Tag: secrecy

January 19, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment

Prompted by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority’s refusal this week to provide me with a list of the research they have commissioned in the last five years, I have been checking the contracts they have awarded from the Scotland Contracts portal (see here).   While this did not reveal much about what research and other such work the LLTNPA has commissioned from external sources, it did reveal some very interesting information about the LLTNPA’s approach to that Estate Management Plans, plans which the LLTNPA has refused to make public  (see here).

Almost all contracts let by public authorities are now meant to be advertised through the Contracts Portal.  This is a useful counter to the increasing tendency for all levels of government not to record how or why decisions are taken.  (The LLTNPA’s camping byelaws provide a good example of this with officials claiming to hold no information about what discussions took place between Ministers and the National Park Authority about the need for byelaws despite Linda McKay writing a letter to then Minister Aileen Mcleod saying the byelaws were a follow up to a discussion with the previous Minister Paul Wheelhouse).

While my search did reveal the existence of a couple of research/audit type reports others, which I know exist, did not appear to be recorded there.    I could find no trace, for example, of any contract which might have covered the Strategic Environmental Assessment for the National Park Partnership Plan.  This   was undertaken by Collingwood Environmental Planning Ltd based in Westminster and Volume 1 alone was 150 pages long.   It is unlikely to have been cheap.    The information on the Contracts Portal therefore appears incomplete, perhaps time for the audit committee to scrutinise how far the LLTNPA is meeting the procurement rules?  That would give something for Board Members to do (see here)

What I did find however was details of contracts awarded to outside organisations to help landowners produce estate management plans under the general heading of “Provision of technical support to landowners”:

Title Contract start Contract end Awarded to Minimum bid Maximum bid
Renewable Energy Specialist 26-03-13 26-03-18 Smith Gore £35,750 £175,000
Revenue opportunities outdoor recreation 08/05/13 2017? Step (1)

Bowles Green  Ltd (2)

Laurence Gould Partnership (3)

£72,000 £108,000
Conservation, agri-environment and climate change 01-04-14 2017? Lockett Agri-environmental (1)

Walking the Talk (2)

Farming & Conservation (3)

£31,000 £70,000
Forestry and woodlands 01-04-14 2017? Eamonn Wall & Co £25,000 £74,000
Farm Business Consultant 01-04-14 Laurence Gould Partnership £55,000 £89,000
£218,750 £516,000

To be fair to the LLTNPA, the outsourcing of estate plan consultancy was referred to in reports to their Delivery Group  EIR 2017-071 evaluation land management plans Appendix A but what I had not put together before was the amount of resources the LLTNPA had devoted to the production of these  management plans.  In 2014, besides appointing a second land management adviser to their own staff to progress this work, they had committed to spending a minimum of £218,750 (see table above) on external consultancy to land owners.   (The sum might be considerably more than this because the contracts portal only provides information on the range of bids for contracts, not the price of the successful contractor and its very unlikely, for example, that Smith Gore bid £35,750 to provide advice on renewables).

It appears safe to conclude from this that the LLTNPA has spent well over £300k (taking costs of their own staff into account) on producing 4-5 Estate/whole farm plans, that is c£60k per plan, plans which they refuse to make public.

This, and other information from  the contracts portal, raises a number of further public interest questions:

  • Given the amount of money spent, why did no proper written evaluation take place, to establish whether these secret plans are value for money?
  • What are the cost implications for the new National Park Partnership plan which commits to a further roll out of these secret estate plans?
  • Given four out of the five contracts now appear to have expired and the Smith Gore contract ends in March, how will the LLTNPA support this work in future and will it continue to be secretive?
  • Can the LLTNPA provide assurances that none of the advice given under the “revenue opportunities for outdoor recreation” contract involved advising on charges that could affect access (eg advising landowners on how to charge for car parking?).
  • Can the LLTNPA provide assurances that all the Renewables Energy Advice to landowners provided by Smith Gore put the landscape quality of the National Park before economic return to landowners?

The evidence is starting to suggest that the LLTNPA has been far more interested in promoting commercial approaches to land management rather than conservation or public enjoyment of the land through its land management plans.  This is basically a neo-liberal approach:  money and making it comes first;   public services should be supporting that aim (so despite the fortunes being made out of hydro schemes the LLTNPA still subsidises landowners in the preparatory work for these schemes without asking for anything back); and expert advice is better outsourced than provided by your own staff.

We need a public debate on who and what the land in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is for – is it about making money for landowners or is it about public recreation and conservation?

 

January 9, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment

I start with a belief that how the land in our National Parks is managed is central to what they do.

Currently I have an appeal being investigated by the Scottish Information Commissioner about the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park’s refusal to provide me or to make public any information from the land management plans it has agreed with landowners.  The LLTNPA, which still appears wedded to an ethos of secrecy, is claiming the entire content of these plans is commercially sensitive whereas I am arguing that it in the public interest to know what agreements our National Parks are making with landowners.

While drafting the appeal I found in the Review of the National Park Partnership Plan 2013-14  (see here) – the last such review before these were abandoned – this:

 

I therefore, naively perhaps, made in October a further request for all information relating to how the pilot Land Management plans had been evaluated.

The initial response appeared to confirm there had been an evaluation:

As outlined in the 2014 review of the National Park Partnership plan, the pilot phase of land management plans (previously known as Whole Farm and Whole Estate Plans) was completed and evaluated. Relevant searches have been carried out for information about this evaluation process. Information has been located in various updates to the Delivery Group, extracts of which are attached in Appendix A.

However, none of the extracts referred to above and sent to me (see here) – and I appreciate the time that staff must have taken to track all down – contained anything which could remotely be described as an evaluation of the Plans.  I therefore submitted a review request  (see here) and received a response  (see here) just before Xmas   This helpfully clarifies that there was NO evaluation report but also shows that NO other meaningful evaluation of the land management plans was ever conducted.     The best that the LLTNPA could come up with in terms of evaluative information it holds on the pilot (and it dates from 2016 almost two years after the LLTNPA had claimed in the report to Ministers that the pilot had been evaluated!) is this:

What constitutes an evaluation of a pilot?

While the word “evaluation” can be used in informal circumstances – “I evaluated what to do next” – when it comes to public authorities it has, I believe, a very specific meaning which is well reflected in the Merriam Webster online dictionary definition:

    “to determine the significance, worth, or condition of usually by careful appraisal and study”

The information responses show that there is no evidence that the LLTNPA has conducted any such appraisal of its land management plans.  Yet its Review Report to Ministers and updates to Board Members suggests otherwise.   Its not clear whether this happened because the then Land Management Adviser claimed to evaluated the plans but this was never checked by senior managers (which I suspect is unlikely) or because some senior manager wanted the box ticked even if no evaluation had take place.  Whatever the case its an approach to evaluation which reflects Donald Trump’s America rather than what we should expect in Scotland.

I also find this interesting because it shows the LLTNPA senior management’s cavalier approach to evidence and disregard for the truth started well before they manipulated the Your Park consultation on the camping byelaws.

Why openness about land management plans is needed

The lack of any proper evaluation still matters because Conservation Priority 5 in the new LLTNPA National Park Partnership Plan is on Integrated Land Management and contains this commitment:

Support land managers to plan and deliver multiple environmental and social benefits, alongside economic return, through the creation and delivery of Integrated Land Management Plans for land management businesses.

So the LLTNPA is pressing ahead with something without knowing whether the plans which have so far been put in place work.  That the LLTNPA is now trying to keep the plans it has agreed secret suggests there is something else to hide.

An indication of what this might be is given in the LLTNPA’s response which does at least reveal four of the estates/farms which have been involved so far:

  • Benmore Farm
  • Protnellan (sic)
  • Inverlochlarig
  • Loch Dochart

All are clustered around Glen Dochart/Balqhuhidder and two at least have developed hydro schemes (the Park planning portal is down so unable to check whether Loch Dochart scheme is on Loch Dochart farm).  This raises questions about the extent to which the LLTNPA has been taking account of landscape considerations in the agreement it has reached with landowners and before the impacts are considered by the LLTNPA as planning authority.

 

What needs to happen

The failure to evaluate properly the land management plans agreed between the LLTNPA and Landowners is, to my mind, a serious failure in governance and reflects the LLTNPA’s failure to take an evidence informed approach to what it does.   I would like to see the LLTNPA Board do two things:

  •  First, to affirm that it is committed to a change in direction which involves developing an evidence based approach and, as part of that, to make the evidence on which it bases its decision public.   Anything else and we are in the world of Donald Trump and his post-truth approach to government.
  • Second, to commit to remedying past deficiencies in how it has used evidence.  As part of this it could instruct its Audit Committee  to start to focus on the things that matter, including standards for evaluation and what information the LLTNPA holds which could be made public
January 2, 2018 Nick Kempe 4 comments
A photo from the BBC article which nicely illustrates how the byelaws have failed to deliver. The byelaws were supposedly introduced to prevent scenes like this but the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority first failed to apply them to caravans and was then forced to drop them against campervans staying anywhere on the road system with the result that now its only campers who are affected.

Last week, in a welcome development, some of the mainstream media picked up on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority first annual review of the camping byelaws for Scottish Ministers (see here).   Unfortunately neither article picked up on the burnt out caravans, the fact that the National Park is no longer trying to enforce the byelaws against either caravans or campervans or the lack of any proper explanation of this in the report for Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment.

The focus of the BBC coverage (see here) and to a lesser extent the coverage in the National (see here) was on the hundreds of people warned for breaching the byelaws, 828 to be precise.  The actual number of people unwittingly committing a criminal offence for breaching the byelaws is likely to be far higher, taking account of cases where no warning was given, but the fact that the LLTNPA is issuing large numbers of warnings should raise alarm bells with Scottish Ministers about how the Park Authority is being governed and about civil liberties.

 

Who approved the warning system?

On the governance side, there is no provision within the byelaws themselves to issue warnings.  What’s more, in the Engagement and Enforcement Policy approved by the Board Engagement-and-Enforcement-Policy there is not a mention of any warning system being introduced.  That policy refers to a “Loch Lomond & The Trossachs Camping Management Byelaws 2017 Enforcement procedures and principles” which I can find no evidence of having been approved by a Board Meeting and is NOT publicly available on the LLTNPA website.  If this is right, the whole warning system has either been agreed in secret by the Board or else introduced by staff without Board approval.  This raises some fundamental question about the legitimacy and lawful authority of the whole warning system.   Do staff really have delegated authorities to approve such systems?

 

The warning system and civil liberties

The civil liberties issues are profound.  The LLTNPA would appear to be keeping information on people who it believes have breached the byelaws but have decided not to refer to the Procurator Fiscal.  Among the more obvious questions this raises are:

  • On whose authority are LLTNPA staff holding such data as this has never been put to the Board for approval?
  • Who are LLTNPA staff sharing this information with?   For example, they appear to be sharing this data with the police – because the 828 figure includes warnings by both police and park rangers – but do they also share this information with others such as the Forestry Commission Rangers?
  • What are the consequences of a warning?  For example, if you have been issued with a warning and then camp again without a permit is referral to the Procurator Fiscal automatic?
  • If being issued with a warning has consequences, how long is the LLTNPA holding this information on file?  One year, five, ten years, indefinitely?
  • What information is the LLTNPA and police handing out to people issued warnings about their rights?   For example, are people being told they have the right to see the information that the Park hold on them and what if any right do people have to appeal about receiving a warning?

Given all these important issues, its interesting that in the report to the September Board Meeting which contained a report on how the byelaws had gone until that date there was not a mention of any warnings being issued:

Why?

