Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Halt the destruction of Argyll's most precious asset

At a meeting of the planning committee on 11 March Argyll & Bute Council approved an application by a local landowner who resides in far-away Devon for the speculative building of two large houses on the sensitive area of open countryside on the East side of the Kames peninsula, in an area designated, according to the Council's own published local plan, as an "Area of Panoramic Quality." This happened at the same time as Visit Scotland published its contribution to the Surprise Yourself 2011 campaign, in which the scenery of Argyll is a major feature.

In terms of the local plan areas such as this are protected by policy ENV 10, which states "Development in, or adjacent to, an Area of Panoramic Quality will be resisted where its scale, location or design will have a significant adverse impact on the character of the landscape unless it is demonstrated that any significant adverse effects on the quality for which the area has been designated are clearly outweighed by social and economic benefits of National or regional importance." The Council goes on to explain "The aim of this policy is to provide panoramically important landscapes in Argyll and Bute, with adequate protection against damaging development. ...These areas are important not only for their physical landforms and for the flora and fauna, which they support, but also for the environmental assets that they represent. These qualities could easily be destroyed or damaged by even a relatively small, insensitive development. They therefore must be protected."

This was the first permission to be granted on the Kames Peninsula since 1992, when one house was allowed on the basis of occupational need in the face of total opposition by the then Council's planning officers and strong objection from local residents. A factor was that the site was at least partially hidden behind a rocky knoll. In 2011 the planning policies have different numbers, but the wording remains basically the same. If anything people are probably more aware now than ever before of the value of our landscape, not just for enjoyment, but as an economic resource, in fact our main asset.

At the time I thought that the decision on 11 March was a local aberration, then I read in the Oban Times of 24 March that an application has been allowed for the construction of 22 new houses at Barran, Kilmore, a community of 32 existing houses. There the applicable planning policies were different but the result was the same, speculative development inflicted on a small community against its wishes and in apparent disregard of policies.

These decisions do share another factor, in that they are both within areas identified in the plan as "Potential Development Areas." These were introduced as a concept, I believe, because under previous plans it was virtually impossible for anyone to discover in advance which areas might be available for building purposes. The emphasis was to be on the word "potential", because the plan makes it clear that any development must still comply with the planning policies in force. It states that such sites are those where "opportunities may emerge during the plan period for infill, rounding-off, redevelopment or new development. Such opportunities are not currently fully resolved and issues may require to be overcome in these PDAs before development opportunities within the PDA area can be realised and be supported ..." Because this was taken at face value and so not perceived as a threat at the time it seems that many community councils did little or nothing to prevent these designations occurring.

What appears to be happening in practice is that instead of PDAs being viewed as only potentially developable the Council's planning officers and councillors are seeing them as areas where there is a positive presumption in favour of development and where planning constraints can be ignored. It's almost as if blanket planning permissions in principle have been granted, because in practice it seems that developers see PDAs as a green light and planning officers are readily persuaded to ignore the protection that sites such as Kames deserve. Perhaps PDA should stand for Please Develop Argyll.

Ordinary citizens cannot appeal against the granting of planning consent, but this doesn't mean that we can do nothing. We can try to persuade our councillors to understand the policies they are obliged to uphold and apply them fairly, not just in the interests of speculative developers. I have also set up an online petition, where those who feel as I do can easily add their signatures. It can be found at

Thursday, 24 March 2011

That time again

A week ago, under snow and hail, sailing seemed like madness. Today the boatyard phoned and asked if Stroma will be ready for launching on 1 April, so tomorrow I'll be over to take off the winter cover and decide how little I can get away with this year. 

As readers of my other blog will know (if you aren't reading it please click  here:- ) I spent eight interesting years restoring Stroma after I recovered her from the Scottish Maritime Museum, to whom  I had  naively entrusted her. Since she was relaunched in 2003 I've freshened up the brightwork a couple of times, repainted the decks once and antifouled occasionally, but the topsides paint hasn't been redone. Since we don't have an engine, a toilet, electrics or even an onboard computer system there isn't a lot else to be done. By the way, I have spent time on the mast and rigging, which has to be on form as our only salvation in  all conditions and weathers. I'm absolutely determined that these won't let us down. There's no doubt that when you get an old boat back into prime condition very little needs to be done to keep her there, so I'm hoping I won't find any horrors tomorrow.

There's a strange sort of anxious anticipation that happens every year about now, triggered by days that are sunny but still cold, gentle breezes followed by dense mists (see photo above), boatyard smells of  paint, grease and tar, the skirls of dust and debris around the yard, the chattering of unfrapped hallyards on masts left up all winter by those engined folk who don't feel the need to care about  their ship's reliability under sail and most of all the totally legal highs obtained from inhaling the numerous solvents required in fitting-out (and much more expensive per millilitre than a fine malt, by the way), an odd mixture of approaching joy at getting back on the water, fear of the (to the older fellow) known or (to the younger) unknown hazards such as rocks, submerged debris and other horrors, even in well-kent waters, this anticipation the perfect counterpart of the end of season feelings of relief one feels at having brought an old lady through her eighty-somethingth year on the water mixed with the regret of surrendering up one's sport to approaching winter. 

