Drumkinnon Bay which protesters claim will be blighted by Flamingo Land.
SPECIAL REPORT by Bill Heaney
The Flamingo Land saga has turned into a PR war with some important legal matters now stirred into it.
Unfortunately for Flamingo Land – or Lomond Banks as they would now have us call them – the alleged breaches contained in a letter from the solicitors for Ross Greer, the Green MSP, who is backing the campaign to Save Loch Lomond, make this look as if this case will run and run.
And most probably cost an awful lot of public money, run out of steam and hit the Balloch buffers, at the end of the day.
This is now, as former SNP leader, Iain Robertson, told Cllr Jonathan McColl in a tweet last week, beginning to look very much like our very own Brexit by yon Bonnie Banks.
It will have cost an incalculable sum of public money to take it to a conclusion.
For example, Flamingo Land’s plans were launched into loquacious flight across the pages of the Glasgow Herald this week with an article by their chief reporter David Leask which began:
“Right in the middle of what was once the railway yards at Balloch, gateway to Loch Lomond, there is a big for sale sign.
“Scottish Enterprise, the jobs agency, is marketing 44 acres of the former industrial site for re-development.
“The billboard, now with ‘under offer’ written in red across it, even suggests some uses for the land: hotel, hostel, lodges, retail, restaurants.”
It was an intro that would pave the way for Flamingo Land spokesperson Andy Miller, left, son of the former minister of Bonhill, to produce a trident in the manner of Neptune and attempt to hold back the tsunami of criticism and complaints that have come his company’s way.
“See,” Andy Miller is quoted in the Herald, “this place has been up for sale for years and it has always been for a tourism development.”
And the report adds: “Mr Miller is the reason why there is a red band across the ‘for sale’ sign. Or rather his employer, Flamingo Land.
“The theme park operator has partnered up with Scottish Enterprise to turn the old railway sidings and part of a former dye works into a new resort, £30 million or so worth of wooden lodges, some low-rise restaurants, a youth hostel and a 60-room apart-hotel.”
An approach less sympathetic to the Flamingo Land/Lomond Banks application might just as easily have said: “Right in the middle of 44 acres of beautiful bluebell woods, much used and admired by the public on the banks of Loch Lomond in Balloch, there is a big for sale sign connected to a plan for a theme park, which has caused fury amongst residents and more than 55,000 others from all across the world who have signed a petition against it.”
Mr Leask’s report went on to say: “Their [Flamingo Land’s] application has provoked what is thought to be the most objections ever in Scottish planning history, more than 55,000. Why? Because the holiday park sits just within the boundary of Scotland’s first national park, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs.”
Others might have recognised the fact that if the site is in the National Park, it is in fact in it and all the rules and regulations apply. If it’s not, it’s not.
Green MSP Ross Greer is one of them. Mr Leask states Mr Green led the protest. He did not. The Friends of Drumkinnon Bay, the Save Loch Lomond group, a neighbours’ group and Cllr Jim Bollan, of the Community Party, were all there before him.
Balloch resident Kenny Gibson raised the alarm when he saw preparatory work being carried out and reported it to the police and planning authorities.
This was covered exclusively by The Democrat and the evidence for that is on our website.
Mr Greer, writing in the Glasgow Herald last month, said: “The overwhelming majority of the land is currently in public hands, owned by a government agency.
“Putting it simply, this is a plan to sell off public land, in a world-famous national park, for a private developer to profit from.”
Labour MSP Jackie Baillie has raised concerns in the Scottish Parliament about this, particularly in relation to the sale price for the land, which is said to have plummeted from £2 million to £200,000, a pittance given the price of land and sale price of property around Loch Lomond.
If the “sale” goes through then Flamingo Land will in effect have got the land for nothing since much of the preparatory work, admin and legal costs for the anticipated arrival of the theme park has been paid for by Scottish Enterprise and that is likely to have exceeded £200,000.
