Personal view

The Rev Ian Miller writes about …

The proposed scheme on the West Bank of the River Leven

Montage includes the Rev Ian Miller and Drumkinnon Bay, the setting for the proposed development. Minister picture and aerial shot of Drumkinnon by Bill Heaney

I initially decided to refrain from entering the public debate surrounding the west bank of the Leven until now and I now do so declaring an interest. My son Andrew works for the developer. I was aware of the proposed development before he joined the company and indeed encouraged him to become involved. I supported it then as I do now believing it can make a positive contribution to our community.

My anecdotal evidence is that there are many who see no fault in the proposal but refrain from commenting because they wish not to offend their friends who might be opponents of the scheme. I understand that and for the same reason have said little but real friends just accept differences. I have friends who voted No, friends who are Brexiteers, even friends who like Donald Trump, I have friends that support Trident.

I am on the other side of the fence from them on all of these but we still remain friends. So I know that my real friends will disagree, but our friendship will remain intact. If I lose a few then they were never friends to start with.

Here we go – my defence of the scheme that is wrongly called Flamingoland.

“People come to Loch Lomond for the scenery.”

That is undeniable.  The best place, however, to enjoy the beauty of the area may well not be from Pier Road. The magic is best appreciated from the many viewing places on either side of the loch or even from Balloch Park. Balloch itself is not ideally positioned to observe Loch Lomond but it does provide what every tourist is looking for and that is accommodation, places to eat, watering holes and some entertainment and night life.

Balloch provides a staging post to allow them to venture further to enjoy the tranquillity of this natural gem., much like the towns and villages of Cumbria provide what any tourist requires whilst visiting the Lake District, indeed what any area of surrounding beauty does.

If you travel to Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Germany , Canada or the USA you will find space to enjoy the scenic marvels but also find, conveniently placed, the leisure and accommodation facilities that every visitor expects to make their visit memorable. 

The Opposition

Anything that involves change attracts opposition. The very best of schemes have had their opponents. Robin House was opposed by local residents and Gartocharn Community Council voiced their concern when a holistic cancer centre was proposed in the village.

Any project, any vision of a different future, indeed any change creates opposition. I can understand the opposition from folk who live near to the proposed development, I can understand the opposition of the dog walkers though they will still be able to walk their dogs! I can understand the opposition of the Cruising Club and hope that they can be accommodated. I can understand the opposition of my good friend Jim Bollan on political grounds and MSP Ross Greer on environmental grounds.

But should we leave it as it is? Once upon a time it was a railway yard but that changed. Maybe there is a risk. But standing still is also a risk. Everything in life involves a risk. I believe it is a risk worth taking and in years to come will be seen as the right decision. I believe that the positives outweigh the negatives.

We don’t want Flamingoland on the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond, spoiling the natural environment and having a negative visual impact.

This former industrial site has been earmarked for tourism and leisure. It will not be Flamingo Land and it will not be on the Bonnie Banks. The Bonnie Banks starts at the point where the River Leven leaves the Loch. Parts of the development will be on the Bonnie or at times not so Bonnie Banks of the Leven. Indeed, it will have less of a visual impact on the real Bonnie Banks than the Cameron House extension, the Lodge on the Loch, the Boturich pavilion, Duck Bay Marina or Lomond Shores to name but a few. Who would deny that all of the above are assets to Loch Lomond and those who visit us.

What was asked for initially by Scottish Enterprise?

Last week I decided to have another look at the land in question. I must confess that, with the sun shining, it looked fine. As I walked around, however, I glanced at the faded board announcing the land was up for offer. The agent for Scottish Enterprise (obviously with their approval) listed what any prospective developer would be expected to provide… Hotel, Hostel, Lodges, Glamping, Adventure Activities, Retail and Restaurant.” This surprised me.

It would seem to me having attended events at the National Park headquarters that this is precisely what this project intends to deliver. I am also led to believe that in the local development plan this area is earmarked for “leisure and tourism”.  I conclude that WDC the National Park and the Local Community Council were aware of this and involved in any necessary consultation.

It appears that the proposal meets the specification. The faded nature of the notice board would indicate it has been up for a while.

I am presuming that there was not a great interest so now we have a preferred bidder. Do those who oppose have some other workable proposal for the land or do they simply wish it to be taken off the market?  If the latter is the case, then it reverts back to some authority for its upkeep and maintenance and becomes another drain on already stretched resources.

Can we trust Iconic Leisure Developments to take care of our natural environment?

Their website says they are set up to ensure sustainable social and economic development of the area’s communities.   I find that comforting that they are aware that “our communities” involves the Vale, Dumbarton and even further afield. You will have to decide on the question of trust. I think we can. Researchers from the University of York’s Environment Department have teamed up with the parent company to form a unique research institute dedicated to conservation awareness and education. The CIRCLE institute – Centre for the Integration of Research, Conservation and Learning – was launched in 2010. It is jointly funded by the University and the developer and it is playing an important role in protecting habitats and species both locally and internationally. With that background they will be sensitive in dealing with the environment. 

Why I support the Plan in principle

Miller the Rev IanI support this venture believing it will bring visitors to this area. With the industry of the past gone and the demise of such key players as Polaroid, Wisemans, Burroughs and so on our economy increasingly depends on tourism. This development would be a boost to that sector.

I support this plan because a key part of the proposal was to create a visually appealing station square for folk alighting from the train at Balloch.

I support the proposal knowing that it will provide jobs for the young folk who pour out of our senior school every summer searching for a start on the employment ladder. I support it knowing that it would provide construction jobs as the project is created. Knowing that it will be part of a much needed facelift to the town, and a bring degree of prosperity to the wider area.

I support it believing that it will strengthen our case as we continue to convince the Health Board of the need to retain existing services at the VOLH, and to repatriate old ones and create new ones.

I believe that it will enhance the area. Indeed, those who wish to walk, run or stroll with or without their dog will still be able to do it in a safer and well lit environment. It is not so long ago that a woman was attacked in this very area.

I commend the stance of the Balloch and Haldane community council who support the planning APPLICATION in principle with a caveat that they await a more detailed plan. That is wisdom. I fear that something that could be of benefit to the entire area could be thrown out before we know the specifics of what is on offer. I believe it is precipitate to damn it now. Our area need organisations who will provide employment pay rates and invest in our community and, especially in Balloch, enhance the visitor experience.

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