Tag: flamingo land

June 5, 2017 Nick Halls 4 comments

By Nick Halls, resident of Ardentinny

The LLA has given extensive coverage to the impact of the byelaws on Loch Lomond in its annual review available online (http://lochlomondassociation.co.uk/LLA17WEB%20-%20Rev1.pdf)

The changing landscape of the National Park

 

I monitor the evolution of the Bye Laws and the incoherent manner of the implementation, by means of observation, talking to campers, visiting designated sites, reports contributed by ‘Parkswatchscotland’, and articles in magazines of Representative bodies of the physical activities in which I engage, which include camping associated with watersports and terrestrial activities.

 

I supported the creation of a National Park and worked to have Argyll Forest Park included.  I have lived in the area of the LL&T National Park since 1969 and experienced nearly half a century of change, much of which has degraded the environment, depopulated communities of young people, reduced indigenous economic activity and local job opportunities. Not all of which lies at the door of the NP Authority, but it has done little to either slow or reverse the processes, despite the objectives of the NP. In fact, the NP Authority seems to reinforce the destructive impacts from which I imagined it would protect the area.

 

I observe daily the destructive impacts of motorists, near roadside camping, day visitors and egregious behavior of residents. I live amongst the land management practices of farmers, estates and Forestry Commission Scotland(FCS) and observe the degradation of the scenic quality of the National Park with dismay.

Conifer afforestation cutting off access to the hills and taking over former habitations that once provided places to camp – photo Nick Kempe
Deer fence and gate, Stob an Fhainne, north of Loch Arklet    Photo Nick Kempe

I have also noted the restriction of pleasurable free access, arising reversion of farmland to scrub and the ‘clear fell’ practices of FCS, encroachment of invasive non-native species, and enclosures designed to exclude deer. The hills are almost inaccessible other than by over used ‘popular’ routes – creating obvious landscape scars.

 

 

 

I am an ‘immigrant’ to the area but note with concern the progressive emigration of the indigenous population, for education, employment and improved life chances. My son who attended Dunoon Grammar, has only one or two school friends left in the area – he is now working in Canada. The indigenous population is progressively concentrated in suburban localities, while much of the more desirable property is used as either second or holiday homes or occupied by elderly retired incomers.

 

I believed naively the creation of a National Park would mitigate the damaging impacts arising from residents, land managers and visitors. I have been profoundly disappointed.

 

I have concluded the Governance of the National Park Board exemplifies the manner in which established vested interests, that actually have their ‘hands on the levers of power’ in Scotland, operate to secure influence by attaining appointments on the Boards of arms-length government agencies, that purport to serve the wider public interest, and then betray ‘people’s’ trust by subverting them in their own interest.

 

The eradication of space for camping from the National Park

 

It seems incredible that charging for camping, and by extension access, for a legal recreational activity in a National Park could ever have received endorsement by an SNP Minister of the Scottish Government. It discredits the very existence of the Scottish Parliament – and devalues the legislation it passes.   Justifications presented in support of Bye Laws were flimsy at best, but could be presented as blatant misrepresentation to secure a predetermined outcome.

 

Provision for any sort of camping has been eradicated from the area progressively from the time I first arrived in 1969 – as camping sites evolved into first caravan parks then chalet developments – both much more intrusive than temporary camping. As confirmed by reference to OS and Bartholomew Tourist maps published prior to 1989.

Ribbon chalet/caravan development Ardgoil with conifer afforestation blocking access to hillside above – Photo Nick Kempe

These concentrated seasonal residential eyesores impose more pressure on public infrastructure, particularly sewerage and waste disposal, than any number of transient campers. They also degrade the natural qualities of the NP by a progressive urbanization, and pollute the aquatic environment surreptitiously – the shores of Loch Long, Loch Goil & Loch Lomond reveal plenty of evidence – fly tipping, cotton buds, toilet paper & sanitary towels are not dropped by shipping!

The enclosure of Loch Shores – Loch Lubnaig Photo Nick Kempe

 

 

Significantly, under current legislative conditions, land that was once accessible has been converted into curtilage by close spaced semi-permanent temporary residences – a surreptitious usurping of what was once a ‘common good’ into exclusive compounds.

 

 

The architecture of these developments contrast with the vernacular building style, stimulating images of beach front caravan sites of a coastal resort or over-crowded chalet developments in an alpine resort. They fundamentally erode the integrity of the ‘uniquely  Scottish’ nature of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs, so admired by artists of the 19th and 20th Century.

Painting of Ben Lomond from shore at Balloch, Hunterian Gallery, Glasgow Uni – a great illustration of the philistine destruction implied by Flamingoland

 

Overgrown former entrance Suie Field – photo Nick Kempe

When I first arrived ‘wild’ camping was easy, but progressively every spit and exploitable piece of lower land has been either privatized, trashed by industrial forestry practice or over grown by non-native invasive species, such as Japanese Knot weed, Rhododendron, not to mention windfall, bracken & scrub.

 

A contributing factor has been decline in cattle & sheep farming, so formerly grazed areas are now overgrown. Suie Field and Cuilag exemplifies this feature, where the residual preferred camping options are now on the shingle beach.

 

The current situation is that there are very few accessible spaces to camp, and those that remain are intensively used by day visitors and campers. Progressive ‘privatization’ of accessible spaces and increased use of private cars for short visits to the NP have concentrated use, but the services to accommodate the use have not been provided.

 

All of this has been made explicit by numerous reports, press comment and user groups. It is not a recent ‘discovery’, it is as plain as the ever-lengthening noses on the faces of spokesmen for the NP Authority.

The bins originally proposed for the north Loch Venachar car parks included recycling facilities but LLTNPA staff cut bin provision and toilets from the original plans contained in the 5 Lochs Visitor Management Plan Photo Nick Kempe

Many former informal sites have been converted into car parks/picnic sites – in favour of motorist and day visitors, at many of them camping is frowned upon. This exemplifies considerable public investment for one category of visitors at the expense of low cost provision for another. The necessary infrastructure for such concentrated use by day visitors has not been provided, such as bins, garbage disposal and toilets. There is no coherent provision to accommodate the requirements of visitors of any sort.

 

North Loch Venachar, where informal campsites were proposed just 5 years ago in 2012 were redesigned to make camping difficult before the camping byelaws banned camping here completely and instead there are permit places in a muddy field on the other side of the road. Photo Nick Kempe

It escapes me as to why picnic tables proliferate, while being less than essential, while nice camping spots are eradicated. What ideology of visitor management validates this preference?

 

Evidence indicates campers are to be progressively driven from the Camping Management Zones and LL & T NP more generally.

 

The real problems faced by the National Park

Fly tipping of garden and other waste at Cuilag – unlikely to have been done by visitors – photo credit Nick Halls

The actual problems the NP has to confront are not ‘visitors’ but egregious land management practice, rural decay and the reversion of uneconomic farmland to marsh and scrub and fly tipping by residents. This ignores the vast tracks of land rendered inaccessible by industrial forestry practice, within which were farm towns with improved walled enclosures, charcoal burners platforms & hut platforms – reasonably drained and near water. All of which used to provide opportunities for camping.

