Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

What’s wrong with the Forth hovercraft planning refusal?

Ship wreckI tend to stay away from council related stories nowadays. Too many look more like mindless ‘council-bashing’ than reasoned analysis – and I found myself falling into that very trap once, and decided to walk away unless something really didn’t stack.

The story of Edinburgh City Council’s refusal of planning permission for a project to introduce a hovercraft service to the Forth seems to be odd enough for me to risk breaking cover, and mentioning.

The service would connect Kirkcaldy and Portobello, and we noted the testing carried out back in 2008: Forth hovercraft could be floating away, when it was reported that a trial service operated in 2007 had attracted some 32,000 passengers, and near complete approval rendering it “an unqualified success”.

Despite this, and the fact that permission for a terminal at Fife has been granted, Edinburgh’s council has torpedoed the project.

Even stranger is the report of continued wide support from potential users for the service, that Fife councillors have been prepared to criticise the Edinburgh councillors’ decision, and that the support transport partnership SEStran (South East Scotland Transport Partnership, Travel Planning & Strategy) was also snubbed.

The project has, or had, been actively pursued for at least four years (since 2007 but would no doubt have been conceived earlier), but unless something surprising happens, is now dead, as the company behind the service has post patience, and said there will not be an appeal:

Stagecoach Group chief executive Sir Brian Souter said: “This has been a long and painful process. We are completely scunnered and have no intention of appealing against the planning decision.”


Stagecoach said it continues to support a proposed passenger ferry between Burntisland, Fife and Granton, Edinburgh. Stagecoach said it was prepared to put £7m into the project in a joint venture with Bland Group.

BBC News – Council ‘kills off’ hovercraft plan for Firth of Forth

Souter ‘scunnered’ as council rejects Forth hovercraft plan | Edinburgh and East | STV News

(The pic’s a shipwreck – royalty free pics of wrecked hovercraft are as easy to find as hen’s teeth!)


December 10, 2011 Posted by | Civilian, council, Transport | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Heating oil crisis?

Oil drum barrelIt looks as if heating oil became a source of panic and crisis over the recent cold spell, and it looks as if there were two causes. What seems to be less clear is whether or not there had to be.

We used to have oil-fired central heating, then the price of oil went up… and it had to go. In its heyday, we consumed the contents of a 600 gallon tank (600 UK gallons = 2,728 litres) such that we had to have it filled twice a year, sometimes maybe three times. That doesn’t mean we emptied it every time, rather we never allowed it to reach a level such that we were not ready for winter, and some crisis in supply.

I think it’s maybe called something like ‘Planning ahead’, or ‘Accepting responsibility for yourself’, or maybe even both.

Regardless, we understood we were not on any sort of fixed supply line like gas or electricity that was not down to us to maintain, and recognised that we were responsible for having heating oil in place, with a contingency in reserve. If we froze, then there was only one party responsible, and all we had to do was look in the mirror to find out who.

That’s why I have little or no sympathy for those referred to in this report about heating oil. To use one of the words of the complainants, the only ‘outrageous’ thing I can see it that they seem to expect sympathy for either for failing to plan for their own security, or have tried to play at price brinkmanship with the suppliers, and got caught out.

In any event, had they not all waited until the last minute, there would have been no ‘shortage’, or need for the Scottish Government to describe deliveries totalling 1.8 million litres that arrived by ship to Inverness and Aberdeen on December 20 as ‘vital’.

I guarantee they won’t learn, and there will be a new batch of non-planners and price-gamblers ready to provide another ‘oil crisis’ headline next year.


More serious in deserving of sympathy are those who find themselves affected by theft. They didn’t have a choice – and since they must have had enough oil in their tanks to make it worth stealing, are also the ones who acted responsibly and were ready for the cold.

Thefts of heating oil from properties in parts of the Highlands rose during the prolonged period of bad weather last year, police have said.

In a report, Northern Constabulary said domestic oil tanks may also have been targeted because of the current financial climate.

Thefts were reported in Ross and Cromarty and Lochaber.

