In the previous Guest Blog, I published a piece by Dr Kenneth Brown about the hostile reception he received when walking on Ledgowan Estate. I now know one of the reasons why this might have happened – the unbelievable vandalism that has been perpetrated by the owner, Andrew Simpson. Zoom in on the map above (or preferably open it in a larger window) and see for yourself the incredible bulldozed track that has been ripped across the face of the hills for over eleven miles.
It is awesome.
There are two other photographs in the previous blog post.
Here is what Eoghain Maclean said in a comment under the piece.
He has taken advantage of his right to construct a track on his land for agricultural reasons. Laughable as it eventually arrives at a hill loch where you can catch arctic charr. I was brought up on the neighbouring estate but I like others would rather walk to a hill loch instead of being transported by an ATV (all terrain vehicle).
I am informed that there was a planning application for a wind farm but it was refused. Another one was submitted but withdrawn. There is a live planning application for one 50kw turbine just behind the Ledgowan Hotel. So has the owner of this estate built an incredible road without planning consent simply so that he (and one presumes others) don’t have to exert themselves to catch some arctic char? What is clear beyond any reasonable doubt is this is NOT an agricultural track.
Why on earth is someone allowed to build such a road for recreational purposes?
A number of environmental bodies are campaigning for such roads to be subject to planning permission. Sarah Boyack MPS and Peter Peacock MSP tried (and failed) to secure this in in 2010 (here is their campaign website). Earlier this summer, Scottish Environment Link re-launched the campaign. There is more info on the Ramblers’ Scotland website including the Scottish Link press release.
Maybe it’s time we asked Mr Simpson what exactly the point of all of this is. He can be contacted here.
UPDATE 2214 10 October
An informant has told me that the track was built under Permitted Development Rights. In other words the track does not need planning permission because it is for “agricultural purposes”. Highland Council found no evidence to the contrary (which is next to impossible to do) and thus had no grounds for refusal. Note that sport fishing is NOT an agricultural purpose. What makes the case even more astonishing is that the track runs through a geomorphological SSSI – the Achnashee Terraces SSSI – map here.
UPDATE 2323 10 October
A bit off topic, but some insight into the attitude of the current owner can be gleaned from his opposition to allow cyclists and walkers to use the old public road. Highland Council over-rode his objection. Committee paper here. Minutes here (Item 20)
UPDATE 1030 11 October Edits to paragraph about the wind-turbine development and link to the current application.
UPDATE 1433 11 October Interesting comment by Colin L in comments. On Mr Simpson’s own website it states that,
“The includes 18 kilometres of track so that you can explore the local wildlife and area with a local safari company (cost on request). There is also trout fishing on the estate and salmon fishing may be available by arrangement.”
And on the Sporting Lets website run by CKDFinlayson Hughes (under sport tab),
“there is now 18km of track on the estate, providing excellent access for sporting parties, sightseeing or an estate safari.”
As far as I can tell from the legislation (Class 18 exemption) this is not a track for agricultural purposes at all. Will Highland Council now demand reinstatement?
As his company’s web site says – ‘ANDREW SIMPSON – Owner. Sold a cattle property in Australia and put some of the money into Rossie Ochil because he “thought he could get here quicker”. Larger than life with an apparently endless supply of energy and ideas,’ Er, yes.
Repeating my comment from the previous other blog on this estate. It looks nothing like a farm or forestry track it looks like a minor country road; just one strep down from a ‘B’ road! the only sensible description is vandalism.
Andy, like you I deplore utterly the desecration of the hillside by that pointless track but it’s important to focus on the issue which is that, as the law stands, such tracks do not require planning permission.
What the Simpsons are doing at Ledgowan is perfectly legal.
Therefore, let us focus on changing the law without overly vilifying people who are doing things that are legal (even if we may disapprove of them).
But that said, I say bring on “the Ledgowan Act” to bring hill tracks under planning control. You’d have to fight Highland Council tooth and nail to get permission for an affordable house so why these tracks should be allowed without consent beats me.
In agreement with you Neil. It is the law that needs changing & fast.
Andy, with reference to your update, you say “Highland Council found no evidence to the contrary (which is next to impossible to do) and thus had no grounds for refusal.” If no planning required, did this case even come under HC’s radar? If so under which legislation or procedure?
Class 18 http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/347034/0115495.pdf Scottish Government recommendation was to remove PDR from Class 18 – see http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0039/00390638.pdf but Minister decided otherwise.
OK, so a track like the one on Ledgowan is within class 18 permitted development rights, the Minister decided not to remove class 18 from from PDR. So hill tracks do not require planning permission. So when you said “Highland Council had no grounds for refusal”, what you meant was the case never even got in front of HC for them to refuse (or indeed approve) it – yes?