 

This destruction of amenity is substantiated by pictorial evidence supporting reports – but to designate this sort of terrain as desirable camping locations, and charge for using it, is incomprehensible. There must be issues arising from Trades Description and Fraud legislation.

 

I cannot understand why Scottish Sports Association has not put pressure on both Sport Scotland and Ministers to review the operation of the Boards of both NPAs? The lack of consultation with representative bodies for sports and recreational activities is itself a disgrace, [except sporting estates] but the complete indifference to representations from bodies of all categories of users of the NP’s in preference to a spineless subservience to the interests of landowners/managers and influential residents surely cannot be tolerated any longer.   Particularly so, as private interests seem to be obscured by the practice of holding unrecorded ‘pre-agenda’ meetings to ensure outcomes of subsequent Public Meetings, during which interests of Board Members are not declared or recorded.

The newly “restored” hydro track to the top of the Eagle Falls, Glen Falloch. The original planning permission by the Board required the track to be removed but this was overturned by staff

Specific concerns arise in the case of hydro works in Glen Falloch, unrestricted construction of intrusive estate infrastructure on wild land, appallingly unaesthetic commercial forestry practice, and to top it all the, proposals for ‘Flamingo land’, as if a Scottish National Park is the equivalent of Center Parks or a Funfair, or in the case of Lomond Shores, Blackpool!

The LLTNPA want to develop the shoreline on right into Flamingo Land, Ben Lomond left – photo credit Nick Halls

It makes one wonder if the Board/Authority can distinguish between a Regional Park recovered from an industrial wasteland in the midst of a conurbation and conserving an iconic area of wild land, the history of which underpins the Scottish national identity.

 

I note the CV of James Stuart, it will be of interest to see whether he is just another ‘safe pair of hands’ appointed to protect vested interest, or whether he can change the culture of the LL & T NP Board. It will also be interesting to see whether the new councillors serving the constituencies within the NP boundaries, will treat the NPA as just another local authority and a vehicle for promoting their electoral interests.
Whatever emerges I fear it will not enhance the reputation of NP’s in Scotland, or enhance the environmental quality of the land for which the NP Board have planning responsibility. It will demonstrate how Scotland is ‘actually’ governed, and how little real concern exists for a ‘Fairer and more Equal’ Scottish Society.

 

Attitudes of Park staff

 

Recently, I was informed by a Ranger that the bye laws were necessary to exclude ‘travellers’ from the NP [by which I assume he meant Tinkers/Gypsies] who annually made a mess of camping places – to co-opt my sympathy on the assumption that I would naturally agree that such lower order socio-economic scum should not be allowed use the NP, or upset the largely middle class ‘blow ins’ who have replaced the indigenous population. There is no evidence whatever that the mess left by visitors both day and overnight can be attributed to any particular sector of society, other than highly subjective guesswork. There is ample evidence that the fly tipping, of which there are examples everywhere, is the responsibility of residents.

 

He also mentioned that tidying up the NP, by exclusion of campers, was an imperative because foreign visitors, particularly those traversing the West Highland Way, remarked on the quality of the Scottish Scenery but bemoaned the litter everywhere. This underlines the lack of a litter management strategy, but hardly validates the exclusion from preferred camping sites nowhere near the West Highland Way.

 

It is hard not to conclude that training of NP personnel involves reinforcement of social prejudice, that evidence they see every day must throw open to question.

 

Politics and the national interest

 

In the context of the lead up to an election in which constitutional issues will be influential, opinion about the detail of the ‘actual’ governance of Scotland is relevant.
It is appropriate to comment on abuse of position and influence and disregard for Scottish Law, in pursuit of objectives that reinforce social exclusion and private interest at the expense of the ‘common good’.

 

There is such dissonance between political pronouncements and the reality that it raises concern that Ministers of the Scottish Government consciously collude or are out of touch!  One wonders whether civil servants, parliamentary secretaries and constituency workers, who presumably monitor the press and other media, are keeping Ministers properly informed – or colluding in misrepresentation and abuse of power and due process – because they are in sympathy with it!


This raises the issue of ‘who actually governs Scotland’ and whether the declared social aspiration of the SNP  is being subverted or are just hollow. Strong & Stable [actually indecisive and floppy] versus Fighting for Scotland’s interests [actually weak and ineffective] while incapable of implementing any change worthy of notice, and presiding over socially regressive initiatives reinforcing the least palatable aspects of the Scottish social scene, of which they seem blissfully unaware.


The Governance of the NP Authorities and the accountability of senior officers is the issue under consideration, but the devious unaccountable nature of HIE, SNH, MOD, SEPA, FCS & the landowning interests with which they apparently closely identify is also becoming explicit.


The question has to be asked, ‘who disinterestedly speaks for the actual benefit of the majority of Scottish people’, and whether their voice should be heard?   The evidence seems to suggest that democratically organized representative bodies, charities and voluntary undertakings are treated with contempt.

April 24, 2017 Nick Kempe 7 comments
Aerial view of the proposed development area included in he scoping report from Peter Brett Associates

At the beginning of April, Flamingo Land (see here for most recent post and links) asked the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority whether an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) would be needed for its proposed development at Balloch  (see here)   The response of the LLTNPA on 13th April (see here) was that a full EIA will be required:

 

The development is permanent and will have an impact on a large area (33.5ha) and will have an impact on both visitors to the National Park, residents and businesses.  The proposal is complex and large scale.  The construction period is likely to be long and any impacts during construction will be prolonged in terms of construction traffic, noise and pollution.  The operation of the development also gives rise to potential significant environmental impact in terms of landscape impact, traffic increase and noise nuisance

 

The response was rapid I believe because the LLTNPA could hardly have said anything else.    So, what can the concerned public learn from the 125 pages of report submitted with the request for a screening opinion?

The most striking thing about this proposed development in our National Park is its size, 33.5 hectares, almost twice the size of the West Riverside Site marketed by Scottish Enterprise (map above).  What the top photo illustrates graphically is how Flamingo Land, through its purchase of Woodbank House, has in effect gained control of all the undeveloped land on the north west side of Balloch and its proposed development will effectively surround Loch Lomond shores.   Its power will increase further if Scottish Enterprise, as its proposing, eventually sells it the West Riverside Site. Land.   In effect the southern gateway to the National Park is being handed over to a private business.   There are legitimate questions about whether this is in the public interest and whether, whatever developments might eventually go be agreed by the LLTNPA,  the ownership of the West Riverside site should remain in public ownership or, alternatively, be transferred to the local community.