They have done nothing wrong, but find themselves without oil and heating when they need it most, thanks to the attention of the lowest rubbish that we have to share space with, and are happy to indulge in potentially life-threatening crimes simply for their own personal gain. I doubt any of the thefts were for personal use.

Thinking back, our tank would probably have been relatively safe from such an attack. Being large, it was made from substantial steel plate, and was plumbed in to a remote filling point (so could not be back-syphoned. Even full, it made a noise like thunder of bumped. I can think of a couple of way it could have been stolen from, but these could also have been secured fairly simply.

Modern tanks seem to particularly vulnerable. They are smaller and lighter, and seem to have more vulnerable fittings. There also seems to be a tendency to fit them closer to the road for easy access, to make things easier for the delivery driver. Unfortunately, that makes it easier for anyone to get to.

We didn’t realise how glad we were to see our oil-fired system go when we could replace it with gas. For one thing, it was more reliable, cleaner, and didn’t smell, and it was only after a year or two we came to realise that the old system has been the source of an extremely fine black soot that was barely noticeable, but had been coating everything for years.

< a title=”BBC News – Heating oil prices: Your stories” href=”” target=”_blank”>BBC News – Heating oil prices: Your stories</a>

January 25, 2011 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The lost projects of 2009

I suppose I could write this blog entry every year, but this seem to be the first time I’ve consciously had to make the decision to forget numerous ideas that I had set to one side, intending to pick them up in a few days or weeks time, after dealing with more important matters.

Some have lapsed simply because they weren’t particularly interesting, or well thought out, so had little future, and this is something to be expected. With staff, these can be farmed out together with orders and instructions for their completion, but when there’s only one of you, that’s not an option.

There is an upside, and in many cases the subject is not time dependent, and can be resurrected at some later date, and maybe even receive better treatment, as new information becomes available.

On the downside, developments may overtake things, as happened in the following example, where the CCTV explosion meant that an article which began with, at most, a few dozen subjects (the cameras), ended up with well over a hundred, and simply became impractical.

A case in point

One in particular has stuck with me, because it was a bit of a favourite I had been looking forward to completing, but the sheer amount of time needed to complete it meant it became impractical and would never be seen. However,  the reason for its demise is still worth thinking about (for a few minutes, at least).

As I walk to and fro from the two main shopping centres I use, I had come to notice that the number of CCTV cameras had steadily grown, and included both public and private installations, and these contained various qualities of camera, from the cheap and cheerful, to the fully automated pan, tilt, and zoom types. The original plan had just been to collect pics of all the cameras on the route – a total of some seven or eight miles – and post them all online in the order they were encountered, together with any relevant notes.

This started out on a fairly casual basis over a period of weeks, and became extended when I realised that it was easy to miss one camera while studying another, and I found I had to repeat the exercise a few times in order to mop up those that had been missed on earlier walks. This was the fatal flaw, and over that time I found that not only were cameras being added, others were being removed, so I was aiming at a moving target.

The real killer was when I sat down one evening and flicked through the collection in order to see how the cameras could best be picked out and displayed, and how many of them merited some sort of comment. After the revisits and updates, I found that the number of pics had passed the one hundred mark, and many of these contained more than one camera if a commercial site had been picture. Had I been merely uploading to pics to something like Flickr then there would have been little problem, but also little explanation along with the pics. When I did the math, and worked out the time to edit the pics for use, correct the exposure in cases where the cameras were mounted in places with poor lighting, assembled them into some sort of relevant order, added text, error-checked, proof-read, etc, etc, etc, this turned into a mini-marathon, and i could have written a book in the time this exercise would have taken to complete.

So, it’s never going to happen, but on the other hand, I do have a fairly complete collection of all the CCTV cameras on the main road through the east end of Glasgow, as seen in 2009.

One of the surprises encountered during the exercise was the disappearance of the rather interesting camera pictured below. This one was notable because it used two separate cameras modules within the one body. For some reason, I could never get a sharp picture of this one, which needed x15 zoom even to catch the detail shown, and even this is cropped from a much larger original. My camera would variously refuse to lock focus, lock but focus poorly (as seen here), and on one occasion insisted on steaming up every time I held it (but it was the middle of winter on that day). After getting home on numerous occasion to find the pic next to useless, I thought this one was jinxed, and I would never capture it.

