Flamingo Land is our Brexit moment, says ex-SNP leader Robertson in public spat with Councillor McColl
An artist’s impression of what Station Square in Balloch might look like if Flamingo Land was granted planning permission and SNP leader and former leader Iain Robertson and Jonathan McColl.
By Bill Heaney
Another day, another disaster. More dithering in Dunbartonshire. When will they ever learn?
There was a special meeting of West Dunbartonshire Council on Tuesday for a briefing on the plans so far for the imposition of Flamingo Land on Balloch by the Bonnie Banks.
The Council tried to keep it quiet since about 54,000 people aren’t too happy (to say the least) about the project, but they couldn’t even do that right.
Word of the meeting leaked out on Friday as folk were going away for the bank holiday weekend.
A secret in Dumbarton is something you tell one person at a time. The Council should have known that. They’ll learn, hopefully.
Word got around quickly enough and some keen souls turned up at the architectural award-winning (hmm…) Burgh Hall – the one that cost an eye-watering £15 million to renovate – at 10am to hear Flamingo Land/Lomond Banks and Scottish Enterprise put a summary of their draft plans to the assembled elected representatives. And to the public, of course.
Cllr Bollan and the “award winning” Burgh Hall.
The usual shambles was hardly underway before the public, who couldn’t hear what was going on, complained about the fact that the third-floor balcony, to which they had been shunted – and that includes the disabled folk – was a hopeless place to try to follow the proceedings from.
Indeed, it is quite impossible, which is a blessing really for those spectators, apart from the ones who have to report on it, whether it’s for the media or community groups they represent. For them it’s a curse.
I could have told them this was the case and did so until they bullied me out of the chamber and threatened never to let me back in again.
It was only when Community Party councillor Jim Bollan intervened and informed them I was perfectly entitled to be present on the press bench in a public meeting that they reluctantly relented.
At a subsequent meeting the press and public were all shoved upstairs again and treated like those three wise monkeys in the hope that they would hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.
The official line from the Council now is that I had interrupted a meeting to complain to the Provost about my inability to see or hear what was going on.
That is a lie, of course.
They (four of them, including the chief executive, who should know better) gathered round to tell me it was inappropriate to complain as I did.
Perhaps I should have written them a letter, waited 16 days for a reply and then wrote to them again complaining that I hadn’t heard from them?
Or else maybe I should have been advised to make a Freedom of Information request and pay for it, as they recently asked Cllr Bollan to do) despite the fact that he is an elected representative and I am a fully paid up council taxpayer, an emeritus editor of the Society of Editors and a Life Member of the National Union of Journalists.
My own view of this is that this was ageist, bullying and disrespectful and fuelled by fear that they didn’t want me to take a close interest in their affairs, some of which are quite dodgy. As has been proven recently.
They are not keen to extend the 150 years old custom and practice of Freedom of the Press to me.
Indeed, they flatly refuse to answer my questions or co-operate with me.
They have turned themselves into recruiting sergeants for an organisation called IPSO, a quango which replaced the lame duck Press Council after the Leveson Inquiry.
If you think I have a bee in my bonnet about this, then you are right. I very much have.
It is a disgrace that should not be tolerated in a democracy and which every elected member worth their salt should be complaining about.
My feelings are precisely in line with the views Nicola Sturgeon expressed when she was asked about the Westminster government’s position on referendums on BBC News at Six by Sarah Smith.
The Council’s behaviour and the conduct of SNP councillors and others locally, including the two MPs, who have banned and boycotted The Democrat, is an absolute disgrace.
With a vigilant media out of the way then the door would be open for councillors and officials to adopt the old, sullied Spanish customs for which, sadly, Scottish local government has a long-standing reputation.
These have been exposed on procurement and Code of Conduct issues at recent meetings in the Burgh Hall.
What should happen to this strange, not fit for purpose Council of ours?
What should Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP party leader, do about the situation they now find themselves in?
How can the SNP reasonably deny me my democratic rights and at the same time complain that they are unjustly being denied theirs?
There should be a full public inquiry into what is going on and is still happening at West Dunbartonshire Council, not a pretendy wee internal audit investigation, which allows serious allegations to be dropped at the first opportunity.
Cllr Jonathan McColl and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have a sin to answer for.
As for the so-called update meeting about Flamingo Land/Lomond Banks on Tuesday, it was chaired by Pamela Marshall, Head of Planning at WDC.
The spokesperson for Lomond Banks was Andrew Miller and, for Scottish Enterprise, Michael Wright, Head of Business Infrastructure.
