Flamingo Land plan for Balloch rejected in another remarkable Jonathan McColl U-turn

How Drumkinnon Bay might look if Flamingo Land were to receive the green light for their plans.

By Bill Heaney

West Dunbartonshire Council have once again gone against the advice of their highly paid officials and decided to come out against Flamingo Land’s application for planning permission to create what is now being called the £37 million Lomond Banks leisure development at Balloch.

The hugely controversial plan, which attracted a petition signed by nearly 60,000 people from across the world anxious about the future of the Bonnie Bank, was unanimously rejected by the Council at another shambles of a meeting from which members of the public were once again excluded from the so-called chamber in the old Dumbarton Burgh Hall, which was recently refurbished as part of a £15 million project and has been proved not to be fit for purpose either as a debating chamber of offices for the departments for which it was created.

In truth, the rejection for planning permission in principle from Flamingo Land and Scottish Enterprise, the jobs creation arm of Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish government, will be decided by Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, a controversial body whose local members will have no say in the matter since they have excluded themselves through having vested interests in that they could profit from the outcome.

West Dunbartonshire Council was consulted on the plan, and officials recommended that they supported it – but the SNP administration reverted to type and voted with their leader, Cllr Jonathan McColl, to do a mammoth U-turn  and vote with all the opposition parties rolled together and unanimously oppose the project.

Afterwards Alannah Maurer and Sam Payton of the Save Loch Lomond group, which has led a magnificent campaign against the defilement of the Bonnie Banks with a cheap development not worthy of Scotland’s most famous and widely publicised through song and story visitor attraction,  thanked the councillors for voting to oppose the planning application, adding:

“Although West Dunbartonshire Council are only a major consultee in this process and the role of planning authority on this occasion lies with Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority, this has restored our faith in local democracy and we hope that Save Loch Lomond with the backing of the council can go on to convince the national park authority to also oppose this planning application.”  

Jim Bollan, Jackie Baillie, Nick Kempe, Rory MacLeod, Ross Greer and Maurice Corry at the meeting in Alexandria North Parish Church.

The Council’s own planning officials’ faces must have been tripping them since this is the second time in a short space of time that their professional advice has been rejected. They recommended that the Lidl supermarket proposed for Castle Street in Dumbarton should not go ahead, which was in line with what most of the public thought, but the SNP group decided to give that the green light.

As that development and the new flats along the banks of the River Leven, which some say will create no more than a new Dennystown of people crammed together in small units with little or no parking spaces, for their cars begin to attract doubtful looks from the public, more and more new housing developments continue to spring up in Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven.

There is little or no car parking and local streets are choked with traffic at present since some houses, new and old, have four or even five cars and vans to a unit.

Major plans for West Riverside and Woodbank House at Balloch – including a hotel, houses, holiday lodges, brewery and a monorail – were submitted in a joint project by Flamingo Land and Scottish Enterprise last summer and revised earlier this year.

A report by council officials said the site was designated as a strategic tourism opportunity and had ‘potential for enhancing its role as a premium visitor destination and gateway to the national park’.

The report, which was reported in full elsewhere in The Democrat prior to Wednesday’s council meeting,  added: “This potential development will bring significant economic benefits to the local area and local businesses.

“The investment of £37.75 million in the construction phase and the creation of 354 construction jobs during the development period is to be welcomed.

“Tourism related jobs of 80 full time and 50 part-time jobs with a further 70 seasonal jobs created annually will be a real boost to the West Dunbartonshire economy.

“It is understood that it is the applicant’s intention to recruit locally with opportunities and training being accessible to local people.”

Over 1,000 people have objected to the plan, with another 60,000 signing a petition by Ross Greer, although local group the Friends of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is in favour, as is Balloch and Haldane Community Council.

Greer Ross 2
Ross Greer MSP

Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer welcomed the council’s decision to recommend to reject the proposals.

Mr Greer said: “This is a huge moment for our campaign.  I’m delighted that West Dunbartonshire Council has, despite the apparent recommendations of officials, listened to the overwhelming opinion of local residents and others across Scotland who value our national park and want to see these plans rejected.

