The story so far…….

Dr Kenneth Brown wrote a guest blog (here) discussing the harassment he faced going about his lawful business at Ledgowan Estate, Achnasheen, Ross-shire. This led to quite a few comments and emails recounting similar such incidents at Ledgowan over the past few year since Andrew Simpson took over ownership of the estate.

This in turn led to the revelation (to me) of the 18 km track that has been crudely bulldozed across the hills under Class 18 Permitted Development Rights whereby developments for agricultural use are exempted from the need for planning consent. Despite recommendations from Scottish Government officials in 2012 that such tracks be subject to normal planning rules, Derek Mackay (Minister for Local Government & Planning) under pressure from farming, landowning and forestry interests, refused.

Since publishing these blogs, more information and insight has come to light and I thank all those who have been in touch.

Agricultural Use

It is now confirmed that the road was built for agricultural activities. A number of hill farmers have been in touch with me. None can see any conceivable use for a road of this length, routing, construction or quality in this particular place. So what is it for? Simpson’s own website implies it is for trout and salmon fishing and wildlife safaris.

A previous application for a windfarm was refused on landscape grounds. A second application for a smaller development of two turbines was submitted and then withdrawn. Andrew Simpson currently has a live application for one 50kw turbine (Ref 12/03182/FUL). How convenient it is that there is already a road built to service it. How convenient also that any opposition to an application for a bigger scheme on landscape grounds is now much weakened by the fact that the road has now inflicted significant damage to the landscape.

Interestingly, SNH concede this fact in their comments in the current application where they point out that “the proposed turbine is located on terrace 2 within the SSSI. We agree that a turbine located here, with no need for additional tracks minimises damage to the main features of the site.” This  remember is a track that has smashed right through Terrace 1 and 2.

Pollution

The unauthorised construction of this track raises questions about pollution. A prominent expert in such matters has highlighted to me the possible issues with drainage, run-off and sediment loading. The road has been hastily constructed in an inexpert manner across numerous watercourses. It is clear that substantial works have been carried out on the loch shore. Have these works ever been approved by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA)?

UPDATE 25 OCTOBER 2013

I wrote to SEPA on 14 October 2013 and asked them,

Could you provide me please with any information that SEPA holds in relation to activities on Ledgowan Estate, Achnasheen.In particular I am interested in the road that has been constructed and, for example, whether the estate has a CAR licence under the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) Regulations 2011 for the water crossings and works by Loch a Chroisg.”

SEPA replied today and told me that they held no information in relation to the track, pointing out that if the watercourse crossings had been “done in accordance with General Binding Rule 6, then SEPA would not need to be involved”. We do not know, of course, whether such rules were followed.

More interestingly, in relation to the works on the shore of Loch a Chroisg, SEPA refused to release the relevant information.

Please note that SEPA is aware of engineering activities in Loch a Chroisg undertaken by Ledgowan Estate in June 2011 which resulted in the alteration of the watercourse. The work was carried out without a licence. SEPA holds information relating to this however the information has been withheld from release at this time under Regulation 10(5)(b) of EIR which states:

’10(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 Public Interest Test was carried out in relation to the information to be withheld under regulation 10(5)(b). To disclose evidence in a case prior to it being considered by the Procurator Fiscal, thus putting it in the public domain means the accused may not receive a fair trial.”

It therefore seems clear than an alleged offence has been committed under Section 44 of the Regulations and that criminal proceedings may follow.

The full reply from SEPA is here.

I have written to SEPA inviting them to investigate whether or not the 2011 Regulations have been followed in the construction of the new track.

UPDATE 29 OCTOBER 2013
SEPA has responded:-

SEPA will arrange to visit the site and look into your complaint. Once we have done so, we will get back to you and let you know the outcome of our findings.

 

It appears that the new landowner takes quite a hostile approach to the local community as is evident from this Community Council minute of February 2012 regarding a dispute over pedestrian access along a now disused public road.

The Chairman read out a letter from Helen Christie raising issues about access to Ledgowan Estate, threatening behaviour, construction of hill roads and the access across the bridge. Dave Mackenzie (an employee of Ledgowan Estate) stated he hadn’t stopped anyone and that the estate will abide by the law.”

Highland Council has now issued a Traffic Regulation Order permitting pedestrian and cycle traffic to continue to use this short stretch of the former A890 (council paper and minute).

During 2011, there was considerable disquiet among residents of Achnasheen about the construction of the new track and numerous complaints were made to Highland Council. On 5 August 2011, Dave MacKenzie submitted a Freedom of Information request to Highland Council asking for details of complaints that the Council had received. The Council complied with the request but redacted the personal details of those who had made the complaints. Mr MacKenzie asked for a review of the decision and subsequently appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner who, in her decision, stated that,

Mr MacKenzie is an employee of the owner of the Ledgowan Estate. He has explained that his request was motivated by the harassment and disruption to the progress of work that he was feeling as a result of the Council’s response to complaints, which he considered to be made by individuals or organisations that appeared to be either ill-informed or motivated by malice. He explained that he wanted to know the identities of those making complaints in order to inform them of the reason why work was being carried out.”

