Tag: secrecy

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)

March 18, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
The toilets and ranger base (right) at Milarrochy

Following the announcement by Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority staff of their decision to close the slipway and  ranger base at Milarrochy  (see here), Peter Jack, Chair of the Loch Lomond Association wrote to James Stuart, new convener of the LLNPA, asking the Board to review the decision at their meeting last  Monday.   The response he received (see here) – which is published with his permission – is not from James Stuart, but Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive.   It illustrates a number of things which are going in our National Park including how decisions are made,  the Park’s understanding of access rights and the drive to commercialise much of what the LLTNPA does.

 

The rules governing Board Meetings

 

In October 2015 the LLTNPA Board revised its Standing Orders, the rules under which it operates Board-Standing-Orders-approved-20151026.   The revised Standing Orders further reduced the levels of transparency governing the Board, changing the time the public gets to see papers before meetings from seven to three days, the legal minimum, and more importantly say nothing about the operation of secret Board Meetings, described as “Briefing Sessions”, which outnumber the meetings which are held in public.  The Standing Orders  do, however, contain some provisions about how public LLTNPA Board Meetings should operate.

 

Gordon Watson’s main reason for refusing the request from the LLA was that “it is not within our procedures to add additional items as a result of external requests”.  This is true, but only to the extent that the Standing Orders do not cover the situation where an outside body asks the Board to discuss a matter.   There is actually NOTHING in the SOs to prevent an agenda item being added as a result of an external request such as that made by the LLA.   The key point is the Standing Orders (and more seriously the regulations that govern our National Parks)  do not set out what discussion and decisions need to be taken at public Board Meetings and what can be taken in secret.

 

In fact there is a great deal of flexibiliity about what could be discussed at Board Meetings, given the will.  Clause 37 of the SOs says its up to the Convener and Deputy Convener to determine the agenda, so most power lies with them, and there is nothing in the SOs to stop them adding an item to the agenda as a result of an external request.    Moreover, since the request was received five days before the meeting and final Board agendas now only need to appear three days before the meeting, the convener in this case could have added this item to the agenda and included the letter from the LLA, whic was self-explanatory, among the papers.     Alternatively, every Board Meeting includes a section on “Any Other Business”, and there was nothing to stop the Convener raising the letter from the LLA as part of this.  That the letter was NOT discussed therefore was not because of the Park’s rules but because Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive, did not want it discussed.

 

Moreover, Clause 24 of the SOs states “A Special Meeting may be called at any time by the Convener to discuss an urgent item of business”.   There are no notice periods set out for this so again the Convener could have held a special Board Meeting after the scheduled one to discuss the Milarrochy issue.  The problem I believe is the Board is not in control, its the senior staff management team who appear to be running  the show and it appears that the  Park Chief Executive,Gordon Watson, is simply being allowed to interpret the Park’s rules to suit staff and avoid having decisions scrutinised in public.

 

Public Safety,outdoor recreation and access rights

The old east Loch Lomond camping byelaws sign at Milarrochy – the LLTNPA’s attempts to control camping and access to water are linked (as is the control of car parking)

Now consider the implications of this statement from Gordon Watson’s letter:

 

“As the landowner the Park Authority is responsible for public safety on the beach and it is not considered appropriate to allow vehicles and trailers to use the beach unsupervised”.

 

The legal position of what responsibilities landowners have for public safety on their land is complicated (there are some well established duties such as fencing off mine workings)  BUT, and this is the key point, while landowners have a general duty of care, legally there is a general presumption that they are not responsible for what might happen between or to outdoor recreation users in the course of that recreation.   If they were, our access rights would be in tatters.  Imagine what would happen if any potential issue associated with vehicles and trailers taking boats to the water’s edge on rivers and lochs across Scotland was seen as the responsibility of the landowners – that could put an end  to every canoe business, and all recreational canoeing,  in Scotland.   So, this appears to be a very dangerous sweeping statement from Gordon Watson, who has never understood access rights, and appears inadvertently to be undermining the whole legal framework on which they were based.   Indeed, his statement is a hostage to fortune for the LLTNPA:   the first accident that happenson any land the Park owns and what keen personal injury  lawyer will not be quoting Mr Watson’s statement as part of their claim against the National Park?

 

If the LLTNPA has any sense it will retract that statement now, and could justify this on the basis that Mr Watson appears to be taking a different stance to that taken by the National Park over three years ago in the court case Michael Leonard v LLTNPA.   This concerned responsibility for an accident on the West Highland Way and which the LLTNPA won (see here).  (Something for which  they deserve credit)

 

This is not to say that the Park has no responsibilities for public safety at a slipway to which they had invited people to launch boats (as opposed to the beach as a whole).   There has however been no proper risk assessment and the Park’s own figures show there have been no accidents.   That’s not a surprise to me because boats are launched from trailers all over the country.   The Park’s basic attitude however appears to be that the public are basically irresponsible and constantly need supervision to avoid risks , whether this is camping or launching boats, and whatever they don’t have the resources to “police” they will ban.    There might be a case for supervising boat launching at Milarrochy – apart from the need for the LLTNPA to collect the fees – but the Park has not shown this is needed and should be consulting the LLA (who do take safety seriously) to determine whether this is needed.

