The proposed hotel at Portincaple; white deer roaming in the woods there; Susie’s Castle, A second view of the hotel; Brendan O’Hara with Nicola Sturgeon, and a seal basking on the shores of Loch Long.

By Bill Heaney and Andy Galloway

A campaign group to protect one of the loveliest parts of Loch Longside has been set up to lobby against plans for a new hotel and housing complex at Portincaple, near Whistlefield.

Portincaple is now part of Argyll and Bute since the local government boundaries were changed and a large part of West Dunbartonshire was wrested away by central government to accommodate HM Naval Base at Faslane and Coulport, Helensburgh, the Rosneath Peninsula and Loch Lomondside.

That move has frequently been described by critics as a piece of sleekit gerrymandering to take the Naval Base out of West Dunbartonshire, which the Council has declared a nuclear free zone.

The new group, which wants to protect Portincaple from over-development was feeling emotional today at the thought that this scenic area of Scotland would be blighted by the hotel and houses.

One woman, pointing to photographs taken of the area, said: “Look! It’s true – we really do have white deer in Portincaple. Amazing photos from some of our residents. How can this beautiful place be facing such a calamity? Makes me so sad to think these fabulous creatures will have their home destroyed to make way for 36 terraced ‘camo’ houses and a hotel. Argyll & Bute please see sense and turn down the application when it goes in.”

The local Scottish National Party MP, Brendan O’Hara, and Labour MSP, Jackie Baillie, have been called in to assist the residents to oppose what some see as an architectural abomination.

Mr O’Hara, Argyll and Bute’s MP, has urged planners to think carefully about the suitability of a proposed housing and hotel development before deciding whether to allow it to go ahead.

The plans for the hotel and residential units at Portincaple are currently the subject of a screening application submitted to Argyll and Bute Council by Puregreenspace Architects – though no formal planning application has yet been lodged.

Journalist Andy Galloway broke the story.

Mr O’Hara says he was surprised by the scale of the proposed development, which the residents’ association says will at a stroke double the size of the community.

Mr O’Hara told him: “As with all potential development around Argyll and Bute, size, scale and sustainability is vital to ensure development works for everyone.

“I was surprised at the scale of this development and would urge a thorough inquiry by the council and all statutory consultees to ensure this potential development is of a size and nature that complements the development goals across Argyll and Bute.

“No one should be against development for development’s sake but it needs to enhance the area in line with the consensus views formed in the local planning process.”

An Argyll and Bute Council spokesperson had previously said: “A screening decision (or screening opinion) is the process of determining whether an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required as part of a planning application.

“The planning authority will indicate either yes, that an EIA is required, or no, it isn’t, and set out reasons why not. A request for a screening opinion is not a public process and as such the planning authority does not take third party comments into account.

“We would emphasise that these views are solely in respect of whether an EIA is required for these proposals, and are without prejudice to the determination of any future planning application containing the detail of the proposals.

“This screening opinion should therefore not be taken as reflecting any decision or stance to support or oppose the proposals by the planning authority.”

Hilary Wharton, of the Portincaple residents association, said: “The council defines the area as a minor settlement according to its planning policy, which also says that for those areas it is against any more than five housing units.

“So we are shocked and distressed really, as this goes against anything in the local development plan.

“There are 54 houses in Portincaple so this doubles the size of the community overnight.”

Bruce Jamieson, of Puregreenspace Architects in Helensburgh, which has drawn up indicative illustrations of the proposed development, told Andy Galloway, a local democracy reporter, that the name of the village meant ‘port of the mare’ and drovers from the Highlands used to bring cattle across at that point.

He said: “We have been working on this for a long time and it’s still evolving.

“It is an exciting development and an amazing opportunity to rediscover a lost connection to Loch Long.”

Baillie 10
Jackie Baillie MSP

Jackie Baillie had said that she understands residents’ concerns and is happy to assist in any way possible.

That area of Loch Longside is well known for two things – the Green Kettle Tearoom and Susie’s Castle, where an old woman lived in an upturned boat on the shore.

There are white deer to be seen in the woods there and seals basking on the shore as well as extraordinary birds and wildlife.

There was a measured mile out on the loch for testing submarines from the base and in summer families from Dumbarton and Helensburgh braved the midges to go camping and fishing there for mackerel and rock cod.

They also gathered pails full of mussels and whelks at a time when the loch was free of the pollution which has blighted it in recent times.

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