The EIA Report makes a reference to the site as being vacant and derelict – a myth that supporters of the development are using to justify the development – and states that there is a desire across  Glasgow Region to treat such land as an investment opportunity.   The trouble is the portrayal of the West Riverside site as derelict is  not true as the photo above shows.  Yes, there are pockets of dereliction and Woodbank House is in a sad state of disrepair.  While the West Riverside site may  not be the best green space in the world there is far more green than dereliction and, contrary again to claims in the Balloch Charrette, its well used by people.  Indeed much of the  greenspace is the  product of earlier restoration of what was formerly the line of the railway.

There are even pockets of wild along the shores of the River Leven.    If this is developed into a constructed river walkway, as the LLTNPA and Scottish Enterprise appears to wish, how will visitors to Balloch be able to access nature?   That is after all what the National Park is meant to be about?

 

The developers will argue that  people will still be able to access Balloch Country Park on the other side of the River Leven but this is inaccessible.   The EIA makes no mention of the long-wished for pedestrian bridge across  the head of the River Leven  which would enable people visiting Lomond Shores to access the Country Park.  That might offset to some extent the development of this site but the omission of the bridge from the EIA scoping requests indicates Flamingo Land has no intention of paying for this.

 

The EIA scoping Report is very vague about Flamingo Land’s plans which are listed as follows:

 

  However, other parts of the report give an indication of what this includes.

As if the existing Drumkinnon Tower at Loch Lomond shores was not enough, the report includes an outline visual impact assessment of a 100m high viewing tower.  Its appears that to compensate for the removal of greenspace  at Balloch, the idea is visitors should be able to view nature from afar.

 

 

 

You don’t need a viewing tower to see Ben Lomond from Balloch but  any viewing tower will have a signficant impact on the views south from the Loch Lomond National Scenic Area, including from the summit of Ben Lomond.   The EIA, though, apparently believes a solution could be found: “consideration should be given as to how to mitigate expansive southerly views from this popular hillwalking viewpoint”.    A friend suggested it could be very slim and reflect the shape of a Flamingo’s neck.

There is another apparent give away in the scoping of the Zones of Theoretical Visability (ZTVs).   On the maps that depict what can be seen from where there are three references to a “chute” which occurs nowhere else in the document.   Is this why the proposed Leisure Development feature is 50m high?    Is this an enormous water slide?   It appears the Sunday Herald was fully justified in referring to the proposal as the blingy bling banks of Loch Lomond (see here).    Such evidence as can be gleaned from the EIA documents provides no re-assurance about what Flamingo Land is going to propose but what it is it appears to be an intensive tourist development.

 

Such development is, I believe,  not appropriate for a National Park.   National Planning Guidance re-inforces this:

A good reason, one might have thought, for the LLTNPA to reject the proposal but the EIA provides an indication of why this might not happen:

This reads as though the application has already been agreed, its only the fine detail that needs to be sorted out and all can be mitigated.   It makes one wonder if the 100m viewing tower and leisure development are being proposed to divert people’s attention from other aspects of the plan, which are fundamentally about development on greenspace at one of the main entry points into the National Park?   The scenario is that following the inevitable public stushi on the viewing tower, the LLTNPA rejects that aspect of the proposal and tries to market the “compromise” which follows to the public as somehow meeting the statutory objectives of our National Parks.

 

The EIA contains a number of proposals for consultation, mainly with statutory bodies – potential for lots of wheeling and dealing behind closed doors – but nothing I could see about engaging with people who care about National Parks in Scotland, including the people who signed the petition against Flamingo Land.  So, how about Flamingo Land starting their consultation by asking the public about the viewing tower and leisure chute?

 

 

March 21, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

 

 

Part of torpedo range dump, Ben Lomond far distance

Thanks to reader Fiona Mackinnon who sent me this link about crackdown on fly tipping at the former  torpedo range on Loch Long by Arrochar (see here).   While I welcome this belated attempt to tackle rubbish in the National Park (the torpedo site has been used as an unofficial dump for years) – a far greater problem, incidentally, than has ever been caused by campers – the way this is being done appears wrong and it will not deal with the real problem, the derelict site.

 

In August 2016, following the June Board Meeting where Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park staff told Board Members that the new Fixed Penalty Notices for litter could not be used to tackle flytipping, but that other powers were available to do this, an amenity notice was served on the owners of the former torpedo site (see here).  This gave the owners, Clydebank Developments Ltd, 4 weeks to remove all the flytipping, level the piles of rubble on the site (but NOT the ruined buildings) and implement a road closure to the standard required by Argyll and Bute Council.  The required actions do not appear to have taken place within the required timescales.

Torpedo range road, a public road, which had now been blocked off to vehicles.

 

I was not aware of this road closure when I suggested in a post that the torpedo range road was one of the places in the National Park camping management zones where people could legally stop off and sleep overnight in campervans (see here).    However, I can find nothing on the Argyll and Bute website (see here) to indicate that, as Roads Authority, they have agreed this a road closure  although, back in 2013, they did agree for temporary traffic restrictions on the road  to enable the proposed development of the site to take place (see here).  It appears therefore that the road closure may be unlawful.

Much of the fly tipping on the site is likely to have been done by local people a consequence of the charges imposed by Argyll and Bute Council for bulk uplifts of domestic waste (£59.70 for ten minutes collection)

I have not re-visited the site since the gates went up to see if the flytipping has in fact been removed and the piles of rubble levelled.

 

Even if the Amenity Order is properly implemented, the site will remain strewn with materials from the demolition that has taken place and the upright buildings will remain.   The torpedo range closed in 1986  (for an excellent history compiled by the Ardlui, Arrochar and Tearbert Heritage Group (see here)).   Demolition on the site, which included housing for the workforce, did not start until over 20 years later in 2007 but soon after it commenced a major fire occurred and site clearance never re-started.  The site has been a dump and eyesore ever since.

 

The major responsibility for this planning blight lies with the Royal Navy which operated the site.   Instead of restoring the site once the torpedo testing stopped, it abandoned it and then eventually sold it to a private developer.   I cannot find the date for this but in effect this handed over the responsibility for the site clearance from the Government to private business.   The Royal Navy that spends £billions on weapons, was not prepared to find the relatively small sums needed to restore this site – what does this say about how much it cares about the environment?

 

This failure by the state to restore the land itself but instead transfer it to the private sector to do so, in my view inevitably resulted in a large-scale development proposal.   It was the only way to pay for the clear-up of the derelict site.  The National Park was basically handed a big bomb:  either agree the development or accept responsibility for the site being blighted for evermore.   There are strong parallels with the situation at Balloch where Scottish Enterprise, having owned the Riverside site for many years, expect Flamingo Land to restore any polluted land there as part of the development of the site and the LLTNPA has gone along with this.    Anyway, back in 2013 the LLTNPA  granted planning permission for a 130 bed hotel, 36 holiday lets, 16 houses and a chandlery.  This was only part of the development.  The other part, which was the responsibility of Marine Scotland to approve, was for a 245 place marina.

The site plan which was granted planning permission

 

Work was due to have started three years ago but never did and the planning permission lapsed last year.   This did not prevent the LLTNPA including the site once again in its Development Plan, which was approved last year,  as a major tourist development (V.E1).

