Minute of Meeting held in the Council Offices, High Street, Dingwall on Wednesday, 23rd June 2010 at 3.30 pm after a site visit to Torr Achilty Dam.
Mr John Mackenzie (Chairman)
Mr Richard Wallace
Mr Fraser Fotheringham
Mr Hector Munro
Mr Robin Chalmers
Councillor Isobel McCallum
Mr George Hamilton, Natural Resource Manager, Planning & Development Service
Mr Philip Waite, Access Officer, Planning and Development Service
Mrs Alison MacArthur, Acting Administrative Assistant, Chief Executive’s Service
(Chair – Mr John Mackenzie)
The meeting started with a visit to Torr Achilty Dam and reconvened at the Council Offices in Dingwall at 3.50 pm. In attendance at the site visit were John Mackenzie, Robin Chalmers, Fraser Fotheringham, and Philip Waite.
1. Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence were intimated on behalf of Ms Cattie Anderson, Ms Kristine MacKenzie, Dr Stewart Campbell, Mr Ewan MacPherson, Mr James Hislop, Mr Robin Forrest, Ms Marj Donaldson, Mrs Fiona McInally, Councillor Alan Torrance and Councillor Audrey Sinclair.
2. Confirmation of Minutes
The Minute of the Meeting of 25th March 2010 was submitted and approved.
3. Ross and Cromarty Core Paths Plan
i. Core Paths Plan Inquiry Update
There was no further information on the Inquiry. It is on the Council Agenda for August.
Philip submitted a report and asked the Committee for a decision on a change to core path 629.01 in Lochcarron. This was a proposal to change the route back to what was claimed to be the original route. The route was well overgrown but has now been cleared and will be kept cleared. The Community Council and Ward Managers still had to be advised but the Committee agreed the revised route.
4. Highland Core Path Improvement Programme – LEADER funding.
The Report gave a brief update on LEADER funding. Two applications had been received so far, from Hilton & Balintore, and Nigg & Shandwick Community Councils. Eight other areas had inquired about the scheme including Shieldaig, Applecross, Lochcarron, Avoch and Cromarty. This funding was strictly for core paths but could also include short links to core paths. Community Councils could still apply directly to LEADER for funding if they have a large project.
If insufficient applications were received then a reminder would be sent out next year to Community Councils to remind them to apply for funding. Projects could also be completed from the Priority List the Forum agreed.
5. Access Issues
i. Torr Achilty Dam
Scottish & Southern Energy are intending to close the dam to access for security reasons. Access has occurred over the dam for almost 50 years however no right of way can be claimed over such structures and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 does not give access rights to them. There is local concern over the loss of this access and so a site visit and discussion were arranged with the Hydro Operations Manager, Trevor Williams.
The aim of the visit was to ascertain;
i. the precise reason for closure and why it is necessary now?
ii. are other security measures available or have others been considered which would still permit access?
iii. what consultation and notice has taken place and was this adequate?
The Committee understood that Scottish and Southern Energy had the right to block the access over the dam but the Committee went out to see if a reason could be given as to why this had been done. It was felt it would have been better to have been consulted prior to the fencing being erected. The fencing had been erected to protect equipment that operated the flood gates and to prevent vandals from tampering with the equipment and causing a rapid release of water which would threaten human life, and damage to houses and property further downriver. The equipment was kept in boxes at either side of the dam and attack from the outside could cause damage to the sensitive equipment on the inside. Access was required to these boxes for maintenance and so SSE had put the fence up rather than changing the boxes. It was explained that access to the great majority of SSE dams remained open as before. Restriction was only deemed necessary in the case of dams which had flood control equipment, damage to which could lead to sudden major increases in water levels below those dams.
The fencing at Torr Achility was very intimidating and Isobel McCallum was to check whether Planning permission was required and if it had been sought: alternatively if Planning had been notified.
Barriers had been placed on at least five other dams in Highland, all outwith Ross & Cromarty. Phil was to check with other Access Officers on what was happening in their areas with regard to the barriers.
ii Seafield Estate, Kishorn
In March 2006 Seafield Estate made an application under the Scottish Forestry Grant Scheme to fence and plant. The Access Officer made comments regarding 3 gates and a stile required in the fencing in order to maintain access to the hill, a dun and some old mine workings. These were not fully accepted by the estate and the grant was given for two gates and the stile, ensuring the gates as a condition.
A number of complaints have been received from local people, the community council and a neighbouring landowner about the loss of access to the hill, a dun and some old mine workings. On visiting the site one gate was locked and the main access point from Sanachan did not have a gate.
Attempted contact with the owner by the community council and the Access Officer has not received a response. The Access Officer has also made contact with the consulting company, Bell Ingram involved. Unfortunately the two people involved with the original application have left the company and the account has passed to someone based in Perth. He only received a response from the owner last week and still awaits instruction. The Forestry Commission have stated that they may consider additional funding even though this grant scheme has closed.
The estate’s original objection to placing a gate near Sanachan was due to its position on the road. A view is being sought from the Roads section, although this access point existed previously.
The Forum was invited to agree that a gate should be pursued.
Seafield Estate had installed what was agreed under the Scheme although one gate had been omitted from the approval.
The Committee agreed that the access should be pursued through Bell Ingram but not to issue a formal notice at this stage. PW will update the Forum at the next meeting.
iii. Achnashellach Forestry Operations
Misleading signs had caused a number of the public to ignore them. If the signs were not put in the right locations the people didn’t believe any of the signs. It was also requested that signs were removed once the works had been completed.
Phil felt the language used on the standard signs was confusing. It may be better to highlight the diversion and to say it was a diversion rather than a closure and that it still went to Achnashellach which was not obvious.
Richard Wallace stated that the Forestry was looking to amend their existing signs but he will take up the sign issues internally and requested copies of the signs held by the Access Officer.
It would be desirable to have a code of conduct to cover signage for all tree felling.
6. Any Other Business
It was noted that there had been no correspondence received in regard to Braemore and that the Access officer had not visited the site recently. Braemore was to be followed up and there would be a report to the September meeting.
It was also felt that a sign should be placed at Achilty to warn access takers that there was no longer access over the dam to Torr Achilty.
7. Date of Next Meeting
The next meeting of the Access Forum is scheduled for 8th September 2010.
The meeting ended at 4.55 pm.