 

Parkspeak and the outsourcing agenda

 

Mr Watson’s claim in the penultimate paragraph of his letter that the closure of the slipway could be an “interim position” pending finding a new operator for the site, begs the question, should the Park have not consulted on the future of the site before closing the slipway?   The rest of the paragraph is simply an attempt to sell the Park’s outsourcing and commercialisation agenda, most of which is discussed in closed session at official Board Meetings.   It appears that they have already decided to outsource Milarrochy, without any public consultation, and perhaps behind the scenes had already agreed to close the slipway which would be another reason why Gordon Watson would not have wanted this discussed at the public Board meeting.

 

What needs to happen

 

I believe that recreational organisations need to force the LLTNPA to discuss and engage with them on recreational issues much more openly because it appears the Park will not do this voluntarily.    One way to do this is included in Board Standing Orders – Clauses 33-36 allow for public deputations.   I hope the LLA consider asking for a deputation at the next Board Meeting to discuss Milarrochy (any deputation needs two weeks notice, the Convener then decides if it should go on the agenda and the Board Members at the meeting vote on whether to listen to it).  It would be interesting to see how the LLTNPA responds.

 

There are wider possibilities though – how about a deputation on the legal framework for access rights and how the Park could extract itself from the hole it is digging for itself in the way its trying to implement fundamentally flawed camping byelaws?

March 10, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Loch Chon campsite 5th March – unfinished.  The Board papers state  I was sent this photo as an attachment without a credit but my thanks to whoever took it. There are lots of people now using photos to prove the false statements and claims of the LLTNPA.

The camping byelaws dominate the lengthy agenda of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Board meeting on Monday.  There is information or decisions about the byelaws and camping plans under almost every agenda item (see here for papers) as well as a specific paper on Your Park.

 

The most important thing that should have been discussed by the Board however is completely missing and that is how they are going to enforce the byelaws.   In EIR REVIEW 2016-057 Response on 19th January the LLTNPA stated in writing it was going to develop an enforcement policy.  There is no need to read the whole letter, just this extract , particularly the final sentence:

The section in bold was my question to the LLTNPA, the rest is the response

 

  The LLTNPA Board needed to agree an enforcement policy and procedures for fixed penalty notices for litter and without one for the byelaws, I believe it will be very difficult for LLTNPA staff to take any enforcement action at all.

 

As predicted, the Your Park paper contains a recommendation to revoke the east Loch Lomond byelaws – nothing is said about how this will criminalise all except landowners and their closest relatives from putting up shelters or tents in their own gardens (see here) but it also contains an Appendix  from officers claiming progress in a number of areas Board_20170313_Agenda5_Appendix-1_Your-Park-Update.    This is an essential read for anyone who cares about truth.

 

The first substantive point reads:  Loch Chon campsite is on course for completion and handover by the contractor for operation by the National Park Authority in time for 1st March 2017.    The photo above proves this was not true and LLTNPA staff knew this was not the case before the papers went public – so either staff are deliberately misleading the Board or  papers were sent out to th Board well before the 1st March.   If that is the case, it would confirm the Board has a deliberate strategy of trying to reduce the likelihood of adverse publicity or representations to members before meeting.

 

The other amazing claim is that: “The website includes full descriptions of permit areas including photographs”   What the paper does not say is that the photos do not show what the permit areas are actually like (see here for Firkin Point and Inveruglas).  There’s lots more on social media and I would commend this video from Ramblers Scotland  https://twitter.com/ramblersscot/status/839416979282853888 not least because it  shows they are now starting to campaign against the byelaws, rather than simply oppose them.

 

The paper also fails to report  whether all the permit areas have mobile coverage for online bookings, which Park staff had promised would be in place 1st March at the last Board Meeting and, if not, what arrangements for paying might be.

 

The paper is much briefer than previous Your Park papers, possiblly because if Park staff had said any more, they would simply have incriminated themselves further.    The Board though can’t sit by and pretend the launch of the byelaws has not been a disaster – remember the Minister delayed the implementation date by a year to let the Park plan properly.   What the Board should do is  correct the lies, untruths and omissions in the papers, consider who is responsible for this and take appropriate action – an early text for the new Convener’s integrity .

There is plenty else in the papers to suggest that that any action the Board takens should not just be an attempt to catch-up – and brush off all the failures as teething problems – but rather a rethink of where they are heading.

 

 

The most serious problem facing the National Park is the amount of resources it is now devoting to Your Park.  This is only partly shown in the budget for this year (which is also being considered at the Board Meeting).   The reason for this is that “The Your Park operational costs for 2017/18 have been allocated into the appropriate management areas so that they move into ‘business as usual’ operating costs. A summary of the Your Park costs is shown at section 8 below for information.”

 

In fact the Your Park operational costs only show additional staff costs of £156k – see second bullet below – not the salaries of existing staff who now work full time on Your Park.  That includes the bulk of the largest ranger service in Scotland, the parkspeak communications team, senior management time etc – i.e its a gross underestimate.

 

There needs to be completely transparency on this issue, of what its costing the Park to chase off innocent campers and campervaners and then compare this to the cost of putting in the infrastructure the National Park so desperately needs (such as provision and emptying of litter bins) and of extra policing to deal with the few anti-social campers.  There has never been any cost benefit analysis of the Your Park proposals – there should be, and its time Audit Scotland became involved.