This was a major opportunity to undertake a re-think for the whole site and to consider a use which would be appropriate for a National Park – an opportunity missed.

 

The original site proposal approved by the LLTNPA illustrates to me what is going wrong in the National Park:

 

  • The idea that large-scale private business investment will be the saviour of places and people.  Once again its failed to deliver.
  • The focus on the luxury market – the 130 bed hotel was seen as being the core attraction – no doubt linked to the yachting community who tend to have lots of money – rather than the people who actually enjoy the area at present.
  • The failure to consider the housing implications of job creation.   The Developers promised 300 new jobs in all, 260 on site, but no consideration was given to where all these people would live.   House prices in Arrochar are expensive and opportunities to rent almost non-existent.  Most of the workforce therefore would probably have had to commute in from Balloch, or further afield, spending a significant proportion of their low wages (and of their lives) on travel to work.   If there was a case for this development, there needed to be a plan to house the workforce:  instead, a requirement of the LLTNPA’s planning approval was that the holiday accommodation on site could not be turned into permanent accommodation
  • The 500 car parking places and heliport which tells a story about unsustainable travel.

 

The development proposal was all about money (from saving the Royal Navy from picking up the restoration tab to someone becoming rich).  It appears to me to have been parachuted onto the shore of Loch Long Arrochar without any consideration of the people who live there (how many would work in the development if it had taken place?),  the people who now visit and most importantly the place – and as a place it it should be very special, for the thousands who live within the Clyde conurbation and who enjoy the wonderful combination of hill and loch, as well as for visitors from further afield.

View from the Cobbler to Clyde Estuary November 20

 

 

The problem at present is that, despite good work on hill paths, the potential of Arrochar is not being realised:

 

  • basic tourist facilities, suited to the people who visit at present, are almost non-existent.  The consequence is the local community gets very little benefit from the hundreds of people who go hill walking in Arrochar
  • the creation of a camping management zone and the conversion of the campsite at Ardgarten into luxury holiday lodges epitomises this.   If people cannot stay locally, they won’t spend money, and its the campers who will visit pubs and cafes.
  • there are obvious opportunities to make more of the nearby public transport links, so people could hill walk or come camping, after taking the train or bus to Tarbert……………..
  • there is still far too much plantation forestry, which makes for a poor walking experience on low ground, and has had an adverse impact on wildlife
  • the place has an interesting history – as the torpedo range illustrates – so why not make something of this?

 

What should the LLTNPA do?

 

Its time the LLTNPA should develop a new vision for Arrochar, that should be fitting for a National Park and built around public investment in the area:

  • So why not compulsorily purchase the old torpedo range and call on the Royal Navy to do the right thing and restore the land it has blighted?
  • A community development trust could then provide a much needed campsite and some basic holiday accommodation (eg wigwams) on the site as well as transport links from Tarbert.
  • The proposal, in the original plans, for a path linking the site to Arrochar should be retained
  • Forest Enterprise should be called on to take out the conifer forests as it is doing on the east shore of Loch Lomond with a view to enabling native woodland (atlantic oakwoods) to develop
January 24, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
The former torpedo range by Arrochar is just one big rubbish dump – is the LLTNPA ever going to do something about this?

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park has been nominated by BBC Countryfile presenter as National Park of the year (see here)  There are four other nominees, South Downs, Peak District, Snowdonia and Yorkshire Dales.  The LLTNPA was quick to get in on the act, issuing its own press release and then arranging for this motion to be lodged in the Scottish Parliament: 

 

Motion Number: S5M-03569
Lodged By: Dean Lockhart
Date Lodged: 22/01/2017

Title: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

Motion Text:

That the Parliament congratulates everyone at Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park on it being shortlisted for the title of National Park of the Year 2017; notes that it is the only Scottish park in the final of the competition, which is run by the BBC Countryfile magazine; understands that the competition, which is in its sixth year aims to celebrate the importance of the British countryside and its people, nature reserves and heritage attractions; notes that the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs park covers over 720 square miles and includes 21 Munros, two forest parks and the Great Trossachs Forest, which was recently been named the UK’s latest and largest national nature reserve; understands that the park is renowned, not only for its undoubted beauty, but also as a living, working landscape that offers a home to unique wildlife as well as providing a range of activities for visitors and locals alike, and wishes all of the nominees, and the rest of the UK’s national parks, continued success.

 

This interest in National Parks in the Scottish Parliament is a positive thing.  However, both the motion and the Countryfile nomination confuse the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, the place, with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority,  the body responsible for  running it.   They are quite distinct.

 

While National Parks, as places, change a little each year, this is not  enough to explain why a National Park should be nominated one year rather than the next.  If thought, the Award, is supposed to be about the performance of National Park Authorities, there is no information provided by the BBC to enable people to compare how each of the National Park Authorities nominated for the award are doing.  The result is people will vote for the place they like, rather than what any National Park Authority is doing.   This will suit the LLTNPA, which does not like its performance to be scrutinised, and will be hoping that everyone in Scotland will vote for it simply because its a nomination from Scotland.

 

Before rushing headlong into supporting this piece of marketing, I hope our MSPs will consider the  LLTNPA’s performance in 2016.  The LLTNPA has a large communications team of, I believe, 8 staff to sing its own praises, so here I will only list some of the things they try to avoid mentioning:

 

  • In April the Standards Commission found against Board Member Owen McKee, the planning convener who traded in Scotgold Shares after the Cononish goldmine was approved.  Unfortunately the Standards Commissions did not have the powers to investigate how the Board covered this up.
  • The destruction of landforms and landscape in Glen Falloch, on an industrial scale, in order to construct new hydro schemes reached its apogee.  With staff having previously reversed the decision of Board Members that all the access tracks should be removed, these tracks now form permanent scars on the landscape.  The LLTNPA has failed to enforce its own standards for hydro schemes, including landscaping, colour of material used and width and design of access tracks.
  • The LLTNPA conducted a community planning consultation in Balloch – called a charrette, funded by the Scottish Government – without telling the local community that a company called Flamingo Land had been appointed to develop the large Riverside site and that as the National Park Authority it had been on the selection panel for that developer.
  • The secret and unaccountable Board Briefing sessions LLTNPA continued throughout the year –
  • The LLTNPA’s promise that it would provide new camping places if the camping byelaws were agreed collapsed.  The Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan, which included specific plans for campsites, along with the Stakeholder Group which contributed to it,  appears to have been abandoned entirely.    It has been replaced by a series of vague promises that the Park is continuing to work to develop new campsites in the proposed camping management zones.
  • Instead the LLTNPA committed to spending £345k on a new 26 place campsite at Loch Chon, which is inaccessible to anyone without a car, and where there is little demand.  The campsite was totally overspecified, which explains the cost, and the only justification for spending this money was so the LLTNPA could satisfy a promise to the Minister that they would develop new camping places before the camping byelaws commenced.
  • The LLTNPA developed a new permit system to control camping in the management zones which had not been subject to public consultation and then failed to consult its own Local Access Forum, a statutory consultee, on the implications for access rights.   Freedom of Information requests demonstrated that the LLTNPA’s decision to “create” 300 places where people could camp, was not based on any evidence about the impact of campers.
  • The Scottish Information Commissioner forced the LLTNPA to make public all but one of the slides that had been presented at the Secret Board Meetings which decided the camping byelaws and was investigating the failure of the LLTNPA to declare all the information it held about these meetings at year end.
  • The LLTNPA diverted a considerable proportion of its resources into a single issue, how to ban campers, and consequently failed to progress many far more important matters.  This was epitomised by the non-appearance of the new Park Partnership Plan (the Cairngorms National Park draft plan was consulted on over the summer) which is due to be signed off by Ministers in 2017
  • One year late, the LLTNPA published the Keep Scotland Beautiful litter audit.  During the course of Board Meetings it emerged that once again the LLTNPA had again failed to take any meaningful initiatives with its local authority partners on how to address litter problems in the National Park.  The litter strategy, promised in the Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan, is now several years overdue.
  • The LLTNPA planning committee refused to delay consideration of a planning application for housing next door to their HQ in Balloch until after the community planning event and instead approved the housing plans.