The LLTNPA has also failed to explain how all these warning fit with “positive feedback” which Gordon Watson, the Park Chief Executive, claimed to have received in the National:

“From the positive feedback we’ve gathered through the visitor survey, to what our rangers have experienced by talking to campers on the ground during the first season, we are really pleased with how things have gone.

“The approach of our ranger service is always engagement and education first, with enforcement action only being taken as a last resort. That approach has worked well, with the vast majority of campers choosing to adhere to the by-laws.

“While warnings were issued, the number was small in proportion to the overall number of visitors and only a very small number of people were then reported to the procurator fiscal.”

So, Mr Watson, what feedback did you receive from all the people issued warnings?  Or did you fail to ask them, just like you failed to mention anything about the complaints that have been received about the application of the byelaws in your Report to Roseanna Cunningham, Minister for the Environment?

 

What needs to happen

Unfortunately poor campers, as a friend observed, have no lawyers to challenge the Park about this legally (with cuts in legal aid not helping).  Meantime various civil liberties and human rights organisations in Scotland have so far taken very little interest in the implications of the camping byelaws.   Its time people interested in protecting people’s rights started to question the camping byelaws.

Meantime, the LLTNPA needs to provide answers as to who agreed to introduce the warning system, on what authority and what measures they have put in place to protect civil liberties.

December 28, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The Ledard Hydro track approved by the Planning Committee just before Xmas follows the line of the pipeline.  The original planning decision required the track to be hidden in the woods on the west (side of the burn).

While  the Cairngorms National Park Authority took a significant step forward on planning enforcement and consequently the credibility of the planning system a couple of weeks ago (see here),  the planning system in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park fell further into disrepute on 18th December when a permanent access track to the Ledard Hydro intake, on former Board Member Fergus Wood’s land, was granted planning permission.   This reversed the previous decision the LLTNPA Planning Committee had made in December 2014 that there should be no permanent access track on the east side of the Ledard Burn and, in landscape policy terms, appears to contradict the LLTNPA’s decision to refuse a short track in nearby Kinlochard earlier in the year.  The story about what has happened illustrates a number of serious defects in the planning system in the National Park and shows its in need of a complete governance overhaul.

 

The planning status of the “temporary” construction track

The construction track to the Ledard Hydro was, according to material which has recently appeared on the LLTNPA planning portal, granted planning permission back in April although the Case Officer told me a couple of months ago it had NOT had planning permission.

In September, alerted by a local row about breach of planning conditions at the Ledard Hydro scheme on Board Member Fergus Wood’s property, I discovered that a few weeks earlier a retrospective planning application had been submitted for an access track to the intake (see here) and started to scrutinise the documents on the LLTNPA planning portal.    There was nothing I could find in the published documentation to show that a temporary construction track to the Ledard Hydro Intake had ever been approved by the LLTNPA, but I wrote to them asking them to confirm the planning status of the track just to make sure.    In an email dated 28th September (which I quoted in my second post on Ledard (see here)) the Case Officer stated:

“I can confirm that the temporary track which has been constructed does not have planning permission”. 

From this I concluded that the track had been unlawfully constructed on a Board Member’s Land and wrote to the Convener of the LLTNPA, James Stuart, to bring this to his attention and to ask him to investigate.  I believe breach of the planning system by Board Members should be treated as a very serious issue.   His reply, which staff appear to have drafted, claimed that the track had had planning permission but without providing any details, so I issued this challenge:

There is no document I can find on the planning portal that describes a temporary track, as has been constructed, and therefore it appears a temporary track in its current form has not been approved. Please do ask staff to provide both you and I with the document that shows the current temporary track was ever approved (line, construction method etc). If its there, I will be content, if its not, there is an issue.

Hey presto, when checking the planning portal for this post, four new documents had appeared although I have so far not been told about this!  According to these, the case officer who told me the track had not been granted planning permission was totally wrong as the portal now shows a full specification for temporary and permanent access tracks dated 24th April 2017 (see here).  So how could the LLTNPA have had this document for six months and the Case Officer did not know about it?  Perhaps she, like I and other members of the public, only had access to published information?

Because LLTNPA has a history of changing documentation, I have started to keep records of what appears on the planning portal (and would recommend others do so until the LLTNPA puts basic governance procedures in place) and therefore have proof the documentation has been changed:

 

The documents highlighted in yellow were NOT published on the dates shown, which is fairly apparent for the lower two as they are not in date order, but the proof of this is from photo I took on 29th September:

The changes to the documentation on the planning portal involve two fundamental failures in governance.  First, as I have long argued, the LLTNPA should be publishing all documents relating to the satisfaction of planning conditions as they appear.  If Baby Hydro, acting on behalf of the Developer, really did submit the specification for temporary and permanent access tracks in April, as required by the planning conditions for the development, and if this really was approved back in June the documents should have appeared on the portal then.  That would have saved a lot of bother.   Second, when documents are added retrospectively dates should NOT be falsified (another example of this took place with Fergus Wood’s application for a campsite at Ledard (see here).

The LLTNPA told me NOTHING about the existence of these documents in correspondence until I issued my challenge to the Convener (well done him for getting staff to act) and they are NOT referred to in the Committee Report.   This may be because the Access Track Specification dated 24th April makes it clear that the Developer intended the construction track to be anything but temporary:

 

while the LLTNPA, by approving this specification in June, had effectively agreed to a permanent access track on the east side of the Ledard Burn before someone realised this lay outwith the existing planning consent and indeed contradicted the previous decision of the Board.

 

What has gone wrong

The Report to Committee Planning_20171218_Agenda6_Ledard-Farm stated that the original approval given in December 2014, besides approving a permanent track on the west side of the burn “also included a temporary access track for construction of the hydro scheme which was to be located on the route of the pipeline”.  The go ahead for construction of this track was dependent on detailed proposals being submitted for approval in the Construction Method Statement:.

However, the original Construction Method Statement dated 10th June 2016 and approved by the LLTNPA  contained no reference to any temporary track or how it might be constructed which is why I and presumably the Case Officer deduced the track was constructed without planning permission.

An explanation for this can be found in the Landscape Visual Assessment:

 

This suggests that the Construction Method Statement contained no information about a temporary construction track because it had been decided such a track was not considered necessary.   Instead the use of low ground pressure vehicles to construct the pipeline would obviate the need for a track and, where the ground was soft, it could be protected by laying stone on a sheet which would later be removed.   This helps explain why none of the site maps show a temporary construction track by the pipeline but instead refer to a construction corridor:

In the site plans no temporary access track (tracks are marked in brown) is shown along the line of the pipeline.   Photo – LLTNPA planning portal

Such an approach made perfect sense given that in December 2014 the LLTNPA had decided any permanent track on the east side of the Ledard burn would be unacceptable in landscape terms and the cost of importing aggregate to construct a track and then removing it would be significant.  Better to find an alternative means of constructing the pipeline.

About the same time the original Construction Method Statement was approved, however, the LLTNPA also approved an application from Fergus Wood, through a Non-Material Variation to the planning consent (see here), to remove the proposed permanent access track on the west side of the burn (see inset above for location of this track).   The result was Ledard was a hydro scheme without any permanent access track.

How did the LLTNPA allow this to happen when the recent report to the Planning Committee stated: “The proposed track is assessed to be reasonably necessary for the operation and maintenance of the hydro scheme” ?    If access tracks are judged necessary, the LLTNPA, in approving the removal of the permanent access track from the  west side of the burn, were in effect giving the go ahead to the creation of a permanent track on the east side of the burn, where it had previously been rejected, without any Committee approval.   This should have never happened.

To cap it all, the conclusion of the Report to the Planning Committee then says:

“It is considered that a permanent track constructed at 2–2.5m width, with a central vegetated strip, would have less residual impact over the long term than the alternative option of no permanent track to the intake.”  

The hyprocrisy is staggering:  if staff had not consented to removal of the track on the west side of the burn (which was through woodland and totally hidden) the question of whether a permanent track would have more impact than ATV use would never have arisen.   It appears the LLTNPA has allowed their original decision, which was based on the need to protect the landscape, to be undermined incrementally by the actions of a former Board Member and Member of the Planning Committee.

The reason for this is, I suspect, money.   An earlier application to build a hydro on the Ledard Burn was withdrawn PSC_2013_0006-Withdrawn-100094334 because the owner of the land on the west side of the Ledard Burn had held the developer to ransom – i.e they had demanded huge fees for a new access track.  A possible explanation for what has happened therefore is that Fergus Wood was still faced with very high charges for the track on the west side of the burn, which affected the value of the hydro scheme.  However, by getting the LLTNPA to agree to remove the requirement for an access track in this location (and this consent was granted to Fergus Wood (see here)), the value of the scheme would have increased significantly.  It was then sold to Vento Ludens.   If this is right, the National Park appears to have gained nothing from the increase in financial value to the scheme to the owner and the landscape appears to have been put second to a former Board Member’s and the Developer’s profits.

 

The LLTNPA’s flip flop approach to landscape assessment and protection

Back in 2013 the LLTNPA’s landscape adviser judged that any permanent track on the east side of the Ledard burn would have an unacceptable landscape impact but now, just four years later:

“The National Park Landscape Adviser is satisfied that the track can be well integrated into the local landscape with the mitigation of compensatory planting and landscaping.”

The Planning Committee Report, maybe in an attempt to justify this volte face, claims that:

“The proposed route of this track was different from the current proposal under consideration. It was located further to the east and its proposed alignment was very angular involving a number of right angled turns as it traversed the hill rather than the current proposed track which has a more natural alignment, utilises a section of existing track close to the farm buildings and provides a more direct access route to the intake of the hydro scheme.”

The Committee Report however fails to refer to the original Environmental Assessment:

“4.6 Access and Maintenance Track
Initially a new track was proposed across open field areas from Ledard Farm to the dam. Because the contours of the area preclude a short direct route; it would have been quite prominent in more distant views, particularly looking over to Ledard from various observation points on the road above Loch Ard on the south side.”

The Committee Report fails to explain why the short direct route is now deemed acceptable or to mention that the gradient of the uphill track exceeds the 14% maximum recommended by Scottish Natural Heritage in their Good Practice Guidance on hill tracks.  Why?

The first section of the Ledard track approved by the Planning Committee is too steep which is why this line was originally rejected by the LLTNPA

The consistency of the Ledard Hydro track approval with other decisions

Its not just the internal logic of the LLTNPA which raises serious issues in this case, its also consistency with other decisions.   In January 2017 the LLTNPA refused an application for a 35m track in a field in the village of Kinlochard due to its landscape impact (the Ledard Hydro track is 385m or over 10 times as long).    The applicant appealed and the appeal was due to be heard by the Local Review Body last June (see here) although it was then withdrawn.

The papers are worth a read because of the really strong statements (e.g The proposal conflicts with clear planning objectives and policies that seek to protect views, scenic quality, amenity and special landscape character within the National Park) about the need to protect the local landscape in the photo below:

The track, to run from this fence to shed was deemed to have too great an impact on landscape to be acceptable. Photo credit: LLTNPA Review Body papers – officer photograph

So how does the LLTNPA explain the approach it has taken in this case compared to the Ledard Hydro Track just down the road?  Well, its because the track was judged not to be essential but then nor would the Ledard track if the LLTNPA had insisted the original plan for the track through the woods be retained.

While it looks from the documentation that has appeared on the planning portal as though I owe an apology to Fergus Wood for claiming that the construction track on his land was outwith any planning consent, the case still suggests he has exploited deficiencies in the LLTNPA’s planning system to further his own interests.