Clydebridge CCTV camera

These cameras came in various combinations for security use, generally having a low-light or infra-red camera combined with a normal black and white, or colour model, among the various options. Without more detail available, I’m guessing the area around the lenses looks like an infra-red illuminator, to assist with night use. I was going to try something better to get a closer look, but as it’s gone now, that won’t happen.

June 11, 2010 Posted by | Lost, Site News | , , , | Leave a comment

Common sense may be returning to historic development

Old castleAlthough they may be relevant, I don’t see any point in merely dragging up specific examples of poor decisions by bodies such as Historic Scotland. Suffice to say that if one started out on such points scoring, then there would be as many positive as negative examples to be found, and the exercise would be pointless. Throwing stones from a pile of historic rubble is less than productive.

Rather, it might be fairer to say that there is a growing need for some greater degree if flexibility in the application of the rules, and a realisation that demands for authenticity come with a price. That price may be financial, in the case that long dead or dying building methods can be prohibitively expensive if deployed on a large scale under today’s working regulations, or may be material, as delays (or that financial burden) means that otherwise sound historical building are left derelict and abandoned, since no-one can justify the potential high cost of faithful restoration.

It might be argued that while a restoration which makes use of some modern methods and materials may not be 100% faithful to the original, it is better to have a restoration that is not quite 100%, but is a more faithful to the original than a pile of rubble – or a block of modern flats on the same plot.

Speaking during the historic environment debate in the Scottish Parliament, Culture Minister Michael Russell said of Historic Scotland: “Regulation has to become problem-solving. Its task must be to realise full value of historic assets rather than getting involved in the business that allows them to be seen as an obstacle to progress.” He carried on to say that the public agency should not be seen as an “obstacle” to progress, but that this did not simply mean it would agree to everything an owner proposed.

It sounds as if this is a call for some old-fashioned common sense to be introduced, which can surely only be of benefit to both the people and the buildings at risk. It would also seem that the minister has fired a warning shot to the sort of developer who merely wishes to convert a significant building into modern flats. We can only watch the news over the next few years, and see what sort of stories the media latch on to, or not.

November 12, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , | Leave a comment

Another wind farm sunk

No wind farmI had been considering dropping all references to wind farms. There have been a few schemes proposed near me (by which I mean not in my back yard, but within say 50 miles radius), and because these were half-baked ideas, parachuted into beauty spots, I didn’t mind writing about them in relatively non-neutral negative terms. However, I began to think this was giving me the appearance of being against wind farms, which is not the case, although I would be happy to be classed as being against wind power, provided this was understood as being against not the principle, but the blind adoption of wind power as if it was some sort of miracle answer to renewable energy requirements, which it clearly is not. And there’s a world of difference between expressing a negative opinion, and fostering a negative campaign.

That said, wind farm news is back in, since I merely note how it is progressing. If current news is generally about refusals at the moment, that’s not under my control, and the balance will surely be redressed in future, as approvals are bound to feature more frequently, as developers get the message and propose their installations in more appropriate locations where they cause less offence and potential harm.

WPR Wind Ltd first applied for permission in 2005 to build the 14-turbine Stacain wind farm, near Inveraray, back in 2005, but the plan has now been refused after Scottish ministers decided it would pose a threat to golden eagles. A public inquiry was held after objections from Scottish Natural Heritage and RSPB Scotland, and ministers agreed that “wind turbines would introduce a risk of collision for golden eagles”.

The decision was welcomed by Andy Robinson, RSPB Scotland conservation officer for Argyll and Bute, who said, “We need more wind farms but not at any cost to the natural environment… We must deliver much needed renewable energy where it doesn’t harm Scotland’s most precious wildlife.”

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

Wind farm bribery

No wind farmI keep getting told there’s no such thing as subsidies where wind farms are concerned, yet the evidence always seems to contradict this.

Just because a payment or handout doesn’t have the official title “Subsidy” stamped on it doens’t mean that it isn’t (a subsidy).