 

This is not intended as a balanced appraisal, for that one would need to add some positives and then look at how the overall scorecard squared with the performance of the other National Parks nominated by John Craven.  However, information like this needs to be put into the public arena if we are to have any chance of our current National Parks improving and meeting the objectives for which they were created.     Our MSPs, instead of accepting the marketing hype issued by the LLTNPA,  should start scrutinising what it is actually doing.

November 16, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
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The West Riverside site at Balloch which Scottish Enterprise and the LLTNPA wish to develop is currently a greenspace

A month ago I received a response from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority about their involvement in the west Riverside side and Flamingo Land.    In their letter eir-2016-051-responseb the Park have tried to defend their integrity as a planning authority and their ability to make an independent judgement on the Flamingo Land proposals:

 

“Scottish Enterprise invited the Park Authority’s Head of Visitor Experience to be involved in the process of reviewing the submissions for the West Riverside site. This involvement was in an advisory capacity in relation to tourism considerations and separate from, and without prejudice to, any consideration of planning issues. The decision regarding a preferred developer was for Scottish Enterprise as landowner to make.”

The documents which accompanied the letter eir-2016-051-response-appendix-a however contradict this claim –  and shows the Park were on the selection panel which appointed Flamingo Land.   Here are some relevant extracts which prove this:

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So if the decision was for Scottish Enterprise to make, why were the Park involved in appraising the bids? Scottish Enterprise of course wanted to be certain the in selecting a developer and proposal for west Riverside the LLTNPA would not later on object to this.

 

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This email makes it clear that LLTNPA were not just providing advice on the implications of each Developer’s bid, which would have maintained the Park’s claim to be neutral in this, they were involved in scoring each bid. In agreeing to score bids the Park made themselves a party to the selection of the developer.
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The emails about this meeting – the subject is deleted from the response – show both Stuart (Stuart Mearns, Head of Planning) and Mairi Bell attended this meeting. This meeting appears to have taken place soon after Flamingo Land had been appointed. It shows the Park are involved in every aspect of the proposal including land price.

While the FOI/EIR response is far from complete – there are references to other written material/meetings about which no information has been provided – they provide enough information to show that the LLTNPA was deeply involved in the selection of Flamingo Land.

 

What they also show is that the LLTNPA made a number of false claims in their flamingo-land-news-release issued on 26th September:

 

“Scottish Enterprise recently appointed Flamingo Land Limited as the preferred developer of their 20 hectare site at West Riverside, Balloch, in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park.”

Comment:  this is far from the full truth, the LLTNPA was clearly involved in the selection process

“Scottish Enterprise kept the National Park Authority’s tourism team informed at each stage of the marketing of the site and the process of selection of their preferred developer.”

Comment: this wrongly implies that LLTNPA were not involved in the selection process.  The Park have bent the truth as far you can without actually lying.  Yes, the Park were informed but they were also INVOLVED.

I am afraid this disregard of the facts and bending of the truth is what I have come to expect from the National Park Authority.  Its how they got Government Ministers to approve their proposed camping ban.   Perhaps before the same process is repeated with Flamingo Land, the LLTPNA Board could start to insist that its staff start working to some basic standards of governance.  Perhaps they could also explain how in  light of this level of involvement by their staff they can take an independent decision on any planning application from Flamingo Land?

 

I fear though that following all the bad publicity on Flamingo Land, the LLTNPA/Scottish Enterprise are working together intensively behind the scenes to win people over to the proposal and put propaganda into the press through their bloated communicationss team http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/local-news/community-council-back-flamingo-lands-9189747.   I am pretty sure Murdoch Cameron, chair of Balloch and Haldane Community Council, was not the person who contacted the media about this.  Indeed, from the article its unclear whether the Community Council actually met to agree a position or whether the views expressed were personal but have been taken to reflect those of the Community Council.    I say this because there are lots of people in Balloch concerned about the proposals and I would be surprised if the Community Council had been able to take such a clear position.

 

What might we learn from Flamingo Land in Scarborough?

 

Meantime, for those concerned about what Flamingo Land might do on the site, thanks to the reader who sent this press article from Scarborough.   Although it dates from 2014, it is well worth a read as its very relevant to what is happening in Balloch.  It provides further evidence of where Flamingo Land’s expertise lies – bling!

 

” Made up of three distinct environments – ‘Subterranean’, ‘Coastline’ and ‘Sky’ – Flamingo Land Coast will feature an iconic glass roofed botanical gardens, roller coaster, 55 metre iconic lighthouse structure and Space Shot Tower, walk through aviary, sea view bar, restaurant and a new town square.”

 

In both cases, Flamingo Land was appointed in secret.  In Scarborough the Council were forced to reveal the mystery bidder to redevelop the Futurist Theatre site.  In Balloch, Scottish Enterprise appeared to have appointed Flamingo Land back in September 2015 but they and the Park kept the appointment secret  until after the Balloch Community Planning event.

 

In both cases the Flamingo Land development involves destroying something else.  In Scarborough, for the last two years there has been a campaign to save the building and in effect prevent the Flamingo Land development but this appears recently to have failed (see here)   In Balloch, it will involve the destruction of what is currently greenspace.

 

If the Scarborough development now goes ahead,  it raises interesting questions about Flaming Land’s capacity to develop so many sites at once.   This should have been considered as part of the tender evaluation and I wonder how the LLTNPA member of the panel scored this?   (The answer is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act unfortunately).

 

And for those of us who are interested in the manipulation of public opinion and claims made that as Gordon Gibb is a Scot the development should be supported, the following quote should be of interest:

“Flamingo Land boss Gordon Gibb said:

“Scarborough is my home town so it gives me great pleasure, both personally and on behalf of Flamingo Land Limited, to be associated with developing a major visitor attraction on the old Futurist site.”

