RIGHT-TO-ROAM laws are to be used to force the owner of a Scottish estate to allow a £1 million extension to the Speyside Way to cross his land.
• A 'path order' is being used for the first time to ensure the Speyside Way extension crosses land on Kinrara Estate
The 2003 Land Reform Act will be used to solve a dispute between the owner of 1,100-acre Kinrara Estate near Aviemore and Cairngorm National Park Authority (CNPA) over the route of the extension to the long- distance footpath.
It will be the first time the landmark legislation has been used to force a landowner to allow a path to be built in a particular location on his land.
The existing 60-mile route, popular with walkers for its spectacular scenery, stretches from Spey Bay to Aviemore, but it has been a long-term goal to extend the route to Newtonmore – which means crossing the Kinrara Estate.
The national park is hopeful that the use of the "path order", agreed at a board meeting yesterday, will enable the extension – 13 years in the planning – to be built finally.
Although 11 other landowners are happy with the plans, the Kinrara Estate has fought the proposed route, believing that it would interfere with nature conservation, lead people to cross an unmanned level crossing and hit the value of the property.
The multi-million pound estate is owned by Torr McLaren, who also owns Clouds Estate in Salisbury, Wiltshire. The Scotsman understands that Mr McLaren lives in London but his uncle, Major Robin McLaren, lives on Kinrara Estate.
A spokeswoman for the parks authority said: "This is the first time a path order will have been implemented in Scotland, so it will be interesting to see how it goes.
"Unless the objection is withdrawn, it's the only way we can keep the momentum going to progress with the extension. All the talking has been done and there's nothing else we can do."
She added that the intended outcome had always been that the Speyside Way would one day be extended to Newtonmore – its "natural" endpoint.
The parks authority also believes that extending the route will help attract more walkers, and provide an economic boost for local businesses such as shops, hotels and pubs.
It was approved in principle by Scottish ministers in May 2009, following a series of consultations on the most suitable route by Scottish Natural Heritage over many years – but Kinrara Estate disagreed with the conclusions.
However, a continued stumbling block has been the objection from Kinrara Estate. A letter was written to the authority by the estate's lawyers last month voicing the continued opposition.
Bob Grant, the senior outdoor access officer for CNPA, said in a report for yesterday's board meeting: "Negotiations to securing agreements with land managers have generally been progressing satisfactorily … the exception being Kinrara Estate."
If Kinrara Estate objects to the path order, Scottish ministers will have the final say.
The Kinrara Estate, sandwiched between the Cairngorms and the Monadhliath mountains, has a colourful history. It was designed in the late 1700s by Jane Maxwell, the Duchess of Gordon, as part of an estrangement agreement with her unfaithful husband, the 23rd Duke of Gordon.
It was bought in 1928 by Lady Lucy Houston, a showgirl-turned-philanthropist who – having inherited 6m from her shipping magnate husband – threw parties for hundreds, including royalty and prime ministers. She funded Everest expeditions and provided 100,000 backing for the Supermarine S.6b seaplane – the forerunner of the Spitfire fighter.
The owners of Kinrara Estate were unavailable for comment yesterday.