If so, that’s what needs to be changed. Building a hill track needs to be taken out of PDR and brought squarely into the full planning regime, just as if an estate wanted to build a lodge or something.
Given the controversy, it should probably also be made obligatory for hill tracks to be brought before the planning committee rather than dealt with by officials under delegated powers.
Councils have powers to call in PRDs for full determination. By “no grounds for refusal” I meant no grounds for calling it in for full determination.
If the land was in a National Scenic Area rather than just an SSSI then it would have required Planning Permission.
Alasdair, does that mean a NSA has a higher legal protection than a SSSI?
In the EIA regulations 2011, construction of roads where the area of works exceed 5ha falls within Schedule 2 (10. Infrastructure projects (f) Construction of roads). If the track is 7500m long, it would exceed the 5ha threshold if the area of works was 6.7m on average. Anyone care to do a detailed measurement and then ask the planning authority why an EIA was not required in this instance?
If it goes through an SSSI then the landowner would need to apply for consent by SNH. I find it hard to believe that a track of this nature would not have a negative impact on a site designated on account of its landform. It would be interesting to hear what SNH have to say about this – probably not much given that under the reign of the current Chairman they are forbidden from saying as much as boo to a goose.
Mr Simpson made sure that the road is about 1m outside the SSI. SNH officers were there and as far as I know got dogs abuse, like anyone he meets on his wee bit of Scotland. Why ?
You are right in what you say John.
But if you click on the SSSI map, it is clear that the road starts at Ledgowan and crosses the SSSI uphill and west to Loch a Chroisg.
Although I agree with a large part of what most have been saying on this and the three other posts about this road, one thing stands out for me & that is the drainage.
Specifically where the uphill culverts have been placed together with the washout that appears on a number of downstream drains. My understanding of SEPA is that regardless of designation, polluting a water course, especially if it is within the watershed of a protected species such as Arctic Char, is an criminal offence.
So the next logical question is for how long will they budget/pay attention to the upkeep in a manner that prevents excessive top-dressing ending up in watercourses?
Every time it has heavy rain – the Ledgowen “tracked digger” is out sorting the road! It some places you need a ladder or rope to cross the road it is that deep it is that badly constructed
I suppose we should be thankful that this totally superfluous road has not also been used as landfill – which would have been exempt from landfill tax. This is a big problem in Northumberland.
The track, I suspect is for the four wheel drive wildlife safari they use a local company to run: “The owner has built 18 kilometres of track so that you can explore with a local safari company (cost on request)” – what a complete joke. Landowners like this should be brought to task. The purpose for which he has built this mess is clearly NOT agricultural and the land should be reinstated immediately.
Joke? this sort of thing is well beyond that; I think you will see more wildlife and have a better time on two feet than thundering around in a Chelsea tractor. Although I doubt the people that sort of set-up attracts really know what legs and feet are for!
When I first saw this road a couple of years ago I was completely gobsmacked. Wanton vandalism. What the hell are SNH, Scot Govt, and HC doing about this type of destruction. SFA. I think I am due a walk on the Achnasheen hills with a few mates this weekend.
What a mess. Track should be reinstated to hill land. Clearly not agricultural, no feeding zones from what i could zoom in on. Access conflicts like this are common on Estates, their favorite is the ‘ambiguous sign’. Their silly little projects to indicate safe walking zones are just crumbs to keep us quiet and clear off their land. Solution? tax them out of existence. Create thousands of more land holdings and crucially, under local control ie. Local ownership.
Ironically, I rather fear that we deserve “proprietors” like Simpson! The old lairds may have been patronising and paternalistic, but they never expected to make a profit out of their estates. These were the lairds who provided retired keepers, stalkers etc., with a house free for life. Now “progressive” governments have imposed heavier taxes unfriendly to family trusts, and greedy Inheritance Tax, leading the old families to sell out in favour of entrepreneurs the like of S who intend to make a handsome profit if they possibly can. This leads them to be childishly stupid, as we see here.
I rather doubt that Simpson’s limited company had the funds to buy Ledgowan – I assume they had a secured loan. In England (hiss, spit, hiss) a mortgage deed usually contains covenants aimed at stopping the borrower doing anything immoral or irritating with the land. I’ve never seen a Scots Standard Security. If it contains any similar provisions, I wonder whether it might be worth spending a few quid at Companies House to see who the money lender is, and then going at it, to either call Simpson sharply to heel, or foreclose on the loan and eject him.
Just a suggestion.