 

The broader issue is that all this needless expenditure is diverting money from the conservation objectives of the National Park.  Among the other Board papers is the new draft Partnership Plan, which sets out what the National Park aims to do over the next five years (which I will consider in a future post).  While there are some positive conservation objectives, the National Park is almost entirely dependant on others to fund these because all its resources are being devoted to policing the camping byelaws.  It need to get back to being a National Park rather than a Camping Authority.

 

Among the other papers which deal with the camping byelaws are:

  • Matters Arising, which shows the LLTNPA has successfully twisted the arm of the Forestry Commission to increase its campsite charges at Sallochy from £5 to £7 to match those needed at Loch Chon and Loch Lubnaig which were vastly overspecified and needlessly expensive.   This paper also says that the LLTNPA is going to spend more money putting up signs telling people they are leaving a camping management zone – since most people are unlikely to know what this means, this appears a further waste of scarce resources.
  • The Operational Plan, which indicates  that the LLTNPA is going to record the number of byelaw infringements between March 2017 and March 2018.  NB the byelaws run to 30th September so what the Park is recording for the extra five months of the year I am uncertain – it does though rather highlight the absurdity that if you collect two twigs for a fire on 30th September, you risk getting a criminal record, but if you collect and burn enough wood for Guy Fawkes on 1st October you face no consequences under the byelaws.
  • The Risk Register which shows the National Park has identified the Your Park proposals as a major risk to its reputation.   After all the social media coverage in the last two weeks the Board, if its got any sense, should see that a change of course is the only way its going to be able to limit that damage.  The risk register though records any change of course resulting from new members coming onto the Board as a risk which needs to be managed!   In other words new Board Members need to be told to get behind the camping byelaws!   I suspect that until new members are appointed (which may happen as soon as the council elections in May) nothing will change.

(more…)

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

The development of the Your Park signage

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

February 25, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What needs to happen

 

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

 

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

February 9, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Extract from decision paper written by Gordon Watson, current Chief Executive, and presented at secret Board Meeting on 16th June 2014 and obtained as a result of an appeal to the Information Commissioner.

The above extract speaks for itself and confirms what most people already knew, the LLTNPA deliberately omitted the Loch Lomond Islands from the camping byelaw consultation because they thought if they did so, this might stop their attempt to undermine access rights because of the opposition it would create.   This extract and the minute of the Board Meeting of April 2015 both record that the islands will be next.

 

The LLTNPA is picking off recreational groups one by one.  The boating interests on the loch were first and they have just been told that the boat launching facility at Milarrochy will be closed from 1st April.  That leaves just one place to launch boats onto Loch Lomond – and this is meant to be a National Park that serves the people on the west of Scotland.    It appears likely that the Rangers that were deployed to help boats get onto the loch are to be redeployed in order to enforce the camping byelaws.     In other words, the various attempts to control recreational use are all connected, and people need to set aside their own recreational perspectives (which tends to divide motor boats from dinghy sailors and campervans from campers) and see the wider picture.   I would like to see recreational organisations unite against what is happening and not allow themselves to be divided by their differences.   This ultimately is about people retaining their rights to enjoy the countryside.

 

The extract is also significant because it provides yet more proof that the LLTNPA’s claim that the secret “Board Briefings” did not take decisions is complete rubbish.  Recommendations were clearly made and approved in a meeting that was not open to the public.      This is not how public authorities should operate and I will repeat my call that the new Convener, James Stuart, should abolish this practice as soon as he takes up post on 1st March.

February 4, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

The way our National Park Boards operate is fundamental to their future.  Parkswatchscotland has highlighted a large number of concerns about their governance, including a lack of transparency and decisions being taken behind closed doors in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, which help explain why they are failing at present.   What our National Parks need is not consensus, imposed from the top down, but open and transparent debate which engages all interests, not just businsses and landowners.   For this to happen, we need Board Members who articulate different points of view and are allowed to disagree.

 

The article above from the Strathie on Thursday suggests that the very opposite is happening at present in the Cairngorms National Park Authority.  While the exact words said by Park Convener Peter Argyle to Bill Lobban may well be a case of one person’s word (or memory in the heat of the moment) against another, the quote in the very last paragraph of the article does indicate there has been an attempt to silence Cllr Lobban “there is an expectation that policy lines are adopted by all members”.    Its worth considering the implications of the this statement.

 

Just think if this line was applied to local authorities or to the Scottish Parliament,  the opposition parties would be forced to adopt all the policies of the party or coalition in power.  That only happens in authoritarian states.  OK, so the CNPA Park Board is not like a Council, but its not like the cabinet of a ruling political party either where there is a doctrine of collective responsibility.  The Convener is only involved in the appointment of some members, unlike party leaders (the Convener usually sits on the interview panel for Government nominees to the National Park Boards but its the Minister who decides).  The rest are elected.   So why shouldn’t members speak out?

 

The general issues of principle here, about free speech and open governance, are important not least so that there can be a full debate about the effectiveness of the planning system in the CNPA.