What needs to happen

In my view the LLTNPA still needs to conduct a full investigation into what has gone wrong in this case.  While initially, after I had been informed the new track had been constructed without planning permission, I thought this should have focussed on the LLTNPA’s failure to take enforcement action, now I think it should focus on how the LLTNPA ever agreed that an access track on the west side of the Ledard Burn was no longer necessary and the impact this had on the financial value of the scheme.

The Ledard Hydro track also shows is that the LLTNPA’s approach to landscape assessment is extremely poor.  Part of the problem was no proper independent visual assessment of the track was included in the Committee Report but the problem is wider than that.  At present responsibility for assessing landscape impact lie with a few individuals who, while working within certain policies inevitably take different approaches, with the result that decisions are inconsistent.   I believe the LLTNPA could learn a lot from the Cairngorms National Park Authority who firstly involve Board Members far more in decision making (which means that decisions are taking collectively rather than by individuals) but equally importantly go on far more site visits.   This leads to better informed decisions.   The Planning Committee should NEVER have agreed to reverse the decision of the earlier Committee without such a visit and without a full landscape assessment.

Hope though may be on the horizon.   At the last Board Meeting a Board Member raised the issue of delegated decisions by planning staff.  He suggested this required review.  The LLTNPA Convener, James Stuart, put it to the Board that the scheme of delegation should be reviewed and this was agreed.  This is most welcome and, if it takes account of the lessons that can be learned from the way the Ledard hydro track has been managed, could help avoid such fiascos which undermine the reputation of our National Parks in future.

 

December 7, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority will, at its Board Meeting on Monday, consider an “Update Report” for Scottish Ministers on the operation of the camping byelaws in their first year.  There is a cover paper (see here), the Report for Ministers (see here) and appendices (see here).  The basic line the Park has taken is they are only providing an “operational update” and its too early to evaluate the byelaws:

I disagree.  It is not too early to clearly state what has been really happening and the Board has a duty to ensure that Scottish Minister are properly informed and are fully aware of the major flaws in the camping byelaws.    This post considers the facts and issues which have been omitted from the report but starts with a critical look at some of the content, particularly that which casts new light on the people who have been affected.

The camping byelaws,  east Loch Lomond and the West Highland Way

The report to Board Members starts with a lie and an attempt to re-write history:

The lie is that the East Loch Lomond byelaws were introduced to tackle “over-use”:  there is not a single mention of overuse in the Review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws submitted to Ministers in 2014 Review ELL byelaws.   The reason is the ELL byelaws were introduced as part of a package of measures to tackle anti-social behaviour.  These included the creation of a clearway between Balmaha and Rowardennan, byelaws banning alcohol and targetted policing and the byelaws were intended to be temporary.  The LLTNPA has never produced any  evidence to prove that it was the camping byelaws, rather than the other measures, which stopped people going for drinking parties on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond but, as soon as the clearway between Balmaha and Rowardennan made parking impossible, the parties became a thing of the past.  The camping byelaws could have been safely revoked but instead the LLTNPA has redefined their purpose as being about controlling numbers who camp.

90% average occupancy for camping places, given wind, rain and midges is extraordinarily high and indicates that at many times demand exceeds capacity and there is nowhere lawful for people to camp

The Update Report shows that “occupancy” rates of the permit areas on east Loch Lomond are far far higher than elsewhere in the National Park.  This is due of course to the West Highland Way, which attracts many backpackers each year, who, when they get past Drymen suddenly find their legal options for camping are severely restricted.  WHW walkers never did any harm but, like other responsible campers, have been victimised by the byelaws and now have insufficient places to camp.  The Board report brushes all this under the carpet and contains no plans to address the deficit in camping capacity or to ask WHW walkers what they think.

 

The camping byelaws and tourism

Fuller analysis of the permit data would, I suspect, show that many WHW walkers come from abroad.  16% or c1000 of the 6,129 permit booking were made by visitors from abroad and 24% by visitors from the rest of the UK.

 

What the camping permit data provides evidence of for the first time is that a high proportion of people who want to camp on the loch shores are tourists.  This has wide implications both about the message from the Park – “there are far too many campers” – which is disastrous for tourism, and for the provision of facilities.   Instead of committing to Ministers to take a proper look at this, the Update Report does a body swerve and avoids the issues.

The camping byelaws and social exclusion

The most interesting data about permits, however, is about where people had come from in Scotland.  Unsurprisingly, it shows most people come from the Glasgow conurbation, but also that:

This provides evidence, in the form of data, of what everyone with an interest in camping in the National Park has long known, that the majority of people who camp by the loch shores have lower than average incomes or, to put it another way, are working class folk from the West of Scotland.  The implication is that when the LLTNPA claims the byelaws are needed to reduce the number of campers, it is in effect saying that too many working class people from the Clyde Conurbation have been coming out to the National Park to enjoy a night out under the stars.  The LLTNPA has never looked at alternative provision for poorer people and as a result the byelaws are deeply discriminatory and socially exclusive.  We should now be able to work out the extent of that adverse impact.

The inclusion of this data was at the suggestion of the stakeholder forum and while I am delighted the Park has done the analysis in this case, it should have been far more such work and reporting to the Scottish Government on the implications.  In my view, there is now sufficient evidence for Ministers to  consider an independent Equality Impact Assessment into the effect and operation of the camping byelaws.

 

Omissions from the Update Report to Ministers

The report contains the usual parkspin and speak (one of the co-authors is head of marketing) and glosses over all the difficulties of the first season of the camping byelaws.  This is best illustrated by what has been omitted from the Report.

1). Number of campers affected

There is no data provided or comparison made between numbers camping in the areas covered by the camping management zones before the byelaws came into effect and subsequently.  The LLTNPA has lots of data on this but has failed to provide it or to undertake any analysis despite its senior staff now consistently claiming that the purpose of the byelaws is to reduce the number of campers.   What is it that the LLTNPA senior staff do not want the Minister or the public to know about something it claims is so fundamental?

My suspicion is that in part this is because this data would show that the byelaws have impacted most on poorer people and their ability to enjoy the outdoors, with all the benefits that has for physical health and mental well-being, but I suspect it would open other cans of worms.

2) Numbers camping or campervanning with a permit

There has been no attempt to compare the number of people who have applied for permits, and thus are camping lawfully, with those who have not.  Anyone who has visited the management zones will know that considerable numbers of people have continued to camp outwith permit area and the enforcement statistics give some indication of the scale: The 828 people given warnings are likely to be mostly campers because the byelaws were never enforced against caravans and were found to be unenforceable against campervans.   This number excludes campers whose names were not taken by Rangers – one can assume the more sensible Rangers just asked people to move on without taking personal details – and those who were never caught.   We also know that despite the intensive Ranger Patrols less than half of people who camped with permits saw a Ranger:

 

 

Applying these considerations to the data, suggests that a reasonable estimate of the minimum number of  tents pitched without a permit would be over 2000 (compared to 4914 that had permits) and the total may have been very much more.   A clear estimate of the people unaware or ignoring the byelaws is fundamental to any evaluation of their effectiveness and a clear methodology for doing this should have been presented to the Board now: it cannot wait till three years time.

3) Cost Benefit Analysis

The Report fails to say anything about the costs of implementing and enforcing the byelaws despite some of this information being available in the financial reports which will also be presented to the Board on Monday.  The LLTNPA has never done a cost benefit analysis and more specifically whether instead of devoting resources to policing campers it might not be more effective to provide basic infrastructure and facilities.

4) The implications of holding personal data

The LLTNPA now holds personal data on the 828 people it warned for breaching the byelaws but has said nothing about what they are doing with this data (e.g are they sharing it with the police for enforcement processes) or the civil liberty implications (how long are personal details kept on the list and for what purposes).  The Board should have considered this – and I have previously criticised them for their failure to do so – when they were considering enforcement procedures for the camping bye-laws.

5) Enforcement and campervans

The only mention the Report makes of the effective collapse of the byelaws in respect of campervans is this:

Part of the justification for the camping byelaws was to control the numbers of campervans which the LLTNPA claimed were swamping the National Park and encampments of caravans which blocked laybys for months and were a major concern to local communities.  However, all this unravelled in part because Park staff, without approval from either Board or Minister, changed the wording of the byelaws so private roads were included in the exemption which allowed motor vehicles to stop off overnight.   This in effect allowed caravans and campervans to stop off overnight anywhere on the roadsides in camping management zones and totally undermined the byelaws.    The Update Report is silent on this fiasco and fails to discuss the implications which includes the fact it cannot legally charge campervans to stop on roads.  That is why its only commitment in respect of motorhomes is worded as follows:

6) Outcome of Enforcement

The report is silent about what has happened in the 10 cases referred to the Procurator Fiscal.  The outcome of those cases is likely to say something about the fairness and enforceability of the byelaws, which is again something which should be reported to Ministers.

7) Permit feedback and Complaints

Following my post (see here) questioning the positive feedback the LLTNPA had claimed to receive about the permit system, I requested the data behind that and also on complaints made about the byelaws.   Neither are included in the Update Report – I am due to receive that information this week, under FOI, too late to analyse before the Board Meeting.  Since my original post though two complaints, which the Park had failed to answer, have been featured on parkswatch (see here) and there is a question about how many more complaints have been made received but not recorded.

There is a wider issue about how the LLTNPA records other criticisms.  The feedback I have had is the November stakeholder meeting on the camping byelaws was poorly attended.  The reason I believe is that attending such events i pointless as long as staff continue to cover-up anything that contradicts their narrative that the byelaws have been well received.

8) Impact on organised groups

The Update Report says 12 exceptions were granted to groups to camp outwith permits areas (for Duke of Edinburgh expeditions etc) but no comparison is made with the numbers of organised groups previously camping in these areas.   If the LLTNPA asked the Scouts, DofE etc,I believe they would find that their bureaucracy has driven people away and hard-pressed teachers etc simply don’t have time to go through the process, which incidentally destroys any flexibility to change plans according to weather conditions etc.  These groups have been driven out of the National Park.

9) Camping provision

In order to allow the byelaws to go ahead, the LLTNPA committed to Ministers to provide 300 new camping places (although the 300 included the existing campsites at Sallochy and Loch Lubnaig).  The Update Report is written in a way to suggest that that commitment was met:

While I am still awaiting the data behind this claim, having 300 places available online is not the same as 300 places being available on the ground.  Regular readers will know that some of the camping permit areas are uncampable (and some since abandoned) and others have been unusable at times (for example when under water).   There are strong reasons to doubt therefore that the Park’s commitment has been met in practice.  There is evidence for this in the Report:

That additional places are being recommended because at times existing places have been unusable confirms there has been a shortfall, while:

confirms that some of the permit areas on Forest Drive were unusable.  The Update Paper avoids an open discussion of the implications of this and whether the LLTNPA really did meet its commitment.  I am pretty certain the answer is “no”.  More importantly, however, looking forward the LLTNPA promised to Ministers to increase the number of places it provided after the first year.  The Report contains NO evaluation of how many such places might be required or sustainable and the only commitment the LLTNPA has made to improved camping provision is the 15 place new campsite at Loch Achray.

There is no update on plans for other which might help reduce the impact of not just campers but all visitors whether this is provision of litter bins, toilets or chemical disposal points.   In effect the Update Report suggests the LLTNPA’s Camping Development Strategy has collapsed.

 

What needs to happen

Leading on from the first two bullets in para 7.3 quoted above, the Update Report lists the following further areas for “improvement”:

These areas clearly link to some of the issues raised in this post but which are not being properly reported to Ministers.    The lack of any firm commitments is not in my view accidental.

