Visitor Management around Ardentinny Beach – Report on Public Meeting

On Thursday 1 April Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) held an open online meeting with the Ardentinny community, the context of which is as follows.                                                                                                                                                                   
The FLS – owned, designated picnic site at Ardentinny beach has been unofficially used as a campsite over several years, attracting its fair share of anti-social behaviour. Last year, post first lockdown, the situation became critical. There were in excess of 84 encampments in cramped conditions with insufficient facilities, no protocols in place for social distancing or visitor data collection, and no on-site management.
Community consultation
In October 2020, in response to local objections and representations from our MSP and other officials, FLS engaged in a community consultation on a variety of proposals for the area. The community heard nothing further until it received a letter at the end of March 2021 outlining a proposed planning application for visitor management around Ardentinny beach and announcing Thursday’s meeting to discuss it.
FLS plans
Approximately 40 people attended online and by phone. Stuart Chalmers, FLS Regional Visitor Services Manager opened the meeting and began a visual presentation of their proposals. He stressed the purpose of the meeting was to give the community the opportunity to look at FLS plans for the 2021 visitor season, for which they are about to submit a planning application, and to invite questions and receive comments for consideration. However, it was not a forum to present objections. There will be an opportunity to do so to The National Park (NP) after the planning application has been submitted.
He highlighted that one of the key pressures among the 15 visitor sites within the NP was that of antisocial behaviours associated with camping in Ardentinny. There were also other issues such as irresponsible parking; litter; damage from fires and they fully expect this year to present a similar level of problems. As a result, FLS had made a commitment to the NP that they would look at site design and review in terms of how they could improve it and try and reduce some of last year’s problems. 
First, they have already invested just under £15.000 to improve the water supply to the existing toilets to provide extra capacity and improve reliability. 
Improved signage

They are also looking at improving their signage to try and assist visitors. The draft example shown addressed fires, litter, dogs, noise and overnight parking. On this they have been working closely with the NP and other national agencies and so include the national strapline ‘Scotland-it’s all ours to care for’ to indicate that they are following responsible tourism guidance moving forward.

Improved signage draft.

Proposed changes to existing site
Stuart went on to describe the proposed changes to the existing beach site. The plan is to cut it in half so that one half will accommodate cars. A gate will divide the loop so that the far away section will be a dedicated picnic area. A secondary loop will also be created to enable cars accessing the disabled toilet to have an adjacent disabled parking area. The existing car park area will be scraped to improve it and, to tackle the issue of irresponsible parking, bunds will be strategically placed to prevent parking on the grass. A gate will be installed to protect parking for the bowling club and they will do work on the potholes on the access road to the bridge.

Proposed changes.

Planning Application
Stuart then referred to their plans to submit a planning application. He commented on the growth in camping at the beach over the years and the fact that, as things stand, they are not empowered to control it. However, if they proactively operate a campsite, they can control the number of campers; where, how, and how long they camp; and importantly they can charge a fee which would allow FLS to employ supervisory staff. Therefore they are proposing to have two sites. The first at the top half of the loop at the beach where there will be picnicking and the second in a field (known as The Nursery Field) between the caravan park and the beach.

Proposed changes.

On the original beach site alongside the designated picnicking section, there would be camping pitches and a campers’ car park while the second site in the “Nursery field’ would have temporary hard-standing for parking and Portaloos to the right of the access road and the camping pitches would be at the bottom area of the field and would connect to the path for beach access. They plan to have 20 pitches on each site.

Proposed ‘Nursery Field’ campsite.

Campervans – Stay the night
Due to the high demand for staycations the Scottish government has approved a 3 year temporary change to legislation whereby suitable car parks no longer require planning permission and local authority licensing to accommodate self-contained campervans. Therefore, based on a campervan trial undertaken elsewhere last year, FLS is planning to offer a Stay the Night option to campervans turning up. If there is available space, they then pay and stay the night. Their plan is to have a number of these sites across the NP and Ardentinny is one of them.