 

It would appear from this letter (left) published in the Strathie in September, from previous CNPA convener, Duncan Dryden, that people high up in the Park Authority don’t like Bill Lobban’s views that the powers the CNPA has in relation to planning applications and their enforcement would be better undertaken by local authorities.   Rather than trying to ridicule him, as Duncan Bryden attempted to do, or silence him, as Peter Argyle appears to want to do, what the CNPA should be doing is asking Cllr Lobban, who is vice-chair of Highland Council Planning Committee is doing better.   This should be part of an informed public discussion on how the CNPA currently uses its planning powers,  part of which  should be an assessment of how the CNPA operates compared to other planning authorities.

 

To give one example, in terms of transparent decision making Highland Council appears considerably ahead of the CNPA.   All committee meetings of Highland Council are recorded and put out as webcasts which are available on the internet for a year.  So, if you want to see what contribution your local representative made at a meeting or understand how a decision was made you can see it for yourself and make a judgement.   You cannot do this for CNPA meetings.   George Paton has provided an eyewitness account of what happened at the Planning Committee meeting which considered the Shieling Hill Track as a comment on Parkswatch (see here).     Someone has commented that he sounds like a disgruntled employee, which he is not, but how does anyone know if what he is saying is a reasonable account of the meeting?   Its George Paton’s word against the National Park, rather like it being Cllr Lobban’s word against Peter Argyle’s.  Not a satisfactory situation.

 

One might think this would be easy enough to address, all the CNPA needs to do is to make the recordings it used to make of planning meetings for minuting purposes public.  However, Parkswatch has just been informed that after the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group asked for the recording of the last planning meeting under FOI they have been told:   “A recording is not available as we no longer record planning meetings”.   This change follows CNPA’s attempt to stop photographers from the Strathie taking photos at Board meetings.   It looks like they are copying the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority who forbid all recording.   If Highland Council and our Scottish Parliament can broadcast their meetings, so can our National Parks.  What have the CNPA got to hide?

 

Democracy requires openness and transparency and the problem with our National Parks at present is they are unaccountable, except upwards to the Minister.  We need National Parks which are accountable to the people who live there and visit.   This means we need absolutely to defend Cllr Lobban’s right, and the right of other Board Members, to express their views in public.

 

By chance, a by-election for a locally elected member has just been announced in the CNPA (see below).  I hope all candidates commit to making the Park more open and transparent in the way it operates and declare they are happy to have their contributions at meetings recorded and available to all to watch.

 

CNPA Board By-Election

Nominations open today (2 February) for the CNPA by-election with a deadline for submission of 23 February. Triggered by the resignation of Katrina Farquhar, a vacancy is available on the CNPA Park Board to represent Ward 5, which covers Deeside, Glenshee and the Angus areas of the Cairngorms National Park.

 

It is the Park Authority’s role to safeguard the outstanding landscapes, rich habitats, rare wildlife – and of course, the Park’s communities – while helping to develop a sustainable economy within the National Park. The board of the Park Authority agree the long term objectives for the Park and set out the CNPA’s priorities for work. They also play a key role in representing the National Park and the Park Authority by acting as ambassadors.

 

A Depute Returning Officer from Aberdeenshire Council is to administer the by-election so for information on how to stand and on the nomination process visit the Council’s website. All registered voters in Ward 5 over the age of 16 will receive their postal votes around the 8 March with votes to be returned by 4pm on Thursday 30 March. Information on current board members can be found here .The appointment will be from 1 May 2017 to the next park-wide elections in 2019.

January 28, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Extract from Convener’s notes for the secret Board Briefing session on 8th December 2014 which forms part of the latest batch of information provided by the LLTNPA – for commentary on this see below

At 16.42 yesterday, just five hours after my last post which explained how I was still waiting for the further information from the secret Board Briefing sessions which the Information Commissioner had told the Park to send to me on 11the January, it arrived!     Funnily enough, there was a similar delay in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority releasing the slides from the secret Board Briefing sessions back in November but again a few hours after I had made this public in a post, bingo (see here)!   

 

I did get a letter from Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive, though, headed  Compliance with Decision Notice 209-2016 Response – you need to read to the last line to find the apology the Information Commissioner asked the LLTNPA to make.   Most of the letter is the Park’s explanation for why it did not declare it held this information at the first time of asking.  I am sceptical about this.  In my last post I commented that it defied belief that Gordon Watson, who was in charge of the development of the byelaws, and then, as Chief Executive, must have been involved in the attempt to claim that written information about the secret Board Briefing sessions was exempt from Freedom of Information laws, did not know there was more information available.   The information I received yesterday provided direct evidence to substantiate my scepticism –  among the new information is a lengthy cover paper prepared for  the Secret Board Briefing Sessions on 15th September 2014 (see here) and the author is………..Gordon Watson!

 

The short extract above on Declarations of Interest provides more evidence of just how warped LLTNPA Board Meetings became during the development of the camping byelaws (see here for full convenor briefing).   First, the Convener, Linda McKay, even for a non-public Board Meeting which the Park claims is not minuted (they refused me minutes under FOI on the basis there were none), is provided with a script which she reads out – quite extraordinary!.  Second, note how Linda McKay has been provided in bold with the exact words she should use in her own declaration of interest.   Now I thought declarations of interest are meant to be the responsibility of individual Board Members.  It seems though in the LLTNPA staff provide a script to every Board Member telling them what they should say.  One wonders why Board Members have so little understanding of the Code of Conduct for Ethical Standards in Public Life that they need to be told what to declare?     Third, its worth asking why there was such an emphasis on declarations of interest when according to the Park no minutes were taken of any of these Board Briefing sessions and these meetings never took any decisions?   It cannot too be right that on the one hand the Park recognised that discussions could lead to conflicts of interest but then never recorded whether these took place.  There have been fundamental failures in governance in the way the camping byelaws were developed and in which the LLTNPA has been operating.