Creepy.

As is clear from Mr MacKenzie’s attendance at the Community Council meeting, he had (and continues to have) ample opportunity to “inform” people of “the reason why work was being carried out“. As for the harassment, disruption and malice which he refers to, let’s note one incident that took place just before Christmas 2011.

A number of residents noticed that their oil-fired heating systems stopped working. Upon inspection, an engineer found that holes had been drilled in their oil tanks, with the the contents seeping into the ground all over their gardens. The police investigated these criminal acts but found insufficient evidence to take further action.

In another incident, a person closely connected with the estate was caught digging a badger sett. Again the police were called but insufficient evidence was available and the perpetrators claimed that they had been looking for foxes.

Earlier this year a black-throated diver was found dead having been “shot by a high velocity projectile”.

The above incidents may have nothing to do with the estate. They may (although it appears unlikely) have entirely innocent explanations.

What’s going on?

41 Comments

  1. Achnasheen

    Oh, Mr Policeman
    Of late where have you been
    It’s clear you’ve missed the action
    Up near Achnasheen

    The locals are being harassed
    About the things they’ve seen
    Done in the name of progress
    Up near Achnasheen

    An eighteen kilometre hill track
    Scars the beautiful scene
    Carved across the landscape
    Up in Achnasheen

    Some of this is foul play
    And it’s quite clearly seen
    To be the handiwork of one man
    Up in Achnasheen

    The driving of the road
    Where none before has been
    Cannot be ever justified
    Up in Achnasheen.

    ©2013 Tez Watson

  2. Thanks Andy! Simpson beats Sir Patrick Grant of Dalvey Bt, laird of Glendessary, into a cocked hat, I think!

  3. It’s a case of what do you do about someone who has a total disregard for the law. So far he has got away with doing considerable environmental damage and will continue to so do until he is held to account and forced to repair the damage.

    The powers that be seem to be incapable of enforcing what legislation there is and as has been pointed out each act of vandalism seems to make the next easier to get away with!

  4. That kind of situation can’t be allowed to perpetuate. It sours any relationship the estate might have had in the local community, leaves locals feeling helpless and makes the legislation look pathetically framed.

  5. Surely something can be done…

  6. Lairds have always done as they pleased, whats new?

  7. I am reading this in Gairloch and will be driving down by Achnasheen tomorrow so will inspect the damage. It sounds like we need a change in the law to me Andy you write and I will get it submitted to the SNP!

  8. So, the old behaviour of the Colonial “White Settler” has been imported into the rural wilds of Scotland. Not nice. Someone should explain to Mr Simpson that his behaviour verges on racism and illegality. The law is the law. Not his law, but our law. He caan abide by it, or face consequences. Time that that happened. I think the Courts loom in the distance. there appear to be a number of laws being broken here. Time official complaints were made, I think.

  9. Does Mr Simpson have any connection with Simpson’s garden centre in Inverness?

  10. Has the estate obtained a CAR licence from SEPA under the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) Regulations 2011 for all those water crossings?

  11. I would also like to confirm that if the track is over approx. 5.5m wide with passing places and a shallow gradient, its design would comply with the minimum standards for getting a crane and turbines up a hill.

  12. I note that SNH say that he has applied to put up a turbine on a SSSI and that the bulldozed track goes through this. What’s the point in having SSSI’s if they don’t at least have some protection ?

  13. Sounds like a “Its my land, I can do what I like” syndrome, that delightful combination of hubris and menace, or perhaps it is a case of “I’ll see what I can get away with”. My goodness it might even be both.

  14. Can we write to Derek McKay? He is my local MSP – would it be worth a visit?

  15. He is the uncle of simpson garden centre .

  16. The part about the badger set was not even on their estate. The set has been there for years

  17. I heard on the grapevine that when the Council tried to challenge the estate on the hill track, access over old road bridge and a new fence they erected too close to the road for over a mile, solicitors got involved and accused the council of harassment. Although clearly the council was simply doing their job. If it can be shown that this track is not reasonably required for agriculture, does it not require planning permission? About time public pressure came to bare down on this arrogant estate that seems perfectly happy to destroy the landscape. Oh, and don’t forget their second hill track south of Achnasheen!

  18. So – wait – this track leads up to a loch which has a perfectly good public road along the other side? That makes it transparently obvious that whatever the track is for, it isn’t to access the loch. That could much more easily be done by road – considering the route of the track, even a beat up estate land-rover could get from one end to the other quicker and more economically by road than by the track.

    Exponential land tax, anyone?
    http://blog.journeyman.cc/2013/04/on-benefits-of-exponential-land-tax.html

  19. Everyone in the area suspects they built the lower track so they could get their boat (and guests) to the loch. They may also have rearranged the foreshore for a similar reason. The main one up the nose of the hill is the worst and supposedly for accessing sheep. The third is down towards Achnashellach, again presumably for ‘shepherding’. Surprising so many tracks are required for shepherding given you’d be hard pressed to see many on the hills above Loch Rosque.