Stay the Night campervan signage. 
Sallochy Campsite
Much reference was made to the FLS campsite at Sallochy on Loch Lomond by way of example of how the Ardentinny sites might be run. It is open from 1 March to 31 October, has ten central camping pitches and 10 Lochside pitches with a 3 night maximum stay. Each pitch permits 2 tents with a maximum of 4 people. Bookings must be made 48 hours in advance and no group bookings are accepted. There are composting toilets and a cold water sink for drinking and dishwashing. Fires are permitted only in fire pits available for rent with wood available for purchase. Local by-laws preclude the public consumption of alcohol. Charges are £7 per adult per night rising to £8 May-August, Children aged 5-16 are £1 per night and under 5s go free with car parking costing £3 per day. Thus providing affordably attractive rates for families while potentially earning approximately £100,000 per season.
Stuart highlighted the fact that by having an online booking system they know in advance who will be camping. They have the ability to control fires; they provide guidance on noise and wardens welcome visitors and explain the site rules, all contributing  to a more respectful stay by visitors. They therefore consider that, by taking this proactive step, it should go some way to improving the situation for all concerned.
Questions from the floor
The meeting was then opened up to questions. Representations were made by The Village Hall and Bowling Club committees and both Ardentinny and Kilmun Community Councils in addition to several questions and observations made by local residents and homeowners.
Dismay was expressed at why it had taken FLS so long to come up with these proposals which now needed to be rushed through with the holiday season already upon us. Similarly questions were asked as to why they bore no relation to the ideas proposed in the FLS October consultation. Stuart explained that the earlier consultation referred to a longer term solution while these were an urgent response to the current situation.
A caller expressed the view that it appeared they were trying to rush the pre-application consultation and that there were people in the village without access to the online presentation who should have the facts and time to consider them and respond. FLS was of the view that the application needed to go in quickly if there was to be a benefit this year and that the time to respond was after the planning application had been submitted. The caller also posited that Sallochy was a poor comparison to make as it is four miles from the nearest village which has many facilities while the proposed sites are no distance from Ardentinny which has no facilities.
Booking system & Test & Trace
Another caller asked about a booking system and whether there would be any test and trace procedures in place. Apparently test and trace procedures are not a requirement in campsites but as they would have a pre-booking system, visitor details would be available in any event. However, there is no booking required for the campervan ‘Stay the Night’ proposal.
Out of hours security
There were a number of residents concerned about who would turn ’no reservation’ visitors away at night as wardens would not be present 24/7. Apparently FLS has approval for an extra 2 Park rangers for Cowal with a focus on Ardentinny and will have some later patrols which they will coordinate with the NP and Police Scotland. However, if no-one is present and they do not leave, a call should be made to the police or alternatively call the 24/7 FLS duty officer who can relay the matter to Police Scotland. Also, in response to the concern that the field is large enough to accommodate any number of campers just turning up, Stuart clarified by saying the camping area would be fenced off and there would be livestock on the remainder of the field.
Antisocial behaviour
There were painfully relatable accounts of theft from and damage to gardens and intimidating late night disturbance  from residents nearest the beach and again the response was that it is a criminal issue and therefore a police matter. The advice is to report all incidents as, despite possible late reactions initially, they will all be logged and, as they accumulate, can help the police justify allocating more resources to the problem. Stuart also offered to arrange for Steve Gillen, Cowal Community and Education Ranger to meet with the owners of Dalrymple House to discuss possible solutions to the problems they encounter.
There was a suggestion that byelaws to prevent drinking on site might be worth considering. Stuart responded by saying that FLS currently has no byelaws. They could consider having a no alcohol policy on the sites but that would not be enforceable by the police. Alternatively, the community could consider putting an alcohol ban in place with the local authority. This would need to be a community decision as it would also affect where residents can drink.
Road safety & environmental impact
There were additional concerns raised about road safety; the environmental impact, of which no assessment is required for a temporary planning permission; working hours and training of site staff;  and the potential doubling of a problem by having an additional site.
Hypothetical questions
The following hypothetical questions were posed:
Q. If the community overwhelmingly rejects the proposal will it go ahead?
A. No, as planning permission is required in order to proceed.
Q.  If one site is granted permission and the other not, will one go ahead?
A. Yes.
Q. What will happen if the the proposal is rejected?
A.  There won’t be wardens regularly on site but there would still be extra rangers coming to the site.
Improved signage would be installed. 
Bunding would still go ahead to rectify uncontrolled parking.
The ‘Stay the Night’ camper van proposal would probably still go ahead as it doesn’t require a planning application.
Stuart summarised by saying that the proposal was intended to help the current situation but if the community rejects it, it will not go ahead.
At a time when society has been kept in a virtual pressure cooker for almost a year, there is a need for folk to escape. To rest, relax, breathe and enjoy – safely! Do these proposals facilitate that while preserving and protecting our local environment? 
A pre-application will be sent to the Park “next week”  after which a full application will be submitted to Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Planning Authority where you can study the detail and also express your views on the proposals prior to a decision being taken. Advice on how to view and comment on planning applications can be found here . 
Please note that the Public Access website where you can view and comment on planning applications will not be available from 16:00 on Friday 2 April until 17:00 on Friday 9 April due to an essential scheduled upgrade.Statutory notification and consultation periods during these dates will be extended. 
Images courtesy Forestry and Land Scotland.
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