 

Its worth noting too that this extract refers to two further sets of scripts which have NOT been provided under FOI: the script from Sandra Dalziel on her role and the scripts for individual Board Members telling them what they should declare.   Maybe all electronic records relating to them have been destroyed but I suspect if the Information Commissioner had the powers they could find them somewhere on the LLTNPA’s IT system.  There is good reason to believe that the Park has still not provided all the written information that relates to these meetings;  still there is plenty more to comment on meantime.

January 24, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
The former torpedo range by Arrochar is just one big rubbish dump – is the LLTNPA ever going to do something about this?

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park has been nominated by BBC Countryfile presenter as National Park of the year (see here)  There are four other nominees, South Downs, Peak District, Snowdonia and Yorkshire Dales.  The LLTNPA was quick to get in on the act, issuing its own press release and then arranging for this motion to be lodged in the Scottish Parliament: 

 

Motion Number: S5M-03569
Lodged By: Dean Lockhart
Date Lodged: 22/01/2017

Title: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

Motion Text:

That the Parliament congratulates everyone at Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park on it being shortlisted for the title of National Park of the Year 2017; notes that it is the only Scottish park in the final of the competition, which is run by the BBC Countryfile magazine; understands that the competition, which is in its sixth year aims to celebrate the importance of the British countryside and its people, nature reserves and heritage attractions; notes that the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs park covers over 720 square miles and includes 21 Munros, two forest parks and the Great Trossachs Forest, which was recently been named the UK’s latest and largest national nature reserve; understands that the park is renowned, not only for its undoubted beauty, but also as a living, working landscape that offers a home to unique wildlife as well as providing a range of activities for visitors and locals alike, and wishes all of the nominees, and the rest of the UK’s national parks, continued success.

 

This interest in National Parks in the Scottish Parliament is a positive thing.  However, both the motion and the Countryfile nomination confuse the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, the place, with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority,  the body responsible for  running it.   They are quite distinct.

 

While National Parks, as places, change a little each year, this is not  enough to explain why a National Park should be nominated one year rather than the next.  If thought, the Award, is supposed to be about the performance of National Park Authorities, there is no information provided by the BBC to enable people to compare how each of the National Park Authorities nominated for the award are doing.  The result is people will vote for the place they like, rather than what any National Park Authority is doing.   This will suit the LLTNPA, which does not like its performance to be scrutinised, and will be hoping that everyone in Scotland will vote for it simply because its a nomination from Scotland.

 

Before rushing headlong into supporting this piece of marketing, I hope our MSPs will consider the  LLTNPA’s performance in 2016.  The LLTNPA has a large communications team of, I believe, 8 staff to sing its own praises, so here I will only list some of the things they try to avoid mentioning:

 

  • In April the Standards Commission found against Board Member Owen McKee, the planning convener who traded in Scotgold Shares after the Cononish goldmine was approved.  Unfortunately the Standards Commissions did not have the powers to investigate how the Board covered this up.
  • The destruction of landforms and landscape in Glen Falloch, on an industrial scale, in order to construct new hydro schemes reached its apogee.  With staff having previously reversed the decision of Board Members that all the access tracks should be removed, these tracks now form permanent scars on the landscape.  The LLTNPA has failed to enforce its own standards for hydro schemes, including landscaping, colour of material used and width and design of access tracks.
  • The LLTNPA conducted a community planning consultation in Balloch – called a charrette, funded by the Scottish Government – without telling the local community that a company called Flamingo Land had been appointed to develop the large Riverside site and that as the National Park Authority it had been on the selection panel for that developer.
  • The secret and unaccountable Board Briefing sessions LLTNPA continued throughout the year –
  • The LLTNPA’s promise that it would provide new camping places if the camping byelaws were agreed collapsed.  The Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan, which included specific plans for campsites, along with the Stakeholder Group which contributed to it,  appears to have been abandoned entirely.    It has been replaced by a series of vague promises that the Park is continuing to work to develop new campsites in the proposed camping management zones.
  • Instead the LLTNPA committed to spending £345k on a new 26 place campsite at Loch Chon, which is inaccessible to anyone without a car, and where there is little demand.  The campsite was totally overspecified, which explains the cost, and the only justification for spending this money was so the LLTNPA could satisfy a promise to the Minister that they would develop new camping places before the camping byelaws commenced.
  • The LLTNPA developed a new permit system to control camping in the management zones which had not been subject to public consultation and then failed to consult its own Local Access Forum, a statutory consultee, on the implications for access rights.   Freedom of Information requests demonstrated that the LLTNPA’s decision to “create” 300 places where people could camp, was not based on any evidence about the impact of campers.
  • The Scottish Information Commissioner forced the LLTNPA to make public all but one of the slides that had been presented at the Secret Board Meetings which decided the camping byelaws and was investigating the failure of the LLTNPA to declare all the information it held about these meetings at year end.
  • The LLTNPA diverted a considerable proportion of its resources into a single issue, how to ban campers, and consequently failed to progress many far more important matters.  This was epitomised by the non-appearance of the new Park Partnership Plan (the Cairngorms National Park draft plan was consulted on over the summer) which is due to be signed off by Ministers in 2017
  • One year late, the LLTNPA published the Keep Scotland Beautiful litter audit.  During the course of Board Meetings it emerged that once again the LLTNPA had again failed to take any meaningful initiatives with its local authority partners on how to address litter problems in the National Park.  The litter strategy, promised in the Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan, is now several years overdue.
  • The LLTNPA planning committee refused to delay consideration of a planning application for housing next door to their HQ in Balloch until after the community planning event and instead approved the housing plans.