Heavier taxes? greedy inheritance tax? neither of these affect the big old estates.
Re Alastair’s comment above:
At the same time that this Ledgowan track was being constructed another was being ‘dozed under the radar, not-too-far away and within the Wester Ross NSA at An Torr Badachro. It was built through ancient woodland, its construction had direct implications for runoff into the river and as i say, within the NSA, No permissions were sought; it was constructed under the same permitted rights.
The ‘requirement’ for it was to service the feeding and management of cattle but the scale and engineering of the construction is excessive. Local craic points towards other, future intentions; the possibility of a cattle shed /private bothy and coastal access for a new marina development.
The work involved significant engineering and tree felling, taking place over several weeks. Once the planners finally caught up with the action, they did go so far as to have the extremity of the new track – the bit that took it down to the coast at the mouth of the Badachro river – reinstated. All the same, an ugly, unnecessary and at best, oversized, scar has been introduced.
This one was subsequently granted retrospective planning permission – see http://wam.highland.gov.uk/wam/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=MO0MGVIH7R000
Yep. But with respect, it was built ‘under the radar’, without permissions. Dealing with an application seven months after a development has been put in place, leaves very few options to the authorities.
I would suggest that what powder there was, was kept very dry, under direction, in order to avoid any unseemly public scuffle and a protracted ‘negotiation’ over restoration.
The net result is that a wealthy land owner, can, with contracted accomplices, exert full influence, simply by ignoring due process and daring the regulators to take issue.
“Wealthy landowner” – “contracted accomplices”?
Who is the “wealthy landowner” on Shieldaig Croft, Peadar? Who are their “contracted accomplices”? You do know it’s a croft, don’t you?
Like you, I was appalled when I first saw that road but I bit my tongue thinking I’m not going to be some white settler incomer NIMBY and carp about it. And it was in winter when I saw it, it no doubt disappears under the leaves of the trees in summer.
Although they may have goofed with not getting permission for this road, the MacLellans look to me to be breathing a very healthy dose of life into crofting in the Gairloch area with their investments in their Highland cattle fold. All that new kit behind Johnny Beag’s old steading. It may not look “traditional” to tourists but I applaud it as a sign of investment. And there was no hassle when I walked through with my dog.
You could easily imagine all this being spun another way with Andy Wightman doing a blog about people running a successful “medium-holding” being thwarted by the efforts of NIMBYs.
To me, Shieldaig Croft looks like the very model of what land reform could bring about. Except that nobody in the land reform movement seems to want to talk about that. They all just want to sit around chanting “Nae Lairds Required” with no idea what’s going to happen after.
And finally – they’ve been talking about a marina in Badachro Bay on the other side of the river for 40 years now – you should know better than to listen to “local craic”!
Oh, I was appalled was I?
Its perhaps naïve, but on the other hand, completely understandable, to take the website you refer to at face value. However, I think, on this one, there is wealthy backing and influence.
Contracted accomplices? Why yes. Are you suggesting that professional plant operators are not aware of the laws constraining some of their operations? Perhaps I am naive to wonder whether there is a moral duty upon them to advise in such circumstances, rather than be complicit in breaking the law.
Local craic? Clearly true in this context – evidenced by the extent of track re-instated and you refer to 40 years worth of it, yourself.
Although at different scales, I think there are parallels here, with the main thread. My own displeasure with the An Torr track relates to the ‘fait accompli’ approach to ducking the system and the appropriateness of the scale of the track. Whether it’s a poor crofter who ‘goofs’ or a wealthy landowner who vandalises, I view them similarly … clearly there may be mitigations for both cases but surely you are not suggesting that the Ledgowan track might be acceptable if they welcomed you and your dog? Finally, from me as well on this.
“Tax them [estates] out of existence” Slurry Stirrer says above which leads me into a thought process which is off topic for this post (hill tracks exempt from planning control) or the previous once concerning Ledgowan (tensions over access rights) but is fundamental to the core of Andy’s values, namely land reform.
If the Simpsons are taxed out of existence, what will Ledgowan Estate look like? Once “land” has been duly “reformed”, what will Ledgowan be used for and who will it be owned by?
Ledgowan is potentially a very good case study repeated all over Scotland – the typical underused, overgrazed by sheep and/or deer and/or not grazed by anything at all estate.
What’s the vision for how it could be if things were different?
A painting of that picture would be the best thing to feed in to the Scottish Affairs Committee before their consultation closes at the end of this month. A positive message about what we do want instead of loads of complaints about what we don’t want.
Anybody want to have a go?
