For well over a decade, efforts to reduce the proliferation of, often badly constructed, hill tracks has been a central focus of NEMT's work. Recently NEMT has played a full part in Scottish Environment LINK's campaign to change the law regarding tracks which come under permitted development (agricultural and forestry use). This has been partially successful in that such tracks, while still not requiring full planning consent, now come under 'prior notification' arrangements whereby the developer must advise the planning authority of the project before starting work. LINK is in the process of setting up a system of monitoring applications across Scotland and NEMT is likely to be responsible for doing this in Aberdeenshire.
Interestingly, the new system seems already to be having a positive impact. Highland Council received a full planning application for a new track on the Garrogie Estate to the North of the Monadliath. The applicant makes great play of this being for agricultural purposes (sheep) and the wellbeing of an older shepherd. However the applicant also mentions that it will be used from time to time for sporting purposes (grouse). NEMT thinks that the track is primarily for sporting purposes and wonders whether a full application, rather than Prior Notification, has been made because the applicant thinks that Highland Council will be of the same view. Without the change in the law, would the track simply have been built as 'permitted development' for agriculture without the knowledge of the authorities? This track is not in an area frequented by hill walkers so NEMT decided not to object but has written to Highland Council as follows:
Planning application 15/02610/FUL (Construction of hill track on Garrogie Estate)
I am writing on behalf of the North East Mountain Trust (NEMT), a Scottish Charity based in the Grampian area, which represents the interests of hill-goers and those who enjoy visiting wild land. NEMT membership, comprising eleven hillwalking and climbing clubs along with individual members, totals over 800 people. It also has reciprocal arrangements with a number of like-minded bodies.
We would like to make the following comments about this application:
- The proposed track crosses a high and fairly remote plateau which is unlikely to have seen significant agricultural use historically. Also it seems surprising that the applicant would go to the trouble and expense of constructing such a track for the benefit of an employee who appears to be near retirement. Therefore the proposed track may be primarily for sporting purposes with agricultural use being confined to putting sheep in the area as tick mops. In considering this application, Highland Council may want to view this as a track for sporting purposes with some agricultural use, rather than the other way round.
- While the applicant refers to guidance regarding best practice in the construction of hill tracks, the information given regarding how it will be built is not adequate. The diagram shows no drainage arrangements; drainage is likely to be essential to prevent erosion. More information is needed regarding what the track will be surfaced with and where the material will be sourced from. Reference is made to scraping back to either side but will any sections of the verge need landscaping to reduce visual intrusion? The applicant states that there will be no cut and fill. Does this mean that no borrow pits will be required at all?
NEMT feels that fuller information is needed before a decision can be taken on this application.
NEMT continues to monitor the relevant planning websites for applications by land owners to retain sections of news tracks created to facilitate the construction of the Beauly - Denny power line which we believe should be removed. NEMT decided not to object to one, very minor, application in a forestry area; apart from this there have been no further applications in recent months.
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