The North East Mountain Trust are very pleased to comment on the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s draft Planning Guidance on Vehicle Hill-Tracks. We hope to be included in the list of consultees in future. We support the preparation of such a document, and are aware of a number of recent instances of inappropriate tracks being created outside the Planning process. Requests for retrospective permission seem to be particularly ineffective. This highlights the need for not only appropriate guidance notes, but also effective enforcement.
The document sets the context of the issue but fails to provide sufficient guidance on where such tracks might be acceptable. We welcome the clearer approach taken in Aberdeenshire Council’s Finalised Local Plan (August 2002) and hope that you will build on that.
We feel that an estate applying for permission should demonstrate a new need for a new or upgraded track. Section 6b is too weak. We support the “strong presumption against further incursions”, but not the stated exceptions. It is hard to see what reasons there might be for track development apart from “the needs of estates (sporting, agricultural or forestry) and use by estate staff”. There appears to be a presumption in some circles that it should be possible to drive to all areas of an estate. We would not generally include sporting access as a suitable management need. In some areas, the “long walk-in” is not just for walkers and climbers, but should include all recreational users. This is in keeping with the policy to encourage all ages to take more exercise.
Having established a perceived need the Planning Authority needs sufficient information to weigh this up against the Environmental Impact of the proposed development. Within the National Park the presumption should be in favour of your stated first aim.
We would welcome an indication of the expected duration of the need for the track. As stated in section 7.6, the NTS have been reinstating vehicle tracks on Mar Lodge Estate. We support policy “f” to encourage restoration of other redundant tracks. The Park Authority could have a significant role in this. Tracks constructed to service hydro or wind power installations should be removed (along with the installation) once their life is over.
The policy needs to address both totally new tracks and the “improvement” of existing tracks. Some of the latter have developed by inappropriate “off-road” use of vehicles. We would welcome attempts to control such “evolved tracks”.
We do not feel that a single statement can be applied across the whole of the Park area. Apart from referring to “settlements” and “development centres” (section 6b) the policy does not distinguish between areas of the Park. We feel there should be tighter control in the core wild areas of the Park than in peripheral areas (such as close to public roads). The higher ground is generally more sensitive than lower ground, but the character of glens and corries may be altered by inappropriate (?any) development. We note that some of the core area is contained within the two NSAs where Permitted Development Rights have been removed. We would welcome this being extended to cover the whole of the Park area, so that all developments would require prior approval.
The guidance note needs to address more than just the visual impact of track construction. The presence and use of tracks will increase the impact of man in a remote area. This “wild character” is difficult to define and measure. Distance from public roads and tracks has been used as one means of identifying areas of “wild land”. We support the statement in Section 6c that every effort should be made to protect the adjacent areas which may affect the designated area.
Turning to the technical specifications of construction, we feel that these are rather peripheral to the main policy, even as an appendix (some also appear as section 7.3). Their presence seems to encourage track construction. They should be introduced as likely minimum standards that will be necessary. In some circumstances higher standards may be necessary for approval. The guidance does not make this clear.
To avoid unnecessary damage during construction, it should be more clearly stated that the construction process should be approved. The guidance tries to address one aspect of this, the disposal of spoil (section 7.3). Unfortunately “sparsely distributed” spoil is likely to kill the vegetation it les on. There should be little need to remove material from the site if proper construction process is utilised. If the Authority does not have the technical expertise to write this section, it would be appropriate to seek guidance on the specification and construction process from a contractor/surveyor experienced in upland work. It is not clear that this has happened – statements such as (page 4, 3rd bullet) “not be wider than an average 4x4 vehicle” are clearly incorrect. If the track is only this width, then even the average 4x4 will be on the verge at times. This same bullet point mentions planting, without sufficient detail – only if other methods of achieving vegetation cover have failed and only using indigenous species. Specifications for re-vegetation during construction need to be looked at closely so that only appropriate species of local provenance are used. The timing of such work may critically affect their success. The plans for this should form part of the approved planning permission.
In summary we feel that there is a great need for this guidance. However this draft has much to be refined.
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