I would love to think the LLTNPA Board on Monday would send the Senior Management Team back to work on the issues raised here and come up with a concrete set of proposals for Ministers, but I suspect that won’t happen.  To do so would require the Board to admit to Ministers the flaws in the byelaws and that the previous Board might have got it badly wrong.

Part of what might be needed therefore is an alternative report to Ministers about the efficacy and implications of the byelaws.  This would be based on data and other evidence missing from the LLTNPA report and should  make recommendations as to what should happen.

More important than this however is that politicians, particularly in the west of Scotland, need to start speaking out for their constituents and to criticise the failure of the National Park to fulfil its statutory objective to promote public enjoyment of the outdoors.  The discriminatory impact of the camping byelaws on poorer people, with all the consequences that has for their physical health and mental well-being, should be a political issue.  Whlle the Scottish Government claims it is trying to reduce health and educational inequalities, it has allowed to LLTNPA to devote considerable resources to achieving the opposite.    That needs to stop and the National Park needs to change course and do what it was set up to do, which was to enable people to enjoy the great outdoors on their doorstep.

December 5, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Yesterday’s post on signage in our National Parks that contravenes access rights was published before I had read the Loch Lomond and Trossachs’s National Park’s response to an information request I had made for papers presented to the Local Access Forum this year (I received the response at the end of last week).   The photos above were in the report to the May Local Access Forum (see here) and show there are National Park staff who are keen to do the right thing. Well done them and I don’t want them to think that I was criticising them personally for all the anti-access signs you can find in the Lomond and Trossachs National Park..

 

The shame is that the LLTNPA does not get its large marketing team to publicise such good work – it might discourage other landowners from putting up signs saying “KEEP OUT HIGH VELOCITY RIFLES IN USE” –  while it has sidelined its Local Access Forum.  This post considers the issues which arise from this in a bit more detail.

Addressing access issues

One thing that struck me from the access cases covered in the LAF papers, including the Drumlean Case which went to court (and the paper on this May 17 Appeal Court ruling is excellent), is that all the actions by LLTNPA staff appear to be linked to complaints.  The implication is that unless the public complain, access and other problems are just tolerated.  This is not just an issue for National Parks, as David Lintern’s recent excellent post on Walk Highland points out (see here).  This attitude of “no complaint, no action” may explain, however, why no action has been taken against all the camping signs which have been up for years and are still unlawful under the camping byelaws.

You have a right to camp at Loch Lubnaig outwith the camping byelaw season

Either Park staff, including Rangers, don’t see these and others signs and blockages as access issues or, perhaps more likely, they are not allowed to address them without a complaint being received.  And the explanation for that is likely to be that if staff addressed issues without complaints, the National Park could be seen as being anti-landowner, whereas common sense says that this should be just about access staff doing their job.   Whatever the case, there needs to be a complete change in culture in the National Park so staff are able to proactively take up and address access issues.

When they are allowed to do so the first major problem staff face, as illustrated by the report in the LAF papers about the Auchroach case, is finding out who is responsible:

Extract report January meeting

This is not an isolated example.  In the case of the bright blue car abandoned south of Inverarnan for months(see here),  the LLTNPA claimed they could not take action because they did not know the landowner).  The camping byelaw papers also make it clear the Park sometimes does not even know who owns what bit of loch shore.    The LLTNPA,  after almost 15 years of existence, still does not know who owns significant chunks of land within the National Park.   A matter of public interest and a fundamental issue for land reform as well as one that wastes huge amounts of staff time.   One might have thought their Board would have made representations about this but instead silence or worse (the LLTNPA mad a submission to the Land Reform Review Group, which reviewed the Land Reform Act 2003,  but instead of raising such issues they made a submission  about banning roadside camping across Scotland).

Resolving access issues at present can take years.  I would like to have seen the LLTNPA in its new National Park Partnership Plan set out properly what resources (and changes to the law) are needed to secure and promote access rights in the National Park.   The draft plan going to the Board next Monday does not even mention access problems.   Instead, its contains pious statements saying how the National Park wish to encourage people (excluded groups to to visit) with absolutely awareness that everywhere you go now there are “No” signs.

Secrecy, the Local Access Forum (LAF) and the camping byelaws

The LLTNPA as an access authority has a duty to support the operation of a Local Access Forum and a statutory duty to consult it on access matters.  The LLTNPA closed down its LAF during the time when its Board was meeting in secret to develop camping byelaws (there was one meeting of the LAF a week before the formal consultation was issued by which time all had been decided).  Since the byelaws were agreed by Ministers the LAF has been resuscitated.

The LAF is now listed under the Board Committee section of the LLTNPA website (see here) and was scheduled to meet four times this year (although the website says it usually meets just twice).  Unlike other Board Committees, however, papers for meetings are not published as a matter of course.  By early Autumn this year no minutes for the 3 meetings that had taken place had appeared either, making it impossible to see what the LAF had been doing.  This was not the LAF members responsibility or fault, but the Park’s.

After I raised the matter with Park Senior Management I got this response:

We can confirm that the Local Access Forum met in January, May and August. With regards to the papers being on the website, all minutes are normally published once approved by the Forum. Unfortunately, due to an oversight, this did not happen earlier in the year, this has now been rectified and you will note that links to all minutes from previous years are available. The minutes for August will be published after they have been approved at the December meeting. Your query regarding papers has been passed to the Access team for consideration.

Now I don’t believe it either is, or should be, up to the Access Team to decide if papers to the LAF are published or not (although I suspect if the decision was up to them they would publish as it would help advertise the work they are doing).  The LLTNPA in its Publication Scheme, which was agreed with the Information Commissioner, said it would publish information on how it makes decisions: since the LAF meetings inform what decisions are taken on access, in my view papers to those meetings should be published.  The only way to get them though at present is by making an Information request, which I did.

Unfortunately, while I have obtained the papers, they are still not available on the LAF section of the website.  Nor is there any link under under the Freedom of Information section of the Park website where the LLTNPA publish some responses it has made to information requests:

Screenshot 5th December

The LLTNPA has not published A SINGLE RESPONSE TO AN INFORMATION REQUEST  since March.  By contrast, the Scottish Government has now committed to publishing ALL responses to information requests made to it as a result of cross-party political pressure.  There is NO reason why all our Public Authorities should not be doing the same.  For the record  EIR 2017-075 Response LAF shows there have been at least 75 information requests under the Environmental Information Regulations alone this year, while the screenshot above shows the Park has just published two of these.    The question is why?

My suspicion, based on the content of my information requests, is this is because  a large proportion are about access, including the operation of the camping byelaws.  If the Park published the information, it would undermine its own case that the byelaws have been going well.

The LAF minutes (now on website) and papers Jan 17 Access team update Jan 17 Generic LLTAF YP update May 17 Appeal Court ruling May 17 Access Team Update May 17 Core Paths Plan Review Aug 17 Core Paths Plan ReviewAug 17 CPP Review PaperAug 17 LLTAF CPP slides show that LAF members are trying to raise and address access issues, from car parking charges to access obstructions, even if the operation of the camping byelaws has hardly been covered.

As evidence of the ability of current LAF members to think critically this raised a smile:

Extract from minute (I don’t know PP who is a person called Paul Prescott).   Linda McKay is the previous Board Convener who erected a double height barbed wire fence round her house which has prevented people walking along the lochshore to the dam at Loch Venachar and appears to have been the force behind the byelaws.

 

The challenge LAF members face though is that if little of what they contribute is made public  they are hamstrung, and its very easy for the LLTNPA to sideline them.  A recent example comes from the Information Response I received from the LLTNPA which indicated the December meeting of the LAF has been postponed (which in turn means the minutes of the August meeting are not yet public).   As a consequence the LAF have been given no opportunity to contribute to the review of the first year of the camping byelaws or to offer comments on the implications for access rights of the report to Ministers which is to be discussed by the Board next week.

That Board paper also fails to refer to the LAF:

The review of the operation of the byelaws is being presented as a purely operational matter with no wider implications

It appears that once again the LLTNPA has excluded the LAF, a statutory consultee on access rights, from all consideration of the camping byelaws.  I believe that says it all (though I will post on the Report for Ministers later this week).   Until the LLTNPA connects with its own LAF, every recommendation or action it takes on the camping byelaws is worthless.   Meanwhile, the fact that it is the only Access Authority to have a place on the National Access Forum appears to me to be a national disgrace. (It hasn’t consulted the NAF properly about the implications of the byelaws either)

What needs to happen

Access rights need to be put at the centre of what both our National Parks do.

The LLTNPA appears to have some good staff who can take on and resolve access issues, as demonstrated by the Auchreoch case, but they need to be empowered to do so far more widely.  This will require both resources and a change in culture so that Park staff are able to start acting pro-actively.

The LAF needs to be put at the centre of what the LLTNPA does and should be doing to uphold access rights, instead of being sidelined as appears to be the case at present.  For that to work, the LAF has to be allowed to operate openly, be given resources to publicise what it does and be supported to ensure independent effective links are in place with partner organisations, particularly recreational bodies.

 

Postscript on resources and neoliberalism

I suspect the LLTNPA’s response to my concerns about secrecy covered in this post would be to say my suggestions are all very well but it has not had the resources to make information public.  As evidence for this it might cite its current advert for a one year Information Intern.

Information Intern

The advert shows that person will require a degree and be paid £16320 for a 37 hour week or £9.28 an hour.

Instead of making a coherent case to the Scottish Government about the resources it needs, the main function of the LLTNPA appears to be to manage austerity and join with other organisations in driving wages as low as possible with the excuse that nothing else can be afforded.  If the LLTNPA knew who the landowners in the National Park were and had analysed their wealth they would know this is not true.

November 2, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
The area of the proposed application (from LLTNPA planning portal). There is nothing in the document about WHAT Flamingo Land are actually proposing

On 27th October, after six months of silence, agents for Flamingo Land lodged a pre-planning application consultation strategy with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.  Anyone who follows Scottish Government planning policy knows that one of the big ideas and big pushes is towards “front loading” the planning system, with a shift to consultation and engagement taking place prior to planning applications being submitted.  The idea is this should improve proposals and help create consensus around developments.   What front-loading fails to acknowledge is that current planning system is unbalanced, with local communities having little power, and is driven by the self-interest of developers.  This, and the pathetic inadequacy of current pre-application consultations are clearly evidenced by the Flamingo Land proposals.

Its still them and us

The “They” is the public, you and me – the heading illustrates typical attitudes of developers towards the public, a hurdle to be got past, not a partner in developments.

The Pre-application consultation is supposed to include the following:

The only description you will find in the planning documentation about Flamingo Land’s proposals is this:

 

 

 

The LLTNPA will no doubt be patting itself on the back that Flamingo Land is holding three consultation events, rather than the minimum recommended, which is one!   How the public are expected to meaningfully inform the proposals by turning up to an event on the day, with little idea of what to expect, and then respond with no time for reflection, I don’t know.  Any meaningful consultation has to take place over time, to allow exchange and development of views, but instead of using the last six months to do this, the LLTNPA is allowing Flamingo Land to run three tokenistic events.   This is apparently what good consultation looks like – the document states “Best Practice for Consultation is also outlined”  – in the planning world.  This is a major development proposal in a National Park which has enormous implications both for the local community and the National Park and is quite frankly not good enough.

Its also a recipe for conflict:

Extract from Empowering Planning to Deliver Great Places. One of the three authors was Petra Biberbach from the Planning Advisory Service who is also on the LLTNPA Board and chairs the Planning Committee

So, why is Petra Biberbach not using her position as Chair of the LLTNPA Planning Committee to empower the local community to get actively involved in planning the Riverside and Woodside sites as she recommended two years ago?

