IS BONNIE BANKS JEWEL IN CROWN OF SCOTTISH TOURISM ABOUT TO BE TARNISHED YET AGAIN?

The Tarbet Hotel, where the A82 parts company with the A83 and the road to Arrochar.

NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY

The world renowned Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond, one of the jewels in the crown of Scottish tourism, is anticipating a change of name.

Billionaire Braes is one that has been suggested and The Golden Shores is another being mooted in the fine dining rooms and manicured greens  and fairways of Loch Lomondside.

Scotland’s millionaires are said to be hanging out in plush surroundings drinking the finest malt whiskies and sommelier-recommended wines whilst dining on delicacies such as pheasant and partridge, venison, smoked salmon and monkfish.

And licking their lips whilst wiping jus from their fashionable 21st century facial hair whilst considering how much more profit they can squirrel away in their sporrans from developing land to which they cannot claim to be the legitimate heirs.

It has been suggested they have taken their lead in the dining stakes from West Dunbartonshire Council, some of whose officers’ enjoyed similar fare when there was for years no procurement policies in place at the Burgh Hall in Dumbarton.

These guys talk between fat cigars about development when really – and they know this fine well – they should be discussing investment to bring jobs. They might more accurately be called gamblers. Or even high rollers.

That is investment with other people’s money, of course, cash they borrow from financial institutions before stashing it away tax free in the vaults of Cayman Islands and Jersey-based offshore bank accounts.

And then, just to add to our impoverished miseries here in Scotland, we even have a spendthrift SNP government in power, which spends our money like a Friday night drunk on the razzle  – don’t mention the £5 million disaster of the nationalised Calmac Ferries.

Then too we have Scottish Enterprise – keep quiet about the goosey gander disaster they call the Stoneymollan Roundabout, Flaming Land and the question mark over who really owns Dumbarton FC’s football ground  at the Rock –  Haud Your Wheesht for Independence.

The SNP have so much to conceal.

So, what’s in the pipeline for the brethren of Billionaire Braes then, and just who are the movers and shakers behind the big plans?

The Dumbarton Democrat cannot name names right now since we are men of straw and without the capital it would take to defend any court actions for defamation from developers, some of whom are in the process of seeking planning permission for their projects.

Well connected – David Moulsdale with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Sir Jackie Stewart.

However, since we have to start somewhere looking into this, Moulsdale Properties Ltd held a pre-planning application consultation event on its proposals to create a large new development in the village of Tarbet (see here).

It’s history, but it’s recent history. Important local history.

Parkswatch campaigner Nick Kempe went along to the Three Villages community hall in Arrochar to have a look at their proposals and hear more.

Initially, Moulsdale Properties Ltd had proposed holding the consultation at The Shore in Balloch, a good 20 minutes’ drive away from Tarbet.

Nick said: “This was hopeless for the local people who would be most affected by the development.

“But then it turns out that David Moulsdale, who is behind both Optical Express and Moulsdale Properties, also claims to own The Shore [which is situated at Lomond Shores in Balloch].

The Shore at Balloch in the former Gateway Centre, here,  owned by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, who lease the land on which its built from Scottish Enterprise.

“Mr Moulsdale’s interests in The Shore shows he had already developed a ‘business’ relationship with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority prior to basing this development proposal around land they – and the public – own.”

The Shore at Balloch is located in the former Gateway Centre, owned by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, who in turn lease the land on which its built from Scottish Enterprise.

Scottish Enterprise? On whose behalf are they ever enterprising?

They’re the organisation which caused such controversy locally with their proposal to create a new Flaming Land in Balloch.

Nick Kempe met some people from the Arrochar and Tarbet Community Development Trust who operate the Three Villages Hall and asked them about the report in a local newspaper that Mr Moulsdale had “supported numerous local projects including the Three Villages Community Hall Project”. They hadn’t.

Nick said: “The event itself was not bad as these things go.  It consisted of a drop in session where the public could look at three maps of the proposals and ask questions of the two staff present.

“Both were very welcoming, open and ready to answer questions.

“I learned a lot just by listening to what others asked.  A big plus was that the plans had been published on the internet that day (see here) – unlike Flamingo Land’s consultation at Balloch.

“Unfortunately, I did not realise until afterwards that the maps on the internet appeared to contain less information than those available at the event itself.

“This makes it hard for anyone not at the consultation event to appreciate what is being proposed.

“There was also just one week allowed for follow up comments, but the deadline has now expired.

