Balloch in Blunderland
This was Balloch on Saturday in the worst of winter weather. What will it be like in summertime? Pictures by Bill Heaney
By Bill Heaney
Let us begin and end with the bad news. There is no good news for Balloch. The roadworks in the village are not now going to finish until July – bang in the middle of the tourist season.
The streets around Balloch have always been negotiable and local people and tourists have been content with the set-up for a century or more.
But now West Dunbartonshire Council’s big boys with toys have been let out to play and are predictably causing major consternation amongst residents and business owners.
Their highly-paid consultants (the Council spend fortunes on consultants) have had the not so bright idea that in order to keep the traffic moving smoothly along Balloch Road, they should slow it down – and even bring it to a halt. On purpose.
Since long-suffering residents in Dumbarton have protracted experience of this kind of thing in High Street, Castle Street and Bonhill Road, all of which have been reduced to a single lane by parked cars and bad planning, the Council appears to believe Balloch should not be allowed to suffer on its own.
These Dumbarton streets are not officially single-lane, of course, but that is what they have been reduced to.
And Bonhill Road has been a nightmare since work started on the Central Station bridge and traffic has been directed along it from Strathleven Place to Bellsmyre roundabout.
I drove down Bonhill Road on Saturday and I have never seen it in such a poor state with potholes.
Where once you had to sit and wait for a car or two to get past a single parked car which had reduced the upper half of that street to a single lane, I had to wait until a dozen or more passed.
The bottom half of Bonhill Road is a permanent traffic jam and it has been that way for years.
Councillor Sally Page, right, a tweedy Tory lady from Gartocharn, has been claiming that the architect of the controversial new road layout for Balloch did not even visit the site while drawing up the plans.
Mrs Page must know that criticising West Dunbartonshire Council is akin to shooting fish in a barrel, but she must be one of the few who missed.
Some Council officials have indeed been spotted in Balloch and other parts of Loch Lomondside from time to time.
It appears from recent revelations, that some council employees cannot resist the lure of the rolling fairways and luxury restaurants around Cameron House Hotel.
However, the Council have “vehemently denied the ‘false’ accusation [from Cllr Page] saying those involved visited the area on several occasions.”
Now, I for once believe the Council.
No one could create that kind of shambles in Balloch without first of all having had a good look at the place.
I know that the residents are restless and that they had a meeting with the Council on Friday to discuss this vexatious matter.
I didn’t manage along to that meeting, but I took a friend out to Franco Polombo’s restaurant at lunchtime recently to sample one of his excellent fish teas.
And I could not help but notice the chaos in the street outside, where the usual car park at Moss o’ Balloch was fenced off.
I couldn’t get near Franco’s place to park despite the fact that I had a disabled sticker to make things easier for my 95-year-old companion to alight from the car.
Franco is the coolest, most civil man on planet earth, and I could see he was annoyed – just a wee bit, but annoyed just the same.
People have been unable to park anywhere near his popular restaurant for some time, and this is costing Franco and his neighbours to lose business.
The words used to me by one of them were “haemorrhaging money”.
When I asked Franco what was going on, he looked scunnered and simply shrugged his shoulders.
He was not pleased, but was too courteous to complain and spoil our lunch with a rant about the roadworks.
Franco did say though that a relatively new playground across the road had been removed as part of the ongoing facelift – “I don’t know why. All the kids loved it. Nobody asked what we thought.”
One shop owner reckoned about £200,000 had been spent and squandered by the Council on play equipment, which was finally taken away because the wrong materials were used and children were being injured with skelfs.
There have been at least two road accidents since this work started when there was none previously.
Cllr Page says the residents are furious because of what she described as “an extremely unpopular new configuration” for Balloch Road West.
She claims to have asked personally the “actual architect of the new road layout” if he visited the site during design and he said he had not.
As is their wont, the Council maintains it had a full squad on the job and their spokesperson defended them stoutly. It appears none of the officials has a voice of her own.
Their project design team, which includes officers from Regeneration and Roads, and the design consultancy team, had definitely been there, said the spokesperson.
What is it they are actually doing in Balloch then?
It seems the changes taking place will include narrowing the road to six metres and relocating a bus stop.
“It’s traffic chaos, not traffic calming here,” one woman exclaimed.
Council leader Jonathan McColl, left, who is never far from trouble and whose ward Balloch is in, was at the meeting on Friday, but he didn’t impress those present. Does he ever?
One person who did go along said: “He never even brought a pencil and paper with him to note our concerns.”
She added: “We don’t need this, but if we have to have it then we deserve to be listened to with respect.
“We have suggested areas which could be used for temporary car parks which would keep people in the village, but the answer to everything we ask from the Council and the Park Authority is always No.
“There was one occasion when we asked if they could leave a space for people to park in over a weekend while no work was going on, but they said something about Health and Safety.
“The next thing we knew they came along and dumped a load of road mettle they had dug up and blocked the entrance to that space.
“That looked deliberate, arrogant and provocative to me. Frankly, they could not organise a piss up in a brewery.”
Why are the Council doing this in the abrasive manner they have adopted then?
They claim that the set-up does not allow cars to overtake a bus while it’s sitting at the bus stop.
This leads to a tailback which causes emissions of unhealthy exhaust fumes to build up.
Will cars ever be able to get past buses parked on the road?
The Council say “bus stop build-outs” – whatever they are – are generally preferred to lay-bys in urban areas as they reduce waiting times, improve journey times and reduce emissions as vehicles no longer wait to re-join traffic streams.
Since when was Balloch an urban area? It’s a village.
Who says this style of bus stop negates the effect of parking within or on the approach to bus lay-bys?
This is said to prevent buses pulling in close to the kerb, and make it easier for passengers who require a high kerb and close access to safely board and alight from the bus.
Or that buses stopping cars on the carriageway have a traffic calming effect?
Have they never been in Dumbarton High Street and witnessed the hold-ups this causes there?
The Council maintain that narrowed sections of the road are designed at six metres and the road is deliberately “pinched” at some points, also to act as a traffic calming measure.
Somehow, these experts conclude that even with this, there should be no issues with larger vehicles passing each other at an appropriate speed.
Confused? I most certainly am.
Councillor Page believes it is unnecessary to narrow the road quite so much.
And that poor consultation with local business and residents has made a bad situation worse.
The fact that the council have borrowed money for this project, which they will have to pay back at high interest rates, has made her angry.
Especially since all that was required on Balloch Road West, in her opinion, was to resurface it and raise the kerb at the bus stops for easy access.
Mind you, she didn’t realise that Cllr McColl’s priority would be to look after the patrons of the local pubs and taxi drivers.
Elderly and infirm people getting in and out of restaurants and shops? What do they matter? Can this really be being done in anticipation of Flamingo Land receiving planning permission? I think we should be told.