Renewable Obligation Certificates are handed out to developers on the basis of the generation capacity they install, costing them nothing (funded by the government/taxes) and which can be traded.

Renewable Obligation Certificates (or ROCs) store details of how electricity was generated, who generated it, and who eventually used it. Since April 2002 all UK licensed electricity suppliers have been obliged to obtain a proportion of the electricity they sell from a selection of eligible renewable sources such as wind and solar power. For every 1,000 units (1 MWh) of green electricity an energy company generates they receive one ROC. A company that generates more than its renewable obligation can sell ROCs to energy suppliers who have failed to meet their RE obligation. In this way power companies are financially motivated to invest in renewable energy generation projects.

Back in 2004, a large electricity provider that likes to promote wind power used to refer to the subsidies they received for building wind farms, they even had a statement on their web site to the effect that the money was so good, they were able to install wind farms on remote and difficult to access sites they would never have considered otherwise.

Unfortunately, the adverse publicity that has arisen around the squeezing of wind farms onto easier to access sites in recent years has led to purging of such content from wind farm owners’ web sites, so without a proper reference to back up the quote, I can no longer refer to it formally, or dare name the provider.

However, there is a current story rumbling along, where the proposed Black Craig wind farm opposite Rothesay Bay has already been rejected Argyll and Bute Council.

Argyll Windfarms has offered to donate £64,000 per year towards community projects on Bute, provided their scheme is granted planning permission.

It would seem that as well as subsidies no longer being called subsidies, the same is true in of payments made to sweeten an otherwise unpalatable deal.

Argyll Windfarms have said they will set up a “community benefit” fund of £160,000 per annum to last the 25 year life of the Black Craig turbines, if Scottish Ministers overturn the refusal decision of Argyll and Bute Council. The amount appears to be dependent on the installed capacity, and amounts to £5,000 per MW by the 16 planned turbines. If the number of turbines is reduced, the community may be penalised as there may be a reduction in the proposed benefit.

Speaking for the Bute Community Council, one member has said that there is little doubt that the money could benefit the community, but that it is not likely to bring about a dramatic change in in the opinion of those who object to the wind farm on the basis of environmental issues, visual impact, or its effect on tourism.

If I wanted to, and I don’t, I wouldn’t have to try and give wind farms a bad name nowadays – their developers can do it all on their own.

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

People see off Pollok Park fiasco

Pollok Park protest

Pollok Park protest

I had been looking at some past stories the other day, and wondered if the story of Glasgow City Council apparently doing its own thing in order to parachute a Go-Ape treetop adventure playground into Pollok Park had gone away, regardless of strong objections and a large campaign against the facility by those living nearby, and concerned for abuse of the park, with respect to the terms laid out by the family which gifted it to the city (not the councillors).

It seems not, and the plan is now history.

The Go-Ape facility was given the go-ahead by councillors in March of last year, despite the active campaign against it, after the made a visit to the site and held a special meeting. It would have seen platforms and zip slides installed into the trees near the Burrell Collection, but the company behind the scheme is now reported to have pulled out.

Go-Ape is reported to have said that the the venture is too expensive to pursue further.

One significant point worthy of note was the the Scottish Government’s decision not to call in the plan or issue any restrictions after it was referred to Scottish ministers because the council had a financial interest in it. Despite the objections of the protesters, it simply handed the complete decision to the local council.

Robert Booth, Glasgow City Council’s executive director of land services, said: “Obviously we regret Go Ape’s decision not to proceed with their facility at Pollok Park. Our main objective was to secure an additional attraction for park users at no cost or financial risk to the council.”

Save Pollok Park said it was “delighted” with the decision of Go Ape to abandon its plans. A spokesman added: “However, the council’s failure to consult and respond to the real legal and operational issues resulted in over two years of unnecessary work and a waste of taxpayers’ money which could have been avoided. We call for a detailed inquiry into the council’s futile posturing and mishandling of the Go Ape affair.”

Although the plan may have been sunk, there may yet be an aftermath.

Image from Save Pollok Park web site.

