Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

A Window on Caithness’ Past

Baillie wind farm survey - Click to visit

A Window On Caithness’ Past is a new web site which resulted from the Baillie Wind Farm Lidar Survey.

The new site has been launched as an educational tool, and offers virtual tours of ancient sites and links to those already documented on the Highland Historic Environment Records.

The survey was completed as part of the preparations completed ahead of the construction of the Baillie Wind Farm, a 21-turbine project at Baillie Hill, west of Thurso, which was granted planning permission subject to a number of conditions.

LIDAR (Light detection and ranging) is an optical remote sensing technology that can measure the distance to (or other properties of), remote targets by illuminating them target with laser light and analysing the backscattered light. It basically fires thousands of laser pulses per second at the ground, and almost a billion such “points” were recorded during the Baillie Wind Farm survey, with the raw data being processed to provide high-resolution models which showed field boundaries, walls, and ancient monuments in the area.

AOC Archaeology Group was commissioned to carry out the scan, which was carried out using equipment carried by an aircraft which flew over the wind farm site to collect the results.

As well as offering the visitor the opportunity to browse the processed survey data in a map view, it also contains a number of tours, with more detailed video fly-throughs showing selected areas and features.

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Maps | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parents of dead teenager charged £500 for copy of police accident report

Car accidentPlease see the ‘Update’ below, which confirms this charge was refunded together with a “sincere and unreserved apology”.

I wrote on the subject of family’s access to accident reports a while ago (September 2012):

It seems that such information releases are already considered the norm in Europe, so there should not really be any problem in having the same service provided here:

Vikki Long, a researcher in the School of Law at Dundee who compiled the report, said: “It is very encouraging to learn that legal procedures and practices exist in several European countries that could have a positive influence on the development of Scots law in relation to access to information following a fatal road collision.

“If these were adopted in Scotland it would reduce some of the anguish experienced by those bereaved by road death.”

The first copy of these findings have been presented to Jenny Marra, MSP for North East Scotland.

From Crash reports publication call

No progress?

It would seem that there has been no significant progress, or even recognition of the report.

While I do not have access to the full details of the following story, and cannot comment fairly either way, it would seem on face value that Northern Constabulary has no knowledge of the potential damage its attempt to weasel its way out of simply providing the information requested under Freedom of Information (Scotland) could do, for the nominal charge that allows, if it really needs money that badly:

The grieving parents of a teenager killed in a crash in Caithness say they are disgusted they have had to pay for a copy of a police report into the death of their son.

Christopher Durrand’s family have now made an official complaint after they were charged more than £500 for the document.

Northern Constabulary, the force responsible, said it was following national guidelines.

In February 2012 the 17-year-old was killed when his car hit a tree on the B876 at Seater Bridge near Wick.

Mr Durrand’s parents initially assumed they would be able to use special legislation relating to Freedom of Information to access the report for free.

Northern Constabulary said however that that ACPOS — the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland charges for this information — and the cost would be substantial.

The family are now fighting for a refund as politicians call for the rules to be reviewed.

Via Parents of Christopher Durrand charged £500 for copy of crash report | Highlands & Islands | News | STV

Northern Constabulary said it would not be appropriate to comment on the matter.

Update

A family that was forced to pay £500 to view a police report into the death of their son has received a refund.

Northern Constabulary – which originally said it was following national guidelines – told the family of Christopher Durrand the report into their son’s death could not be obtained under Freedom of Information legislation and they would have to fork out hundreds of pounds to view the document.

In February 2012 the 17-year-old was killed when his car hit a tree on the B876 at Seater Bridge near Wick.

The force’s acting chief constable has now accepted the decision to bill the family was “inappropriate and insensitive”.

Acting chief constable Andy Cowie said the force had issued an “a sincere and unreserved apology”.

Caithness Sutherland and Ross MSP Rob Gibson contacted the force on behalf of the family.

In a response to the MSP Mr Cowie decided that asking for a fee was “inappropriate and insensitive”.

Via Police issue apology over £500 bill to family of dead teenager | Highlands & Islands | News | STV

The report goes on to state that the matter has been raised with the Justice Secretary, in the hope that such a scenario is not repeated.

March 22, 2013 Posted by | Civilian, Transport | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Caithness offshore wind farms named after Scottish engineers

Robert Stevenson bustThree new offshore wind farms to be built off the coast of Caithness coast are to be named after notable Scottish engineers:

  • Lighthouse builder Robert Stevenson (pictured), born in Glasgow
  • Thomas Telford of Westerkirk, near Langholm, Dumfriesshire
  • Sir Edward MacColl, born in Dumbarton, and a pioneer of hydro power in Scotland

Developers claim that the three cluster of turbines, which could contain a total of 200 turbines, could generate enough electricity to power 750,000 homes, which they say is more than a conventional coal-burning power station.

