The fields at the centre of the dispute between Ms Dick and West Dunbartonshire Council, Milton village and the A82 road from Dunglass to Dumbarton on right.
By Bill Heaney
West Dunbartonshire Council’s attempts to reach an agreement on purchasing privately-owned land at Milton and removing horses from it appear to being in danger of falling at the final fence.
The land in question is owned by local woman Susan Dick and is required for a £multi-million road diversion and industry project at the old Esso tank farm site at Bowling.
What’s happening is turning out to be yet another SNP shambles, which could lead to years of delay – if not abandonment altogether – of a major element of a controversial plan to clean up Clydeside.
Negotiations between the Council and Ms Dick started off amicably with discussions about moving two ponies and a stable block to land nearby.
But tempers are wearing thin and bad feeling has crept into the whole business with talk of the woman being bought off and even the possibility of eviction from her own property. The Highland Clearances are not over after all.
The vexacious matter is down for discussion at this week’s monthly meeting of West Dunbartonshire Council.
Dispute over plans for the new road from Dunglass to Dumbarton.
Ms Dick has told councillors and officials – with whom she apparently does not get on: “My land is supposedly needed for the roads leading to Exxon development.
“Although not all of it will be developed, this Council seems to want all of it from me [although] only half of it will actually be used.”
The land in question is at Sheepfold in Bowling and in 2017 the Council arranged soil testing there as a check for equestrian suitability paid for or otherwise arranged a separate report as to suitability of it for horses.
It is also stated in Council documents that the Sheepfold land was suitable for myself and my horses and, according to Ms Dick, it was even mentioned that this showed how WDC were helping to come to an amicable solution and generally how great they [the Council] were.
She added: “I was allowed a site visit and given the test and suitability report documents. Years went by and in that time [named officer] was appointed due to shall we say ‘difficulties’ endured by myself at the hands of WDC staff – [named officer] was appointed to sort out the matter.
“Sheepfold was again discussed from around August 2020 and another site visit arranged in March 2021. I was told by [named officer] of WDC in front of a witness (I cannot remember if this was on site or during the zoom call beforehand) that Sheepfold could in essence be mine in return for my land,
“I would have to give up my field right away and wait two years for access. I was not told five years. WDC would store my equipment, trailers and buildings, I would be paid for loss of use of my field for the two years and a plot could be found for the re burial of my two deceased ponies.”
Ms Dick said that she asked where the road would be going because she wanted to know how much of her land would be affected by it.
It turned out that it would be at the opposite end of the field she had previously on maps – “I asked about access points and about having access to prepare the area for horses and I asked about testing the land as testing for bark, leaves, grass and fruit as well as water really needed to be done.”
She was obviously worried that the fruit and grass and water mioght be contaminated since it was common knowledge that the site was polluted.
The situation changed markedly. Ms Dick said: “I was waiting for updates on my queries and upon hearing nothing put in the open forum request. I was shocked to hear that I had apparently rejected Sheepfold when I had not as I was awaiting replies …
“I was only offered cash for my field when I felt we were talking about land swaps for not one but two fields.
“There is a private landowner involved in the other site and I will not drag them into this but myself and [named officer] of WDC were in discussions over two fields, not just one. “
She said that he agent then spoke to about various ways forward, but he was told there was no offer on the table and asked to put forward proposals to the Council as to what she would be paying for the land at Sheepfold.
Ms Dick said: “He is now being rebuffed by WDC agents and told it is only cash on offer and it seemingly has an impending deadline to boot and an ominous ‘or else’ feel about it.”
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it’s a duck. It’s the same with threats. If it feels like one then it is one.
She asked for an explanation as to why Sheepfold was off the table – “do not tell me I rejected it when we all know that’s not true as nor did I reject the other bits of land you can’t provide information on when so much bother had been gone to and time taken and subsequently seemingly wasted?
“Yes, I was looking for early entry but I had not said no to this aspect and we were in very early discussions not to mention the bombshell of the wait time had just been dropped on me out of the blue.
“I wouldn’t like to think WDC were actually putting barriers in the way to make an amicable solution not be possible. I genuinely feel as if I have been at best misled over this and at worst actually lied to.