Community Empowerment and planning

While Scottish Government pronouncements and the discourse of our public authorities is full of buzz words about “community engagement”, “community empowerment” and “co-production”, the actions of our Public Authorities continually contradict what is being said.  The Park of Weir planning decision, where Planning Minister, Kevin Stewart, overruled the views of the local community at Dunblane in favour of the developers is just one example of this.

Its worth reading what the organisation Planning Democracy had to say about the Scottish Government’s planning white paper (which was developed in response to the review of Planning Petra Biberach was involved in):

The lack of meaningful involvement however fundamentally comes down to power.   What the map above illustrates is that Flamingo Land could be granted a stranglehold over the land to the West of the River Leven and therefore over the local economy.   Scottish Enterprise has agreed in principle to sell the Riverside Site, which is currently in public ownership, to Flamingo Land while their purchase of Woodbank House and also the boathouse on the point to the north west of Lomond shores means they surround that development.  There are serious issues to be addessed about whether this is in the public or local community interest.

 

There is, however, now that the Community Empowerment Act is law, an opportunity to challenge this.  One way for the local community to prevent Flamingo Land from acquiring too much power would be to request the Riverside site from Scottish Enterprise as an asset transfer.  This would not be with a view to stopping all development from going ahead but rather to ensure the community is able to influence the development, retain control in the long-term and ensure some community development.   For example, if the local community owned the land they could refuse development in certain places, such as Drumkinnon Wood, prevent inappropriate applications being made in future (e.g viewing towers which I suspect will be the sacrificial lamb Flamingo Land offers up to get their development proposals through) and ensure community benefit through rent payments.

 

Against what criteria should Flamingo Land’s development proposals be judged?

While the planning application still describes the development as Flamingo Land, the developers have set up a website in the name of Iconic Leisure Developments. This is more informative than the planning application and makes clear that fundamental to the application will be an attempt to “drive the number of visitors”:

This is worrying.   It is  exactly the same type of wording which HIE uses at Cairngorm – we all know what happened there – and is, in my view, inappropriate for a National Park.

 

There is nothing wrong with development at Balloch as long as it is sustainable and benefits both local people and the wider public.  While its a gateway to the National Park, gateways are not normally places people choose to linger.  People want to get inside and in the case of National Parks to experience nature.  It appears the only way Flamingo Land believe they will be able to attract visitors to remain longer term is if they offer a theme park type development.  They may be right about this but it  would be totally inappropriate for a National Park.   The fundamental problem is that this site is being viewed from a commercial, rather than a National Park, perspective and that is likely to drive a certain type of development.  Most of it is still public land and other solutions are possible.

 

Whatever is proposed should, I believe, be evaluated against the National Park’s four statutory objectives.   Here are a few pointers of how I think the proposals should be judged:

  • Sustainable economic development
    • will the long-term jobs on the site be reasonably paid (talk in Scotland is now of £10 an hour minimum wage) and provide good terms and conditions or will the development provide yet more precarious jobs on the minimum wage with precarious hours?
    • will local community businesses and other organisations be able to operate within the development area on fair terms and conditions?
  • Conservation
    •  how much of green parts of the Riverside and Woodbank House sites will be retained, will aerial shots of the site look as green in five years time and will Mackinnon Woods be kept free of development?
    • what will the landscape impact of the development be and will there be a viewing tower which could be seen from the summit of Loch Lomond
  • Sustainable use of resources
    • Will any polluted land on the site be cleared up?
    • Will the development when operational be powered entirely by renewable energy?
    • Will the development result in more traffic and does it incorporate improved public transport links?
  • Public enjoyment
    • Will traditional informal recreational uses of the site be able to continue (boating and angling on river leaving, walking in Mackinnon Woods)
    • Will people visiting site be able to access nature easily, e.g, through a new bridge over the River Leven?
    • Will the amount of good quality public space increase or decrease?

This is far from an exhaustive list and other people will have different ideas.  The LLTNPA and Flamingo Land should have been engaging with the local community and nationally about such objectives but they haven’t done so so far although they have been clearly having secret talks since January:

The way its going Flamingo Land should provide an ideal opportunity for both local community and national lobbying organisations to demonstrate to the Scottish Parliament the inadequacies of our current planning system within the forthcoming Planning Bill which is intended to create a different approach.

October 11, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Extract from Glasgow Airport magazine, High Flyer, September 2017. Often the LLTNPA appears to be more a tourist agency – we have Visit Scotland to do that – than National Park, with a marketing team to match. Yes, Loch Lomond is very close to Glasgow airport , but can you get there easily by public transport? Yes, the National Park is great for camping – but why not mention the camping ban then?

Looking at the papers for the Cairngorms National Park Board meeting which took place last Friday (see here), I was struck by the significant differences between the way it and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority operate.

 

While many (mostly retiring?) members of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority have lost sight of what they might contribute to the National Park (see here),  Cairngorms National Park Authority Board Members are involved in a large number of initiatives.  Here is an extract on current CNPA involvement in Groups (27 in all):

 

While attending meetings and events of course does not necessarily make Board Members effective – and the CNPA has in my view always struggled to engage with recreational interests – this wide network of groups does influence how the Cairngorms National Park operates.  The CNPA has a raft of strategies and plans compared to the the LLTNPA and there are direct links between these groups, the existence of strategies and the National Park Partnership Plan.

 

For example,  the Cairngorms Economic Forum (one of the Group above) links to the Cairngorms Economic Strategy 2015-18 and the fact that the Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan considers economic issues, include low pay in the National Park.  While they are far from developing an alternative economic strategy, based on sustainable development and use (should that be re-use?) of natural resources, they do have a framework for considering the issues.    There is no equivalent in the LLTNPA.  As a consequence their draft National Park Partnership plan is much weaker on these issues and is little more than a set of aspirations (which its very hard for anyone to disagree with) without content.

 

While some networking does go on on the LLTNPA – you can see that locally elected members and councillors do attend community council meetings from the minutes of those meetings – what their Board Members are involved in is very difficult to ascertain as there is no public network of groups as with the CNPA.   Indeed groups which used to exist, like the east Loch Lomond and 5 Lochs Visitor Management Groups appear effectively to have been shut down.  Moreover, the public have no easy way to contact LLTNPA members, whereas go to the section of the CNPA website on Board Members, click on their name and there is an email.  So, if you are interested in social inclusion or Broadband in the Cairngorms National Park, you can work out who best to speak to and contact them.  I would suggest that is worth a lot.

 

The differences go further.  The CNPA has a Planning Committee, on which all Board Members sit, and an Audit and Risk Committee but it also has a Finance and Delivery and Staffing and Delivery Committees.  ALL meet in public.  Contrast this with what the LLTNPA say on their website:

 

“By law, we have two committees that are required to meet:

  • Our Planning & Access Committee meets monthly to consider certain planning applications, enforcement actions, policy papers, legal agreements and access matters.
  • And our Audit Committee meets up to four times a year to support the Accountable Officer (our CEO) in their responsibilities for issues of risk, control and governance and associated assurance through a process of constructive challenge.”

 

The LLTNPA operate with the minimum number of Committees possible,  just as they publish the minimum amount of information they are legally obliged to (two years).

 

The LLTNPA model has, I believe, been based on neo-liberal corporate ideology that the best way to run organisations is by slimline management, which in effect means small groups of people endorsing decisions taken by the leader.  The few know best and Park structures have been designed to prevent anything getting in the way of centralised decision-making.   No wonder their Board Members no longer saw a role for themselves and proposed their own abolition.

 

Thankfully there are signs of change at the LLTNPA.  Their new convener appears to be a genuine team player, more like the captain than the manager, and the Chair of the Park’s Delivery Group, Colin Bayes, has been trying to make more public what that group does.   The logical next step is to create a finance and delivery committee which, like the CNPA, meets in public.  Having a staffing committee also says something about the preparedness of an organisation to be open – for staff should be the most important resource our National Parks have.

 

The two National Park Boards have arranged to meet in November – its been an action point for the LLTNPA for over two years – and I think that provides an ideal opportunity for LLTNPA members to rediscover a role for themselves.

 

Structures are only the start

Extract from report on last CNPA National Park Partnership Plan progress

Networking, listening, being more open is however only a start. Having discovered a role for themselves, Board Members need to help ensure our National Parks deliver far more than they do at present and where things are not working to help change direction and come up with new solutions.  The above extract illustrates the challenges facing the CNPA.  The Wildlife Estates Initiative was dominated by landowners and hunting interests and was supposed to show how the National Park would work in partnership with estates to promote wildlife in the National Park (and reduce wildlife persecution).  What the extract above shows is that even this weak initiative has failed and it provides strong evidence that the voluntary measures to promote wildlife in the new National Park Partnership Plan won’t work either.    The landed estates basically don’t care how they appear to the public.   The challenge for CNPA Board Members is to start to assert the right of the National Park to take action on these issues where voluntary measures have failed.

 

Ironically, the LLTNPA did take firm action in one area – the camping byelaws –  though I think it is significant that this is the ONLY area of work where it has been prepared to stick its neck out.  The problem has been that the LLTNPA focussed on the wrong issue – camping management rather than visitor management – and has bulldozed through the wrong solution with disastrous consequences.   I am in favour of our National Park Boards taking a stronger line but, just like when landowners fail to co-operate, they also need to recognise when they have got it wrong.  Its these type of issues where public debate should be promoted by our National Park Boards,  rather than the manipulated Your Park consultation on the byelaws or the relative silence of the CNPA on fundamental issues of land-use such as whether grouse moor management is compatible with the aims of the National Park.   Neither of our National Parks have been very good at leading such debates to date.

October 5, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments

The carpark for Ben Venue, which was featured in the Stirling Observer (see here), had been cleared up by the time I visited it 8 days ago.  I had a discussion with Fergus Wood, the Board Member who own Ledard Farm afterwards and he said the layby had never been blocked to hillwalkers.  While that had been suggested in the Stirling Observer article, that was not the point I had made on parkswatch which was that a condition of the planning permission for the Ledard hydro scheme (as far as I could ascertain) was that the layby was NOT to be used to store materials.   The concern was that a development involving a Board Member had breached planning conditions, which in my opinion, sets a very poor example.  That the layby has been cleared up suggests there was a breach of planning conditions and much of the credit for redressing this lies with the local publicity given to the issue by the Stirling Observer.

 

For the last couple of weeks I have been having a dialogue with the National Park Authority about their refusal to release information about pre-application discussions which took place with Fergus Wood about the proposed campsite at Ledard Farm (which was to be located just through the gate in the photo).  Fergus Wood withdrew that planning application in May.  Unfortunately, we have been unable to reach agreement and I have now submitted an appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner.   In gathering the paperwork for that appeal I found that the planning documentation on the Park’s Planning portal (see here for current information) had been changed since my post of 11th April which drew attention to potential conflicts of interest between Mr Wood’s involvement in the development of the camping byelaws and his application for a campsite (see here).  In my view this change has been done in a way that is misleading, covers up for the failure of the original application to state that Mr Wood, the applicant, was a Board Member and appears to involve falsification of documents.  The rest of this post considers the evidence for this and the implications.