The two most remarkable things heard at this meeting was that Lomond Shores was a struggling enterprise which would benefit from the support of people flocking to Flamingo Land.
Lomond Shores and its relatively new owner, Mike Ashley.
If the authorities stick to that line, then they can expect a knock on the door any day now from the astute businessman, Mike Ashley, asking to take Lomond Shores off their hands – most probably for nothing.
Wily Mike might even charge Scottish Enterprise, whose misguided idea it was to build it, for doing them that favour.
Meanwhile, and it would make you smile if it weren’t so pathetically sad, the knives are out in the local branch of the Scottish National Party.
Iain Robertson, the Dumbarton printer and former council leader, is at loggerheads with Council leader Jonathan McColl, whose ample backside must be sore sitting on the fence on the Flamingo Land issue.
He has – lest you haven’t been following this story – been flip flopping from the outset and doing U-turns at every (U) turn, including that Damascene moment in the White Kirk in Balloch.
His position right now is that he doesn’t support the Flamingo Land plan, but that he might be inclined to accept (and support) a portion of it.
What is on the table at the moment is too large and constitutes an over development, says Jonathan, who hasn’t covered himself in glory on this. Or on anything else for that matter.
Iain Robertson, who appears to be an avid supporter of Flamingo Land, refers people to the Friends of Flamingo Land page on Facebook, told Jonathan: “Sometime you need to do the right thing, and not pander just to those who shout the loudest.
“This is Balloch’s Brexit moment, 50,000 people signed up for a misleading slogan ‘Save Loch Lomond’ which isn’t under threat, sadly you bought it too!”
Cllr McColl replied that he is not against development in Balloch, which is his council ward – “From my point of view this application represents over-development of the site and unacceptable loss of amenity. Anyone developing the site has to get it right.”
Mr Robertson’s response indicated exactly what he thought of Cllr McColl’s position – “You are having a laugh, loss of amenity!! [the two exclamation marks are his. Ed] Balloch Park, Christie Park, Argyle Park and Inler Park are all about half a mile from the site. Overdevelopment!!! [Again the exclamation marks, which many people take to indicate shouting, are his. Ed].
“The land was purchased to prevent mass building of houses on the site and preserve it for this type of development.”
Cllr McColl said: “Whatever ends up in the site has to be appropriate and sustainable.”
Mr Robertson replied: “Really? A company is going to invest £30 million in a development that isn’t sustainable?
“You are voting against 80 full-time, 50 part-time and 70 seasonal jobs.
“Good luck with that. Wait until folk start shouting about that!”
Campaigner against the project, Louise Robertson, said Flamingo Land’s sales pitch in the meeting was “poor” and their representatives could make no commitments in regard to zero hours’ contracts and other matters to do with workers’ pay and conditions.
She was astonished that they said the roads situation had nothing to do with them and that they had nothing to do with improving infrastructure that would be an asset to the Vale of Leven as a whole.
Louise said she had been opposed to Flamingo Land from the outset but she was even more committed now she had heard them – “I have opposed the idea from the start, but today after Flamingoland made their presentation to the council, my thoughts have taken a different tack.
“Forget [for a moment] losing our right to roam, zero hour contracts, damage to local businesses and the lack of infrastructure re roads and hospital facilities and consider the impact this development will have on climate change.
“Both our government and our local council have recently declared a climate crisis. We can see the damage we have done to our climate and our environment. We have watched the programmes showing us wildlife swallowing our plastic waste and unable to find a space to nest for their young.
Loch Lomondside trees would be under threat if Flamingo Land arrived.
“We know that we need to make changes to our lifestyles and that we need to act quickly and radically. Each one of us can make a small contribution by going vegan, recycling and watching our mode of transport.
“However, we need regulation from our elected members, not just declarations of an environmental crisis. The development by Flamingoland will add drastically to the pollution in our area, firstly during construction and eventually with the increase in cars and the loss of mature trees.
Now should be the time to plan better integrated transport systems, looking at greener ways of creating energy, preparing for electric cars and so on.
“I could go on and on, but you get my drift. We were shown some nice computer generated photos of how the development might look today. But they are only a rough guide. Full plans have not been made yet.
“Please look at the bigger picture, we are in an environmental crisis and should be demanding that all developments will not add to that crisis, but that we begin to look after the planet properly for the next generations.”
Kate Erskine said: “I’m with you on most of this Louise. Green issues are amongst the most important facing all of us now and in the future. I dread to think what the world will be like for my grandchildren.”
Susan O’Neill said: “Completely agree Louise. To even consider supporting this development while we’re being told the area needs more bio-diversity would be hypocritical in the extreme. Let’s hope they have more sense than to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”