West Dunbartonshire Council in controversial rent free deal for Ardlui activity centre

West Dunbartonshire Council is expected to approve a transfer of the lease of the building to a new business, Loch Lomond Lodge

The former activity centre was closed by West Dunbartonshire Council in 2015. 

By Bill Heaney

A private company is to be given the lease of the former Ardlui Outdoor Activity Centre on Loch Lomondside in a rent free deal involving West Dunbartonshire Council, almost a decade after its controversial closure.

The Council was last month, expected to approve a transfer of the lease of the building to a new business, Loch Lomond Lodge, operated by Jacqui Johnston.

However, whether that happened or not, the Council have refused to reveal any details to The Dumbarton Democrat.

It’s the kind of venue in the kind of place that celebrities would love to tie the knot.

Ms Johnston says the new business will offer a full range of products and services including accommodation, food and drink, outdoor sports packages, and equipment led by qualified professionals, as well as events, weddings, farmers markets, fitness camps, pick up and drop off services to various locations for anyone participating in activities including the West Highland Way and skiing.

She estimates that refurbishment of the building will cost more than £500,000, but property speculators estimate it will be worth £millions when the work is finished.

The site, which is locally known as McGregor’s Landing has been on the market since 2016.

West Dunbartonshire Council received criticism from the public after closing the loss-making venue in June 2015.

It was felt that with some vision, the Council could have invested in the centre and converted it to some other useful purpose, which would have been more popular with the public.

It was put on the market shortly after and five parties expressed interest but just one bid was received, from a cancer charity, with the plans later falling through.

Members of WDC’s Infrastructure, Regeneration and Economic Development committee will be asked to approve the plans, and a rent-free period of up to 18 months.

The fabulous dining room set up for a wedding at Ardlui.

If they did approve the rent free element then that is a scandal since many other businesses in the area could benefit from rent free periods or reductions in rent in places with empty empty premises.

A report set to be presented to members says that transferring the lease could save the allegedly cash-strapped local authority up to £900,000 over the remaining 12 years of the lease.

It continues: “The council are tenants of Ardlui Outdoor Centre by virtue of a lease for a period of 25 years effective from 22 February 2010 granted by Freeland Developments Limited.

“The council closed the facility on 30 June 2015.

“During the council’s occupation various works were carried out both internally and externally.

“As a result the council were required to obtain all necessary permissions and authorisations from both Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority and Argyll and Bute Council for such work, and these were granted.

“By agreeing to this transfer the council will remove a potential maintenance liability from the council’s asset register.

“Land which has lain vacant and disused for a number of years will be brought back into a use which will provide educational, cultural and employment generating opportunities.”

It adds: “The prospective tenant has provided the council with details of experience and provided evidence in relation to proposed uses and officers believe she would be a suitable proposed tenant.”

Offering stunning views of the River Falloch and easy access to Loch Lomond, McGregor’s landing was built in 1993 as residential outdoor education and conference centre.

It has capacity for around 80 guests over 29 single and shared rooms, many of which offer stunning panoramic views over Loch Lomond.

The reason West Dunbartonshire Council gave in relation to the transfer of the lease at Ardlui – that it would save the local authority having to fork out maintenance money until it expired – was similar to the excuse they gave when they sold off Langcraigs old persons’ home in Dumbarton.

They said that it would come into use much more speedily – again in the private sector – if they did a special deal with the new owners which they did and which cost council taxpayers £250,000. It was not sold to the highest bidder.

The SNP and the now Labour administration have never explained why that happened or in addition how much public money was squandered on the purchase of half a dozen electric vehicles, which sat rusting  in a car park for more than a year.

Meanwhile, another Scottish local authority which tops the basket case league just ahead of West Dunbartonshire, SNP-run Glasgow City Council is having to hire vehicles because some of its own fleet does not meet new rules on emissions.

More than 600 of its vehicles are not allowed inside the city’s Low Emission Zone (LEZ) introduced last week.

The council said only a small number of the non-compliant vehicles were required to enter the zone but they include all its uplift trucks used for parking enforcement.

The GMB union said the cost of hiring vehicles was a waste of resources.

Top picture caption: This happy couple held their wedding reception in the scenic Ardlui Centre at McGregor’s Landing on Loch Lomondside before it closed controversially. The centre lease, which has 12 years left on it and is currently in the hands of West Dunbartonshire Council, is now being transferred to a private company.

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