Sandpoint Marina on the River Leven opposite Dumbarton Castle.
By Bill Heaney
What is happening at Sandpoint Marina, birthplace of the world’s most famous tea clipper, the Cutty Sark?
The news is that the planning process for development has begun or, to be exact, the pre-planning process.
Pat Docherty, a Dumbarton man, wants to construct a new pontoon, extend the existing rock armour – the heavy stone sea wall – which protects the peninsula, build a new slipway and add another slipway on the site which was once McAllister’s yard and TBJ Marine Limited’s chains and anchor dealership.
There was a pre-consultation about this in the Riverside Parish Church Hall on Thursday, which was poorly publicised by West Dunbartonshire.
It was no surprise therefore that it was poorly attended with most of the interest being shown by members of the Dumbarton East and Central Community Council.
These are people such as community-minded environmental campaigners, Rose Harvie, Linda Spiers and Jim Crosthwaite, who take a real interest in the history and heritage of Dumbarton and stand up for the people in the communities they represent.
They are a vital link between the public and the Council, some of whose officers and members don’t live in the community and are unaware of how land and buildings were used previously plus the history of important amenities and rights of way.
Their local knowledge means they can inform officials of the prospect that a development project taking place in one part of the town can have an effect in another.
Especially in a place like Dumbarton, which has a swift flowing river, possibly the second fastest in Scotland, running through it.
And a series of burns and streams which rise in the Long Crags and wend their down to into the Leven and the Clyde.
Sandpoint is at the confluence of these two rivers and is the most scenically beautiful and historic part of the town, where Dumbarton Rock and Castle and three old shipyards were situated.
They include the one where the magnificent Cutty Sark rose up from its cradle of timber-built stocks to become the world’s fastest tea clipper.
It goes without saying then that whatever happens at Sandpoint, whatever development is planned to take place, will have to be done sensitively.
There will rightly be a great deal of public interest in what happens there.
Across the river from Sandpoint, new developments have been rising on the old distillery site near Riverside Parish Church (the auld parish kirk) and the new £15.5 million council offices in the Burgh Hall.
A supermarket is about to be built on the riverside at Castle Street, near the old Denny’s Gate, and new housing will skirt the river walkway, which is planned to run from High Street to the Castle.
To the disappointment of many, however, this development blocks out the recently revealed views of the Castle, the rivers, Levengrove Park and the Renfrewshire Hills.
It is little wonder then that local people are concerned about what will happen next, and whether any new developments will be aesthetically pleasing.
Will they be a boon or a blight?
And will they be something of which this generation and those following in their footsteps can be genuinely proud?
That is why there is so much interest amongst Dumbartonians regarding what is to happen at Sandpoint Marina, which is visible from the Castle and from passing ships and steamers.
That is why these townsfolk stood up to the Council when they tried to impose a large concrete and glass secondary school in the area of Posties Park.
They said this would unquestionably have been a blight on the landscape.
Council officials and elected members claimed the public were over-reacting, but they were wrong and we were right.
The recent wild weather, storms and floods, showed clearly that access to Posties would have been impossible – and dangerous – for children travelling to that school.
Any schools built there would have been forced to close because of the weather.
Their decision to re-site the school in Bellsmyre wasn’t visionary either since that school is already bursting at the seams and remote from the town centre and the railway.
The Council did not take into account either the fact that the old school in Cardross Road could have been refurbished at much lesser cost.
And the new one was financed with a PFI-type contract which will cost fortunes in public money for generations to come. They realise that now, but now is too late. That money is gone.
Hopefully, the arrogance displayed by the former chief education officer and the elected members who supported him around the replacement of Our Lady and St Patrick’s, will not extend to this new and important proposal for Sandpoint Marina.
I hope that lessons have been learned and that the powers that be will listen to the public in whose ear they whispered when they should have been shouting that there was a pre-planning consultation.
What has happened so far at Sandpoint is heartening though, as you can see from the photographs accompanying this column, the way we were and the way we are now is day and night.
An old derelict eyesore of yesteryear is gradually being turned into an asset to the town by Pat Docherty and his wife Nan, both of whom were brought up and educated in the town – at St Patrick’s High School and Dumbarton Academy – and have respect for the place and the people.
They have brought up their family here and their roots are here.
They are the people behind this planning application.
Planning. Now there’s a word to conjure with. Add the word consultation and you can always see the ears prick up all around you.
Planning is a tarnished word because because, almost always, the conspiracy theorists cannot wait to pounce.
Whose land is it? Who is making the application? What’s been done there already, they ask.
Brown envelopes. Corrupt councillors and officials. Free holidays, trips abroad, junkets. Sought after tickets for football and sporting events.
The truth is however that there have been few criminal prosecutions in relation to graft and corruption around planning issues here, although admittedly there have been some.
These were interesting though. Council officers being whisked off in planes to big soccer matches for making certain their “pals” received lucrative local authority contracts.
Council workmen building walls and fences – and even houses – when they were supposed to be at their real jobs with the council.
Building materials being spirited away in the night and brick-built garages and outhouses suddenly appearing in the gardens of councillors or officials.
Councillors invited to view buildings of a similar nature to some that were about to be built here going off on the skite and even occupying the Provost’s room for all-night parties.
Back handers, palms being greased. The cliches for graft are endlessly on the lips of people who are convinced they “know something’s not right here”.
The reputation for piss-ups and pornography has to be taken out of planning applications.
One way to do that would be to take the mystery out of them and and to have consultations and pre-consultations at times when the public can participate, not on a weekday between 2pm and 7pm.
Proper publicity, notification and advertising would be a catalyst towards openness and transparency.
The days of taking a 10cmsx2 columns advertisement with a miniscule typeface buried at the back of a local newspaper must surely be over.
It’s time West Dunbartonshire Council came into the 21st century on this and so much else to which, it is patently obvious to observers of local government affairs, must now take on a modern approach.