Loch Lomond land

The sale of Drumkinnon Bay is an affront to democracy

By Bruce Biddulph

Recent events have caused me to completely re-assess where we are in our ‘progression’ in West Dunbartonshire.

Everywhere we see cutbacks in public services, the police, social work, benefits offices, hospitals, health services, public parks.

And now we are witnessing the sale of a vast tract of land in Balloch, on common space to which the public have enjoyed free access for generations.

West Dunbartonshire appears to be run by a conglomerate of bodies who are hell-bent on privatisation, scaling back public services and introducing the ideals of private ‘enterprise’ over public good and works.

This region could be mistaken for a Tory-run county in England.

People are disillusioned; their cost of living is rising whilst wages are falling and those on benefits are being squeezed as never before.

Our quality of life is being eroded to such a degree, we are left wondering why we bother to vote.

Society is fast becoming a thing of the past.

We are constantly having to fight unacceptable cuts.

All the while, we are told that in order to pay for services, we must not oppose private investment.

We hear that money is in such short supply that we have to accept this austerity culture.

My own view is that what we are experiencing in Scotland today is nothing short of Thatcherism, which most Scots find abhorrent.

Our planning authority is not democratically elected West Dunbartonshire Council but the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

Since its inception it has become autocratic, a law unto itself.

It appears pre-disposed to forever find in favour of wealthy businesses and ignore the objections of ordinary people.

Living in Balloch is like living in a separate state altogether, never mind a separate local authority area.

Scottish Enterprise has purchased land here, over 40 acres of it, some of it common land.

Some of that land, even though it is in private hands, is well used by locals.

Both of these quangos – Scottish Enterprise and the Park Authority – are publicly funded to the tune of millions of pounds.

Their directors receive large salaries from the public purse and have near total autonomy.

Between them, they appear in the face of what is happening now to have chosen Balloch as their joint-fiefdom.

What they say goes. The people of Balloch cannot appeal for democratic assistance because we have no one to appeal to in order to halt what is happening.

Our objections fall on deaf ears.

The policies of the Park and Scottish Enterprise trump them all – even, according to an SNP Minister, those of the Scottish Government itself.
It seems certain that the proposed development of Drumkinnon will be approved in principle by faceless men and women who were elected in an almost secret election.

Now others will be appointed to the board by application about which was no one was told until after the closing date had passed.

The fact that the sale of the land by Scottish Enterprise for Flamingo Land is dependent on planning permission from the Loch Lomond Park Authority is scandalous.

These people are putting two fingers up to democracy.

There is no democracy in the fact that the planning authority is not democratically accountable, certainly not in the way a proper local authority is accountable.

And, from where I am standing, this looks like a done deal.

There is nothing we can do about it. Our council has no jurisdiction whatsoever. It can only lend support or withdraw it, but it does not matter a jot what way it goes with them. They can be ignored.

The council is reduced in this process to just a bit part player.

As for the Scottish Government, we cannot turn to them for help.

The fact that these quangos are publicly financed appears to make little or no difference to the outcome.

This is why I say we are in crisis here in West Dunbartonshire.

There is a democratic deficit here.

The privatisation of Balloch’s river and lands is taking place by stealth, secrecy and through the utter destruction of our democracy.
It’s time someone shouted stop.

For the Scottish Government to wash their hands of this matter is a national scandal.

For them to stand by and idly watch Loch Lomondside, one of the jewels in our national crown, being sold off is an affront to what’s left of our society.

If the sale of Drumkinnon really is a done deal, then democracy is dead here.

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