Flamingo Land – the gap between rhetoric and reality

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By coincidence, the above article appeared in the Sunday Herald (in their towns supplement) just a few days after Flamingo Land had been announced as the preferred developer for the west riverside site at Balloch (see here).    The contrast between what Kevin Stewart is saying and what Scottish Enterprise announced is stark:

    • The “solution” to the west riverside site has NOT been developed by those who live and work in Balloch apart from the aspiration that the site should link the Loch Lomond shores development to the town centre by means of a riverside site.   The actual use of the rest of the site has not been subject to consultation.
    • The decision to make Flamingo Land the preferred developer was not made by the local community but by Scottish Enterprise and could well have involved another member of the Scottish Government, the Business Minister.
    • A Development Trust, the Scottish Government’s apparent preferred solution for re-invigorating towns like Balloch, appears not to have been considered.

 

Announcements that the LLTNPA was in discussions about the development of a theme park on the shores of Loch Lomond were made back in 2011 (see here)  (thanks to a reader for the link!).  It appears very likely that the secret site referred to by Wayne Gardner Young was west riverside.   Meantime, Government policy has changed so cosy deals with developers are no longer supposed to happen and the community should be put in the lead.     Scottish Enterprise and the LLTNPA however have just blundered on (I don’t blame the staff, just the senior management and Boards) with an approach that is now discredited.

 

I have submitted a number of Freedom of Information requests about this, such as whether the LLTNPA has assessed  the likely impact this development could have on existing local businesses or if Scottish Enterprise advertised the opportunity.   (I have not been able to find any contract advertisement on the Scotland Contracts Portal – that may just be me – but the public sector is now supposed to advertise all such opportunities there).  In terms of public policy, following Kevin Stewart’s piece, I believe the local community should have been given a chance to bid for the development or alternative use of the west riverside site.

 

So why the gap between rhetoric and reality?

 

The main reason I believe lies in neo-liberal thinking, which accepts there is no alternative to private finance to make things happen and indeed believes private enterprises do everything best.   The problem is that despite all the evidence for the failure of neo-liberalism, the Scottish Government has not worked out any solutions to make Kevin Stewart’s vision a reality.  This I believe needs to involve local sources of finance (in German local banks finance local business and development) and more public expenditure (which is about our tax system and most pressingly tax evasion).    However,  Scottish Enterprise has hardly started to think about this, despite it having a co-operative development team,  and it still operates as if  large developers and developments are the only option.

 

Added to that,  Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Goverment Minister responsible for tourism and enterprise from 2011 until earlier this year, has always been on the right wing of the SNP.   He was responsible for both Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Island Enterprise and I don’t think its a coincidence that outside developers have been brought in to develop two prime sites controlled by them,  Natural Retreats at Cairngorm and now Flamingo Land at west Riverside.    Its the way he thinks and he was never going to say to Scottish Enterprise “hang on a moment, is this the only option?”

 

At the same time the LLTNPA adopted an explicit neo-liberal path under their previous Chief Executive, Fiona Logan, who saw business as the answer to everything (this is well illustrated by her flirtation with Wayne Gardner Young – see link above).   She then got her Board to adopt an explicit Commercialisation Policy in 2013 which covers every aspect of what the National Park does, from how to develop tourist facilities to charging for toilets and carparks (which I will cover further in due course).    Part of this involved the Board getting big developers to pay for their planning section by increasing charges – a conflict of interest if ever there was one – as  the future of the planners’ jobs at the National Park in part depends on developments such as Flamingo Land going ahead.

 

While the LLTNPA still claims to put the conservation and public enjoyment of the National Park first, the reality is that commercialisation is driving everything in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.   This is bad for local communities and bad for the people who visit the National Park.    While we cannot expect our National Parks to address all the ills of neo-liberalism and the austerity that goes with it,  if our National Parks are not about other values such as protecting landscape and nature from the excesses of capitalism and enabling people to enjoy these things, then they are not worth anything.

 

I think the organiser of the petition to stop Flamingo Land was right (see here) The Scottish Government should intervene, tell Scottish Enterprise and the LLTNPA to scrap the Flamingo Land proposal and start work with the local community and other organisations to develop alternatives.  I would hope Kevin Stewart, the Minister, will publicly support that as a way forward in accordance with his thinking.