January 4, 2011 Posted by | Civilian | , , | Leave a comment

Dounreay may become first nuclear heritage site

Dounreay dome

© Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd and NDA

Dounreay almost seems to be getting more mentions since it closed down than when it was active.

We mentioned the creation of the National Nuclear Archive in Caithness back in early 2008, although there are further mentions from the time, we’ve seen little more news.

There is now news of a bid for Dounreay to become the first nuclear heritage site, as the company dismantling the installation launches a three month consultation to determine what should remain on the site.

Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) is dismantling the site, which was built on the Caithness coast in the 1950s and used for experimental nuclear reactor projects, with the experimental fast breeder within the dome achieving criticality on November 14, 1959.

If the plans, which are described as the first to encompass the entire site, are successful, Dounreay could become the first nuclear heritage site in the country.

November 16, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | Leave a comment

Road signs – the union knows best

Bilingual road signI don’t mind admitting I have little time for unions – and one of their own TV adverts shows why. Presumably intended to show the evil boss ignoring the single downtrodden worker, it went on to show the good worker and union members clearing their throat to gain attention, but that throat clearing was depicted as an earthquake, as it was echoed by all the the other good union members.

If unions merely provided representation, I wouldn’t have a problem, but strikes, political affiliations, and involvement in things that are none of their business cause me concern.

A little over year ago, I noted that eight Caithness councillors had tried to stop bilingual road signs being installed in their area, and while they failed in their attempt, the issue highlighted a potential hazard as there was evidence from research which suggested that bilingual signs may cause accidents and that a report from a review of existing trunk road signage was due in 2011, and transport minister Stewart Stevenson noted that it would include the effect of current signs on roads controlled by local authorities.

However…

It seems that “the union” knows better, and there is no need for this report.

A union has urged Highland Council to end “politically correct” initiatives such as bilingual Gaelic signage rather than cutting jobs. Unison spokesman Shane Manning said bilingual signage was one area where cuts could be made without job losses: “Unison Highland branch have a mandate from our membership to oppose bilingual signing. It may not be a vast amount of money but it’s one example of where money could be saved just now when there are more important things to be spending the money on.”

Since when does a union of office workers have a say in how the country’s road signs are deployed?

Is there really any significant cost saving in reducing the content of a road sign that s going to be produced anyway? the English only sign would presumably still be being manufactured and installed anyway, and I’ve nothing that indicates the existence of a scheme to remove and replace English only signs with bi-lingual version – which clearly would add to costs (and create jobs).

There’s another consideration – unlikely as it may be, that the report finds bilingual road signs actually have a positive effect, so the union would be calling for something that created a road hazard.

In reality, the 2011 report will most likely confirm that bilingual signs are a hazard, and the union could have won more Brownie Points if it had waited for the outcome of the report, and supported it with mandate to end the use of such signs, and the potential danger they present.

Guess we’re headed for the union blacklist now, and the pickets will be flying in.

July 3, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bilingual signs may cause accidents

gaelsignA year ago, almost to the day oddly enough, we noted that eight Caithness councillors had tried to stop bilingual road signs being installed in their area, claiming they were a waste of money. Their motion was defeated by 36 votes to 29.

Seeking the opposite result from their colleagues in Caithness, Highland councillors have called for more English-Gaelic signs to be installed on their roads.

If nothing else, this just proves your scribe’s view that councillors and politics don’t know if they’re coming or going – both are supposed to look after our best interests, so with opposing requests, one must by definition be wrong, and should be booted out of office (so they’re both quite safe in their current jobs).

Transport minister Stewart Stevenson’s response to Highland Council observed that there was anecdotal evidence to the effect that the signs were causing motorists to make u-turns after misreading the signs. This is no great surprise as the makers of road signs, or those responsible for their installation, seem to think that the average driver is becoming incapable of comprehending where they are, or of what is around them, and road sign numbers are growing to the extend that they will soon be taking up road space, and their content is in danger of blanking out the sun.

Highland councillors want the Scottish Government to give “urgent consideration” to bilingual signs on the A9 north of Perth, also on the A96, through Inverness, so that the Gaelic language is brought to the attention of more people.

Hopefully this mad scheme will be thrown out, not because there is any issue with the bilingual aspect, but because it displays clear incompetence on the part of the Highland councillors, who should realise that the purpose of road signs is to provide information and warnings regarding the road, NOT to provide publicity for any pet language, or tourism boosters.