“I was led to believe a solution was being sought. I categorically did not reject Sheepfold and had not given any answer on whether I would or wouldn’t accept the wait for the two years (I was originally told two years, so I’m not sure where the five years came from) nor the other many alternative sites you alluded to in the last response and which no one can give me details of.”
Ms Dick maintained the only Knowetop Farm in Castlehill was rejected on horse welfare grounds as being too far away for equestrian safety – ” It is very distressing to myself on top of all the other events that have occurred and which some are now the subject of two insurance claims to be suddenly offered cash, which with no land on offer makes my ponies’ future and indeed their very lives uncertain.
“You know I need land for my ponies and you seemingly have land which could be suitable and could maybe bring this debacle to an end.”
Cllr Jonathan McColl, pictured right, who this week is boasting in the Council’s annual report about the supposed excellence of the authority’s communication skills told Ms Dick: “It would seem there has some kind of serious miscommunication here because the information that I’m looking at here in front of me quite clearly states that our officers at the Council believe that the Sheepfold deal wasn’t suitable for you because of the timescales. I respect that you have told me that that is not necessarily the case.
“You know accordingly if you do wish Sheepfold to be further considered, and what we’d suggest as a matter of urgency is that you instruct your agents to communicate that quite explicitly with the Council so there could be no misunderstanding.
” I would also say though that it has to be borne in mind that the provision of Sheepfold or, you know any other parcel of land, wouldn’t be considered in addition to to the value of your land as an alternative or with a balance of payment either way if it wasn’t up to the same value.
“As I said the soonest way that all matters could be negotiated with all parties satisfaction is if things are conducted through you agents in line with appropriate commercial knowledge of practices.
“I appreciate that there has clearly been a miscommunication here because one side believes one thing and you obviously believe another and we need to get that resolved.
“I’m happy to help with that in any way offline and wouldn’t want, as I said in the previous answer, to be negotiating this in a public forum, but I’ll do what I can to help move things along. I would suggest that you get in touch with your agents and ask them to make that very, very clear to our officers. Ms Dick asked the following supplementary question:.”
So, Cllr McColl, who also in the annual report is boasting about open and transparent government is “happy to help with that offline and wouldn’t want to be negotiating this in a public forum”. In other words he would rather this whole debacle was discussed behind closed doors in private.
For what it’s worth this was his final remark to an open forum:
Councillor McColl responded as follows: “Yes, absolutely. What I would say if you want to ask you agents, or if you are emailing them directly if you want to copy me in on that so I’ve got a copy of the correspondence and I’ll be copied in on the responses as well and that way I can help keep things on track. I’m more than happy to do that, absolutely.”
The full council meeting will take place on zoom on Thursday. The big question then will be about how Ms Dick’s refusal to sell the field and be relocated with her horses will impact on the road project.
LOOKING BACK: Reprise of story in The Dumbarton Democrat in August 2019
The abandoned and polluted Esso site at Bowling pictured from the Old Kilpatrick Hills .
By Bill Heaney
Cash-strapped West Dunbartonshire Council – their debt has soared to an unconscionable £544 million – is still in the local government finance casino with Exxon Mobil, one of the richest oil companies in the world.
The Council appears to be sticking to its plan to pick up the tab for cleaning up the abandoned and polluted Esso tank farm between Dumbuck, Bowling and Milton on the banks of the Clyde.
The project is part of the City Deal Project, a series of 20 development projects costing £1.13 billion over ten years aimed at creating more than 600 jobs on Clydeside.
The Council are expected to agree this week to agree plans to increase the local taxpayers’ stake in the game from £3.8million to £4.7million when more cautious players might be persuaded to throw in their hand.
And quit while they are losing – yet again.
Concern increased this week when a new report revealed that the filthy rich oilmen withdrew from a briefing session with the Council, which was planned to take place on the 14th of this month.
ExxonMobil have informed the Council that they are not in a position at present to conclude their procurement approach to deliver the remediation strategy.
Which is not unexpected since they have been so caught up in the fall-out from another environmentally disastrous project at Mossmorran in Fife.
It is however heartening to hear officially that ExxonMobil – unlike West Dunbartonshire Council – have a procurement policy which they appear to be sticking with.