By Bill Heaney
Flamingo Land owner Gordon Gibb has expressed his disappointment that West Dunbartonshire Council have failed to recognise the “fantastic opportunity” that his proposed £30 million plus leisure complex at Balloch on the Bonnie Banks represents.
The millionaire boss of the controversial Yorkshire-based theme park business told a local journalist: “Our project has been carefully considered and will bring much needed investment and a coherent future for the site.”
Councillors agreed unanimously at a meeting of West Dunbartonshire Council, where members of the public were gratuitously locked out, unanimously to reject the Flamingo Land proposals when a cross-party rainbow coalition unanimously gave it the thumbs down.
Council officers had put together a draft response highlighting what they believed were the benefits and drawbacks of the application. They said it would be a boost to the economy, but that it could make the current traffic problems on the A82 even worse than they were at present.
Councillors, who had initially been supportive of the Flamingo Land plan, were falling over themselves to vote against it while members of the public locked outside protested against it singing “We Shall Not Be Moved” and “By Yon Bonnie Banks”.
In what many people regard as a denial of democracy and a failure of the Scottish government to take seriously its role in planning matters, the elected representatives locally have been denied a vote on whether or not the Flamingo Land plan will be given the green light.
They are simply being asked what they think while the placemen and near covertly elected members of the board of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority will be left to make the final decision.
Provided that is that is that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government does not intervene and call in the plan for Holyrood to have the final, final say on the matter.
Some local people are scandalised that Scottish Enterprise, with Flamingo Land, is the joint applicant for this project.
And that the SNP government, while campaigning for independence for Scotland on the one hand is giving away for nothing parcels of land in one of the country’s world famous beauty spots.
It grates even further that Scottish Enterprise are prepared to sell the land, for which they paid £2 million, for a tenth of that, just £200,000, most of which has already been spent on reports and site investigations to assist the developer and which Flamingo Land would normally have paid or.
This effectively means that Flamingo Land would be getting 55 acres on a prime site on Loch Lomondside for nothing — if their plans receive the go ahead.
Councillors, who initially encouraged the plans, expressed the opinion at the Council meeting in the Burgh Hall that the proposals were “clear overdevelopment” of a sensitive area.
And that they would pose a risk to local businesses and exacerbate traffic issues.
The Council is a major statutory consultee and will send its formal response to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, who are due to consider the application in principle. There is no date for that yet.
Council leader Jonathan McColl, who refuses to speak to The Democrat, has undergone a Damascene conversion on the issue, persuaded no doubt by the fact that almost 60,000 people signed the petition against it raised by the Save Loch Lomond group and Green Party MSP Ross Greer, of the Green Party.
He appears now to think that he will be speaking for the whole Council on this issue when that is far from guaranteed given that they have been unanimous on only one vote.
Cllr McColl told one journalist: “The council are not against any development on the site, but this proposal represents clear over-development, with the applicant seeking to build on land specifically excluded from the tourism development area in the national park’s local development plan.
“Councillors agree with the community and our planning officials that the risk of exacerbating the already congested A82 northbound route is concerning and to my mind it’s significant and unacceptable.
“While on the face of it the creation of new jobs is a good thing, but the type and quality of development being proposed would put it in direct competition with local accommodation and hospitality businesses, potentially costing local jobs and being extremely detrimental to the village and adjacent towns.”
He also revealed his hope that ministers will call in the application. The Council leader was one of those members who originally supported the plans but changed his mind last year following a public meeting where concerns were raised.
Ross Greer, the Green Party MSP for the West of Scotland, said: “I’m delighted that [the 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.”
Resident Douglas Porter told social media: “In my opinion, Scottish Enterprise, et al, had no right in the first place to enter into negotiations to sell publicly owned land and, and I’m sure that this isn’t the first time that they’ve done that.”