 

 

1 Comment on “Flamingo Land – the gap between rhetoric and reality

  1. Nick,
    Interested to see your three articles on the outline plans for the land at West Riverside linked with a good dose of agency bashing. Makes for good copy but factually incorrect re non advertisement of the site . Was widely advertised in publications like the Herald and the potential range of site uses has been listed on a large hoarding prominently displayed next to the Balloch end of the site and adjacent to the tourist information centre for several years at least. Various schemes for the site have come and gone over the past 30 years or so.
    However, you are correct in mentioning the site was formerly derelict . Going back to the 1980s much of the site was a no go area with contaminated land linked to its former uses as a silk dye works factory, railway sidings and sand and gravel workings. This was due to dereliction, soil contamination and years of neglect by the owners of three separate pieces of land . In the mid 1980s the Area Tourist Board tackled some of the dereliction on the edges of the site with the use of 100 or so unemployed people from the Vale of Leven with the help of Manpower Services Commission funding as part of ‘Operation Bonnie Banks’. This resulted in a safe beach area being created, the removal of the remains of dangerous and unsightly brick walls as part of the main gated entrance to the silk dye works and much more as part of an effort trying to instil more civic pride in the long term unemployed. A great success with limited resources .
    At that time the Scottish Tourist Board also joined forces with Bredero to have a comprehensive look at what could be done longer term if the piecemeal land ownerships were brought together. A major development options study was undertaken and concluded there was scope to develop an indoor leisure centre (similar to Rhyl Sun Centre in North Wales) and housing. Some time later Cala Homes came forward with an ambitious plan to cover the site in luxury housing with those on the loch front having their own private boat moorings. Dumbarton District Council planners in their wisdom recommended approval but thankfully Councillors refused the development planning permission after listening to the strong representation from the Friends of Loch Lomond, the Area Tourist Board and the Balloch community who argued that this was too important a site for recreation and tourism to be allowed to be developed for housing. An expensive public inquiry was then held and the late Hannah Stirling, the then Chairman of the Friends of Loch Lomond contributed a substantial sum to hire a QC to fight the case along with local Councillors and the Area Tourist Board. Fortunately the case was won by the objectors and Scottish Enterprise was encouraged to purchase the site and to progress plans primarily for tourism and leisure development. This is the background to what led to the phase 1 Loch Lomond Shores development and there was always an intention to develop a phase 2 to link the centre of Balloch with the lochshore more effectively. Much earlier In the early days of the Joint Committee which preceded the creation of a National Park the then Scottish Development Agency was encouraged to purchase the West Riverside site which was owned by British Rail. They worked with the Joint Committee and the Area Tourist Board to restore the derelict former railway station building in the centre of Balloch which was converted into a tourist information centre and offices. The land between the Station building and Balloch Pier beside the River Leven was also restored and extensively landscaped with a new path. Derelict moorings and sunken boats were also removed from the West Riverside edge of the River Leven with the help of Loch Lomond Association.
    Various attempts have been made over the years to market all or part of the site for hotel and leisure development. Occasionally Scottish Enterprise have mooted the idea of part of the land being used for housing but this has been strongly resisted by the Friends and others. There was also previously a couple of preferred bidders to develop the site which fell by the wayside for a variety of reasons. In previous cases and this case the site was well advertised by Scottish Enterprise. The site has also appeared in local Development Plans as an area with tourism and recreation development potential.
    Given this site history (apologies for the level of detail but I think it is important to set the context) the Friends and others have been consistent in their desire to see the site being developed for a range tourism and recreational uses. However, this doesn’t mean we will accept anything and we will be reviewing the latest plans very carefully though it does appear the general thrust of what is planned is entirely consistent with what has been mooted for the site for many years with strong riverside boardwalk links between the centre of Balloch and a mix of family orientated tourist accommodation and recreation facilities.
    I wonder if the company selected to work up a scheme for this former derelict site hadn’t been called Flamingoland if there would be such a furore? Had Forest Holidays come forward with a scheme here I doubt it even though they develop high end self catering accommodation out of the reach of many ordinary families price bracket. Pleased to see glamping and a much needed youth hostel featuring in the emerging proposals and it will be interesting to see in due course what the eventual mix of accommodation is by type and price point. Sounds as if they are aiming to serve a wide range of socio-economic groups which would be very welcome.
    No one has seen the detail of their plans yet so let’s not pre-judge their plans and encourage them to sit down with representatives from local groups such as the Community Council, the Friends and others. Hopefully there will be an opportunity to influence the final plans as they are worked up prior to a detailed planning application. We suggested this to a representative of the company prior to the Charrette getting underway more than 6 months ago and for whatever reason this wasn’t followed through at that time.
    I hope this note helps bring some balance to the current debate on the future of what is the last major site for tourism and recreation development in the Loch Lomond area and a scheme emerges which meets the aspirations of local residents and visitors from all backgrounds and socio economic groups. Incidentally, great news that West Dunbartonshire Council has recently committed over £1 million for two village squares and public realm works in the centre of Balloch which emerged as community priorities during the recent planning charrette exercise. Just goes to show the agencies do sometimes take on board community wish lists. Shame though about loss of land next to NPA HQ for housing instead of much needed car parking.

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