Critics fear explosion of 'no entry' signs but ruling delights Gloag
SCOTLAND'S right-to-roam legislation was dealt a significant blow yesterday after one of Scotland's richest women won a landmark court case to ban ramblers from land around her historic home.
Stagecoach founder Ann Gloag welcomed the ruling, which prevents the public entering a large section of the grounds around Kinfauns Castle in Perthshire.
But campaigners expressed their anger at the judgment which they fear will act as a green light for other wealthy landowners to seek rulings to ban the public from huge tracts of their land.
Legal experts said it had cast serious doubt on the efficacy of the legislation.
Mrs Gloag, who is worth an estimated 395 million, lodged the application at Perth Sheriff Court a year ago in an attempt to protect her privacy. She is the first private landowner in Scotland to secure such exemption.
The Ramblers' Association and Perth and Kinross Council fought the court action, saying that part of the enclosed land should be open to the public.
But in a judgment issued yesterday, Sheriff Michael Fletcher said that the "nature of the building and its prominence" meant a larger section of surrounding land was required by Mrs Gloag to ensure her family's privacy and enjoyment of her home.
Last night, the Ramblers' Association Scotland vowed to challenge the ruling, saying it did not reflect the intentions of the Scottish Parliament when the Land Reform Act was passed.
Dave Morris, director of the Ramblers' Association Scotland, said the judgment would give a "green light" to other wealthy landowners who could challenge the right-to-roam laws.
"This is a dangerous precedent. We think the sheriff has misunderstood the land-reform legislation," he said.
"We will speak to the Scottish Executive because we think there should be new guidance for sheriffs in how to interpret the law, or else, new legislation."
Dennis Canavan, the former MSP who was a key figure in getting the Land Reform Act on to the statute book, said:
"This judgment is flouting the will of the Scottish Parliament. The sheriff seems to be saying that the bigger your house, the more land you need to keep it private.
"It's a gross distortion of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act to claim that the privacy of rich people who live in castles should take priority over other people's right to enjoy the countryside.
"Scotland's countryside is not simply the property of the landed gentry or the nouveau riche."
The court proceedings centred on a 7ft perimeter fence, topped with barbed wire, which was erected around part of the 23-acre estate without planning permission. Retrospective permission was granted by Perth and Kinross Council, but the local authority and the Ramblers' Association of Scotland wanted a stretch of the one-mile fence moved.
In October, Sheriff Fletcher visited the castle which Mrs Gloag bought for 4 million in 2005. He ruled yesterday that the fenced area in question was not land which could be accessed under the terms of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Instead, it falls under Section 6 of the act - land which is exempt for reasons of privacy or enjoyment by the owner.
The act says that when deciding how much land might be needed to ensure a landowner's privacy, location and "other characteristics" should be considered.
In an apparent criticism of the law, Sheriff Fletcher says: "Helpful though the provisions are, they are extremely general and no help is given as to what is meant for instance by 'other characteristics'."
His judgment continues: "[The house] is of a substantial size, being one of the larger country mansion houses in Perthshire and indeed probably in Scotland. It is of a very substantial value such that only a small number of persons would be able to afford to own it and run it as a private house.
"The nature of the building and its prominence would point to a larger rather than smaller area of ground being required to be sufficient for the purposes of Section 6 of the act."
Scots have a proud tradition of freedom of access dating back to feudal times. Over the years, there have been various attempts by politicians to ensure freedom of access to Scotland's mountains, but it was not until the 1990s that Labour made a serious push for right-to-roam legislation.
Under the law, walkers are obliged to exercise their right responsibly, for example by not disturbing livestock, while landowners are expected to maintain paths and respect walkers' rights.
Ken Dale-Risk, a law lecturer at Napier University, said the case was likely to go all the way to the House of Lords. "The sheriff's ruling casts significant doubt on the efficacy of the right-to-roam legislation," he said.
"This is one of the first major cases testing the legislation and I'm pretty sure this will be challenged and counter-challenged. It's bound to go to the Court of Session and ultimately to the House of Lords."
Last month, a similar high-profile case got under way after a millionaire businessman challenged an order to unlock gates leading to 40 acres of his Stirlingshire estate.
Euan Snowie, 39, has claimed walkers would "interfere with [his family's] privacy and their children's right to ride their ponies in peace".
A spokesman for Mrs Gloag said his client believed in the right to roam and had always tried to accommodate responsible ramblers. He said the area recognised as private was only part of the land surrounding Kinfauns and the remainder would be accessible to all.
"We are delighted that the sheriff has recognised the importance of the right for everyone in Scotland to enjoy reasonable privacy within their own homes," he said.
"There has been a misconception that this legislation only affects people with large homes and gardens, but this is not the case.
"[Mrs Gloag] has received scores of letters of support from people who live in ordinary houses who have had their own privacy taken away by other people believing they have the right to walk through their garden."
Mrs Gloag, 64, a former nurse, made her fortune with the success of the Stagecoach Group bus firm she founded with her brother, Brian Souter. The Sunday Times Rich List this year estimated their fortune at around 770 million.
Perth Sheriff Court heard that Mrs Gloag's charitable work involved her entertaining high-profile business people and celebrities at her home.
The Scottish Executive made no comment yesterday.
• Last night Ann Gloag was honoured in the First Women Awards, organised by the CBI and Real Business magazine in association with Lloyds TSB Corporate Markets. The awards celebrate women pioneers in business.
LAWS THAT PIT PUBLIC AGAINST SUPER-WEALTHY
IT WAS designed to open Scotland's land and water to the people following centuries of battles between landowners and walkers.
But a string of challenges to the law - of which the Gloag case is the first to end in a ruling - have pitted ordinary citizens against some of the country's wealthiest.
• Millionaire businessman Euan Snowie has asked a court to exempt his entire 70-acre Stirlingshire estate from the legislation. The Labour Party donor, whose firm won one of the biggest government contracts to clean up after the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic, claims ramblers would invade his privacy if they were allowed access to his land. Stirling Council and the Ramblers' Association are resisting an application by Mr and Mrs Snowie to have 40 acres around his family home exempted. Sheriff Andrew Cubie at Stirling Sheriff Court has adjourned the case until 2 July.
• Property magnate and pub tycoon Kevin Doyle came into conflict with the legislation last year when he had 6ft fences erected on stretches of Yellowstone Beach, next to Archerfield golf course in East Lothian. The fencing was intended as part of a 55 million gated community with restricted access.
Doyle, the owner of Caledonian Heritable, said he regarded the right-to-roam legislation as flawed and that he would be prepared to challenge it in the courts.
"I am a big supporter of the access legislation, but where it is wrong, I would throw as much money as I can afford at it, to take this all the way to the European court if necessary," he said.
But despite his stance, the case was eventually settled out of court when the developer removed the fences.
• The owner of Rangers FC, David Murray, faced an investigation by Perth and Kinross Council in June last year after he built a barrier around his retreat in Bridge of Earn without council permission - a claim fiercely denied by Mr Murray, who is recognised by the Ramblers' Association as having "a positive attitude" on land access.
• The exclusive Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle near Dornoch has recently applied for planning permission for barriers. Previous owner Peter de Savary was a staunch opponent of right to roam because he said it would stop him attracting high-profile celebrity events like the wedding of pop icon Madonna to film director Guy Ritchie.
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