPA has totally failed to consider the implications of this, leaving aside the fact that Fiona Logan, the then Chief Executive, said back in 2011 that if the situation on east Loch Lomond improved they would remove the byelaws there   The fact the byelaws have not been removed on east Loch Lomond – and there is no evidence they continue to be needed – tells you this is all about NIMBYISM.

 

 

Parkspeak

“Our rangers will continue welcoming people and educating them on all the aspects of the park. This will include providing information to make sure all visitors can camp responsibly.

“Our experience on east Loch Lomond is that most people want to do the right thing to help look after such a special place. This is not about looking to catch people out who might be camping in the wrong place, as taking formal action would always be a last resort, but helping them understand where and how they can camp responsibly.

Comment    If most people are responsible, as the Park suggests, there is no need for camping byelaws.  Banning people does nothing to help understanding and the bit about “helping them understand where and how they can camp responsibly” is patronising drivel.  If the Park can explain why responsible camping is not possible on the north shore of Loch Arklet, where all camping is banned, and can provide an explanation of just what it is about permit areas that means camping can be done there, and only there, responsibly perhaps they could explain this to the public?   Had they been called to the Scottish Parliament to justify their proposals I am confident they would have collapsed.

 

What next?

The campaign against these unjust laws has, I believe, only just started and unless the National Park changes direction, its likely to sink along with these byelaws.  The first thing that Scottish Ministers need to do is ensure that no-one is prosecuted under the byelaws if they have been behaving according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

February 27, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Slide 17th August 2016. The Park is far more interested in branding than getting signs to be information. How would you know from these signs that the byelaws apply to campervans and motorhomes or shelters?

Ten days ago I received a response to another Freedom of Information request,  EIR 2016-068 Appendix A list meetings of the secret Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board business sessions that took place in 2016.    There were six of them, a slight reduction from the ten  held in 2015 (at the height of the Board plotting on the byelaws) and back to the average since 2010.  That’s still six secret meetings compared to four public meetings, worse than Police Scotland which is rightly being criticised for wanting to hold 50% of its meetings in private (see bottom of last past).    I have also obtained, thanks to the Information Commissioner’s ruling that the Park required to make public if asked written materials from such sessions,  written materials circulated at these meetings.  The LLTNPA has not put these on the FOI section of its website – indeed so far it has put up none of its FOI responses sent out in 2017 – so if you are interested in seeing/scrutinising any of them please contact parkswatch which will cover some of them in due course.

 

This post covers the secret Board Meeting held on 17th August 2016 which was devoted wholly to  camping YP Informal Briefing – 17th August 2016 – FINAL Staff.  While the agenda described it as an informal briefing, that is quite obviously false as you can see from this slide:

 

Recommendations are not made to informal briefing sessions, only to decision making meetings.  The whole way the LLTNPA Board has operated in developing the byelaws is corrupt.

 

The content of the slide is of great significance.   It shows there still appear a few decent staff in the Park, who are prepared to hang on to their principles, because they recommended to the Board there should be NO charge for camping permits. (You can see the logic in the argument in the full presentation 20160817 – Your Park Camping Management Models Final).     Indeed, staff estimated only c£6k would be raised through sale of permits, so it was hardly worth doing and in fact they thought the costs of collecting the money might be more than that.   However, staff appear to have been overruled by the Board  because in the paper to the Board in 2016 (see here) in the section on “Permits: Charging considerations” (paras 5.8ff) there was no reference to the principle of charging for access, the  proposal to accept donations had disappeared completely and instead there was only one option, to charge £3.    This makes it pretty clear that its the Board that is behind charging for access and is yet another example of the Board acting ultra vires because it is supposed to take decisions in public.   Reason enough for the Scottish Government to intervene now and insist all charges for permits are dropped.

 

Another example of secret decision making is that in the August slides the original proposal for campsite fees was £7.50 (up from £5 due to the extravagant costs of creating the Loch Chon campsite) but the option put to the Board in December and then approved was £7.  Perhaps the reduction in charge was because in October 2016 this is what the LLTNPA told the Scottish Government in response to a question about charges:

 

 

 

 

No indication there that the Park had been discussing a 40-45% increase in charges: the Scottish Government civil servants don’t appear to have appreciated yet that they really cannot trust anything that the Park tells them.

