DUMBARTON: THE TOWN’S FUTURE LIES IN SCOTLAND’S FISHING INDUSTRY

April 1, 2022

NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY

Basket case West Dunbartonshire Council has at last come up with a way to breathe new life into Dumbarton town centre and riverside.

Armed with the £22 million “leveling up” money granted to them by Boris Johnston and the Westminster Tory government, the SNP-dominated council intends to create a state of the art fishing port at Dumbarton Quay.

When completed, this visionary project will transport the town back in time to the beginning of last century before the Denny’s and MacMillan shipyards were in operation, and when herring was landed at the quay by a fleet of trawlers and processed by bonnie fishwives.

The catch from Docherty’s boats – they are still remembered and recalled in local street songs – was then barreled and salted before being transported to Glasgow and Edinburgh by rail via the old Dumbarton South railway station in Glasgow Road and marketed at the Saltmarket in the city.

Dumbarton was a prosperous town at that time and was widely viewed as the main centre of population and political power in Dunbartonshire, which was then known as the Ancient Capital of Strathclyde.

It was the proud seat of local government in the County Buildings, and the Justice of the Peace and Sheriff Courts  sat beside the Burgh Hall, the Denny Institute and Dumbarton Prison in Church Street and McLean Place.

All this activity was overseen by the magnificent town clock on the steeple of the Old Parish Church. The Municipal Buildings in College Park Street were built later.

It is anticipated that the consultant architects for this project, Ponsonby, O’Neill and Waymark, will consult closely with the SNP council leader,  Jonathan McColl, and Bailie Denis Agnew, a so-called Independent dyke jumper from Labour, whose vote keeps the SNP in power.

“These three distinguished townsfolk, who have been brought in because the council does not have an architect of its own who is suitably experienced in this type of work, have so much in common with our elected representatives and are most definitely on the same wavelength,” said one observer. “It is impossible to embarrass any of them.”

Cllr Agnew, pictured left,  still wears a gold chain associated to his outdated role and is being paid a few thousand pounds more than other councillors. The whereabouts of his ermine and velvet robe and black tri-corn hat are concealed far from envious eyes.  We can’t wait to see him wear them.

The Bailie, as he likes to be called, is said to have negotiated his way to this questionable deal, which also brought him the convenership of the Culture (ahem) Committee, which is behind the plan to close Dumbarton Library and replace it with a coffee shop in Glencairn House in the High Street.

This is his idea of progressive politics.

Despite the fact that Bailie Agnew was behind a similar, very expensive but daft plan to introduce a coffee shop and museum in Clydebank Town Hall where hardly anyone chose to visit it. Perhaps he should put his newly acquired £25,000 painting on display there?

And then there’s the rickshaws for whisking elderly citizens around Levengrove Park.  Whatever you do, don’t mention the rickshaws to the SNP, or the tree felling or the grass cutting or slicing the bottom off classroom doors to combat covid.

Or the mitigation speech made by Jonathan McColl for not cutting the grass in the parks, cemeteries and open spaces. Oh, and the cutting down of trees on a housing site at Garshake.

Cuts, big council cuts. Jonathan makes them and he covers up with blether.

I can’t say whether it’s a coincidence that the Fishtown idea came from the fact that the ancient fishwife Mary Kelly features on the pages of a number of local history books, selling her fresh fish, whelks, mussels and clabby doos on the steps of  Glencairn House.

She has been described as Dumbarton’s very own Molly Malone.

It seems that some councillors were missing the smell of the Scotch whisky making process at Ballantine’s distillery and felt a need to replace that obnoxious odour with something similar – the smell of fish, which fits in with the piscine way the council has handled its procurement policies.

For four years, no less, they didn’t have any procurement officers at all in post. And then they lost the plot when they were found out.

When College Way, the town centre buildings and The Rialto cinema in the old Vennel are finally demolished, it is planned that a centre of learning to replace St Mary’s College will be built there.

And that the college arch will be moved from the grounds of the Municipal Buildings to a place of prominence in the High Street.

Once The Rialto is purchased and refurbished at a cost of slightly less than the £16 million squandered at the Burgh Hall, it will be used for council meetings which means it will continue to feature mainly comedy turns.

Coincidentally, the statue of Peter Denny is to be dragged down Sadam-style and tipped unceremoniously into the River Leven at the foot of Brewery Lane.

The west side of High Street will be renamed The Pink Strip and incorporate a number of gay bars to suit the tastes of 21st century swingers, of which there appears to be quite a few with considerable influence in the way things are done here.

The SNP government in Edinburgh are so enthused they are encouraging this and have, as is their wont,  published a consultation document.

Views on a draft future catching policy are being sought along with plans to roll-out Remote Electronic Monitoring systems for boats fishing in the Firth of Clyde.

Working in partnership with fishers [there are no longer any ‘fishermen’], scientists and environmental groups, the consultations will shape an environmentally and economically sustainable sector for future generations.

The rules for both schemes will apply to all vessels, regardless of origin, fishing in Scottish waters – ensuring a level playing field for all. Fish Wars is to be avoided at all costs.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “Scotland’s seas are rich and diverse, providing delicious, healthy seafood and supporting our coastal communities.  Fishers and their businesses make a significant contribution to the economic and cultural fabric of our coastal communities. Now, more than ever, the spotlight is on the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, which require urgent action in order to deliver change on a significant and long-lasting scale.”

Dumbarton will be in the vanguard of all this exciting change.

Council education convener Karen Connaghan has been told to bone up on her fishery-related skills such as fish gutting and the angel cut filleting of haddock, plaice, monkfish and even salmon. There will be FE classes for that.

There is a question mark over the salmon however because natural or wild salmon as it is now known may no longer be available since it is under threat of extinction from pollution and disease at salmon farms which are now being planned as close to the River Clyde in places such as Loch Long.

Loch Long may be the dirtiest loch in Scotland but SEPA, the environment agency, seems to think it will be OK to farm fish there.  We hve nothing on the Russians when it comes to poisoning people. Planning permission from Argyll and Bute Council is in the pipeline for that.  Let’s hope they throw it out.

The much loved local delicacies mussels and whelks have long disappeared from local shores at places such as Carrick Castle, and have been killed off and poisoned by tons of untreated sewage.

Thankfully, this has yet to bring about the demise of langoustines and other valuable species such as cod, which once kept our trawler-men in work.

Councillors such as McColl have been told that, unlike Bailie Agnew, they will not be asked to wear gold chains of office.

It is being mooted though that they wear French-style berets and fashionable Dumbreton sweaters, kilts and clogs whenever they get back to their seats in that unfit for porpoise chamber in the Burgh Hall.

A special maritime-flavoured send-off into retirement is being planned to mark the departure of Council Chief Executive Joyce White.

Although the route for that is still being worked out, a gaily decorated barge will take the celebration party out to the fishery protection vessel HMS Dumbarton Castle, which is being brought out of retirement for the reception.

However, the barge will have to negotiate the sunken wrecks in the River Leven – the Council  will probably just ignore them as ever – as the flags and bunting on the gaily decorated flotilla sail from the Quay to the Castle.

It would make you proud to be a Dumbartonian.

 

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