 

This is not intended as a balanced appraisal, for that one would need to add some positives and then look at how the overall scorecard squared with the performance of the other National Parks nominated by John Craven.  However, information like this needs to be put into the public arena if we are to have any chance of our current National Parks improving and meeting the objectives for which they were created.     Our MSPs, instead of accepting the marketing hype issued by the LLTNPA,  should start scrutinising what it is actually doing.

January 19, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Slide presented at secret Board Meeting in September 2014.   What do the dots mean?  Surely somebody in the Park must know?

After the Information Commissioner forced the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park to make public the slides that had been presented to the Board in the secret Board Briefing Sessions I asked follow up questions about three of those slides, including the one above.  The answer was unsatisfactory EIR 2016-062 Response, so I asked for a review of my request and yesterday received a response EIR REVIEW 2016-062.

 

The answers tell us a lot about the secretive way the Park operates and the conspiracy to undermine access rights:

  • The LLTNPA is simply refusing to tell me (or you the reader or the public) what the different coloured dots on the map of Loch Voil mean.   The FOI Act only requires the public authorities to provide written information, not to explain this information – a weakness in the law demonstrated by the slide above.  So, the slide is supposed to provide to the Board a detailed example of what the Park staff were proposing for Loch Voil  but the Park staff are now refusing to say what this was  (was this campsites, toilets, carparks, signs?).   The Park’s Chief Executive Gordon Watson must know what this means, along I would think with a whole number of Board Members who were at the session, but rather than just be open, it appears the LLTNPA would prefer to keep this secret.  What is there to hide?
  • Much more significant politically is that the Park has now stated quite clearly it has NO information on how it has worked out the number of camping permits.   So, the 300 number, which is the total number of camping places and permits the Park has agreed for the four management zone is totally made up.   Its obviously not based on any evidence of camping impacts or carrying capacity of the land.   It appears the number could have been 500 or 100 so why 300?.   My best guess is the Park has decided this number which would sound ok to Scottish Ministers and is the least it could get away with.  The public and Scottish Government need to realise there is no rationale for this, whether its the Park’s decision to allow just four camping permits along the Invertrossachs shore on Loch Venachar (which just so happens to be where their current Convenor, Linda McKay lives and which was a popular place for camping) or not a single permit along the A82 north of Inveruglas.
  • The response to the third question is interesting because although the Park has dropped any reference to peak weekends, it showed it never had an definition of what these were anyway.  I think its further evidence to show the LLTNPA has tried to create a new terminology to describe camping and campervanning and persuade people into supporting its proposals that is based on a whim, not fact.

 

 

December 12, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments

I have attended all the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority meetings since April 2015, when the Board agreed to recommend camping byelaws to the Minister, and in all that time the Board has never been asked to make a choice in public about anything.   This is because everything has been decided in secret beforehand.  Today’s Board meeting will be different because there is an election for the new convener, which while conducted by secret ballot has to be held in public.  At last Board Member have a choice.

 

The term of office of the current convener, Linda McKay, ends the day before the byelaws are due to come into effect on 1st March.  I had been a little concerned that the Scottish Government was going to appoint her for another term as the vacancy has still  not been advertised.  The election  creates an opportunity because Linda McKay’s “leadership” has been disastrous for the National Park:  the Board has taken to making all important  decisions in secret, evidence is simply ignored, so-called partners are bulldozed into doing what the Park wants and the wider vision of what the National Park was for has been completely lost.

 

Two Board Members have put themselves forward for election, Major James Stuart and Petra Biberbach and both have made election statements (see here) and  (here).   The statements are different in style and while both contain implicit criticisms of the current leadership – talking of the need to reach out and talk to communities of interest that have been marginalised – neither makes the case for a fundamental change of direction.

 

Both statements should be taken with a large pinch of salt.  Neither candidate has spoken much at public Board meetings, in fact James Stuart hardly said a word for his first year, so its hard to tell what they stand for:   maybe though their silence is because both have made well thought out contributions at the monthly secret Board “Briefing” sessions?   On the camping byelaws, it would appear both are strong supporters, with James Stuart talking of “bold steps to do the right thing”  (a peculiar take on NIMBYISM) while it was Petra Biberbach who had the April 2015 Board Minute changed to ensure it was recorded that the Loch Lomond islands were up next for camping byelaws.    As for integrity, it appears James Stuart has now dropped the “Major”, to become a man of the people, while Petra Biberbach, along with most of the current Board, was involved in trying to cover up Owen McKee’s secret trading in Scotgold shares (see here for example).

