Bonnie Banks must be saved, voters tell Sturgeon and her absent Scot Nats
Politicians and public have their say at packed meeting in Balloch.
Report and pictures by Bill Heaney
What sort of legacy does First Minister Nicola Sturgeon want to leave when she quits the Scottish Parliament?
It cannot surely be an ugly scar on the jewel in the crown of rural Scotland, the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond.
That is what will happen if the cheap and nasty leisure development that is proposed by Flamingo Land receives planning permission from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park planning committee.
Sturgeon has to step in immediately and stop this affront to democracy.
The people have made it perfectly clear they don’t want it – 56,000 of them have signed a petition against it – but no one in power is listening.
The First Minister has to order the hopelessly incompetent and politically naïve local SNP from the MP, Martin Docherty-Hughes, down to the West Dunbartonshire Council leader, Cllr Jonathan McColl, especially Jonathan McColl, to get a grip of themselves.
Otherwise the SNP are election toast and Sturgeon’s aspiration to be an icon forever more as the first woman to become the First Minister of Scotland and the flower of Scottish politics will be trashed for a few low paid jobs and a third rate leisure complex costing a measly £30 million.
You won’t get much for £30 million at today’s prices – remember that it cost half of that to refurbish the new council offices in Dumbarton and they’re not fit for purpose, are they?
The thirty figure is appropriate since it equates with the 30 pieces of silver which were at the centre of another, never to be forgotten sell-out by a man called Judas Iscariot.
Never in half a century have I been at a public meeting where a political party was so trashed and beaten into the ground as the SNP were in the White Church in Balloch tonight (Monday).
Despite invitation after invitation from Allanah Maurer of the Save Loch Lomond campaign, Cllr McColl nor any other elected member of the SNP could buck up the courage to go along to the meeting, which was attended by almost 300 people, 267 and two dogs to be exact.
The platform party was made up of prominent members of all the other parties – Labour’s Jackie Baillie MSP; Cllr Jim Bollan, of the Community Party; Ross Greer, of the Green Party; John Corry MSP, of the Conservative Party and Tory Cllr Sally Page, who represents Balloch on West Dunbartonshire Council.
They were joined by Nick Kempe, of Parkwatch Scotland, who said the Loch Lomond Park Authority was breaking every rule in the book in regard to the planning process.
Conservation should take precedence over conflict wherever and whenever it arose, according to the Park’s own mission statement and the pledges it made when it was formed.
Rory MacLeod, of Save Loch Lomond, chaired the meeting, where everyone conducted themselves properly and there were no untoward incidents.
In the end, the meeting agreed to a crowd funding project to pay for legal representation; an investigation into a community land buy-out; a public demonstration at 6pm on Wednesday outside the Council offices at 16 Church Street, and an incessant and unremitting lobby by e-mail and any other means of councillors who have a say but not a vote on this.
Jackie Baillie, Jim Bollan and Ross Greer made the point that the community here had had their democratic rights ripped from them by the fact that the main players in the decision making process were two quangos – Scottish Enterprise and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.
One, Scottish Enterprise, had used more than £160,000 of public money to support Flamingo Land’s case and facilitated the progress of the controversial Yorkshire leisure company towards owning land which even the SE did not own.
Both Ross Greer and Jackie Baillie said both these quangos cared not a whit for public opinion or plain old common justice and democracy.
Jim Bollan said: “Make no mistake about this. Do not be fobbed off by people telling you that this is only for planning permission in principle at this stage. If this goes through then everything that follows will be approved. We must stand together as a community and fight this.”
Information about this project was conflicting at every turn from the number of jobs that were involved, which was now half the initial estimate, to the wages the employees would receive, which could be at the very lowest end of the scale.
Jackie Baillie said she was particularly interested in protecting the rights of Balloch’s boat people, the men and women from working class backgrounds whose families had kept a boat on the River Leven for decades and would be pushed off the Loch by Flamingo Land.
When she had raised their case, these people had been dismissed in an off-handed way as “scruffy” unlike the owners of the floating gin palaces further up the Loch at marinas in places such as Cameron House.
She said, to cheers from the audience, that this was totally unacceptable and Scottish Enterprise, the Park Authority and Flamingo Land should be told where to go with their planning application.
Mr Greer said all Scottish Enterprise really cared about was getting the land sold and the handful of jobs created so that they could put this on a spread sheet and put into their annual report at the end of the year.
And pick up the bonuses that would boost their large public service salaries and pensions into the bargain.
Government sleight of hand in relation to quasi-judicial processing, obscure planning litigation and a refusal to communicate with the public (and their representatives) in any meaningful way was an outright disgrace and affront to democracy.
Jackie Baillie said: “If this Flamingo Land application is approved by the Park Authority then it must be called in by the Scottish Government. We cannot accept that this will simply be allowed to go ahead. ”
Someone else asked what had ever happened to the once proposed “Bonfire of the Quangos” which had been supported initially by the Scottish Parliament but had now disappeared behind a smokescreen of obfuscation and secrecy.
Cllr Jim Bollan of the Community Party said that when the people in power stopped listening to the electorate and they were legitimately aggrieved as were the people at this meeting then it was perfectly legal for them to make their protest public and take civil disobedience on to the streets.
He agreed with Jackie Baillie that the Scottish Government was in the process of squandering £2 million of public money by selling the land at Balloch to Flamingo Land for £200,000, which they would never have to pay back.
Cllr Bollan said: “It’s a downright disgrace. These people will be bank-rolled into setting up business here at no cost to themselves.”
Surprisingly, there was unity all round across the top table with Tories Sally Page and John Corry dissenting from none of the criticism of the SNP and the quangos.
Just before the meeting ended, a member of the audience stood up and said he was ashamed that not one single elected member of the Scottish National Party was present at the meeting.
The SNP and West Dunbartonshire Council not only refuses to speak to the public but won’t answer legitimate questions from The Democrat and obstructs us in our work by refusing to follow custom and practice in local government/media relations. They make their own rules which have not been approved by any committee of the Council. That is anti-democratic too.
- More follows on the Flamingo Land story in The Democrat. The Council convenes in Church Street, Dumbarton, at 6pm this Wednesday evening to look at their officers’ report on what’s currently proposed for Loch Lomondside. The public have been urged to attend in their droves to let the SNP administration know they are utterly against this development. If they do turn up in large numbers, this will once again demonstrate that the £15 million Burgh Hall conversion is not fit for purpose either as a debating chamber or for office accommodation for social workers. This conversion, it was revealed, cost half of what it has cost to refurbish Buckingham Palace.