The version of this map presented at the consultation event numbered the different elements of the development and included a key as to what was being proposed. This information is not available on the internet and labels have been added to show the main elements of the development.

“Further information may be obtained by emailing Craig Mitchell at craig@moulsdaleproperties.com

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New planning application at Tarbet – another chunk of west Loch Lomond to be handed over to developers?

The area covered by the Planning Application as outlined in red on the planning portal.

By Nick Kempe in Parkswatch

September 3, 2019
News of yet another proposed major development on the western shores of Loch Lomond has emerged.  The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority published its response to the pre-application consultation proposals on their planning portal (see here) and this then received coverage in the  Helensburgh Advertiser (see here).
This article explains why the Planning Application raises serious issues about the integrity of the LLTNPA, both as a Planning Authority and as a Public Authority entrusted to use public assets in the public interest.
The only detail so far provided about the proposal is this:  “2019/0209/PAC | Formation of a village square and erection of a tourism and mixed use development (incorporating and not limited to accommodation, retail, food and drink uses) with associated traffic calming measures, infrastructure and landscaping – Major Development |Tarbet Loch Lomond G83″   (see here)The Application appears to have been from Moulsdale Properties of Cumbernauld, which the Helensburgh Advertiser states is owned by David Charles Moulsdale, the multi-millionaire owner of Optical Express and Director of 30 linked companies. The letter from the LLTNPA to Moulsdale Properties is indeed addressed to the same address as that registered on the Companies House website for Mr Moulsdale.  However, a search on that website indicates that the only company whose name resembles “Moulsdale Properties” is “Moulsdale Properties Ltd” and David Charles Moulsdale is NOT a director of that company.  Nor is he  listed under persons having significant control of it.   Instead, the two Directors listed are Nicola Louise and James Leslie Moulsdale, both with addresses in Gloucestershire, while Nicola Louise Moulsdale is registered as the sole person having significant control.Strange!  Perhaps the explanation is that David Moulsdale has recently taken over this company, which appears to have been connected with his family and to have been used up until now for renting out property, and failed to inform Companies House as he is legally obliged to do?hatever the explanation, the Helensburgh Advertiser reported that David Moulsdale has had “a home in Tarbet for over 20 years” [note, not “his home] “and has many close connections with the area”’.   It didn’t expand on this but one of those connections appears to be with Andy Miller, now Sales Director for Flamingo Land (see here), whose LINKED IN profile says he worked for Optical Express for six years and ten months.The Helensburgh Advertiser also reported Mr Moulsdale has ‘supported numerous local projects including the Three Villages Community Hall Project and Ardroy Outdoor Education Centre, as well as providing funding to the Friends of Loch Lomond.’   That information, I suspect, could only have come from Mr Moulsdale.   It would be interesting to know how much the multi-millionaire Mr Moulsdale actually gave to the Three Villages Hall Project, even if we are unlikely to be able to ascertain his motivation for doing so.   It would be interesting also to know how this compares to the money that goes from Optical Express to its ultimate parent company. A web search suggests that Insight Global Holding, where some at least of Mr Moulsdale’s wealth appears to end up, is registered in the tax haven of the Cayman Islands.  Flamingo Land may pay low wages and be inappropriate for Loch Lomond, but at least it is ultimately owned by entities registered in the UK.  Optical Express does, however, appear to be a significant funder of the Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs. That could make it very difficult for them to comment objectively on this proposal if it ever develops into a full blown planning application.The LLTNPA’s interest in the land and any future planning application

Land owned by the park authority at Tarbet as presented to the park board in December 2018.  According to Companies House, David Charles Moulsdale does own over 75% of HMS (665) Ltd which owns a block of land on the west side of the A82.

More important for the integrity of the planning system than local networks between businesses and organisations, is how businesses interface with the public sector.   Readers may be surprised as I was that publicly owned land which is held by the LLTNPA has been included in the planning application.

Now, under Planning law, anyone can submit a Planning Application for a site and initially at least they don’t have even to notify the landowner (Flamingo Land and Scottish Enterprise failed to notify all the landowners, including the LLTNPA, whose land is included in the Riverside Planning Application).  The land in this case, however, is so large and so obviously at the centre of the proposed development that it seems unlikely that Moulsdale Properties Ltd, particularly because they are so well connected, would not have involved the LLTNPA in the development of their proposals.  I could be wrong.