Have a look at Glencanisp and Drunrunie Estates eight years after the “buy-out” by the Assynt Foundation. Three derelict farms, former farm buildings falling down, overgrown and tick-infested fields, broken fences, a neglected path network, quarreling directors, dependency on grants by charities and public bodies with their own agendas…
Mine is already into SAC as of last Thursday,complete with photographic evidence attached to the main document.
What about your submission Neil?
Neil i think if you lived here in rural Scotland you would be better informed as to just what activity there is regarding evidence submission. Complaints about what we don’t want is important, it helps us to get it clear what we need to reform. Personally what i think is not needed on here is a constant commentary within the blog, very dull!
SS, I live in rural Portugal (like you, on an island, as well) and as every day goes by I see how the issues here are the similar to rural Scotland and, in fact, in other countries as well (Alpine parts of Italy for e.g. I was reading about the other day). Declining school rolls – our village primary school closed in 2006 and has just been converted into a chapel of rest in what is the most grotesque irony on the other big issue – aging population. In the next village along from us, in just the last couple of months, three people have moved out to the old folks home and two old people have left to join their younger relatives in the USA. That leaves the village in question with just THREE permanent residents and they are all itinerant labourers who could be gone tomorrow if a new contract came up.
But we have nae lairds in Portugal and I know that’s a comfort to the old ones in the “lar dos idosos” (old folks home), those now in the States and the primary kids who have to travel 20km each morning to school.
Complaints about what you don’t want is important as it helps you get clear what you need to reform, you say. That’s what someone once memorably posted on this blog “We’re going to get rid of Saddam Hussein but we haven’t thought about what we’re going to put in his place”.
I didn’t understand what you meant by “Personally what i think is not needed on here is a constant commentary within the blog, very dull!” Can you explain?
i suppose what i mean is people reading and posting for entertainment/amusement. people who perhaps don’t understand the problems facing rural tenants, but try to extract info to help the cause of the landed elite.
Is that what you think I do?
There are positive examples, too, Neil. I was recently in Wigtown that re-invented itself as Scotland’s National Booktown – very successfully. It had been in steep decline, now it’s on the way up again. Andy Wightman was at the Book Festival, so he should know. there is a real buzz. Another example is Narbeth in Wales, in fact quite a few places in the Pembrokeshire National Park. As far as I can see, the impetus comes from inventive individuals who get things going; this attracts other individuals. That way you get true vibrancy. Ullpool, by the way, also belongs to that category.
What I regard as highly counter-productive, however, is the Scottish attempt to empower communities through land reform and development companies. It leads to the empowerment of the socialist inclined part of the population and drives out the entrepreneurs. But in the end, it is the entrepreneurial spirit that makes a place tick. That applies to farming as much as to fishing, tourism or culture.
Work in a SSSI doesn’t require Planning Permission, (and the planning system, potentially, carries the big stick of an Enforcement Notice) but SNH’s permission.
Richard, would it not be more accurate to say that work in an SSSI doesn’t require SNH’s permission if it requires planning permission?
As I understand it, deemed PP due to the work being within permitted development doesn’t avoid the need for SNH consent (assuming the work is within the list of “operations requiring consent” for the SSSI: building tracks is one of the ORCs for the Achnasheen Terraces SSSI).
Net upshot is that, even assuming this track on Ledgowan is for agricultural purposes (which is doubtful, of course), it doesn’t require PP but does require SNH consent (so far as it’s within the SSSI)
Carrying out an ORC in an SSSI without SNH’s consent is a criminal offence.
Does anybody know for certain if SNH consent was sought for the track? The community council minute Andy linked to said something like there was nothing SNH could do implying they were aware of the case but had no grounds for intervention.
About 10 years ago, SNH were getting a very bad press for being heavy handed telling people what they could and couldn’t do in SSSI’s – I think it was mainly in the islands and conflicts between crofters and bird protection etc. although our Hebridean farming colleagues will confirm or deny. Either way, I think SNH agreed to back off a bit and become more “light touch”. So perhaps they had no reason to object if the track just transects the terrace with minimal impact (it looks like it might pass through a gap in the terrace).
A case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, possibly …
I see some of my comments are not up ?
I see two of them.
Andy I wrote 4 , but it is ok . I thinl Mr Simpson may get the picture now at least till it dies down and then he will be back to his old self
entrepreneurial spirit can only be sustained with local ownership. Otherwise, slowly and steadily the life is drained out by the absentee landowner.
What about landowners who are not absentees, SS?
if you do not live and work on the holding that you own, bad! There is absentee from your farm and there is absentee from the country, both bad. Both usually a consequence of greed. Absentee from a massive Estate and the country, the worst form of social abuse possible.