Author: Bruce Biddulph

December 21, 2017 Bruce Biddulph 3 comments

By Bruce Biddulph

Photo accompanying petition

(This text was included in an update to a petition to the Scottish Government to stop the sale of the Riverside Site in Balloch to Flamingo Land)

Drumkinnon Bay, along with its Woods and the river bank along the Leven which flows from Loch Lomond, are steeped in history. This history was almost destroyed in less than 100 years, and in the past year, an attempt has been made to obliterate it completely.

The woods, the bay and the riverside are three sacred cows really. The woods have stood here since the early 1800s as managed plantations, and before that, they were a small wood naturally growing in the fields and drumlins of Drumkinnon, through which the burn gently led to the bay, a sandy expanse that was a jewel in itself, opening up to the grandest view of Loch Lomond possible at low level.

Through the 19th Century the railway encroached, but did not destroy Drumkinnon, it could be argued the pretty steamships enhanced it. And then came the 20th Century, and the previously small sand pits that had been dug at one end of the now extensive plantation, were ruthlessly exploited by a local and by the 1960s he had left behind spoil heaps and pools that nature quickly rushed in to claim. Meanwhile a factory was built further towards Balloch, behind the woods and then in the 1950s a pipeline was laid from Finnart to Grangemouth, resulting in a broad line of trees being hacked down.

By the 1980s the factory was gone, and quickly a housing estate followed. The railway line closed too. In the 1990s work then started on Lomond Shores and by the 2000s the shape is as you see it now.

In all that time, the woods still grew, the bay was still swam in, the riverside was even opened up as a walkway and the former railway was levelled and turned into grasslands where families have played and picnicked for years now. Industrial wasteland it is not.

The success of Lomond Shores was deemed in itself a problem, in that Balloch the village was not benefiting from the million pairs of feet going there. So it was determined that a plan needed up to join up the village with the Lomond Shores – it seemed that a tasteful pruning of the riverside, with perhaps some form of attraction all year might suit. The idea being to have people walk in a circular way from one end of Balloch to another, there was even talk of a bridge over the Leven’s mouth to connect Balloch Park.

At no time time did anyone stand and say, what a dump let’s sell it.

Except Scottish Enterprise. And so to balance their own books they fabricated a tale of post industrial decline, scrubland and contamination, requiring some great saviour to come in and clean it all up and convert it into something productive. Quite the opposite story that the village was telling or knew.

Over the past year their tale has clashed with the village’s. And their sale proceeded with barely a recognition until the signs went up and suddenly, it was a done deal. Or so we screamed!

We were told we were talking nonsense. That it was all very open and that the company Flamingoland were the only ones who had an idea and we should all be, in effect, grateful.

Fast forward to this week, and a Freedom of Information request was responded to, in mean and miserable spirit. No details of an Exclusivity Agreement -yet one was made. No details of the price. No details of the other bidders, however, admission there was that there HAD been other approaches, strangely!

But now, no details. The exclusivity agreement itself and the excuse of commercial sensitivity meant that they deemed it right that the public interest could not be served by releasing any information at all. The rights of the buyer far more important than the rights of the people to know just what has been going on.

And so it seems the woven tale (of Scottish Enterprises) has led us to a chapter we may not read, until they have closed the book forever and sold the rights on the back of a poorly thought and detail-lite development. One that will kill the three sacred cows. One that will open up the floodgates.

This is the tale you wont hear. So far ,the media are not too interested, believing this is about local NIMBYs protesting about viewing towers. (Another narrative well spun by local politicians, who, perhaps understandably, dont want to get their hands sullied in this). So no real input from, them either locally or nationally.

And nationally, its a story that does not feel comfortable either. It hurts a government quango. Therefore, government ministers would be hurt also. Party goes before politics. People mind their own backs. And the locals? Those who have seen this are ignored, patronised, even told the narratives of the SE, that run contrary to their own memories, their own knowledge, and tell them that the bay, the riverside and the woods are not anything to get emotional about.

Well, perhaps not. Perhaps this is the age of no emotions, no heritage, no care for anything except the bottom line. Perhaps when all is wiped away and no real history is left, no-one need care.

We believe, those of us who DO care, that the line of decency has been crossed, that this is a sale too far, and that the loch – and the locals – deserve better guardianship than this. And most certainly do not deserve contempt.

We also believe that land in public hands is our gift to ourselves and our nation. And that it’s better we, the people, decide its future, than a speculator landowner shooed in by a secretive and unaccountable quango.

This is the history and story you wont hear. I urge you to let others hear it too.

Keep Loch Lomond’s Public Lands in Public Hands.  Sign the petition here
Stop the Sale. Share the Tale.