In the words of the Helensburgh Advertiser, however,  in response to Moulsdale’s consultation proposals “officials  have demanded to know more before the idea can move forward” .  This gives the impression that Planning staff knew nothing about the application before it was received, as does their suggestion in their letter that Moulsdale Properties report the application to ALL the relevant landowners.  The National Park is included in this list.   So is this a smokescreen,  a case of one part of the LLTNPA not knowing what the other was doing or did the application genuinely come out of the blue?

Recent history of the LLTNPA owned site at Tarbert

At the Park  Board Meeting in December 2018 there was a brief discussion about the land owned by the Park at Tarbet, with staff indicating that there were opportunities to make better use of it – but no mention that I can recall – and nothing in the minute – about any joint project with Moulsdale Properties.

At neither the March or the June meeting of the Board was there any agenda item, whether in open or closed session, about the LLTNPA going into partnership with Mr Moulsdale. At no stage therefore does the Board appear to have given its approval to this publicly owned land being included in a planning application by a private developer.

Then, on 5th July, the LLTNPA issued a news release announcing it was spending over £500k to improve visitor facilities on West Loch Lomond funded by Visit Scotland’s Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (see here):

“Luss, Tarbet and Inveruglus will all benefit from the investment with facilities such as toilets, parking and bins being upgraded and modernised. A motor home toilet disposal point at Tarbet is also being introduced as well as 24 hour access toilets at both Tarbet and Inveruglas.

The work will deliver multiple benefits to the area, responding to changing visitor needs, including increasing accessibility, lowering the carbon footprint, improving the parking facilities at Inveruglas and reducing litter.

“We recognise that closures during the latter half of the summer season are not ideal, but in order to maximise the external funding available for this project, all work requires to be carried out within this time frame.

The work will begin at Tarbet toilets later this month and will not only improve visitor experience and relieve pressures but will also ensure the future sustainability of the facilities.  The building in Tarbet will be closed from 22nd July until late August. The car park will remain open but coaches will not be able to access the pier road via the National Park Authority’s car park.”

The news release gave no indication that the publicly funded improved facilities at Tarbet would shortly be included in a Planning Application by Moulsdale Properties Ltd.   If a local council received a planning application from a private developer out of the blue to develop land it owned and had recently invested in, I think I can guess what the response would be.  Yet the LLTNPA has so far been silent.  That suggests that their senior management may have been party to whatever development is being proposed for some time without the consent of their Board or their Board has secretly consented to public land being used in this way.  If so, this is just as scandalous as Scottish Enterprise’s use of public funds to subsidise the Flamingo Land development (see here).

Tarbet, the LLTNPA owned land and the Local Development Plan

The land which Mr Moulsdale owns at Tarbet through the company HMS 665 (see above) appears to have been in his hands for some time – as according to Companies House the company has not traded since 2011.   That parcel of land was included in the Local Development Plan as VE1 (Visitor Experience 1 or for tourism development) and the LLTNPA would not have done this without his permission.  There must therefore have been some dialogue about the future of the site between planning officials and Mr Moulsdale or his agents.

While the Local Development Plan identified Tarbet as “a strategic tourism opportunity”,   it only allocated three parcels of land for this (see above), one of which – VE3 – is not included in the new development.  The land outlined in the application is far far bigger than the three parcels of land earmarked for tourism development and therefore far bigger than that envisaged in the Local Development Plan..    What is equally striking is that nowhere in the LDP is the land owned by the LLTNPA at Tarbet identified for inclusion in any new tourism developments.

The paper to the December Board Meeting  described the land it owns at Tarbet had no mention of the fact that National Park land was being included in a major development.

EVEN IF IT’S NOT PARTY TO THE APPLICATION, BY GOING ALONG WITH IT THE LLTNPA IS CONSENTING TO ITS OWN LAND BEING INCLUDED IN A DEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL WHICH IS CONTRARY TO ITS OWN LOCAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN. 

That is quite extraordinary and threatens to undermine any remaining credibility the Planning System in the National Park has with politicians and the public.

What hope, one might also ask, for the LLTNPA standing by its Local Development Plan at Balloch and refusing the Flamingo Land development on the grounds that something like 40% of it is outwith land identified for development when its allowing its land to be included in similar application down the road at Tarbet?

This is serious and its time the Scottish Government and its Chief Planner intervened.

The papers for the December Board Meeting also reported that the lease of the pier at Tarbet to Cruise Loch Lomond was due to terminate in 2019.   So has Cruise Loch Lomond been informed of a planning application which includes the pier they use?   And what decisions, if any, has the LLTNPA taken about who will use the pier in future?

Just how democratic are the planning laws for Loch Lomondside?

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