Drumkinnon Bay, where the applications for planning permission keep coming in.

By Bill Heaney

Whenever local councils or quangos come into a conversation around here, it doesn’t take long before these two words crop up – graft and corruption.

Hold your horses though, I am not about to embark on a world exclusive about local public officials being caught with their hand in till.

Or about contractors passing brown envelpes stuffed with cash to men – and women – in suits.

I would like to make this clear at the very outset in order that The Dumbarton Democrat avoids an action – or actions – for defamation in the courts.

However, I hope that anything we might write in this and future columns would pass the judge’s test of veritas and that pursuers would not have a legal leg to stand on.

Remarkably, I have tapped into two items on social media this week which touch on these subjects, but inevitably skirt round them because of legal considerations.

One of them is – as per usual – an anonymous contribution which went straight into my e mail letterbox.

It involves the ongoing saga of a planning application to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs planning authority for a large leisure development on land at Balloch, which is said to have been offered at a knockdown price of around £200,000 to the developers by Scottish Enterprise, a government jobs creation quango.

It is alleged that the application from Flamingo Land aka Lomond Banks is for publicly owned land at Drumkinnon Bay in the lochside village of Balloch.

Drumkinnon Bay where trees have been chopped down without planning permission in anticipation of development. Picture by Bill Heaney

However, is this publicly-owned land? And how did the public come to own it? And why is it being sold for less than the price of a semi-detached house in Barloan, Dumbarton?

It is my belief that this that these are things the public should be told. Democracy dies in the darkness.

A correspondent told me this week: “I hope that you do not mind this being anonymous as it’s simply to avoid slander [defamation by another name].

“As  one of the original objectors to the so called development/vandalism at Drumkinnon Bay and the earmarked surrounding areas, I am disgusted that we will have to go through the whole sordid procedure of fighting these proposals again.”

There then comes a nudge, nudge, wink, wink without one iota of evidence that the principals in this development are “in a cosy bed together” and asks who the beneficiaries of this arrangement are.

His opinion, he claims, is shared by many in the community “who are unable to speak out because of the risk of litigation”.

He maintains that there is absolutely no reason to push for planning [permission] again and for taxpayers to have to foot the bill for this expensive exercise.

The correspondent claims there is too much abuse of power in public organisations generally around here, not necessarily criminal but odious just the same.

That is abuse of power such as given to the Park Authority, where he claims overpaid executives  make bad decisions which impact adversely on the public particularly in relation to access and visitor provision on Loch Lomondside “as as has been amply demonstrated by The Democrat“.

We wouldn’t go as far as that, but we would urge organisations such as the Loch Lomond Park Authority, West Dunbartonshire Council, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government itself to be more honest and transparent with the press and public and to ditch the ancient customs and practice of secrecy and cover-up.

These practices will blow up in their faces when it comes to, for example, having to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth next year at the promised judge-led public inquiry into the handling of the Covid 19 pandemic.

Locally, however, we could set an example by taking an area such as Balloch, from the former Woodbank Hotel at Tullichewan to Arden and Dalvait to Drumkinnon and the Vale of Leven Hospital site to establish the history of land ownership in that area over the past 120 years or so.

That should not be too difficult for all those officials we, the public, employ on six figure salaries, although it will be well beyond the ability of the mediocre SNP leadership at West Dunbartonshire Council.

Balloch has always been an area steeped in speculation about who owns the land and buildings such as the old Torpedo factory and how they came into their ownership.

There have over the past century or so been a host of newspaper reports of land and properties changing hands between colourful characters and public bodies.

When it comes to planning matters everybody seems to believe they know best, like me when I pushed here for open land in Castle Street to be turned into a town square with views of Dumbarton Castle and Levengrove Park.  But what do I know? The planners stuck with the Town Centre.

The SNP council’s line on this is leaking out gradually, and if Jonathan McColl and Company implement it before next year’s council elections then the whole area will be turned into a theme park.

May be an image of text that says "SATURDAY MARCH Councils net £320m selling family silver to make up budget defici choolsand councils 2019. land public figures recei noge £937.3m enue werereinves reinvest mproved facilities other public, they said. better serv Among Scotland assets sold ofi 39 leisure ce seven swimming pools and outdoor centres, although 10 cases community groups, was symbolic price High-profile £1. aLeh sales waterworle real provide about property Aberdeenshire sale and buyer details. withheld Scottish Community Alliance."

Prominent SNP member Graeme McCormick revealed all (or at least some) at the weekend when he wrote: “This was the headline article in the [Glasgow] Herald on Saturday. Basically it reported that local authorities have had to sell land and property to balance the books. But the Herald missed the real big story behind these sales.

“Why have councils held on to these assets for so long which have contributed nothing to the Public Purse for generations? Why have they been allowed to fall into disrepair?
“The Land Commission’s Dilapidated Property and Vacant Land Taskforce reckoned that 50% of such assets are in the public sector.
If councils and other public sector bodies were obliged to pay a tax or rent like AGFRR on their holdings then they’d soon do something with them or give them to others to develop and steward. That would bring in £ billions in revenue and transform lives.”
Balloch, where the SNP constituency party said Labour had been up to dirty tricks by facilitating land sales for housing. Picture by Bill Heaney
McCormick suggested there had been some dirty dealing at the crossroads in Balloch involving the Labour Party and even named a family he said were involved.
There you have it then. If Jonathan McColl takes his lead from former SNP constituency party chairman then it’s sale of the century in Dunbartonshire (with planning permission, of course) in places of great beauty such as Balloch, Tarbet and Gartocharn.
This land is my land, this land is your land, or at least you thought it was until the SNP got their hands on it. Just show them the money and it’s yours. Cash on the barrelhead, of course.

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