June 14, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ministers reject Corlarach Hill wind farm appeal

No wind farmWhile I like to try and provide a sort of balanced review of renewables, but happily admit to shoving yesterday’s dated, knee-jerk, wind farm technology to the bottom of the pile in favour of most hydro based systems (and don’t want to venture into exotic systems that won’t bear fruit for many years), I can’t hide my delight at the recent news that an appeal by West Coast Energy Ltd against Argyll and Bute Council’s refusal of plans to build a 14 turbine wind farm on Corlarach Hill, facing directly onto Rothesay Bay, was dismissed after ministers decided that the project did not meet established guidelines set out by environmental legislation.

Formal opposition to the development dates back to January, when concerns about the plan were aired during a public inquiry held in Dunoon.

Full details of the reasoning behind the decision, by Scottish Government reporter William Patterson, are still to be released.

Philip Norris, from the Dunoon and Cowal Marketing Group, who was a key witness at the appeal said: “I am obviously delighted, and I think all the people in Bute and Cowal will be very relieved. The right place for a large wind farm is where the landscape is featureless, not here, where the landscape quality is important for tourism. By rejecting that proposal, their decision corresponds to the established guidelines set by the government. Common sense has prevailed.”

While this should mark the end of the road for the Corlarach Hill proposal, its seems there is still another appeal under inquiry, with regard to a 16-turbine installation on Black Craig, directly north of Corlarach, by Argyll Windfarms Ltd.

BREAKING NEWS: Ministers reject wind farm appeal

Corlarach Hill plans dismissed after inquiry
Published Date:
28 May 2009
PLANS for a 14-turbine wind farm on Corlarach Hill in Cowal, directly facing Rothesay Bay, have been rejected by Scottish ministers.
An appeal by West Coast Energy Ltd against Argyll and Bute Council’s refusal of the plans was dismissed after ministers decided that the project did not meet established guidelines set out by environmental legislation.

Further details of the reaso

ning behind the decision, by Scottish Government reporter William Patterson, have yet to be released.

News of the decision, which was announced on Thursday, will delight those who have opposed the construction of the wind farm, and who voiced their concerns about the plans during a public inquiry in Dunoon back in January.

“I am obviously delighted, and I think all the people in Bute and Cowal will be very relieved,” said Philip Norris, from the Dunoon and Cowal Marketing Group, who was a key witness

“The right place for a large wind farm is where the landscape is featureless, not here, where the landscape quality is important for tourism.

“By rejecting that proposal, their decision corresponds to the established guidelines set by the government.

“Common sense has prevailed.”

An inquiry report into a similar appeal for a 16-turbine installation on Black Craig, directly north of Corlarach, by Argyll Windfarms Ltd is still being compiled.

May 30, 2009 Posted by | Civilian, council | , , , | Leave a comment

Paddy’s Market traders swept aside – maybe

Being fairly uninterested in anything political, I’ve never really bothered about the local stories that suggest you better not try and get in the way of Glasgow Council if it’s set its mind on something, especially if it’s a pie it might happen to have its finger in, and just dismissed them as the grumblings of a few malcontents.

I may be wrong.

Currently, the council is intent on leasing part of Pollok Park, an area gifted to the city (ie not to the council for it to lease for gain), to a private venture and allowing ‘High Wire Forest Adventure’ operator Go Ape to create one of its aerial assault courses and walkway in a secluded area of the country park’s woodland. The council has a clear financial interest, and surprisingly has voted in favour of the development, despite much local opposition and little support.

The council is also intent on sweeping away Paddy’s Market from its home on a site leased from Network Rail, too close to the city’s High Court, and described by the council as a “crime hot spot”. An executive committee has approved a report on the future of Paddy’s Market, by 13 votes to 4 – the report recommended that the council take over the lease of Shipbank Lane with a rent of £100,000 per year, and stated that the council could “positively raise the profile of the area over the next five years” and possibly operate a new market and arts-related development. It means the authority can now go-ahead with plans to regenerate the area around the lane, which the council has described as a “crime hot spot”.

The local SNP councillor voted against the plan, saying “Traders must be given the opportunity to negotiate new sub-lets with the council before their leases with Network Rail are terminated.”