“Flamingoland is the most unpopular planning application in Scottish history.

“It would see public land in our national park sold off to a private developer, whose profits will disappear out of the community and whose own environmental impact assessment conceded major damage, including injury and death to red squirrels and otters, pollution of running and standing water and damage to ancient woodland.

“With opposition growing to such unprecedented levels and now including the local council, as well as groups like the Ramblers and Woodland Trust, it’s clear that the National Park should reject the plans and protect this public land.”

West Dunbartonshire MP Martin Docherty-Hughes and his SNP colleague Cllr Jonathan McColl went into a Boris Johnston-type purdah by going into hiding and remaining silent about their position prior to the packed meeting at Alexandria North Church last Monday evening. 

Cllr McColl, FM Nicola Sturgeon, Jackie Baillie MSP and Nick Kempe of Parkswatch and Cllr Sally Page, who represents Balloch residents on her own most of the time. Pictures by Bill Heaney

Although Cllr McColl turned up before the meeting  dressed like Boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazzard when STV showed an interest to utter a few apologetic platitudes for his initial view at the outset that he was in favour of Flamingo Land. He put STV before the electorate. Even then STV got it wrong by saying a distillery was planned for the site, not a bewery, which is what is says in the documents. And, no, it’s not the same thing.  And STV are not as far as we know members of IPSO, the regulatory organisation the Council say The Democrat must join before they can recognise us as real journalists.

The Democrat has endeavoured to publish all the relevant contributions to that meeting elsewhere on this platform, but Jackie Baillie’s speech was not was not fully reported at the same time.

She has now also lodged an objection, saying such a major application should be called in by Scottish Government and she has five major concerns:

  • The site was bought by Scottish Enterprise for a reported cost of over £2 million and they are now proposing to sell the land to the developer for around £200,000, while a further almost £200,000 has been spent in commissioning reports and plans. Additionally,  the Dumbarton and Lomond MSP is concerned that the developer is likely to be given grants or loans by Scottish Enterprise which essentially means that tax payers are in fact footing the bill for a development they don’t want.
  • Infrastructure  – the main route into and out of Balloch is via the A82, which already struggles to cope with the volume of traffic, especially at weekends or during holiday periods. The additional traffic as a result of the new development could bring the whole area to a standstill.
  • Possible damage to businesses already established in the local area is feared by objectors, who expressed their feelings at a meeting in St Kessog’s Church but are of the opinion they were ignored by Cllr Jonathan McColl and other councillors and officials who attended. The business model used by Flamingo Land tries to keep visitors on site, spending money within the development so that other local businesses in Balloch do not benefit.
  • Ms Baillie said there had not been not enough information from the developer about the jobs which will be created -in the first proposal  it was estimated that 300 jobs would be created from the development, the revised number is just 200, a cut of one third, with almost half of the jobs now proposed being seasonal – 70 in total. The developer has been unable to confirm how many of these jobs are managerial or supervisory, and how many will be catering and cleaning staff.
  • Finally, the MSP is currently working with a number of boat clubs, affectionately known as the Balloch Navy,  along the River Leven to secure their place on the river in spite of any development of the area.

“The boat club members are mostly working class men who have worked hard to purchase boats for their leisure – unlike the super yachts found in other parts of the loch,” she said.

“The boat clubs are currently in discussion with Scottish Enterprise and Flamingo Land about the terms of their new lease and are hoping to secure a 100 year lease and a clause which protects the boats even if the land is sold on. At one stage, the developer had proposed to replace the boat clubs with house boats on the pontoon.”

The new planning documents and original submissions can all be viewed on the national park’s website– the reference number is 2018/0133/PPP.

When, if ever, this process will be completed has, like Brexit, still to be determined by the National Park Authority.

Image may contain: sky, tree, outdoor, nature and water

Drumkinnon Bay, one of the few places where local residents have unhampered access to the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond. Picture by Alannah Maurer

Leave a Reply