 

In my post of 11th April, I included an extract from the Planning Application form which I downloaded from the LLTNPA planning portal on 10th April.   This showed that under the Member Interests section of the application form the “No” box had been ticked.  The form was was dated 3rd March 2017. You can see the full form I downloaded here 2017_0097_DET-Application_Form-100279676.  I was surprised to discover therefore, when checking my appeal to the Information Commissioner, that there was a new Application form on the planning portal in which the “Yes” box under Member Interests had been ticked and which included text which said Fergus Wood was on the Board.  You can compare the two versions of the form below:

Extract from form downloaded 10th April
Extract from Application Form as it currently appears on Park portal

 

I was even more surprised to see both forms were dated 3rd March 2017.

 

I then checked further and saw there were two versions of the application form on the portal, the second headed “superseded” was easy to miss.

Screenshot from planning portal

Now I was pretty certain that when I downloaded the form on 10th April there was only one version of the application form on the portal.   While I did not take a screenshot at the time, its seems hardly credible that the agents for Mr Wood would have submitted two application forms on the same day, the first say Mr Wood had no interest, the second saying that he had an interest, that both were then date stamped 13th March but one went on portal first and was later marked “superseded”.

 

I then realised that the version of the application I had downloaded on 10th April had NO “superseded” in the title (and there should be proof of this in my computer’s download history – I am away from home – which I would be very happy to make available to investigators).   What therefore appears to have happened is that sometime after my post and before the application was withdrawn, a member or members of National Park staff renamed the original application form by inserting the word “superseded” in the file name and then created or processed a new version of the application form where the Members Interest boxes were both ticked yes.

 

I don’t know whose idea this was or who authorised the changes but they appear to me to be  fraudulent and intended to give the impression Fergus Wood had declared his interests at the time the planning application was made.   I would stress here that I have no evidence that Fergus Wood was involved in this at all, although what should have happened is when he realised he had failed to declare interests properly,  he should then have written to the Park, apologised and any amended paperwork should have then shown the correct date.   That would have removed any cause for complaint.   However, certain LLTNPA staff and Board members don’t think like that.  Instead they try to cover things up which makes matters a lot worse if they get found out.

 

The significance of this cover-up is that its the third that I am aware of involving a Board Member.  First there was Owen McKee, the chair of the planning committee who traded in Cononish goldmine shares (see here).   Second, was the falsification of the minute of the Board meeting which decided the byelaws to say that Board Members with property in the proposed camping management zones had declared an interest when they had not (see here).   And now there is Fergus Wood’s campsite planning application.

 

These attempts to cover up for Board Members are part of a much wider malaise, where information and records are changed or misrepresented to ensure the Park gets its own way.    This has been evident through the whole camping byelaw saga, for example in the way the results of the Your Park consultation were falsified,  but also seems common practice in the planning system where myself and a couple of co-contributors have noted documents have a strange habit of disappearing.  I would recommend anyone interested in a planning application to always take screenshots of the planning portal and download all relevant documents.   Its a pain in the neck, shouldn’t be needed but if you don’t do it, you have no redress.   Unless I had downloaded the Ledard Farm planning application I would have no proof any changes had been made.

 

What needs to happen

First, the LLTNPA needs to conduct a full investigation into the Ledard Farm campsite planning application, how and when this was changed and who was involved/responsible.

Second, the new Board needs to make it very clear to the senior staff team that any falsification of records will be treated as gross misconduct.

Third, It could then, try and re-establish a reputation for probity.  A review of the way complaints have been addressed might be a good place to start.  For example it could carry out the long outstanding  investigation which is needed into who was responsible for falsely recording that Board Members had declared an interest at the meeting which approved the camping byelaws.   (When I wrote to Linda McKay, after the Commissioner for Ethical Standards found she had no knowledge the minute had been changed, asking that she conduct an investigation into who was responsible she passed the letter on to Gordon Watson to respond.  He declared the matter closed, which suggested to me he was fully aware of who had changed the minute but it was not in his or the Park’s interests to address this).  I suspect there are many other examples.

Fourth, it should make a commitment to operate far more openly, publish more information and stop abusing Freedom of Information law to withhold information from the public (every appeal I have made so far to the Information Commissioner has resulted in information being released but its a long a thankless process).   This would help provide public audit trails which would help staff and Board Members who are honest and want to do the right thing.

Fifth, the Board could ask the new Governance Manager – the post has recently been advertised – to put ethics, including truth, at the heart of the governance of the National Park Authority.

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

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

 

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

 

The information required as a condition of the planning consent

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

and

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

August 15, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

One of the priority actions under the last Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Partnership Plan was to develop long-term Land Management Plans across the National Park, an objective that everyone with an interest in land-use and landscape should support.   Interested to understand what progress had been made, I asked the LLTNPA for copies of all plans that been agreed and in June the LLTNPA informed me (see here) that plans had been agreed with 18 private businesses “which equates to 29% of all privately owned land in the National Park”  – exceeding their 25% target.  However, they refused to release any of the Plans that had been agreed on the grounds they were commercially sensitive.  To me, this seemed bizarre, surely how land is being managed in our National Parks is a matter of public interest and should be public?

 

I therefore asked for a review of this decision EIR 2017-043 Review request and this week received a response, EIR REVIEW 2017-043 Response estate plans.  This claims that these land management are so full of commercially sensitive information – which can be exempt from publication under the Freedom of Information Act in certain circumstances – that they cannot be released.   The implications of the Park’s claims for Land Reform and land-use management are profound.   What the Park is in effect saying is that because the plans contain commercially sensitive information they will not release the information these plans contain relating to the Park’s statutory objectives to conserve the landscape and wildlife, promote public enjoyment of the countryside and sustainable use of resources.  Among other things the following would now appear, according to the Park, to be state secrets:

  • agreements made with landowners to manage deer numbers and reduce the impact of deer grazing on the environment
  • agreements made with landowners to improve recreational infrastructure, such as car parks or campsites
  • agreements made with landowners about how land could be managed to reduce the risk of flooding
  • plans to protect vulnerable species or to control predator
  • plans for future developments, such as hydro schemes

In effect the Park is claiming that agreements it makes with landowners on how land should be managed are secret and not a matter of public interest.   This is totally wrong and contradicts National policy.

 

The Scottish policy position

 

Last year the Scottish Government issued a revised Land-use strategy for Scotland 2016-21 http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0050/00505253.pdf  under the title “Getting the best from our land” – note the “our”.   Here are some relevant extracts:

 

a) Under “Principles Land Use” “People should have opportunities to contribute to debates and decisions about land use and management decisions which affect their lives and their future.”

How can people, including local communities, contribute to land-use decisions in the National Park if information about land-use is secret?

 

b) Under “Our Vision” “A Scotland where we fully recognise, understand and value the importance of our land resources, and where our plans and decisions about land use will deliver improved and enduring benefits, enhancing the wellbeing of our nation.”

How can we know if decision the Park is making with landowners about land-use are delivering “improved and enduring benefits” if these decisions are secret?

 

c) The Land Use Strategy also supports the three underpinning principles in A Stronger Scotland, The Government’s Programme for Scotland 2015-16.  The third of these is “making sure that we encourage and facilitate participation by everyone in the debates and decisions that matter to them most, regardless of their circumstances or backgrounds”

How does the LLTNPA’s secret agreement with landowners support this objective?

 

d) Under “Our Objectives”  “Urban and rural communities better connected to the land, with more people enjoying the land and positively influencing land use.”
How do secret management plans enable more people to positively influence land-use?
e)  “Our Objective to maximise the opportunities for land to deliver multiple economic, environmental and social benefits is still valid and at the heart of this second Land Use Strategy.
In 2011 we published an information note on Applying an Ecosystems Approach to Land Use…………(which)….. “summarised the three key steps which are important when using an ecosystems approach, these are:
• considering natural systems;
• taking account of the services that ecosystems provide; and
• involving people.”
How does keeping management plans secret involve people?

f) 2.5 Land Use and Communities “We are all part of a community. A community can be based on its location (for example,people who live, work or use an area) or common interest (for example, the business community, sports or heritage groups). Both need to be at the heart of decisions about  land use because land is at the core of our communities. It provides places for us to live, work, and enjoy recreation………………When people can influence what happens in their community and contribute to delivering change, there can be many benefits. Pride in the local community can increase, people may be more inclined to go outdoors and be active, or have the opportunity to grow their own fruit and vegetables and eat more healthily. All of these things improve people’s physical health, mental wellbeing and overall quality of life.   It has also been shown that most people feel that they should be involved in local land use decisions beyond the rights already provided by the statutory planning system; this is why we need to encourage better connections between communities and the land.”

So according to the Scottish Government involving people should be central to land-use – except in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park it would appear.  The LLTNPA is not only failing to consult on land-use decisions, its keeping information about the basis of those decisions secret.  And our National Parks are supposed to demonstrate best practice!     Its worth noting here that the Cairngorms National Park Authority does publish estate management plans.  While they are far from perfect, in fact in many cases so general as to be meaningless, at least what the CNPA is doing is public and provides a basis for debate.   It appears that the LLTNPA would prefer that not to happen.
Its hard to avoid the conclusion that at some level the LLTNPA has in effect been taken over and is being run for landowner and business interests rather than the public interest.

Land management plans and freedom of information

The Park makes two interesting statements in its Review Response refusing to make land management plans public.

The first is that “there is commercially sensitive information throughout the documents, such information is not discretely held within one part of the document. The plans also contain copies of reports provided by third party consultants on the viability of businesses and future plans.”   Now, while I am sceptical about how far landowners have provided commercially sensitive information to the National Park, if there is indeed commercial information inserted throughout the plans, the obvious solution – apart from redacting the commercially sensitive information which would be a lot of work – is to redesign the plans so that business information is held in a separate document which would not need to be made public.   This would make it easy to publish plans which set out the agreements made  with landowners – e.g deer numbers, extent of woodland restoration, plans for new paths – without the financial information that underpins the delivery of this.   Having said this, where work is to be financed through public funds, I see no reason why this information should not be public.  Its should be in the public interest, for example, to know what Forestry Commission Scotland intends to grant aid.

The second is the LLTNPA’s statement  that “the ILMPs have been put together with businesses within the National Park on the understanding that this information is not shared publically (sic)”.   My understanding of Freedom of Information law is that this is totally wrong: public authorities cannot get round the Freedom of Information Act by making private agreement with landowners or anyone else that the information will not be public.   That is why in every public tender and contract clauses are included which state that any information provided is subject to the provisions of Freedom of Information law.   The LLTNPA statement suggests once again that its being driven by landowning and business interests, not the public interest.

What needs to happen

While I will appeal to the Information Commissioner – the National Park cannot be allowed to drive a cart and horses through our Freedom of Information legislation – this is a matter that the LLTNPA Board need to address.   I believe they need to:

  • Require staff to re-design estate management plans so that information that is legitimately confidential is separated out from decisions that are being made about land-use
  • Consider how to consult and involve the public in the development of land management plans as per Scotland’s Land-use Strategy
  • Commit to publishing all plans that have been agreed so far as soon as possible
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 28, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
One of the better places for camping in the Coilessan camping zone – with permits zones like this, how did the Park feedback survey find that 85% of campers would recommend a stay in a permit zone?

In a news release yesterday (see here) the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority claimed to have reflected on the first four months of the camping byelaws.   The Park used a survey, which purportedly shows positive feedback from people booking permits and unsubstantiated claims from the Chair of St Fillans Community Council about the difference the byelaws had made, to conceal the key announcement:  the Park has in effect ceased trying to apply the camping byelaws to campervans and caravans.

 

So, if you are in a campervan or caravan you need no longer fear prosecution and a criminal record if you stop overnight on the loch shores unlike people staying in tents.   This raises some fundamental issues about the justification for the byelaws:  if there is no longer any need to limit the numbers of campervans, what is the justification for limiting numbers of campers?