The traders don’t want to be thrown out, those that work there don’t want to be thrown out, those that buy and sell there don’t want to lose the place (and just because the council call it a “crime hot spot” doesn’t mean it is), but some sort of trendy arts-related development near the re-vamped Glasgow Green would bring in bigger wallets, and make it easier to have a swipe at The Barras in a few years, and take that area more up-market too, to take advantage of the tidy-up there, and the re-siting of the Doulton Fountain.


The above was being rattled together in spare moments while I was fighting with our recent server move.

Having had a quick scout around for any new information, I discovered a web site devoted to the whole affair, which I hadn’t seen appear during earlier searches, and which reports that the there may be a U-turn in the plans, and that they may be prepared to incorporate the current and legitimate traders – maybe.

There’s on online petition on the Save Paddy’s Market web site.

And an article and video news item on

September 19, 2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Scottish Government runs away from Pollok Park problem

Pollock Park protest

Pollok Park protest

The Scottish Government has declined to become involved in the matter of plans to create a controversial tree top adventure course in Pollok Park, home of the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, and a spokesman has stated that: “The council has been authorised deal with the application in the manner it thinks fit.”

Operator Go-Ape want to install platforms and zip slides in the trees near the collection, and the scheme was referred to Scottish ministers because the council has a financial interest in the venture – and had passed the application for the installation, despite strong local opposition to the proposal.

Campaigners against the scheme say they will now look towards mounting a legal challenge, on the basis that Glasgow City Council has no right to grant a lease (for 21 years) in Pollok Park, which was gifted to the city.

The countryside park with superb walled gardens and woodland walks was once part of the Old Pollok estate, and the ancestral home of the Maxwell Family for seven centuries. In 1966, the parkland and house was gifted to the City of Glasgow by the family, together with the remainder of the estate, used for farming and recreation purposes such as golf

Image from Save Pollok Park web site, where you can find further information about the campaign to save the park.

September 4, 2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concern about Welsh and English coastal access bills

Portmeirion - coastal village and fee-charging attraction

Portmeirion - coastal village and fee-charging attraction

Regular readers will have noticed that I often refer to the Scottish Open Access Code, and hopefully also notice that I generally draw readers’ attention to the fact that it bestows both right and responsibilities on the land owner and the land user. So far, it seems to have gone well since its recent introduction, and most the of the “Geroffmyland” types have been treated appropriately be its enforcement. As far as I can see, and I’d be pleased to receive any links with examples I’ve missed, there have been no reports in the media about any corresponding cases involving offensive land users.

I keep a watching eye on Wales too (visitors will know a Scot could be forgiven for getting lost there) as I have a long term attachment to the Italianate village of Portmeirion, created by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. The village occupies a sizeable estate which includes a significant section of coastline, charges a fee for visitor access, and attracts some 220,000 visitors through its gates each year.

The Assembly government is considering a move to force free-for-all rights of access to land around the Welsh coast. Last week the it abandoned plans to launch coastal access consultations. Instead it will seek similar coastal access powers as the Westminster government, which wants to implement a coastal corridor in England via the draft Marine and Coastal Access Bill, it will then relaunch consultations on how the powers are applied, including possible exemptions. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see how a badly formed plan could deliver damaging side-effects together with its potential benefits.

While you may wonder at why I would alert you to events in Wales and England, it should be remembered that the Scottish Open Access Code followed the introduction of the same legislation south of the border, made simpler (to some extent) by the availability of maps showing Rights of Way, something which Scotland just never had. (And please, no repetition of that silly Urban Myth of there being no trespass law in Scotland, there is, and it’s a civil wrong, not criminal offence. End of.)

If this coastal corridor, or free-for-all right of access to land around the Welsh coast, and the English Marine and Coastal Access Bill come into being, there’s no reason to assume that the Scottish Government won’t jump onto the same bandwagon, or be pressured into introducing legislation which effectively give the Welsh and English more rights of access than the Scots.

Each of the the nations that make up this island have distinctly different coasts, different in formation, population, use, history, and in the visitors they attract, and if we assume that this legislation will ultimately arrive, it has to be formed correctly, or it will do as much harm as it can do good.

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

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