 

The development of the Your Park signage

 

While there was very little debate on charging at the December Board Meeting, there was debate on the signage examples accompanying the Board paper  some of which was quite encouraging (see here). What I and other members of the public did not appreciate at the time was that the Board had already discussed all of this in August.   No wonder staff looked put out when Board Members belatedly realised and suddenly started to insist, quite rightly, that there should be signs telling people when they were leaving the camping management zones.

 

A comparison of the August proposals with those put to the Board in December  (see here) is revealing:

The signage examples presented to the Board at their secret meeting in August 2016.  The permit area sign and colouring was in paper approved at the public Board Meeting in December 2016.

The “NO CAMPING HERE” signs, proposed at the secret Board Meeting in August were completely absent from the December Board paper and it appears the Board decided there shouldn’t be such signs at the August meeting.   I says “appears” because it is possible the Park decided NOT to present the “NO CAMPING HERE” in December because this would appear anti-access:  because there were no camping management signs of any description when I visited the Trossachs a week ago (they were supposed to be put up from the beginning of February), I was unable to check.

 

If NO CAMPING HERE signs are now being erected, then it appears that has been done contrary to the approval given at the Board Meeting in December.  If, however, the LLTNPA has indeed  decided there should be no NO CAMPIMG HERE signs, that will make the byelaws even harder to enforce.   The problem is neatly illustrated by the slide below presented at the August secret Board meeting:

 

The A82 is a major through route with tens of thousands of people driving along it each year.  So, drivers glimpse a sign as they roar past at 60mph saying “Camping Management Zone”  and even possibly “Camping in the Park”.   What would your reaction be?  Great, let’s find somewhere, stop and pitch our tents…………….so unless there is a NO CAMPING HERE sign in every single stopping off point, as was proposed back in August,  what’s going to happen is people are going to pitch tents and completely unknowingly committed a criminal offence.   The NO CAMPING HERE signs put to the August meeting were crucial for enforcement purposes.

 

However, what do the NO CAMPING HERE signs tell the public apart from tents are not allowed?  What about campervans, motorhomes or sleeping in the back of the car?    And, then consider the wording of the byelaws:

 

Unauthorised Camping
(6) It shall be an offence for a person to:
(a) set up, use or occupy a tent, wigwam or bivouac at any time; or
(b) set up, use or occupy overnight any other form of shelter (other than an umbrella)
within a Management Zone unless they have been authorised to do so by the Authority
under byelaw 11.

 

Does the NO CAMPING HERE sign give you the message that pulling off in a campervan or putting up any other form of shelter apart from an umbrella is a criminal offence?   How on earth will the fishermen or anyone else know from the signage that hanging a tarp between trees or putting up one of those fishing shelters are criminal offences, with fines of up to £500, which could result in them losing their jobs or being prevented from travelling abroad?  They won’t.

 

The LLTNPA’s signage, whether or not it includes the “NO CAMPING HERE” sign is completely inadequate.   The Park is pretending to be in favour of camping and encouraging it (“camping management zones”, “camping in the park”) while at the same time trying to ban it.  Its then tried to reduce the criminal law to a branding exercise where people are supposed to be able to tell from signs and symbols what they can and can’t do.   This won’t work.

 

Even if the Park put the NO CAMPING HERE signs in every layby and added smallprint so people could see shelters were banned it would still not tell campervans where it is legal to stop off overnight.  The Park would need to put signs up indicating to campervaners all the private roads in the Park (where you can stay overnight in a vehicle) for the byelaws to be properly understood.  That is never going to happen and as a consequence the byelaws are unenforceable.

 

The consequences of this is the Park is going to have to deploy its Rangers, as they do at present on Loch Lomond, chasing away campers and campervaners from every place that is not properly signed.  This is a complete waste of resource.   The new Convener, James Stuart, when he starts on Wednesday, needs to signal a completely new direction for the Park otherwise its going to sink.