 

The camping byelaws and vehicles

 

When announcing the Minister’s approval of the camping byelaws on 26/1/16the LLTNPA news release stated:  “They will also prevent inappropriate use of public laybys as encampments by caravans and campervans”.    This turns out to have been a lie.   A number of us had tried to advise the LLTNPA that one of the many reasons byelaws were not needed was that encampments could be dealt with under existing laws.  It appears that at long last the Park agrees:  “Police Scotland will use roads legislation to deal with unlawful encampments and irresponsible use of motor vehicles in laybys.”

 

I had wondered why the Your Park Report (see here)  to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board on 19th June made not a single mention of campervans and caravans and also why not a single Board Member asked about the serious issues  with enforcement raised on parkswatch (see here).     The reason I believe is that the LLTNPA had already decided it was unable to enforce the byelaws against caravans and campervans, as predicted on parkswatch, (see here) but did not want this information made public.    The news release, in the Park’s usual fashion, is a re-write of history and distorts the truth:

 

Going back over a number of years, some lochshore laybys have had issues with encampments of motorhomes and caravans creating negative impacts, damaging the environment and preventing access for other visitors. [Comment: preventing encampments was one of the main justifications for the byelaws even though powers already existing to deal with this e.g under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act]

Ongoing discussions on how best to manage these issues have agreed that Police Scotland will use roads legislation to deal with unlawful encampments and irresponsible use of motor vehicles in laybys.  People with campervans and motorhomes can use lochshore laybys to stop and rest (including sleeping overnight if necessary),[Comment: and, if they want to] but encampment on a road (including laybys) is an offence under road traffic legislation and will be managed by Police Scotland accordingly, in cooperation with land owners. Camping permit areas for tents adjacent to some lochshore laybys are unaffected. [Comment: having resolved the anomaly where the LLTNPA were allowing caravans to stop for free but requiring permits from campervans both can now stop for free and sit inside away from the midges watching poor campers who are charged for the privilege].

As a result the National Park Authority will no longer provide permits for motorhomes to stay in laybys but will focus on continuing to provide great locations for overnight motorhome stays at key off-road visitor areas around the National Park. [Comment: the LLTNPA website now says these are Three Lochs Forest Drive, Inveruglas and Firkin Point].   

 

The news release raises a number of further questions:

  1. Who decided that the byelaws and permit system would no longer be applied to campervans in laybys (by the way if you have been charged for the privilege, ask for your money back)?   Surely such an important decision should have been taken by the Board at their meeting on Monday 19th June.  Did the Board take this decision in secret or has it been decided by staff?
  2. What power does the Park have to remove vehicular rights of passage between 7am and 7pm from places like Inveruglas and Firkin Point?  If the LLTNPA don’t have the power to remove vehicular rights of passage, caravans and campervans can still spend the night on the roads to these places without purchasing a permit.  This is because under the byelaws its not an offence to sleep overnight in a vehicle on a road (public or private) and the legal definition of a road of course includes verges as well as laybys).   It appears the Park is still trying to enforce charges for campervans in three places contrary to the Road Traffic Act.
  3. How much money has the Park wasted on trying to prevent campervans exercising their legal right to spend the night on part of the road network (eg printed information, the signs in laybys stating motorhomes required a permit, legal advice, the motorhome terms and conditions)?    According to the management accounts at the Board Meeting expenditure on signage for the byelaws in 2016-17 was £154,095 (original budget £100,000).

 

The News Release does not go as far as saying that the LLTNPA will never enforce the camping byelaws against campervanners or caravans (its focus is on laybys) because if it did so, I suspect campers could challenge the Park in Court for selective application of the byelaws.  (This is what I had asked to speak to the Board about on 19th June (see here)  but agreed to defer pending a meeting with the Convenor James Stuart).   Despite this, I believe the camping byelaws are dead in the water as far as campervans and caravans are concerned.  The reason for this is that not only did the LLTNPA and Scottish Government fail to consider Road Traffic Legislation when drafting the byelaws, more importantly they failed to consider the people living in caravans in camping management zones who serviced tourist businesses.  This, I believe, explains why LLTNPA staff decided not to enforce the byelaws against caravans and, after staff took that decision – what legal right did they have to do this?  – attempts to apply the byelaws against campervans was doomed.

 

The alleged positive feedback from people applying for permits

 

The LLTNPA news release claim that between 1st March to 26th June 2017 approximately 2270 camping or motorhome permits have been booked, 492 people completed the LLTNPA feedback survey on the permit system and of these 85%  would recommend staying in one of the new permit areas and 92% found it easy to buy a permit.  The LLTNPA Board was very impressed with this feedback, which was reported to their meeting, commending the high response rate and interpreting the result to mean the byelaws were going very well.

 

Unfortunately the Board failed to ask some basic questions which are not addressed in either the paper put to them or the news release.      The first is about the numbers of people booking permit.  As Ramblers Scotland pointed out yestereday on Grough (see here) 2270 permits “equates to a combined total of 19 permits a day for motorhomes and tents” out of over 300 allegedly available.  The RA could also have hightlighted that the 2270 permits appears to include both bookings in advance and bookings for the campsites included in the permit system.    The total number suggests therefore that either people are deserting the Park in droves or ignoring the permit system.  The Park, if it was honest, would have published a comparison with previous numbers of campers recorded on the loch shores.  In fact this should be part of the basic data the Park provides as a basis for any future evaluation of the byelaws.

 

The second question to be asked is about the feedback.   The Park needs to explain how  85% of respondents would recommend staying in a permit area when most of the permit areas are uncampable or terrible for camping  (see here)or (see here).  and no-one in their right mind would recommend them to anybody.

Another terrible camping permit area in a field used by cattle visited on 19th June. The only area flat enough to pitch a tent are boggy and pockmarked with the hooves of cattle
Next door to Venachar Zone C is a much more attractive field and camping where camping is now banned. Its as though the landowners have agreed that camping should only be allowed in the worst places for camping.

One possible explanation for the majority of permit holders being prepared to recommend permit areas for camping is that people are only booking permits for a small number of the better permit areas.   There are a handful:

 

The permit area on the Invertrossachs Rd on the south east side of Loch Venachar has a number of good places to camp. Its the exception, not the rule.

This explanation is more plausible if Sallochy, on the West Highland Way, is as I suspect included in the returns.  It alone could probably explain the response.  Its in very high demand and provides excellent camping provision.  Just what the LLTNPA needs but has failed to deliver elsewhere.  Its in the public interest therefore that the LLTNPA should make public its data and in particular the number of feedback surveys completed for each survey area.   If it turns out that positive surveys have been completed for some of the very poor permit areas, the Park has some answering to do on just how people could recommend such terrible places for camping.   If not, the Park Board should be asking why people are not returning survey forms for those areas.

 

After visiting the Coilessan permit zone (top photo) a couple of weeks ago I stopped to talked to a Forestry Worker.  He agreed the Coilessan zone was a very poor place for camping, told me some people had been camping there and also that they had been very disappointed.   I am sure he was right.  Why is this sort of information not being fed to the LLTNPA Board?

 

Quote from Chair of St Fillans Community Council

The news release ends with Richard Graham, Chair of St Fillan’s Community Council, “The thing that has struck me most since the byelaws were introduced is the lack of damage, graffiti and litter. These are less evident and it also seems to be less congested.

 

“People who said they would never come back because of antisocial behaviour are coming back. I speak to fishermen who are delighted with the byelaws because they are experiencing less trouble on Loch Earn.

 

“Families are also coming back to picnic spots that they had just stopped coming to. In our community we are actively encouraging people to come and enjoy the area so this is amazing to see.”

 

Ignore the propaganda about families coming back – what about the families who used to camp and still do on the south Loch Earn road?  – and the complete lack of evidence for these assertions, the Park (and Mr Graham if he was aware of how his quote would be used) are shameless.  Yes, there was a problem on the north Loch Earn road – of encampments (which St Fillans Community Council had rightly complained about for years) – but its action by Drummond Estates that has dealt with this, NOT the byelaws and to claim otherwise is to distort the truth.  If it was the byelaws that had made the difference on North Loch Earn, the LLTNPA would hardly now be announcing it was no longer going to enforce them.

 

What the news release fails to mention

As always with the LLTNPA, what is not said is as significant as what is:

  • there is no mention of how many people have been referred to the Procurator Fiscal for breach of the byelaws (by the end of May there has been at least five, at least one of which involved the LLTNPA’s own police officer Paul Barr)
  • there is no analysis or attempt to collect feedback from anglers (the group worst affected by the byelaws) and what its like now trying to fish in poor weather or overnight when shelters are banned
  • there is no mention that the LLTNPA has decided not to apply the byelaws to Park residents allowing people to camp in their own gardens (though the byelaws made this a criminal offence)
  • there is nothing about how much money has been wasted

 

What next?

 

I believe this news release is a damage limitation exercise.  The Park was losing its reputation and damaging tourism so its abandoned trying to control campervans and appears to be trying to refocus its efforts purely on campers.  The unfairness of this is manifest.  People who can afford campervans can stop by the roadsides, people who sleep in tents (who tend to be poorer) can’t.    Its called social exclusion, its bad for people’s health (being outdoors is a great contributor to good health), its damaging tourism (particularly angling related businesses) and is undermining what were previously world class access rights.

 

What people who care about access rights need to do now is respond to the National Park Partnership Plan (my next post will be on recreation) and call upon the LLTNPA to conduct a proper review of what remains of the camping byelaws, engaging recreational interests, with a view to developing alternatives.    People also need to object most strongly to the LLTNPA’s coded proposals to introduce new visitor management measures, i.e to extend the byelaws, to the Loch Lomond islands.

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 15, 2017 Ross MacBeath No comments exist

ON THE SPOT REPORT

Destruction of the environment continues unabated at accessible popular locations where Rangers are just not in attendance – how is this able to take place at Loch Earn?

 

Criminal damage to loch side trees. two trunks felled.
1. Criminal behaviour continues unabated, with byelaws failing to make any difference.

 

Thank to Mechelle Rafferty for her permission to reproduce her experience as an “On the Spot Report”

Another great example of responsible leave no trace camping at a popular spot on Loch Earn with the now familiar tales of paying visitors having endure the accruing mess left by others and again having to clear up the mess of other non paying litter louts.

Report begins: 3rd June 2017 Loch Earn


 

They were nice enough, two of them, asked if we had a permit. I said no and that we’d only just seen the signs and no internet signal, which was true. So the other one said “I can help with that” and asked if we would be willing to purchase one. So I said yes. One of them gave me his phone and put me through to register details as they can only take card payment, not cash.

 

 

 

To be fair, they were nice enough and only doing their job, one was taking lots of notes and some pictures of further along the shore, as I said we’d went to one shore to camp just along, and one side had rave music blaring from a tent, and another had loads of guys fishing, shouting and swearing and swigging out of cans so we moved on.
It didn’t take long to register details and when I eventually got a signal they email a copy of your permit and advise you screenshot it in case there is no signal.
The following night,(Sunday) we were going to camp elsewhere but decided to go back to Loch Earn, different shore, so I just phoned up for a permit just in case, and again was done in two minutes.

 

Rangers claim lack of manpower is to blame, that was highlighted to the NP before byelaws were brought in to force.

 

I just wish they never caught me half asleep as I wanted to ask things like, what if we book a permit in future, turn up and it’s full of non permit holders, as no one came round on the Friday, Sunday or Monday, or the last time we were there, and what if there’s mess left after we leave the place clean, although I told them I always take before, during and after pics and videos anyway, and what about the day trippers, who were leaving rubbish, building fires and just leaving them etc, and chopping down and burning live trees?