    • On other estates around Achnasheen the shepherds just beep their horn or shout/whistle and the sheep come running
      Also all winter they (Ledgowen Estate) fed the sheep from the main road side with a ATV. And did the lambing from the main road side

  20. I wrote to the Environment Minister through my MP when this road was built, I got a political reply that said little. Most Landowners are good people and we have to work together but this Estate has a terrible reputation. I support the SNP but I was not impressed by their “wishy washy” attitude towards these roads that are now springing up all over the place . We must highlight this again and again, the landowner is only a custodian for this country and the regulations need sorted out quickly.

    David Whalley MBE. BEM

  21. “The Chairman read out a letter from Helen Christie raising issues about access to Ledgowan Estate, threatening behaviour, construction of hill roads and the access across the bridge. Dave Mackenzie (an employee of Ledgowan Estate) stated he hadn’t stopped anyone and that the estate will abide by the law.”
    With reference to the above.. It was Mr. Andrew Simpson that STOPPED and threated Helen Christie, not Mr. Mackenzie. ( I was with her on both occasions- so can verify this).
    He told her that it was HIS land and NO-ONE would have access on it.
    It makes you wonder what he doesn’t want people to see and what there may be to hide!!!

  22. This has got to stop.

    Like many, I love our hills and this type of destruction makes me so furious.

    We need conservation legislation with more balls. SSSI appears to be nothing but a waste of public money in surveys and documentation. Donald Trump barged through the legislation by waving his wallet, now here we have a greedy and arrogant landowner doing it for no obvious return. Is he bribing councillors? How is he getting away with this when so many people have been complaining? Why has he not been hauled up to prove that the road really is for agriculture? If he cannot, the land should be reinstated at his expense. And his application for a turbine should be voided because he has clearly been manipulating the landscape for that purpose.

    We need police with balls. C’mon, if people have been suffering such harassment surely some local cop would be able to solve the mystery? Don’t they have magnifying glasses for footprints these days? Where’s the will and the effort?

    We need councillors and politicians with balls too. There’s the law! Enforce it for God’s sake! They are there to server the people, not the landowners.

    This story is a catalogue of failures on so many levels. And the big loser at the end of the day is all of us, because the environment has been needlessly destroyed and it will not be repaired.

    • Margaret Gardiner

      TRUMP! …..exactly what was going through my mind as I read all of the above.

      I am extremely pro independence but please, PLEASE let it come with a government fired by the good of its people as driving force. I sincerely hope we can ditch a party political system which has proved to fail the people @ Westminster &, it seems in such matters as this, @ devolved level. We NEED strong leaders determined for justice & equality for ALL in the Law of the land. And through such leaders is the only way we will have a Police Force fit to protect & defend our people. A Police Force, as bound by the Law as is every citizen of the country.

      “Land owners” as has been rightly described are mere custodians & I feel strongly that, as with other criminals, their assets should be seized/confiscated & taken into public ownership, when their actions break & display disregard for Laws designed to protect the interests & wellbeing of ALL Scottish residents

  23. Looking along the longer track, there are many so-called “passing places”. However, these don’t look like passing places to me, but much more like junctions, with the stub-ends of planned branch tracks, yet to be built. Could this guy have had the audacity to built a junction for each of the turbines he plans to build? Is there enough detail on his planning application to compare the proposed locations of these turbined with the junctions on this ‘agricultural track’ which just happens to be there?…

  24. turbined = turbines obviously

  25. I am not from Scotland but I find it unbelievable that someone can treat this land as they please (and the local community even more).

    Surely the government must really do something about this.

    As a tourist who likes to visit Torridon and loves that place, it is unbelievable that someone can just build a road so easily without permission. Surely he should be asked to demolish the road immediately ? Otherwise if he is allowed to build turbines etc, then he is rewarded for breaking the law?

  26. See UPDATE 25 October posted in the blog. SEPA is investigating an alleged criminal offence.

  27. That is very reassuring Andy. It appeared from even a cursory inspection that modification of watercourses/ loch had occurred.

  28. Margaret Gardiner

    Yes, it seems, an investigation is under way but only time will tell the outcome.

    I trust you, Andy, so be keeping close tabs on said investigation outcomes & that you will favour us with regular updates.

  29. Giles Sutherland

    Some years ago a similar activity (albeit on a smaller scale) was undertaken near Melness, on Ben Hutig, which I believe is an SSSI. I do not know if due process was followed. I do not know what purpose the road serves.

    http://www.flashearth.com/?lat=57.574116&lon=-5.105486&z=13.3&r=0&src=msl

    This type of activity is proliferating all over the Highlands. These scars leave irreparable damage on fragile eco-sytems and soils.