NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY
The SNP are all over the place on the question of Flamingo Land and the company’s proposed development at Balloch which has been roundly rejected by the local community and has raised its ugly head again at this festive time when people are expected to be half asleep and unaware of sleekit moves by the authorities to impose this on them against their clearly stated wishes.
This is yet another example of the fact that Scotland under the SNP at Holyrood is run by a secretive, undemocratic clique whose only real agenda is its unachievable drive for independence which, even if the National party were to have a significant victory at the parliamentary elections in May and a subsequent second referendum, would have neither the ways or means to achieve what they want.
Local supporters of the party are dismayed that the Flamingo has landed again in Balloch despite the efforts of the local press and public to shoo it off Loch Lomond’s shores for good.
The fact that The Dumbarton Democrat was banned sine die [without limit of time] by the SNP administration at West Dunbartonshire Council; the SNP Constituency Association for Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and Lomond; SNP councillors and even their MPs, Martin Docherty Hughes and Brendan O’Hara, and their prospective candidate for MSP should have alerted the 100,000 or so people who live in West Dunbartonshire that dirty dealings such as this one were expected.
Democracy is a fragile flower which cannot flourish in the dark.
And the scandals involving council contract procurement and £6000 a year salary hikes at Christmas for eight chief officers at a time of unprecedented debt, food banks, a Covid pandemic and widespread pay freezes to name but two, which led to The Democrat being banned and one councillor being suspended are clear evidence of that.
So far as Flamingo Land is concerned, this community has had to put up with the burach of council leader Jonathan McColl’s “maybes aye, maybes no” approach to the Yorkshire company’s plans for Balloch.
Decent SNP supporters are furious about what’s happened on what is considered to be their party’s watch at both local and national level to the extent that they have asked national newspaper columnist Kevin McKenna to come to their aid.
That they have had to go to Mr McKenna and by-pass what used to be the local press (none of the so-called local papers even have an office in the community anymore) is a result of the SNP’s own policies in relation to council advertising, which for years was the lifeblood of the local press.
An almost complete absence of this local authority advertising has led to the offices of the Lennox Herald, the Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter and the Helensburgh Advertiser being closed and editorial budgets being slashed.
These newspapers are a shadow of their former selves and news that their circulation (sales) figures having haemorrhaged to an all time low are proof of this.
Meanwhile, The Democrat, which was the first news organisation to break the news of the Flamingo ‘s latest landing, and has campaigned vigorously against the company’s plans since their inception keep going despite the SNP bans and smear campaigns and the fact that our 21st century digital platform is free to access and that we charge no one for advertising community events and publicising locally-based charities. The Democrat has not been monetised.
We stick closely to the old maxim that news is something someone somewhere does not wish to see printed and that all the rest is merely advertising. That and Publish and Be Damned.
Meanwhile, Kevin McKenna’s follow-up to what has already been revealed extensively in The Democrat appeared in The Herald [formerly the Glasgow Herald] at the weekend:
A CURSORY glance at social media networking sites reveals the modern snake-oil of civic managerialism: leadership courses, writes Kevin McKenna, pictured LEFT, in The Herald.
This new elixir of Scotland’s chattering classes reveals a make-believe land of paradigm-shifters where you too can call yourself a leader for a grand a week and get to sit cross-legged on bean-bags while telling the stranger on your right something surprising about yourself.
It may not chime with cynics like me, but it can be lucrative and there is clearly no shortage of eager participants. Which is presumably why Sir Tom Hunter, one of Scotland’s most successful businessmen, wants to build a leadership centre on the shores of Loch Lomond at the site of Ross Priory in Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire.
Loch Lomondside around Ross Priory where Sir Tom Hunter wants to build his leadership school and up-market weekend wedding venue. Picture by Sean Davenport
It would sit on the loch’s southern shore, offering beatific views across the water of Ben Lomond.
Sir Tom has lofty aspirations for his Hunter Global Leadership Centre.
Last month he said: “Our vision is to create an iconic, world-class leadership centre where the future of Scotland will be discussed, debated and ultimately decided.” You can’t fault the shy billionaire for lacking ambition.
People who live in and around Loch Lomond are becoming edgy at how Scotland’s most famous stretch of natural heritage has become a magnet for billionaires and leisure developers eager to participate in a land grab. Following a determined campaign by local groups Sir Tom’s £10 million project has been called in by the Scottish Government.
There are people in the community concerned that no environmental impact assessment has been made on the effect his shiny new-build will have on the spectacular flaura and fauna of this place.
Last year, they thought they had seen off a leisure development by Flamingo Land, the Yorkshire-based, theme-park specialists.
It would have seen chalets and a multi-storey hotel built on one of the country’s most iconic locations. Try to imagine a bouncy castle being erected near the Callanish Stones on Lewis and you begin to get the picture.
Toni Giugliano canvassing with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on a previous failed attempt to have him elected to the Scottish Parliament.
At a local level the SNP’s response is best described as committed lethargy, although Toni Giugliano, the party’s candidate for Dumbarton at May’s Scottish Parliament elections, is keen to make amends.
“This is not the right type of development,” he says. “It has no imagination or vision. People come from all over the world to see Loch Lomond. The key thing here is ending the monopoly of Flamingo Land and giving the community the chance to put forward something that more accurately reflects the needs and character of the area.”
