Agendas, reports and minutes
Sutherland Local Access Forum
Date: Monday, 23 March 2015
Minutes: Read the Minutes
Minutes of Meeting of the Sutherland Local Access Forum held in Ben More Assynt, Drummuie, Golspie on 18 November 2015 at 2pm.
Mr G Johnson, Scottish Rights of Way Society/Access User
Mr G Farlow, Councillor, Highland Council
Mr H B Field, Sutherland Walkers Group/Access User
Mr J Gall, Landowner/Crofter
Mr M MacDougall, Forestry Commission
Mr J McGillivray, Councillor, Highland Council
Mr J Ross, Scottish Canoe Association/Access User
Mr W Sutherland, Crofter
Mr M Dent, Access Officer, Highland Council
Ms A Macrae, Committee Administrator, Highland Council
1. Apology for Absence
An apology for absence was intimated on behalf of Mr G Johnson.
2. Minutes of Meeting of 23 March 2015
There had been submitted for confirmation as a correct record the minute of meeting of 23 March 2015, the terms of which were APPROVED.
3. Core Path Plan Review
The Access Officer provided an update on the review of the Core Path Plan which was being progressed in conjunction with the development of the new Caithness and Sutherland Local Development Plan and advised that the nine drop in consultation events held in November/December 2015 had been well attended and that the feedback received had been generally positive. He had also written to a range of individuals, groups and agencies inviting written comments with a closing date of 8 March 2015.
He advised that he had also written to the parties involved in the access issue at Ardgay Hill on basis that the land managers involved had advised they had not been aware of the previous core path plan consultation. It was suggested that the potential for this issue to be resolved through the Core Plan Path review represented the best way forward on this matter.
In terms of the consultation process it was reported that the Plan would be submitted initially to the Ward Forums, then the Area Committee and thereafter the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Committee. He clarified that the Local Access Forum was a statutory consultee in terms of the process.
The Access Officer advised that the next stage was to consider improving the connectivity of the Plan, although he noted that the Council may take a cautious approach to any significant increase in the number of routes. There were also issues around the process for assessing routes in terms of whether this should be through a scoring system or based on professional judgement and he advised that officers were to have further discussions on this matter.
Discussion then followed on the Reporter’s comments on the current Plan around the need to include more strategic routes and it was suggested there was a need to give more cognisance to these routes in the Plan, specific reference being made to a number of potential routes in Sutherland, and also opportunities for new routes as a result of initiatives such as the North Coast 500; Peatlands Project; and Strathy North wind farm development.
Responding, the Access Officer confirmed that some of the above strategic routes had not been included in the current Plan as they had not met the relevant criteria for a core path at that time. However it was anticipated the criteria would be less prescriptive this time round. He advised that the Moine Path had been included as part of the review of the Plan. He also explained that the Reporter’s comments had related specifically to Inverness although he acknowledged they could be applied to the wider network. He clarified that the principal aim of the Core Path Plan review was to improve the connectivity of the current Plan by utilising existing routes. An element of judgement also had to be exercised in regard to the inclusion of longer routes in addition to the fact they may link settlements, for example whether a route had recreational value.
During further discussion, a number of further points were raised, including the following:-
• the opportunities to make deletions to the Plan, noting that the storms in January 2015 had closed some Forestry Commission Scotland walks on a permanent basis;
• a point in regard to whether a route from Scourie to Tarbert should be deleted; it was suggested that improvements to this route had been carried out and that it had received a favourable review on the Walk Highland website and therefore should remain in the Plan;
• that a circular route at Balblair, Golspie should be deleted on the basis that it was impassable;
• in terms of additions it was suggested that elevated wind farm sites in Sutherland provided excellent views and good walking/cycling and should be considered;
• in regard to the above it was confirmed that some wind farm areas had been included in the Plan and the importance of such routes also having an element of recreational value was emphasised; and
• in regard to the above that there were increasing health and safety concerns around increased numbers of the public taking access around wind farms.
Thereafter, the Group NOTED the update.
4. Local Access Issues/Planning Report
The Access Officer reported on the following issues:-
The Access Officer advised that he continued to pursue this matter with the relevant individual in regard to the provision of the required method statement for the installation of a cycle ramp for submission to Network Rail. He also reported that the footpath fence had fallen down on the Culrain side of the viaduct and arrangements were being made for the fence to be replaced.
It was noted that the bridge over Sputie Burn was in a poor state of repair and was overgrown. The Access Officer had raised this matter with the landowner but to date no formal response had been received from the Estate. The Council’s Building Standards Service had also undertaken an inspection of the bridge. He anticipated that in the meantime he would continue to receive enquiries and complaints about the condition of the structure.
The Access Officer had advised Ardgay and District Community Council of the opportunity through the Core Path Plan review process to re-emphasise the route as a core path on the basis that the Council would then have the ability to take action to keep the core path open which may be less open to challenge. He had suggested this was a preferable option to pursuing lengthy legal action at the current time which could involve the Council investing significant time, resources and expense with no guaranteed outcome of success.
In discussion, it was reported that while the Access Officer had received only one complaint regarding the recent locked gate on the route, that members of the public were also complaining directly to the Community Council on this matter. It was suggested that the public be advised to use the Council’s service points to record their complaints on the basis this may act as a trigger for further action.
Following on from the above, the Access Officer advised that the complaints/enquiries he had received since the last meeting had been mainly dog control/ littering and land management related, particularly with the approach of the lambing season. Other complaints had related to cattle on paths although he advised that it was difficult to address this issue, given that the keeping of livestock was a typical land management operation.
In regard to further issues of note, he advised that the Melvich Footbridge over the Halladale River had now become a Council asset.
Discussion the followed on the Tutuim Bridge and it was suggested that a key issue in securing funding for works to the bridge was the need for the structure to be integral to linking other paths in the area such as the case at Rogie Falls in respect of which the Council had funded works in conjunction with Forestry Commission Scotland.
The Forum NOTED the update.
5. Equestrian Access Rights and Responsibilities
Mr B Field advised that at the National Access Forum/Local Access Forum meeting, attendees had been asked to circulate a questionnaire on equestrian access rights and responsibilities. He suggested that that the purpose of the questionnaire was to provide an opportunity to air some particular points of concern which were raised on a regular basis and to engender further discussion on these issues.
The Access Officer advised that while there had been some local issues around Brora and the Doll regarding damage to paths as a result of the number of horses taking access he was not aware that this was a general problem across Sutherland.
Further issues related to the fact that the removal of kissing gates on paths to allow access by horses gates also opened up these routes to less responsible access users. The questionnaire also did not refer to horse littering on paths and whether horse owners should in common with dog owner be required to clean up any horse litter on this basis this may impact on access takers such as wheelchair users.
In discussion there was a consensus that the key issue was the need for access users to use common sense and exercise reasonable and responsible access.
Thereafter, the Forum NOTED this item.
6. Date of Next Meeting
It was AGREED that the next meeting be held in September/October 2015, the date to be confirmed.
The meeting ended at 3.35pm.