Well, there we are, Stroma and I both a year older, our range a bit limited, but we'll be on the water in Argyll soon and at least one of us a bit more emotional each year we venture out together.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Red lives again

Great news for lovers of small boats everywhere comes from Britanny.

Chantier Hubert Stagnol has established a reputation for building replicas of classic designs, including Seabird and Fyne, both originally drawn by William Fife III in 1889. For his latest project Mr Stagnol is building a copy of Red, one of the first ever one-design class in the world. By a happy coincidence I recently wrote about the class and its descendants and my post can be viewed by clicking here:- The Clyde 17/19 foot class

At present I don't know what construction method has been chosen for the new Red, but Mr Stagnol's previous efforts have made good use of new technologies. The great thing about a rebuild of an old design is that by using modern materials and glues incredible strength can be built into the structure, ensuring longevity beyond the dreams of the designer. We know that our old masters were quick to embrace whatever technology was available, for example by incorporating metal frames and bracing in composite construction, and we can assume they would have seized the possibilities inherent in strip plank and epoxy construction. Despite their best efforts it remained the case that an owner who wished to remain competitive would have to commission a new yacht every couple of years, because his existing boat would have lost her rigidity. I've written about these issues in some detail on my other blog,

Looking at the half model, above, I suggest that Messrs G L Watson and Chantier Hubert Stagnol have come up with a winner. The hull looks very powerful and seaworthy, and it will need to be to carry that massive rig of the old Clyde luggers.

Of course the great thing about a one-design class has always been that the designer is liberated from a rating rule. As it happens I've also posted about this already, here:-  The designer unconstrained

It seems that nine of these boats were built originally, but none survive. Red seems exactly right for the sort of economical and social sailing that is coming into vogue these days, with classic meetings around the coasts and a general move away from plastic ugliness. It will be great if she soon has some sisters. In case you're tempted I've added both G L Watson and Chantier Hubert Stagnol to my links section.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Birthday of an old Lady

Music on the Wannsee, from a photo by Soenke Hucho
Sailing in another country can produce a lot of surprises. I've greatly enjoyed my visits to the Baltic and have also enjoyed showing our friends from Germany and Sweden what conditions are like in the West coast of Scotland.

Sometimes my excursions have been triggered by quite random events, such as the discovery of the materials in the Mitchell Library that led to the story of the Scottie, about which I wrote in an earlier post.

The Freundeskreis klassiche Yachten translates literally as the "Circle of Friends of classic Yachts, which seems to me a nicer name than "German Classic Yacht Society." Certainly their members have shown me great kindness and friendship, none more so than when I was invited to Berlin to celebrate the Scottie's 100th birthday. A film was produced about the celebrations, which they have now posted here:-  Scottie film

For the small minority of readers who don't understand German (or don't have google) I can offer a translation as follows:-

"The Berlin-based Illusion is now over 100 years old and there is now available a ten minute film with the title "100 year Illusion." The film describes the celebrations over the birthday of an old lady and has some wonderful sequences of the Illusion in action. We naturally want to present members of the Freundeskreis with a shortened and web-enabled version. The producer and cameraman for the original is Joachim Luehning, of ATV Hamburg and the internet version has been done by Jan Lohrengel.

Illusion has been a large part of Hans Heckmann's life. He's been enjoying this boat with countless sailors for over sixty years! Naturally this involvement with the yacht and her history makes up a large part of his life story, as told by the biographer Irene Wahle."

In researching this post I also came across a feature on the celebrations in 2005, as follows,

"Havel Klassik 2005

The competition was very gentle: short courses and lots of prizes, and this time the winner of the keelboat class was the old "seven lengths class" Illusion, ex Scottie, who was also a birthday girl, proudly celebrating her hundredth.

At the garden party one could totally relax. The excellent grill and the bar provided the ingredients for that.  So soothing and pleasant was the expert, live swing band  that everyone was able to chat effortlessly with old friends or quietly look at Soenke Hucho's exhibition of photographs.

On the Sunday the course from the Berlin Yacht Club took place under "Kaiser weather," beautiful sunshine. In her home port Illusion was celebrating her 100th birthday, with musicians from Glasgow in kilts. And again the question was asked, especially appropriate in this heat, are you actually wearing anything underneath?"
I don't want to spoil a lovely story, but if you look at the film you won't see a lot of kilts. I'll take mine next time, though, if I get another invitation.

The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water