 

What we don’t know of course is how far the limitations of the current candidates has been due to the control and influence that Linda McKay has exerted.   I would suggest therefore the new candidates should be judged by how far they commit to the following:

  • An end to secrecy.  The practice of holding secret monthly Board Briefing sessions should end immediately.  Yes, Boards occasionally need to meet to develop ideas or consider issues in great depth but when I was at SNH this was at most once or twice a year;  it should be the same in our National Parks.    Decision taken at meetings involving Board Members should be recorded, minutes taken timeously and made public available.  The minutes of Board Meetings prior to 2014 should be restored to the Park website.
  • Senior staff being  held accountable for what they say and what they do by the Board.  One example covered recently on  Parkswatch (see here) was the failure of the Board to investigate who falsified the minutes of the April 2015 meeting which approved the byelaws.     The misinformation put out by senior staff however continues on a weekly basis.  On the byelaws, for example, Director of Conservation Simon Jones claimed on the radio that there was no camping ban  (see here), while Chief Executive Gordon Watson trying to suggest on BBC Out of Doors 10 days ago (see here), in response to a question from Kevin Keane, that Loch Chon had experienced similar levels of problems with antisocial campers as east Loch Lomond had previously.  Complete nonsense.
  • Recreational organisations being re-established as key partners.  It was the recreational organisations which called for National Parks to be created and represent the people who visit them.  Since the creation of our Park Authorities however they have been sidelined (and not just on the camping byelaws) and this I believe explains many of the failures of both our National Parks.  The new Convener should commit to immediate discussions with the recreational organisations of how the Park can extract itself from the byelaw disaster but then start engaging on longer-term issues, such as levels of visitor infrastructure in the Park and the impact on landscape of developments such as hydro schemes.  This new approach should then be incorporated into the forthcoming National Park Partnership Plan.
  • Real  partnerships, where each partner is encouraged and clear about the contribution they needed to make, instead of the current farce where Park staff try to bulldoze partners into accepting their agenda while  at the same time claiming that failures in the National Park (such as provision of toilets and litters bins)  and the responsibility of these partners and nothing to do with the National Park Authority.
  • Developing a proper visitor management plan which looks at the impacts of all visitors, instead of focussing all the Park’s efforts and resources on a small group of campers, and develops the infrastructure necessary to support these visitors.   Visitor Management needs to be placed in the  wider context of the conservation of the Park as a whole, recognising that the major conservation issues are not visitor impacts but issues such as overgrazing, continued blanket afforestation and inappropriate developments.

 

If neither candidate commits to a change of course, there will be a further opportunity to change convener next year as a result of the Local Authority elections which could see a number of Local Authority representatives on the Board change.  Then, a year on,  a further four Government appointees, including Petra Biberbach, are due to retire in October 2018.  By then we need a Board that looks and acts very differently and is focussed on how to achieve the statutory objectives of the National Park instead of acting like a third rate public authority.

November 25, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

It turns out I was wrong to say in yesterday’s post on the protection of mountain hares (see here) that  at least the Cairngorms National Park Authority keeps minutes of meetings………………

 

Raptor Persecution Scotland revealed later in the day (see here) that the minute had been taken by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association not the National Park!   They also rightly noted that Park Planning Convener, Eleanor MacKintosh, in saying the minute had been taken by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association appeared to be trying to divert attention away from herself.   As the documentation obtained by Andy Holden through Freedom of Information requests shows she had been sent the minute and had had a chance to comment on it.  It appears she didn’t.    She therefore needs to explain either why she failed to comment on the minute or take responsibility for what she said.

 

Last year there was an even more serious case of an apparent failure to read a minute in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.   At the LLTNPA Meeting in April 2015, where the Board formally agreed to propose camping byelaws, under declarations of interest not a single Board Member declared owning a property in the proposed management zones where camping would be banned.   I know because I and other witnesses were at the meeting.   Immediately after the meeting I submitted a Freedom of Information request asking if any Board Members owned properties in the management zones.  Two months later when the draft minute of that meeting was published, under declarations of interest, it stated that three Board Members, Linda McKay (Convener), Owen McKee (the Board Member who traded in Cononish goldmine shares) had declared that they owned properties in the three camping management zones (see here). This was completely untrue.

 

Eventually the LLTNPA,  after media coverage by Rob Edwards in the Sunday Herald and a complaint to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards, removed these false declarations from the minute.  The question that has never been answered is how the false minute was published.   It is normal practice for Board Conveners to read minutes before they are issued and indeed the CNPA Board Standing Orders say that conveners of the Board Committees must approve minutes before they are circulated.   The LLTNPA Standing Orders don’t stipulate this requirement and  Linda McKay has never answered the question of whether she read the minute before it was issued (great similarities here with the Eleanor MacKintosh case and mountain hares).  If Linda McKay  had read to the minute, she basically failed to correct a serious error which just happened to involve her declaration of interest.  If not, like Eleanor MacKintosh I believe that Linda McKay should  explain how come she never read a minute for a meeting for which she held prime responsibility as Board Convener.

