The Ramblers’ Association in Scotland says it will not appeal against the court decision which banned the public from a millionaire’s land.
Stagecoach bus magnate Ann Gloag, whose fortune is estimated at £400m, persuaded Sheriff Michael Fletcher to grant her an exclusion from right-to-roam laws at her Kinfauns Castle estate near Perth. However, the Ramblers’ Association (RA) says any appeal could drag on for years and involve massive costs.
They say they will now campaign to have the Land Reform (Scotland) Act strengthened in the Scottish Parliament. The ruling in favour of Mrs Gloag is widely viewed as perverse and campaigners say the sheriff did not understand the law, which is based on Scandinavian models for access.
The convenor for RA Scotland Alison Mitchell, said: “The Scottish Executive Committee of the Ramblers has given very careful consideration to the sheriff’s judgement in this case and its wider implications for implementation of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.
“We have decided not to appeal the judgement but to focus our efforts on bringing some of the issues raised by this court case and others to the attention of members of the Scottish Parliament and others. We think this will be to the overall benefit of all who value the land reform programme in Scotland.
“We thank all those who have given the Ramblers their strong support as we have engaged with the processes arising from this first case in which a court has been asked to determine the extent of access rights.”
Ms Mitchell’s full statement says although Sheriff Fletcher’s determination is not binding on other courts, the worry is that other landowners will be tempted to have their land excluded from the land-reform provisions.
Already, Euan Snowie, another millionaire landowner in Stirlingshire, is appealing against an order to open up his land.
Ms Mitchell said: “We think that, from the point of view of protecting access rights across Scotland as a whole, it is better to raise the relevant issues now, both from the Kinfauns case and other recent disputes, with the Parliament and others. Early action can then be taken to prevent any further undermining of the application of the land reform legislation to Scotland’s land and water.”
Former Labour cabinet minister Lord Smith of Finsbury, himself a mountain walker and Munroist, told a Scottish newspaper that the reasoning for Sheriff Fletcher’s decision was most worrying. Mr Fletcher said Ann Gloag needed extra protection because of her wealth and high profile. Lord Smith told The Herald: “This sounds to me very like one law for the rich and another for the poor; this cannot be right.”
Ms Mitchell said in her statement that the retrospective granting of planning permission for Mrs Gloag’s two-metre-high fence was irregular: “[Perth and Kinross] Council’s decision to give retrospective approval for this fence, while at the same time providing no arrangement whereby the statutory access rights could be exercised within the fence, provided the starting point for this conflict.”
Mrs Gloag had indicated that she wanted to build a swimming pool at Kinfauns and the delay caused top that application by an appeal into the access case would be undesirable, according to the RA.
The association also dismissed criticisms made by the sheriff of its director Dave Morris during an incident at Kinfauns during which police were called. They say officers left the scene and a walk by Mr Morris continued across the estate.
The RA says Scottish right-to-roam legislation is still the envy of many. Ms Mitchell said: “The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 remains a superb achievement of the first Scottish Parliament.
“We will continue to work with land managers, local authorities and other interests to ensure that it provides the people of Scotland with world class opportunities to enjoy our magnificent countryside.”
First Minister Alex Salmond said last month he would wait for the outcome of pending legal judgements before deciding whether reform of the legislation was necessary.