 

 

October 15, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

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As the gateway to Loch Lomond and the unofficial capital of Scotland’s first National Park the village of Balloch should be the jewel in the crown of Loch Lomond and one of Scotland’s top tourist destinations. However, it has it has failed to live up to this billing for some time now which, in part, is due its industrial past, fragmented land ownerships and various abortive attempts by the private and public sector to realise its full tourism potential. Is this all about to change with the emergence of the £33 million plans for the former derelict land at West Riverside and the derelict and unsightly  Grade A Hamilton House  site between Loch Lomond Shores and the A82? Will this turn the village and the nearby £45million Loch Lomond Shores  into a year round holiday resort destination instead of a dislocated village dominated by Loch Lomond Shores where there is predominantly an 11.00am-4.00pm day visitor economy separated from the ‘old village’ by the partially reclaimed West Riverside site? Will more much needed year round jobs be created with decent wages to replace some of the large number of jobs lost in nearby Vale of Leven? It is difficult to say at this stage due to the scant information that has been announced by Scottish Enterprise who have kept their ‘preferred developers’ at arms length from the local community and other interested parties such as the Friends of Loch Lomond for more than 9 months now despite the Balloch Charrette (a supposedly dynamic and open community planning  consultation exercise) providing a golden opportunity for the developers to sit in and obtain a flavour of what the local community wants as well as sharing their preliminary plans.

 

Unwittingly, the secrecy of Scottish Enterprise and the clumsy way they have handled the PR so far has proved to be a major setback for the ambition to realise Balloch’s tourism potential with several petitions and reams of negative press emerging over the past month or so to try and block any plans that the Scots owners of Flamingo Land have for the village. This is a great pity and probably could have been avoided if SE officials had engaged in a more open and meaningful consultative process at a much earlier stage and hadn’t hidden behind  ‘commercial confidentiality’ screens. Hopefully the situation can be retrieved and there will now be more open and meaningful dialogue with the local community and interested parties to help shape plans that could be of major benefit to the village as it seeks to realise its tourism potential in a way that greatly enhances its status as the gateway to the National Park and the unofficial capital of the National Park. Time will tell.

 

In the pre and post Second World War era Balloch was a hugely popular destination with a large section of the West of Scotland population being regular visitors when the factories shut on a Friday night and thousands of workers and their families made a break for the clean air of nearby Loch Lomond with its  range of simple  and largely free recreational opportunities. This began to change in the 1960s and 1970s with the advent of the cheap sun package holidays which, for decades now, has seen tens of thousands from the Greater Glasgow area taking flight overseas resulting in the Glasgow Fair fortnight being one of the quieter periods in Balloch. Notwithstanding this, Loch Lomond (not Balloch) has remained  the number one countryside day visitor destination in Scotland largely due to its close proximity to large concentrations of population. There have been some notable tourism investments by local companies such as the long established and family owned Sweeney’s Cruises and more recently by some national pub and hotel chains.

 

Scottish Enterprise and House of Fraser spent close on £45 million on the phase 1 Loch Lomond Shores development which opened in 2002 to coincide with the establishment of  the National Park. The central feature of this development, Drumkinnon Tower, which cost the taxpayer around £14 million, quickly failed and had to be re-invented  following a costly conversion into a Sealife Centre. However, in recent years Loch Lomond Shores has begun to flourish largely due to the hard work and dedication of the small management team led by Clare Gemmill who has introduced a strong and very successful events led programme. A number of businesses have stuck with Loch Lomond Shores through leaner times and are now hopefully in a  much healthier position trading wise. The Park Authority has encouraged some outdoor activity and birdlife operators to locate there too in recent years and has also directly invested in much needed boat trip pontoon facilities connecting the loch and the shores development for the first time. Plans are also being progressed to convert the National Park Gateway Centre into a restaurant and events venue. This publicly funded facility has sadly lain empty for several years now despite still being signposted on the main road network.

 

It has been interesting to see the five or so articles on ‘Parkswatch’ relating to the outline plans for the land at West Riverside linked with a good dose of agency bashing. I don’t believe the National Park Authority  deserves a bashing in this instance as they have not been leading the efforts to interest developers in the site-this has been the sole responsibility of Scottish Enterprise as landowners on behalf of the Scottish Government and  taxpayers.  Makes for good copy though but factually incorrect, particularly in some of the earlier articles regarding issues such as the  non- advertisement of the site . It has been 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. There have also been several preferred bidders over the last 7  years but they have never quite made it over the line for various reasons including, allegedly, Scottish Enterprise’s unwillingness to fund further land remedial works.  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, extensive railway sidings and sand and gravel workings. Much of the site was abandoned derelict land which had been neglected for many years by the owners of three separate pieces of land.

 
The attached photo above, which was taken around 1960, provides a birds eye view of the site which is currently the subject of so much controversy. Hardly a picture postcard extolling the scenic qualities of Loch Lomond! Admittedly, much of the dereliction no longer exists but the site doesn’t have high scenic qualities and is still generally in a poor condition. You can clearly see the extent of the land covered by railway sidings and the former rail link with the pier where Maid of the Loch is moored awaiting restoration. In the middle foreground you can see the steam beam engine house and slipway. This has been restored by the Steamship charity with funding support from HLF, Scottish Enterprise and others (£600k plus) and they organise popular steam days throughout the main tourist season. Interesting also to see part of the site next to the disused gravel pits was used as a caravan park with more than 60 static caravans in view. You can also see part of the former silk dye works site in the middle right of the picture which has largely been covered by a housing estate now. This used to be dominated by large chimney stacks which acted as a navigation beacon for boat users on the loch.

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 provide some useful jobs for the long term unemployed and addressing  civic pride issues. 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 with mixed success. 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 proposed 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 Trails come forward with a scheme here I doubt it. Pleased to see glamping and a much needed youth hostel featuring in the emerging proposals given the loss several years ago of Loch Lomond Youth Hostel to a private house and the emergence of Balloch as a key location where the John Muir Way and Three Lochs Way Great Walking Trails merge. 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 as not everyone can afford to stay at the up market Cameron House and neighbouring timeshare lodges.

 

The detail of the preliminary plans have not yet been made public, apart from the scant information in the poorly pulled together news release issued by Scottish Enterprise, so let’s not pre-judge their plans and prematurely question Flamingo land’s ability to deliver a quality  tourism development along the lines of a possible mini-Center Parcs with a blend of accommodation and indoor and outdoor recreation facilities that are potentially a ‘good fit’ at this location. Scottish Enterprise needs to remove the shackles now from the preferred developers so that they can meaningfully engage with the local community and other interested parties. The Friends are on the case and following an approach to a local businessman who is involved in the project a preliminary exploratory meeting with the owner of Flamingoland has now been held. Direct communication channels have also been established with the Community Council. There is much work still to be undertaken investigating ground conditions, traffic management issues and more before a revised master plan for the site is finalised. However, a preliminary viewing of the outline plans suggests the developers are taking account of the sensitivities of this important site at the southern end of the loch and the plans are far removed from what has been suggested in the press and elsewhere. Hopefully there will be an opportunity to influence the final plans as they are worked up into a detailed masterplan prior to a detailed planning application being submitted to the National Park Authority.

