The King is Dead. Long Live the King. But there are some less familiar conundrums around.
At its AGM on 3rd April 2013 at the Royal Northern Yacht Club, as recorded on its website, the hill climb club, Friends of The Rest, has taken the only constitutional decision open to it and decided to disband.
The Friends of the Rest was established to raise funds to resurface the Old Military Road through Glen Croe to enable the traditional hill climbs held by itself and a range of other motorsport clubs.
The recent work done by Transport Scotland to make this road usable as an emergency diversion route for convoyed traffic when the unreliable A83 is closed with landslides has delivered the conditions to the road that the Friends came into existence to bring about.
With public money at its disposal in contrast to the Friends’ need to work to raise money the slow way, Transport Scotland spent a hot £4 million, £3 million above its original estimate and got the job done too late for the winter. It was supposed to have been ready by November 2o12. It was tested for later opening on 25th February 2013 – a fairly classic public sector operation, over budget and over time.
However – the members resent at the Friends AGM agreed to a position statement that they should wind up and distribute their assets according to their constitution. The club decided that the Scottish Motorsport Marshals Club was a good cause and an appropriate charity to receive their assets.
That agreed, members turned to the future.
These guys primarily come together to own, maintain, tune and race classic sporting cars – preferably up steep hills with dizzyingly tight turns – like The Rest’s famous ‘Hairpin’. We have been as guilty as any of miscalling this turn. It is not ‘The Devil’s Elbow’. It is ‘The Hairpin’; and the left turn into the hill straight up to the Hairpin is ‘The Cobbler’.
It was inconceivable that they would just quietly go their separate ways.
They had been doing other hill climbs in the area – in Glen Shira – and agreed that this had been hugely satisfactory.
They agreed to, as they put it in their published minutes, ‘morph’ into the Argyll Sporting Car Club and look at more events in Glen Shira and at some other tasty locations in Argyll. When the new club is ready to roll, all members of the Friends will be invited to join it.
The omens are good.
Clarifications from the Chair
In his Chairman’s Report and with the landowner present, John Buchanan said that: ‘At a very recent meeting between two committee members and the private landowners it was made very clear by the private landowners that FOTR had no further role to play regarding the newly refurbished road.’
This sounded like a brush off to a group whose efforts had, over the years, kept this well built and historic old military road maintained, operable and in the public consciousness.
This explicit redundancy underlined the pointlessness of the Friends of The Rest carrying on and fuelled the agreement to disband.
Noting that: ‘As a Committee, we were excluded from all decision making discussions both during the planning and construction phases of the upgrading process’, Mr Buchanan apologised for the committee’s consequent inability to keep members informed on progress since they could only glean information from accounts published in the media.
He went on to summarise the current position with the road, informing members that the Forestry Commission not the private landowner, holds the ownership rights to the access sections of the old road, at both ends.
Specifically he described the position now as being that: ‘The 4km long Old Military Road leaves the A83 at the lower entrance to Glen Croe and passes through approximately 1km of Forestry Commission land as far as the Roadman’s Cottage to what is known as the bottom gate. The road then travels along the bottom of the Glen on the private landowners land for 2.6km up to what is known as the top gate which is situated just past Cobbler Bend. The remaining 0.4km of road, from the top gate up the Hairpin approach, the actual Hairpin and the top car park also belongs to the Forestry Commission.’
Practically, this means that the private landowner’s permission to access his land is meaningless unless permission is first sought from the Forestry Commission who control the access sections to the private landowner’s demesne.
However, Mr Buchanan reassured member that he had spoken to the Forestry Commission and that they will consider requests for access through their land for events. He asked members to note that the Commission need:
- two to three weeks notice prior to the planned event taking place;
- and the following documentation: 1 Forestry Access Map, 2 Event Documentation, 3 A risk assessment of the event, 4 Third Party Insurance Documentation.
The Chair also noted that, according to the motoring press, the private landowner had ‘indicated a willingness to consider requests from motoring organisations for access to the refurbished road for events’.
All fine and dandy but this rather opens up a conundrum.
The ‘negotiating’ and the conundrum
Who now owns the actual and massively refurbished old road?
It has taken £4 million of public money to get this road into its current condition. The landowner has already got money in return for works access to do the upgrading and, presumably to cover emergency access for A83 traffic.
There was a distasteful period when the landowner took advantage of Transport Scotland’s foolishness, in a manner that could be described diplomatically as adopting a tough negotiating position.
Not unreasonably impatient at the landowner’s delaying tactics in negotiation, Transport Scotland had naively gone ahead and done much of the necessary work on the top and bottom sections of the road, owned by the Forestry Commission, who were very cooperative.
This left everybody aware – with the landowner as First Amongst Equals in this – that this premature action had handed him a fat hostage to fortune, which he did not hesitate to deploy.
Negotiations went on and on and on – and eventually Transport Scotland paid. The eye-watering overspend on the original estimate is popularly thought to reflect, in part, the landowner’s acuity and Transport Scotland’s naivety.
However, one has to assume that there is a contract which specifies the ownership of the road rebuilt with public money and the ownership of the rights to use that road.
The landowner will own the land below the road and below its supporting system of laybys and vehicle parks to ensure that when it is in use as a diversion route, emergency services vehicles can get through against or past a moving convoy.
But who owns the road itself and its supporting facilities and who owns the right to permit usage?
Could all of this simply have been given to the landowner as well as the fees he extracted from Transport Scotland? Surely not.
It would be interesting, though, to know the details of quite what ‘Judgment of Solomon’ division of rights has been agreed in this complex situation.
For the future, we look forward to grappling with the heather to get the camera into position to record the thrills of the inaugural run of the Argyll Sporting Car Club on a hill climb up Glen Shira.
We wish ‘Live long and prosper’ to the new club – the Vulcan salute from Star Trek – with the engines of most of the beasts they tear up hills in sounding very like the awesome WWII delta wing Vulcan bombers.