No doubt Ms Baillie will raise this again with others at a meeting in the White Church in Balloch on Monday, June 24, at 7pm when a panel of politicians and concerned others, including West Dunbartonshire Council leader Jonathan McColl, who has been both for and against the proposals (he says now that he would be more amenable to a scaled down version of what is currently proposed) will be present to answer questions from the public.
The Herald report states: “Mr Miller and his employers at Flamingo Land have stayed out of the politics and did not respond straight away to criticism. But walking around the area – which he called Lomond Banks, to complement Lomond Shores, an earlier stage of Scottish Enterprise’s development of Balloch – he says he believes good people have got the wrong end of the stick.”
Really? Anyone who has been following this story might refute that.
Mr Miller told the Herald there were two main “misconceptions”, as he sees it: that the land was previously some kind of “public” nature reserve teeming with wildlife, and that what is proposed is a theme park.
He said, some might say rather patronisingly: “Far from it. This is not a place for a theme park. People are signing up to things that they are not fully understanding.
“They see something being posted on social media which says, ‘theme park operator developing Loch Lomond’ and ‘sign this petition to stop this petition to stop that happening’. But people don’t know what is actually happening.”
The Leask report adds: “As he shows The Herald around the site, Mr Miller pulls from a folder artists’ impressions of Lomond Banks. There is a boardwalk along the banks of the Leven, an urban-looking square next to Balloch Station (now a car park) with a micro-brewery and a youth hostel and wooden lodges nestled below a canopy of trees. He does point to one planned large structure, a step-shaped hotel with an indoor pool on the opposite bank to an existing animal attraction, Drumkinnon Tower. Overall, he suggests, the resort is more Centre Parcs than Disneyland.”
New information from elsewhere seems to suggest that there will be problems with the boardwalk going back almost a century when “riparian owners” were oft mentioned in court cases.
It was in one of those cases around 1960 that Sheriff Lionel Daiches referred to “bureaucratic bumbledom” on the part of the authorities who were handling a dispute over the land.
Drumkinnon Bay in the Sixties when the factory and the railway yard was still there and visitors and local people enjoyed themselves by the Bonnie Banks.
Anyone who has had any dealings with public bodies in recent times will be able to tell you that the bumbledom in question has not gone away.
The Leask report asked: “Does it matter that people think he [Mr Miller] is building a theme park? After all, the national park authority will make its decision based on evidence, not public opinion.
“[Mr Miller] says it does because the perception of the public is really important given they are the people who will be holidaying here. We want them to be convinced this is a good thing.”
“Opposition has focused on wildlife. An environmental impact study found development would be bad for iconic Loch Lomond species like red squirrels or otters. That is another misconception, Mr Miller says. The report said squirrels and other animals exist in the Loch Lomond area, but that there were no signs of them on this site. While the habitat here is probably suitable, there are too many humans nearby for them.”
Again the Leask report refers to the Drumkinnon Bay site as an “old railway yard,” which makes it sound as if it would not be much of a loss to the community.
And concludes: “If it gets the go-ahead, Lomond Banks will join the centre of Balloch, through the old railway yard, to the mooring of the now ground Maid of the Loch paddle steamer and on across the former dye works to Lomond Shores. Work would take place from 2021 to 2024.
“Nothing will be blocked off,” Mr Miller says. “There will be no wall, no fence. Effectively, if you really wanted to walk up to the front door of a lodge, you could do it. We want to let people enjoy what they already enjoy.
“Will the site – which has gone wild since the 1980s – be as green as it is now? Yes, said Mr Miller.”
Cllr McColl and Jackie Baillie MSP.
Others are more sceptical than Mr Miller, however. Now that the national press and media have at last taken an interest in one of the most important environmental stories on Loch Lomondside for many years, they will be turning up in large numbers at the meeting in the White Church on Monday, June 24, at 7pm.
As former councillor and SNP old hand Iain Robertson told Cllr Jonathan McColl on twitter, this story could run longer than Brexit.