 

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 . I am hopeful that 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  £1.4 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. The recent announcement on the planned £33 million investment by Flamingoland reinforces the folly of this decision by the NPA Board members based on the recommendation of planners who failed to recognise the importance of providing more parking at key locations such as this close to the main street in the village and the entrance to Balloch Castle Country Park. Not convinced the Balloch Charrette final report or the preliminary study terms of reference for work on the village square at the former railway station have fully grasped the scale of future car and coach parking requirements to ensure Balloch flourishes as a year round quality tourist destination but that is another story.

October 5, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
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The outline master plan for Scottish Enterprise’s west riverside side submitted by a developer to the National Park in 2012

The Observer on Sunday ran a full page article by Kevin McKenna on Flamingo Land’s appointment as preferred developer for the west riverside side in Balloch (see here and here).   I normally enjoy reading Kevin McKenna but did wonder if this is the same Kevin McKenna who had previously lambasted the development in an entertaining blog post entitled “Keep Flamingo Land away from Loch Lomond – we don’t want any old bouncy castle experience in our back garden”!  (see here)   Having played a small part in stoking up the anger that resulted in over 30,000 people signing a petition to stop the development, Kevin McKenna asks in the Observer article if the anger is justified?  While the article questions that opposition McKenna’s conclusion is “In the final analysis, Loch Lomond’s worldwide appeal will probably ensure that the development, when it happens, is as pristine, sustainable and sympathetic to the surrounding environment as anything containing “glamping pods” ever could be.”

 

I wish I could be so confident.   I think there are three major issues about the proposed development.

 

The first is the secrecy that has surrounded the appointment of a preferred developer and what appears to have been the deliberate exclusion of the local community and other interests from discussions about whether this was the best means to develop the site (see previous posts). This is  wrong, contrary to Scottish Government Policy but unfortunately is the way the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority currently operates.   Scottish Enterprise and the LLTNPA had every opportunity to consult through the local community planning event held earlier this year which considered plans for the area.  They didn’t and should be forced to explain why.

 

The second is Flamingo Land’s fitness to develop land in the National Park.  Flamingo Land’s experience is in running and developing theme parks not in protecting the natural environment and landscape.   The current destruction which is taking place under Natural Retreats at Cairngorm is a warning of what can happen when Enterprise Companies appoint a large developer whose interest is not primarily in the environment but in making money.   In my view the many local businesses operating around Loch Lomond who depend on protection of the landscape natural environment for their living would be a far safer bet to develop the site.

 

The third issue is the cost of improving the west Riverside site and I believe explains what is going on and will almost certain result in a development that compromises the National Park.  The west Riverside side covers former railway sidings, disused sand and gravel pits, a former silk dye works and some of the land has been reclaimed with former ash waste.   Some of this is definitely contaminated and all of it may be.  This will not be cheap to fix.  There will be other costs of clean-up besides contamination – Scottish Enterprise spent £40k after it acquired the site simply lifting sunken boats out the river.   The river bank is vulnerable to flooding, again more costs.   On top of that a walkway along the river will now have to be paid for  a good thing and a positive thing that did come out of the community planning event.   The total costs are likely to be significant, well beyond the means of any local business, hence the appointment by Scottish Enterprise of a single developer for the entire site.

 

If Flamingo Land have to pay for all of this they will need to get their money back somehow and they are not going to do this through a few glamping pods.   The pressure will be on for a more intensive development, not the type of low key developments outlined in the press release, and for the developments to raise as much income as possible,  with all that implies for other local businesses.   The way this is likely to work is that Flamingo Land will come up with an initial plan, which looks fine and gets planning consent, but then during the development processes unforeseen costs or other factors then lead to a dilution of the planning conditions.

 

The LLTNPA Park has quite a track record on diluting planning requirements (as in Glen Falloch where my next post will be on all the hill tracks that were supposed to be removed after the creation of the hydro schemes there).    In 2012 the LLTNPA provided a screening opinion  which indicated they would reject the outline master plan featured in the graphic at the top of this post.   Judging by that plan the funding of site improvements would have been through the sale of new luxury housing  along pier road and a large four star hotel on the banks of Loch Lomond.    New housing has been ruled out for the site which is earmarked in the latest development plan  for “Visitor Experience” (not Economic Development as stated in the Observer).

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The symbols in the draft development plan indicate what anyone applying for planning permission within the area needs to consider and includes contaminated sites, flood risk, drainage, landscape and impacts on woodland

A large hotel on the lochshore appears to have previously been ruled out through the screening opinion.  Without a hotel on the lochshore, which would have a big impact on the landscape, and the housing its very difficult to see how the cost of improving the west Riverside site can be funded.     Scottish Enterprise must have a good idea of the potential costs of putting the site right and I think they need to explain how they believe the developer will be able to do this while meeting the aims of the National Park.

 

An alternative way of improving the west Riverside side which would not have resulted in any inappropriate development pressures would have been for the public sector to pay for the decontamination of the land and the walkway (accepting that the businesses that caused the damage in the first place have long gone).  That would then enable local businesses to have come up with proposals that were compatible with the aims of the National Park.   Unfortunately  austerity, which is a political choice, is driving commercialisation in the National Park and threatening to undermine its aims.   The 30,000 are very right to be concerned.

 

 

September 29, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
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The building site near the top of the West Wall poma – Photo Credit Terry Smith 23/9/16

Following my last post (see here) on Natural Retreats, they have now started further work to re-locate the return wheel at the top of the West Wall poma lift.   Suffice to say just now (I hope to do a further post tomorrow with photos of what has been going on) that the creation of a building site was never included in the planning application.

 

The building site is on the upper slopes of Cairngorm, a place so sensitive that when planning approval was given to funicular this was on condition that visitors could not exit the top station in summer because of the damage their feet would cause.   This was sealed by the public authorities involved, Highland Council, Scottish Natural Heritage and Highlands and Islands Enterprise as the landowner with a binding legal agreement.

 

Just over 15 years later those same authorities – and Highland Council are responsible for planning enforcement in this case because the Cairngorms National Park Authority in their wisdom did not call in the planning application – are just sitting by while Natural Retreats trashes the hillside.   Morrison’s, when constructing the funicular were closely supervised and would never have been allowed to do this.   This is indefensible.   Its about time that the CNPA said enough is enough at Cairngorm and started to take a proactive lead to sort out the mess that HIE has created through their appointment of Natural Retreats to operate the ski area.

 

While the Tories were calling in the Scottish Parliament yesterday for more National Parks to be created, none of our politicians are taking any real interest in the current failures of our National Parks.  This is epitomised by what Natural Retreats is doing at Cairngorm and what Flamingo Land is likely to do on Loch Lomond.