In case you chose to interpret that incorrectly as an anti-Gaelic point against the signs, then I should say that had they made the same proposition on the basis of assisting local speakers of Gaelic, or bi-lingual road users, then they would have been competent, and worthy of support. The incompetence is not in their signage, but their chosen reason for the signage.

However, another issue may overtake such considerations.

Accident studies

Transport minister Stewart Stevenson said previous research had shown that drivers spent longer reading bilingual signs than those in one language. He said there was anecdotal evidence of motorists unfamiliar with an area stopping on the main carriageway of trunk roads to read the signs, performing u-turns after misreading the directions and driving past hotels because they were concentrating on a bilingual sign. He added, “We do not know if these and similar incidents are having a negative impact on road safety over time and this can only be determined from detailed accident studies. Clearly it could be considered irresponsible not to evaluate the current policy.”

A report from a review of existing trunk road signage is due in 2011, and the minister noted that it would include the effect of current signs on roads controlled by local authorities.

March 7, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , | 2 Comments

The rise and rise of the Pentland Firth

I’m still bemused by the recent change in attitude toward tidal power, and of no longer being viewed as some sort of weirdo or evangelist for promoting over good old reliable, well established and popular (aye, right) wind power. Even so, I don’t think I’d ever have stuck my neck out as far as first minister Alex Salmond did, and hung the millstone of describing the Pentland Firth, between Caithness and Orkney, as the Saudi Arabia of marine power. I feel like pasting up his pic and that description as something to be checked on every two or three years, to see how close his description comes to reality.

Now that it’s had an “Official Blessing”, it looks as if everybody wants a piece of the pie, and the stories are getting increasingly convoluted in order to provide nice green renewable connections for new projects. Witness the news that not only have hundreds of jobs been identified as a spin off from a proposed green energy project , but that heat for Prince Charles’ organic business in Caithness will also be available

Tidal power developer Atlantis Resources Corporation confirmed it was considering a site near Castle of Mey for a computer data centre, note the use of “considered” – this plan is still in the early stages, but would see the centre being powered by a tidal scheme in the Pentland Firth. Morgan Stanley is a major US financial organisation, and shareholder in Atlantis.

The plan, if it was to materialise, is said to offer some 700 jobs for the area, which has lost employment as the old Dounreauy nuclear power station was closed – but gained a few from the long-term cleanup and site restoration works. The data centre would offer business services, and depend on renewable tidal power, rather than traditional fossil-fuel based power.

They manage a nice bit of name-dropping by suggesting that they could provide heat (collected from the storage centre) to the Castle of Mey, where Prince Charles’ organic food line is produced, the Mey Selections range.

I’m amazed at the speed with which tidal power has gone from being something one once spoke of quietly, lest one find oneself being measured for a jacket which had no holes at the end of its sleeves, and become a thing to be coveted by major financial institutions – I also hope it doean’t blow it up too quickly, and create a bubble that suddenly burst. A lot of the technology is new, and while it may now be tested, it has still to be proven, so let’s just hope the appropriate caution is also exercised as it’s rolled out.

October 17, 2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | Leave a comment

The rise and rise of sea power

Over what seems little more than a few months, I am somewhat amazed to see that I have gone from being thought of as some kind of “nut” because I was considered to speak against wind power and in favour of water based energy production. I didn’t really, if anyone bothered to read on, I just cautioned against its seemingly universal acceptance as the solution to renewable energy. Now, it seem that the news carries stories about wonderful new major sea and river based energy projects, and wind power has been relegated to some sort of planning pariah as it encroaches on the countryside, destroys peoples’ lives and peace, and places air travel in danger as the turbines interfere with civilian and military radar. Oh, and it kills birds.

Not my words, you’ll find all that in the news – it seems that the wind power bubble may have burst, and water based power is the media darling, for the moment. Maybe I should now predict that nuclear power will be their next darling in a few years, when they eventually decide to put the boot into water based systems, and that nuclear is safe. The Marine Conservation Society already has the underwater system in its sights, challenging Scottish Power’s assertion that their systems will pose no threats to marine life, and seeking rigorous environmental impact assessments.

It looks as if I might not be the “nut” now though, as Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, suffers something of a delusional attack while visiting Caithness as the Crown Estate opens the seabed for lease when said the firth could be seen as “the Saudi Arabia of marine energy”. I’m afraid a quick look at the map suggests that might just be slight overstatement – but then again, politicians are reputed to be quite good at that, aren’t they?

As noted in here before, Scottish Power has been working on the Lanstrom device, which is said to be the world’s most advanced tidal turbine. The Scottish and Irish sites would host up to 60 of the turbines – 20 at each site – generating 60 megawatts of power for up to 40,000 homes.The company is expected to apply for planning permission next year. The device, similar to an underwater wind turbine, has been tested in a Norwegian fjord.

