Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park has been branded an “embarrassment to Scotland” after one of its leading members was forced to resign from the park board for failing to declare shares in a £200 million gold mining company.
Owen McKee, who bought shares for £12,000 in the Australian company Scotgold after it was given permission to dig for gold at Cononish near Tyndrum in the park, has triggered a by-election next month by standing down as an elected member of the board. He had previously sold his shares and resigned as vice-convener and chair of the planning committee, but remained a member of the board.
Our sister paper the Sunday Herald revealed in August that McKee breached the park’s code of conduct by failing to declare his shareholding at 15 meetings over more than two years. It has emerged that two days after the story appeared, he wrote a letter resigning from the park board “in the light of recent media coverage”.
Dave Morris, the former director of Ramblers Scotland, described McKee’s resignation as “inevitable” after the “cover-up” of his mistakes was exposed. “It is unlikely to be the last resignation as the board's reputation continues to spiral downwards,” he claimed.
“Our national parks were supposed to demonstrate best practice, but instead in Loch Lomond we have never-ending lessons in leadership failure. It is an embarrassment to Scotland.”
McKee accepted that he had made a “serious misjudgement” that reflected “considerable naivety on my part”. He should have recognised that his purchase of the shares was “totally inappropriate”, he said.
“I am most distressed that my own personal error of judgement has attracted completely undeserved criticism of the national park authority,” he wrote. “It is therefore with deep regret that I have decided to stand down.”
His resignation was accepted by the park convener, Linda McKay. Failing to declare the Scotgold shares “was a serious breach of our code of conduct,” she said.
She told him: “I was glad that you recognised this, at the time, by stepping down from your board positions and selling your shares despite facing financial losses as a result. In the light of the media attention your actions have attracted, I understand why you now feel the need to take the further step of resigning from the board.”
The mountaineering campaigner, Nick Kempe, has lodged two complaints to Bill Thomson, the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland. “The government needs to sort out the governance of this national park where the personal interests of board members comes before the public interest,” he said.
The park authority pointed out that its critics were opposed to the park's proposed camping ban, and accused them of ignoring its success in promoting outdoor recreation. “This continuing barrage of criticism of the park authority board by Messrs Morris and Kempe appears to be connected to their fundamental personal objections to our proposals to protect the park’s unique environment and dramatically improve camping facilities," said a park spokeswoman.
"They had their say during a comprehensive consultation which attracted a range of views, including significant support from the visitors, communities and businesses affected by widespread irresponsible camping," she added. “It is worth remembering that Owen McKee was one individual on a board of 17 and he has acknowledged his error of judgement by resigning.”
Read an earlier story about Owen McKee here.