 

What I did find out was that according to the report by the Commissioner of Ethical Standards in Public Life (Complaint Findings 1771) that it was not Board Members who asked the minute to be changed:

 

minutes

 

 

While the Commissioner treated the falsification of the minute as being “not a true reflection of the declarations made”  I believe alteration of minutes of meetings should be treated as a serious issue.  Indeed in Glasgow City Council where I used to work I am pretty certain that if any officer had falsified a minute in a similar way they would have faced disciplinary action for Gross Misconduct.   So, after receiving the Commissioner’s decision I wrote to Linda McKay twice (see here) and (see here) asking her to find out who authorised the alteration of the minute and take appropriate action.   Linda McKay did not reply but delegated the prime suspect Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive,  to answer the question.  He, after providing some non-answers to why the LLTNPA had taken measures to prevent people camping by Linda McKay’s house  declared the matter closed (see here).   My response (see here), copied to Government, has never been answered.

 

The issue that is common to both the Eleanor Mackintosh and Linda McKay/Gordon Watson cases is that in both Board Members have apparently failed to read minutes and then treat those minutes of being of no account.    While the Linda McKay/Gordon Watson case is in my view significantly more serious, because it involves falsification of records, the fundamental issue is that we need public authorities (and indeed I would say private organisations), including our National Parks, to be transparent because without this they cannot be held accountable for what they do.   Both these cases have much wider implications because that accountability relates to issues which are the core of whatour National Parks should be doing, protecting wildlife in the Eleanor MacKintosh case and promoting enjoyment of the countryside in the Linda McKay/Gordon Watson case.

What needs to happen

 

There are significant differences between our National Parks in terms of the transparency of how they operate.   The LLTNPA holds extensive meetings in secret (for a list of the topics discussed since 2010 at secret full Board Meetings for which no minutes are taken (see here)).   The CNPA appears to be more open and has an extensive list of working groups etc in which Board Members are involved on its website.  However, the fundamental issues that need to be addressed are the same:

 

  • Meetings should  be properly recorded.  While minutes are fine for most meetings, I think all Board meetings should be recorded and then put on the web as podcasts.  The Scottish Parliament does this – its seen as being fundamental to its accountability as you can see what your MSP is saying – so why cannot our National Parks?   If the April 2015 meeting had been recorded it would have been clear exactly what interests Linda McKay and other Board Members had declared from the start.  Instead the Park has dug a deeper hole for itself by falsifying a minute and then refusing to take appropriate action in response.
  • Board Members need to read the minutes of meetings they attend and ensure what is recorded is accurate.    While I am against creating rules for everything, given that these two case suggest that Board Members are dissociating themselves from what is recorded in minutes, I do think the Government should consider adding an explicit clause to the Code of Conduct for those involved in public life about basic responsibilities of Board Members such as reading papers before meetings and checking the minutes afterwards.  That would enable members of the public to complain in cases like those described above.
  • Minutes of meetings should be finalised and distributed timeously.  I know of cases where the  LLTNPA has failed to provide minutes of meeting under Freedom of Information because they have not been completed six months after the meeting was held.   Try and find out what happened at a Board Meeting if you were not there and often you cannot till the minute appears months later.  A good reason for posting podcasts of all Board Meetings but I don’t see why draft minutes of all Board Meetings, approved by the appropriate convener, should not be published within two weeks.
  • There should also be minutes taken of meetings involving Board Members and third parties, like the Scottish Gamekeepers Association.   The LLTNPA kept no proper records of the dozens of meetings it undertook in the Your Park consultation to win support for its proposals and there is no clear audit trail of what it agreed with who.  I think that was quite deliberate.   Proper records available through FOI are the only way we are going to stop behind the behind the scenes deals on matters like the persecution of mountain hares and the camping ban.
November 20, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
permits
Slide from Secret LLTNPA Board “Briefing Session” 16th March 2015 – I have asked the Park what “shoulder day” means

 

The slide shows that soon after the Your Park consultation – which failed to mention the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park was planning for a permit system despite the fundamental implications this had for access rights – the Park had developed its thinking on permits to such an extent that it was considering varying the number of people who could camp in its proposed camping zones by day of the week and period of the year.   There is no reference to this in the Park’s letter to Ministers two months later proposing 300 “new” camping places, comprising a mixture of permits and campsites.    I assume therefore the idea of varying the number of permits has been dropped because otherwise the Park could not claim to be delivering 300 places (on shoulder days it would have been under half of that).

 

The slide’s significance is that it provides evidence that the Park was – and still is – wanting to restrict numbers of campers to the minimum it can get away with.   Why otherwise were 190 permits thought suitable for a peak weekend but only 57 on an ordinary weekday?

 

The slide also:

      • shows up the Park’s claim that they need to limit the number of campers because campers prevent other visitors from enjoying the loch shores.  If that was true the Park would have proposed FEWER camping permits on popular weekends when the loch shores are busier with other visitors and MORE in the quieter periods
      • shows up the Park’s claim that byelaws are needed to protect the environment:  why in any particular place would less damage be done on a peak weekend than on an ordinary weekend?
      • provides further evidence of just how arbitrary the proposal for 300 camping places is and  provides further evidence,  if this proposal has indeed been dropped, that these secret Board “Briefing sessions” took decisions – something the Park has denied.   That decision though should have been minuted and taken in public.

 

All this is added reason to be very sceptical of the LLTNPA when they reveal their proposals for a permit system at their December Board Meeting (they have to take “decisions” about this in public before the system is due to come into force on 1st March 2017).