February 25, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Following my posts (see here) and (here) on the rights of and need for National Park Board Members to speak out, this excellent letter appeared in the Strathie this week.  (I know Peter very slightly, he preceded me on the Board of SNH, but I have not had contact with him for c 10 years).

 

What I think Peter has missed – and which I have only found out in the last week – is that the right to speak out is not just about the Code of Conduct but also the CNPA’s Standing Orders (the rules which set out how the Board operates).  They include this clause:

 

30. Board Members share corporate responsibility for decisions taken by the Board as a whole. Members must therefore either accept and publicly support the collective decision of the Board or resign. Members must respect the confidentiality of sensitive information held by the organisation, as well as the discussions and papers taken in private session.

 

In other words, once the Park Board has taken a decision, Board Members are gagged under the rules of the Park.     While Peter Argyle denies that he tried to get Cllr Lobban to resign, it appears if he had done so he would have only have been following the rules of the National Park.

 

I found this quite extraordinary so I checked the rules of three other environmental Non-Departmental Public Bodies.   Neither SNH or the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park contain similar clauses in their Standing Orders.  However, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has a similar if less draconian gagging clause:

 
Collective Responsibility and Confidentiality
79.SEPA’s boards and committees operate on the basis of collective responsibility for decisions.
Members are therefore expected, if questioned on a matter where a board or committee has
taken a view, to support the position reached

 

The gagging clauses appear to be incompatible with the Code of Conduct for Board Members.  For example all four Boards have a clause in their Code of Conduct on Accountability and Stewardship which reads as follows:

 

You are accountable for your decisions and actions to the public. You have a duty to
consider issues on their merits, taking account of the views of others and must ensure that
SNH uses its resources prudently and in accordance with the law.

 

It appears that the CNPA is try to make Members accountable to itself rather than to the public.   This is wrong.

 

That this is not just a National Park or environmental NDPB issue is demonstrated by Paul Hutcheon’s investigation in Friday’s Herald on the resignation of Moi Ali from the Scottish Police Authority after the chair tried to silence her (see here).  The parallels with CNPA Board Convener Peter Argyle’s alleged attempt to silence Cllr Bill Lobban are striking and one can’t help thinking that Moi Ali should have followed Cllr Lobban’s lead and refused to resign.

 

The story also mirrors other things that have been happening in our National Parks.  The Scottish Police Authority’s attempt to delay publication of Board Papers until the day of the meeting mirrors the LLTNPA decision in 2015 to change their Standing Orders so that papers only needed to be published 3 days (instead of 7) before meetings.   If you don’t know what’s on the agenda of course, you don’t know if its worth attending.    The increasing propensity of the SPA to meet in private, which led to Moi Ali’s resignation, is nothing compared to the LLTNPA which developed the camping byelaws which are due to come into force next week over 12 secret Board Briefing sessions between September 2013 and April 2015.   Moi Ali’s observation that “If dissent is only allowed privately, then I think decision-making becomes enshrouded in a type of fog” seems a pretty good description of the byelaw making process.

 

What the experience of the LLTNPA also demonstrates is that you don’t need formal gagging orders enshrined in Standing Orders in order to silence Board Members.  The problems go far deeper than that and appear to be linked to a style of leadership which appears authoritarian rather than democratic.

 

What needs to happen

 

The inclusion of gagging orders in NDPB Standing Orders conflicts with the Code of Conduct for Ethical Standards in Public Life for Members of those Boards.  While members of the CNPA Board therefore need to review their standing orders, the Standards Commission which oversees and enforces the Code of Conduct for NDPB Board Members, should have a role here.   What the public, to whom Board Members are accountable, deserve to know is the extent to which Board rules and practices enable and facilitate individual members to abide by their Codes of Conduct.

 

The Scottish Government also needs to start taking an interest in how our National Parks operate and to introduce reforms which would increase transparency and public accountability.    That should include the abolition of gagging orders – what is a Board Member not even allowed to approach the Minister if s/he thinks a decision by the Board is fundamentally flawed.   I would also like these to include a requirement that Board Meetings should always be held in public (with any confidential business held in private at the end of the meeting), that all Board Meeting should be recorded as available as pod/broadcasts for at least a year after the meeting and that papers for meetings should appear at least one week before the meeting is held.