And so it was left to Ross Greer, pictured right, of the Scottish Greens, to lead the campaign against this forest theme-park.
The petition he organised in 2019 gathered almost 60,000 signatures, making it the largest exercise of its kind ever undertaken in Scotland.
There remained a suspicion though, that Scottish Enterprise has been working to thwart the public mood.
These fears crystallised last month when it was revealed the agency had extended an exclusivity agreement with Flamingo Land.
It means local groups are excluded from submitting their own plans which they believe to be more sympathetic to Loch Lomond’s natural environment. ROSS GREER, GREEN MSP
Effectively, no other interested party can approach Scottish Enterprise during the term of this concordat, which was first signed on a two-year term in 2016.
Scottish Enterprise now claims the Exclusivity Agreement is in fact something called a “conditional missive” and reportedly lasts for three years. Whatever; it means the public will have been shut out of the process for seven years.
In response to a series of questions I put to officials this week, a spokesman for the agency pointed me to an earlier statement that made big claims about jobs and investment, but added: “The proposed area is small in relation to the overall size of the national park, while the local community council supported the development.”
Is Scottish Enterprise implying that just so long as a proposed development is “small in relation to the overall size of the national park” it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme?
Meanwhile, the support of that community council – Balloch and Haldane – remains the subject of much local angst amidst claims of, well; you get the picture.
More representative of community feeling was a meeting in Alexandria organised by the campaign group Save Loch Lomond and attended by more than 120 people. They voted unanimously to reject the Flamingo Land plans.
Local concern turned to outright fury at the tone and content of that statement put out by Scottish Enterprise.
In it the agency refers to “the redevelopment of the brownfield site adjoining the River Leven at Balloch”.
Allan McQuade, the agency’s director of business infrastructure, goes on to claim that “the plans for Lomond Banks present a really timely positive news story for the local economy but also for tourism in Scotland, both of which have suffered hugely as a result of the pandemic”.
Furthermore, the proposed development “could lead to the creation of hundreds of jobs and millions of pounds in investment”.
No details are provided of this bonanza.
Mr McQuade also takes aim at what he considers to be false stories about the Flamingo Land development.
“While the company does run a theme park in Yorkshire,” he says, “there are not – and never have been – any plans to bring either rollercoasters or flamingos to Lomond Banks and suggestions otherwise are completely unfounded and untrue”.
We will leave aside the rather alarming revelation that a director of the national development agency actually thinks local people really were expecting flocks of the big leggy pink chaps suddenly to descend on yon Bonnie Banks.
More prosaically, there is not a shred of evidence that anyone ever said this.
Nick Kempe, founder of the conservation group Parks Watch, has been appalled at how Scottish Enterprise and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Association between them are permitting juicy parcels of land around Loch Lomond to be flogged off to private concerns.
In a letter sent to Mr McQuade last week Mr Kempe asked for clarification around the director’s claim that “the Riverside Site at Balloch is a brownfield site” when it is in fact a park.
The campaigner also asks the agency to declare whether or not it supports the Scottish Government’s commitment to empower communities, as set out by the First Minister in her Programme For Government in September.
“If so, why once again are you seeking to develop and sell off the Riverside Site without any consultation or agreement from the local community or communities of interest and without giving them or the National Park Authority an opportunity to take over the land”.
The role of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, the authority tasked with managing this area, has also come under scrutiny.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon opts for a “selfie” with Save Loch Lomond campaigners at an event in her Govan constituency in Glasgow, ging the impression they have SNP government support.
Alannah Maurer of Save Loch Lomond believes the LLTNP “sit behind a veil of anonymity and unaccountability”. The park authority has 17 board members, of which only five are elected by the public who live within the park boundaries.
The remainder are “appointed” by various bodies including the Scottish Government. Unlike the Cairngorms park authority which publishes the names and contact emails and phone numbers of their planning board members, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs do not.
Gordon Watson, chief executive of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority, said: “Environmental impact assessments are not required for every application and a rigorous screening process is carried out to determine when this is needed.
“The screening process for the Hunter Foundation application, undertaken by the Authority, concluded an assessment was not required. The decision to appoint Flamingo Land as preferred bidder for the West Riverside site was made by Scottish Enterprise alone.”
Among the stated aims of LLTNP is a commitment to “protect and promote the natural and cultural heritage of the area”. Alannah Maurer is scornful of this and says: “Approval of any subsequent plan will create an irrevocable precedent for other large-scale developments along the loch shore.
“The Scottish Government and its public bodies should lead the way in ensuring the land remains in public ownership and is developed in agreement with the community in an environmentally sustainable way.
“Thus it would benefit the public and not a private company interested only in private profit.”
Later this year, just 26 miles from these shores, Glasgow will host COP26, the world’s starriest climate change gathering.
Some of the delegates will want to visit this world-renowned loch. The Scottish Government and its agencies might then have some explaining to do.
Protest meeting against Flamingo Land in Balloch – Cllr Jim Bollan, Jackie Baillie, Nick Kempe, Rory MacLeod, Ross Greer and Maurice Corry. Picture by Bill Heaney