 

So I’ll be more aware should they come round again. I don’t grudge the £3 per tent, it’s the principle of it.

 

I did ask if anyone had had the £500 fine, but as it’s new, not so far although folk refusing to give details or buy a permit and they openly said they don’t have the manpower to police it.

 

 

Here’s some of the mess at all three shores, A, B AND C before we left on Monday, plus we had to tidy up some too. The first two are two of our “leave no trace” pics.

 

Here’s a wee video of our story about the permits and rangers at Loch Earn and our leave no trace at the end. There’s a bit music in it that suits the neds so due to copyright might not play on a mobile device. I always take before, during and after pics of every single camp

 

 


Report Ends

Thanks Mechelle for that very interesting report it makes a lot of very important points and equally raises many questions that need to be answered.

Additional observations by Ross MacBeath

The threat of criminal charges is ruining the Visitor Experience

 

Both Mechelle’s and the views expressed in the previous posts demonstrates that visitors feel threatened by the ever present possibility of prosecution for littering and environmental damage they are not responsible for creating, so much so they feel compelled to take “before and after” photographs from their visit as evidence.

 

 

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.

 

May 24, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What needs to happen

 

  • The HIE Board need to get a handle on what staff are presenting to them about Natural Retreats and the plans at Cairngorm
  • Charlotte Craig, the Acting Chief Executive, needs to get a handle on what staff are doing and writing in her name.
  • HIE needs to explain why its lending £4m to a company that appears effectively bankrupt and whose business plan has not been finalised.
  • Audit Scotland should start asking some of these questions
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 17, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The flat headland opposite Ledard House, at the start of the southern path to Ben Venue.  Proposed campsite was to be located right of photo

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

 

The Interests of Board Members of the LLTNPA

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

Context for the objections to the Ledard Farm campsite planning application

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Merits of the objections to the Ledard Farm campsite

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

A wider plan for the area

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

What needs to be done in Strathard?

 

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

 

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

 

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

  • proposals to develop a network of small campsites linking across the area (within which any proposal for a new campsite at Ledard farm could be judged)
  • the potential to introduce public transport at weekends and holidays (using school buses) to enable some increase in visitor numbers without encouraging more traffic
  • a reduction in the number of formal pitches at Loch Chon (which would be easy to achieve since many are already being overrun by vegetation) and abandonment of the current rules banning campervans from staying in the carpark or tents from pitching by the lochshore
April 11, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Ledard Farm, owned by Councillor Fergus Wood, situated by the start of the popular southern approach path to Ben Venue (heads up by Ledard burn to left)

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

 

The positives

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Private interests and the public interest

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

This raises two questions.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

March 28, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Slide presented to Stakeholder Forum November 2016 – the clear priority for the Park is to enforce the byelaws, but how?

Back in November I submitted an FOI request to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority intended to enforce the proposed camping byelaws:

 

“all information relating to any intention to prosecute whether internal, discussions or communications with the police, procurator fiscal, Forestry commissioner anyone else who might be involved in enforcing the byelaws.”

 

The Park  refused my request (see here), stating that it  was too general but committed to producing an enforcement policy and, on 24th March, I received an email to say that it had been published  (see here).

 

What is the status of the Enforcement Policy?

 

The first thing to note about the Enforcement Policy is that it has not been considered or approved by any public meeting of the LLTNPA Board.  In my view its the National Park Board that should decide policy, not staff – though its possible the Enforcement Policy was considered at a secret Board Briefing session earlier this year.   This contrasts with the LLTNPA’s litter enforcement policy – which is referred to in this new policy – which was considered at a Board Meeting, in June 2016.   However, even in that case Board Members were only asked to NOTE the contents of the policy, not to APPROVE it:

 

This is yet another governance failure.   Can anyone in the LLTNPA explain why, when the Board was asked to endorse the approach to signage about the byelaws in December 2016,  they have not been asked to endorse or approve the enforcement policy?   It appears the main decision-making power left with the Board now is to approve financial expenditure and formal plans, all other decisions are left to staff.    This is wrong and way below the governance standards of local authorities.

So what does the Enforcement Policy tell us?

 

I had hoped the Enforcement Policy would say how the LLTNPA proposes to deal with certain situations which I believe make the byelaws all but unenforceable:

 

  • the thousands of visitors who will camp, light fires, put up shelters, try to sleep overnight in their campervans off a road who are completely unaware that they are committing a criminal offence
  • local residents, apart from the landowners and immediate family who are exempt from the provision, who put up tents and bivouacs  in gardens within the management zones or occupy a form of shelter overnight
  • people who know they are contravening the byelaws but do so for safety reasons (eg cycle and canoe tourers who stop because of exhaustion or bad weather)
  • and, on the definitions front, what activities relating to lighting of fires are seen by the LLTNPA as likely to cause damage?

 

The Enforcement Policy does not answer any of these questions.  Perhaps the answers are contained in the procedures referred to at the end of the policy (which I have now requested under FOI):

 

 

 

What the enforcement policy shows is the LLTNPA is sitting astride two horses which are about to gallop off in opposite directions.   The dilemma for the LLTNPA is they would really like everyone to just accept the byelaws, and not to have to refer anyone to the Procurator Fiscal, but at the same time as soon as it becomes known the Park is not enforcing the byelaws people will simply ignore them.   For this reason, while the Enforcement Policy says a number of sensible things about the need to engage visitors, it also states:
 
“the Park Authority will always reserve the right to proceed straight to legal sanction should the Park Authority consider that, in the circumstances, this is the most appropriate course of action.”
 
What are these circumstances?   The LLTNPA refuses to say.
 
The dilemma for the Park is illustrated by the action taken by David Lintern and friends,  which David covered in a fine piece on Walk Highland (see here) – essential reading for anyone who cares about access rights.    I fully support David’s deliberate testing of the camping byelaws – unjust laws are just that and deserve no respect – and no-one breaching the byelaws who is camping according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code should be prosecuted.   So, have the LLTNPA referred David to the Procurator Fiscal?    If they have, I predict a storm of protest.  The risk for the Park is that a very public prosecution of someone for challenging the byelaws will show up how unjust they are, treating  responsible camping without the Park’s permission as a more serious offence than dropping litter or using a mobile phone when driving.
 
If on the other hand the LLTNPA haven’t referred David to the PF,  its going to be very difficult for them to take action against anyone else who deliberately breaches the byelaws in future as a precedent has been set.
 
As the LLTNPA Enforcement Policy says:
 
 While the enforcement policy highlights the need for consistency, it says nothing about how this will work, i.e in what circumstances the LLTNPA will actually refer people to the PF.  Its just yet more parkspeak.    So, any camper who faces prosecution, should just ask the Park what has happened in similar cases.
 
The explanation for this lack of clarity is I believe contained in the policy:
The byelaws need our implicit consent to succeed.   What that means is the LLTNPA needs wild campers to know what areas are covered by the camping management zones and apply for permits in advance.  If the LLTNPA was clear about when it was going to try and criminalise people, it would be easy for people to get round the byelaws.  However, if people don’t respect the rules the Park is trying to create and don’t give their consent to them,  if people simply turn up and camp responsibly (whether inside or outside a management zone or permit area) what is the Park going to do?   Their enforcement policy can’t tell us but I am not sure there is that much they can do anyway.
 
A primary reason is most people won’t know about the byelaws.   The LLTNPA could put up more signs, spelling out what activities are banned, and then prosecute people who ignore these signs.   This may yet happen – there are indications that a second phase of signage is planned to add to that approved by the Board.
Sign from Secret Board Briefing session 19th September 2016. The no camping sign on right was not included in the suite of signs approved by the Board in October 2016.
The LLTNPA has however already spent  £100k on signs that tell the public very little and the cost of installing a no camping sign in every possible camping place along the loch shores is likely to be prohibitive.
Slide from secret Board Meeting September 2016.

 

The “Threshold” signs are those at the entrance to the management zones.  No wonder staff were not keen when Board Members suggested there should be signs telling people that they were leaving the camping management zone – that might have cost another £60k.  It appears that if the Park was to install small “no camping” signs it would cost £500 apiece – there must be at least 200 good places to camp outwith the camping permit areas so that’s another £100k.   Not good use of public money, but without signs it will be almost impossible to enforce the byelaws because most people won’t know and if referred to the PF can use this as a defence.  It won’t look good if a visitor stopping off to camp overnight in a car is prosecuted – in fact I suspect the PF will regard this as a waste of Court time.  The LLTNPA has ducked this issue, in fact its head is in the sand, about how it can ensure everyone stopping off knows about the camping byelaws.

No camping sign mock-up presented to Secret Board Meeting September 2016.    This glossy mock-up illustrates the Park is all about style, not substance.

The problems are illustrated by the proposed no camping signage which was never put to the public Board Meeting in October.   Imagine approaching this layby with a campervan.  The sign says nothing about sleeping overnight in campervans being a potential breach of the byelaws.   Its hard though to see how any sign could accurately convey the legal position.   Legally, roads are exempt from the provisions of the byelaws and the legal definition of a road includes its verge.  So,  if you pull off this road onto the flat verge between the two signs, or behind the one on the left, that’s quite legal.  However,  if you could drive the campervan down towards the loch shore, as soon as you left the verge if you slept in that position overnight that would be an offence.    The LLTNPA is never going to be able to convey that message by signage and the byelaws are as a consequence unenforceable for campervans.  Interestingly the enforcement policy says NOTHING about the different enforcement approaches Rangers might take depending on whether someone is camping, in a campervan or has put up a tent in the garden of a house they are renting.

 
The enforcement policy describes two general approaches to people breaching the byelaws, which it describes as the Preventative Approach and the Escalated Approach.  The first is mainly about informing people:
What’s interesting about this is that the Park classes the effect of negative behaviour on the environment as being the same as contravening the byelaws.  In fact the byelaws do almost nothing to tackle “negative behaviour” – that is a myth put out by the LLTNPA – as this is already fully covered by other laws. All the byelaws do is ban people who are camping responsibly.  The Park however wants to try and persuade responsible campers that by the very act of camping they are being irresponsible.  This won’t work.   It requires people to abandon all their critical faculties and specifically to accept that the LLTNPA is a better judge of where to camp than you are.   All the evidence shows the Park is totally incompetent to manage camping and nothing they say should be trusted (see here) or (here).
 
The second approach will be taken to people who breach the byelaws, whether inadvertently or deliberately:
The important words here is that the Park is in these cases going to try and stop people doing what they were doing.  So, if you inadvertently camp in a management zone, the Park Rangers are going first of all to ask you to leave – what they call a voluntary resolution of the breach.    It appears therefore that as long as a camper is generally co-operative with Rangers,  in other words agrees to move their tent or apply for a permit, there is little chance of them being referred by the Park for prosecution.
 
However, the enforcement policy does not cover what happens in specific circumstances, such as:
 
  • the camper is exhausted or ill or otherwise in a position which makes it unsafe to move
  • what happens if this is a repeat breach of the byelaws, in other words the person camped previously, agreed to move on, but has returned to camp on another occasion

The second point is crucial.  Under the byelaws the LLTNPA has the right to take the name and address of people breaching the byelaws.  It has not said what it will do with this information (this is something else which should have been decided by the Board), how long it will store it or whether it will record other information such as whether the camper has been informed about the nature and extent of the camping byelaws and the implications of breaking them again).    One way to find out if you provide this information is to submit a  Subject Access Request under Data Protection legislation to find out what information is being held about you.

(to be continued)