July 19, 2017 Bruce Biddulph 12 comments

By Bruce Biddulph, local resident of Balloch and amateur historian

Mackinnon Wood                                                                                       Photo Credit Bruce Biddulph

Whilst we await the first views of any precise plans that the developer has for Balloch’s Drumkinnon Woods and the west bank of the River Leven (see here) and (see here for example), we can only guess and fear what these will be.

Drumkinnon Woods is the green upside down horse-shoe shaped piece of land in the middle of the map

What does not seem to be an outlandish concern however is the question of access and what will happen to areas of this large parcel of land, which will also be linked to the lands around the old Woodbank Hotel, formerly the medieval estate of Stuckroger.

It may be helpful in this vacuum to pause and consider the history of this area, as the commonly accepted belief is that all of this land is a result of industrial decay, which of course means that the justification for Scottish Enterprise’s plans is “anything is better than dereliction”.

The wood is rich in plantlife, a sign of its age Photo Credit Bruce Biddulph

Even among locals there is the persistent idea that this is simply waste ground where trees have took root. That is true in the riverside area beside the Leven, for here sat the railway sidings up until the 1950s and the railway to the pier itself was uprooted back in the 1980s.

However in the middle of this swathe of land from the Leven to Woodbank is Drumkinnon Wood.

Drumkinnon Wood has kept its boundaries by and large since the early 18th Century and was a wooded area with fields surrounding it in the 1700s. This much is easily gleaned from maps of those times.

The popular misconception, one that has permitted SE to even think about selling off the woods to a private developer, is that these trees only grew from the ruins of the former British Silk Dyeing Co factory as well as the destruction of the sandy bay itself by quarrying for sand in the middle of the 20th Century.

However true that may be it is not true that the wood itself was a product of these two 20th Century disruptions to the once beautiful and idyllic lands of Drumkinnon.

Where the factory stood is more or less where houses stand now. The perimeter of the wood between the factory and the quarrying of sand was fixed and follows the line of the access road that was expanded during the infilling of the ‘pits’ left by the sand-mining and the creation of Lomond Shores.

In short, the factory was demolished and houses were built on its site, whilst the scarred remains of the sand pits were turned into a deep lagoon and Lomond Shores. Between the two lies and forever did lie since the 1800s, the Drumkinnon Wood. Both the factory and the extensive sand mining were products of the 20th Century.

The development of the Lomond Shores project included the woods and paths were created through them for residents and vistors to the new ‘attraction’ alike. Since then the old wood has been a firm favourite with dog walkers, families showing their children the wonders of nature and for anyone who simply enjoys a stroll in the woods. Unlike Balloch Park the wood does not suffer from huge amounts of visitors and retains a sense of ‘the wild’ that the Park cannot always deliver or obvious and even welcome reasons, as it is so well used and loved.

 

 

Like the Fisherwood which sits between the railway and the Leven further down, Drumkinnon is a survivor of 19th and 20th Century upheaval.

It and the much diminished sandy beach are the last remnants of what was once a beauty spot with a history of common involvement that survives to this day.

Handing these two remnants of Drumkinnon that have came through the years still with us and being passed into the hands of a profit-making corporation is a prospect that should alarm all of us.

Having put signs up at the edge of the wood saying “no camping”, one of Scottish Enterprise’s ideas for the development of Drumkinnon Wood is to provide glamping pods

At the very least we need assurances that the developers are not given carte blanche to do as they wish, and the untold history of Drumkinnon is an omission that should shame a public body such as Scottish Enterprise who have done little to find out what the property itself is all about except as “derelict land”.

This has poisoned public opinion against the woods themselves as they are seen merely as painful reminders of a lost factory that was the source of stable employment in Balloch since 1930.

It is imperative that we recognise this is a distortion of our history and leaves Drumkinnon Wood in a position it does not deserve and we the people should be ashamed for permitting the sale of a wood to a private developer. There is adequate land for developments elsewhere in the immediate area that at present are poor fields of little apparent value, having themselves been disrupted by the building of the by-pass, perhaps these should be looked to as possible sites for hotels and restaurants and whatever else the developers and SE have in mind, instead of the destruction, however minimal, of a wood that is at least two centuries old and has loyal visitors to it young and old today.

The moorings along the Leven from the Riverside site

There are other issues here, such as mooring rights in the Leven as well as the sandy beach itself, which appears to be zoned for the developer’s use as well. That these three areas are areas that have been enjoyed by locals and vistors freely, in some cases for centuries, with no need of deep pockets, perhaps we have to ask if we are looking here at another form of Highland Clearance. It seems as is the case with the priorities of the LLTNPA, that upmarket middle income earners are preferred to people with little or no income in this National Park of ours.