 

There was an interesting letter in the Herald today calling on a new body to be set up to supervise our National Parks and steer them back to the ideals that led to them being created in the first place.   I couldn’t help thinking it would be much simpler if Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, just gave them a steer but so far there has been no lead from the Scottish Government either.

 

 

 

September 27, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

The proposed Flamingo Land development of the west riverside side at Balloch was covered by  an interesting article in the Sunday Herald (and I say that not just because I was quoted in it) which made links between the proposed camping ban and the proposed development.  Ultimately this is about what National Parks are for and what sort of public enjoyment the National Park Authorities should be promoting.   That this an issue of major concern to the public appears to be confirmed by the petitition on 38 degress which last night had 29,176 signatures.

 

Judith Duffy, the Sunday Herald Chief Reporter managed to extract a couple of interesting statements from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.

 

The first was from Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive, was about the Flamingo Land Development:

 

“Watson said a planning application or detailed proposals had yet to be submitted for the Flamingo Land development, so the authority was “reserving its position” to see if the plans are acceptable or not.”   Gordon Watson was then quoted as saying:   “We can obviously assess a development and if we feel it is not appropriate, doesn’t fit in for whatever reason, or there is environmental issues, then obviously we have the power to refuse planning permission.”

 

To me this suggests that somehow the LLTNPA has been neutral in this process up till now, knows almost nothing about what is being proposed and will then take a decision.   Actually, as my previous post showed the LLTNPA has been in discussions about this site for sometime and this has basically been confirmed by the excellent comment on my post by James Fraser, Chair of Friends and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, on the history of public agency involvement with the west riverside site which I recommend everyone interested in the future of this site reads (see comment).    

 

In this, after stating that hopefully there will be a chance to influence the final plans, James says that the Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs “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.”    If FOLLAT were talking to the developer six months ago, the LLTNPA must have been too, yet instead of being open and using the Balloch community planning event (the charrette) to develop ideas for the whole site (and not just the walkway), the LLTNPA kept discussions with the proposed developer secret from the local community.  Why?  How does this secretive process fit with the Scottish Government Minister Kevin Stewart’s statement that “Decisions affecting local communities should be made by those local communities”?

 

What concerns me about the development is not the sort of aspirations that James outlines, which appear to me things that both local community and people who care about the National Park could support,  but the way Scottish Enterprise and the LLTNPA are going about this through appointment of a preferred private developer, with a track record in bling and what appears to be poverty wages, whose interests appear very different to those of the National Park.   Flamingo Land’s failure to participate in the community planning event, despite apparently being asked, just set off even more alarm bells.   The risk here, and I would judge it very high, is that Flamingo Land ask for more development than anyone wants and types of development that are both inappropriate, bling!  This will then have an adverse affect on existing local businesses but all of this will be justified by the LLTNPA as being the only way to finance further “improvement” of the site.   In my view its therefore imperative that both local and national organisations are involved in  discussions with Flamingo Land now, before any further detailed plans are developed.

 

The second interesting statement in Judith Duffy’s piece was about camping:

 

The park authority says it has not yet been decided if charges will be made for permits, but insist any will be “minimal”.

 

This is not true (and I would be very happy to publish a statement from the LLTNPA if I have got this wrong).  In the Board Paper that approved the byelaws para 5.8 read as follows:

 

“A camping permit scheme will provide the opportunity for sustainable levels of informal camping within a camping management zone. This form of provision requires minimal capital investment, little or no new development of facilities, allows for a reasonable level of provision subject to a defined maximum number and would be centrally administered by the National Park Authority with a small administration charge for booking a permit”.

 

A “small administration charge”, however “small” is defined, is a charge and I can find nothing in subsequent Board Papers to say this has changed.   Now of course the LLTNPA may still be deliberating camping permit charges in its secret monthly meetings  –  which have no doubt also discussed the west riverside development – but officially it decided 18 months ago to impose charges for camping under permit in places where currently people camp for free.   Its a charge for access, nothing less.

 

If Scottish Ministers want another good reason to suspend the implementation of the proposed camping byelaws they would do well to read an excellent piece that appeared in the Guardian comment is free yesterday (see here).   This is the first major critique of the proposed camping byelaws that I am aware of that has appeared in the press south of the border.   Do Scottish Ministers really want the LLTNPA, which was set up in no small part to promote public enjoyment of the countryside,  to destroy Scotland’s reputation as having world class access rights?

September 22, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

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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.

 

 

September 20, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments
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Will the great glacial trench of Loch Lomond now spill out into a Flamingo Land theme park?

A petition to the Scottish Government to stop the Flamingo Land development on the west riverside site at Balloch has been set up by George McMillan (see here).  A number of signatories have made comments which show that people care deeply about our National Parks and believe they should be about protecting the landscape and natural environment, enjoyment for all – in fact the very reasons National Parks were set up in the first place.   The LLTNPA would be wise to listen, indeed it could even harness the energy of the mass of people out there who really want out National Parks to be different, but I suspect it will carry on as it is at present, trying to please the rich and powerful, out of touch and not fit for the purpose.

 

Here’s a sample of what people are saying:

 

“These plans are preposterous. Our National Parks are few and far between as it is. There should be much greater protection for the Highlands of Scotland in particular. Loch Lomond is famous for its wild, rugged beauty and its wildlife. It should never be spoilt by building any sort of theme park here. The “theme” is entirely natural and we MUST preserve that.”  Audrey L

“You can’t even wild camp on loch lomond anymore , but flash the cash and these capitalist so and so’s can build what and where they like” Graham S

“A National Park is just that. A resource for everybody to enjoy. The attraction is the landscape – those who want something different can find it elsewhere quite easily” .Richard K

As in other countries with National Parks, their special status is to protect their natural environment and ecosysystems. They must not be commercially developed.” Tom L

“A national park is created to conserve the planet’s nature and wildlife. It is available for everyone to enjoy free walking, cycling, swimming, canoeing and being in pristine nature. What more do we want? -Why turn it into a destructive US style amusement park? And if it were for economic benefit of the local community – few of the pennies made would remain here and big bucks taken elsewhere by very few.”  Antje P

“It’s important to protect our naturally beautiful areas and especially important is to never allow private ownership or conglomerates to bypass our laws and develop our National Parks.” Ruth H

This is an appalling proposal, the aims and objectives of the National Park are being ignored – protection of environment and natural surroundings should be of greater importance than a few more low paid jobs and bog standard tourist attractions.  Rose H

I couldn’t help thinking, reading these, what the signatories would have thought of all the destruction caused by the hydro schemes in Glen Falloch.  There is simply not enough transparency about what’s going on in our National Parks and not enough democratic accountability for how they have run.

About 1500 people have added their names to the petition in the last day, after a slow start.  If only half  – and I am sure there will be a lot more – object to the planning application when its eventually submitted that could be sufficient to de-rail the whole development.

I hope the local community, many of whom are deeply worried about this proposal, can somehow find a way to harness this national energy and come up with alternative ideas for west riverside that would benefit both local people and the wider community of people who care about our National Parks.