The director of Scottish Power’s renewable arm, Keith Anderson, said: “The rapid technological advancement of tidal power has enabled us to progress plans for this substantial project which has the real potential to deliver significant environmental and economic benefits.”

Speaking during his visit to Caithness, Mr Salmond said opening the firth for energy generation on a commercial scale was “exciting news” for Scotland’s renewables sector, environment and economy. These developments are a significant step forward in Scotland’s journey to become a world leader in the development of renewable energy. The Pentland Firth is the Saudi Arabia of marine power. Our seas alone could provide 25% of Europe’s tidal power and 10% of wave power. The vast potential of the Pentland Firth will mean more investment, more jobs and more opportunities for the Caithness area.”

(Those are impressive numbers, which have been quoted in the news before, by the politicians, but they’ve yet to justify them, and they might be similar in terms of “smoke and mirrors” to the wonderful claims that were made for wind power, but turn out to be ideal numbers, which tumble to a fraction of their oft-quoted values when applied to real world installations.)

Eann Sinclair, of Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership, said: “Proposals are under way for projects such as the Pentland Firth Tidal Energy project and the development of Scrabster and Wick Harbours, as well as the creation of new jobs in the engineering sector.”

With the decommissioning of the old Dounreay nuclear power station, the area is looking to the future and local employment, although there will still be many years of employment to come from from the decommissioning project itself before work on the old site dries up altogether.

September 29, 2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Best laid plans

One of my pet hates in my life as a project manager was the director or boss that insisted on having a project timeline drawn up with major milestones and dates that had to be met “or else”. My gripe is not with the milestones, but with those people who insisted on them being set, then insisted on them being brought forward to make them look good – they had to be seen to be “moving things along”, and keeping the project “on track”. Of course, had they been barred from the whole thing, it would have run more smoothly, met the original milestones, and not have to have been repeatedly rescheduled to compensate for their interference – but then they wouldn’t have been able to stand up and announce how the they had  “fixed things” and kept the plan from being even later than it was now going to be.

We mentioned that the Pentalina catamaran was due to arrive in Scotland at the end of May, or shortly thereafter, now we need to correct that. She’s still at FBMA Marine’s yard at Cebu in the Philippines, awaiting more equipment, and is now expected to leave the yard early next month, and arrive here about 28 days later. Things look good, and she is also reported to have successfully completed her sea trials.

Announcing plans is a necessary evil that can’t be avoided, but I always think it’s something best done in a flexible and non-committal way. That way, no-one can notice your “best laid plans” haven’t quite hit the mark.

June 25, 2008 Posted by | Civilian, Maritime, Transport | , , , | Leave a comment

Caithness catamaran arrival imminent

One of Scotland’s newest, most advanced, and interesting ferries is due to enter services in a few weeks.

Built to serve on the Pentland Firth route between Caithness and Orkney, the new catamaran, The Pentalina, will replace an older vessel on the same route. With a capacity of 350 passengers, 32 to 58 cars, and nine lorries, she is expected to make the crossing between St Margarets Hope, Orkney, and Gills Bay, Caithness, in around 45 minutes.

Built for Pentland Ferries, Pentalina was constructed at the FBMA Marine Yard, Cebu, in the Philipines, the new vessel is undergoing sea trials in south east Asia, and will make her own way to Scotland when these are completed, taking around 30 days to complete the journey, after which she will enter service, probably at the end of May, or shortly thereafter.

The Pentland Ferries site currently carries a news article with pre and post launch images of the ferry.

May 6, 2008 Posted by | Civilian, Maritime, Transport | , , , | Leave a comment

Councillors fail to stop bilingual signs

gaelsignWhile some areas of Scotland are attempting to support Gaelic (the BBC has recently secured funding to begin digital services in Gaelic), other seem seem to be eager to wipe it from the face of earth.

Heading towards the north of the country, one of ‘signs’ that you have reached some of the most beautiful and isolated parts of he country is the appearance of English/Gaelic road signs (it’s a bit like arriving in North Wales, also gorgeous, but not quite so quiet, and where bilingual signs predominate).

In a bid which they claimed was based on a traditional view of the area being non-Gael, and that the signs were a waste of money, eight Caithness councillors tried to halt the bilingual signs being installed in their area, a move which was defeated by 36 votes to 29.

David Flear, former provost of Caithness, had said the policy needed to be looked at again and that people who lived in the area had traditionally been regarded as non-Gaels. Before Thursday’s meeting, he said: “Come on, let’s get real about this. This isn’t being anti-Gaelic, this is just reality and this is listening to people.

Guess the people spoke!

March 6, 2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , | 4 Comments

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