Even by the aesthetic standards of some rural property developments, the one planned at Loch Long in Argyll and Bute is startlingly nondescript. The site is accessed through virgin woodlands which provide shelter to endangered and protected species, including European long-eared bats, pine martens and tawny owls. This brings you out to the shoreline and a stunning vision across one of Scotland’s grandest sea lochs that hasn’t changed with the passing of aeons and is a designated area of panoramic quality.
The tiny hamlet of Portincaple, which sits alongside Loch Long, is facing the prospect of seeing its population of 120 doubled by a luxury housing and hotel project described by local people as “an aggressive major development”.
Christine Pratt, along with most other residents, is aghast at the plans. “We feel this development typifies the threat to Scotland’s rural communities and its biodiversity by developers and local authorities. Many of these run contrary to local development plans. Already about 100 trees have been felled to make way for this in an area which is home to many protected and at-risk species,” she said.
The housing and hotel proposal comes from Pelham Olive, an entrepreneur who already owns a leisure development on the other side of Loch Long.
Scotland has witnessed a slew of these developments in recent years. Donald Trump managed to overcome intense local opposition to build a luxury golf course on the Aberdeenshire coast that has already damaged the site’s rare dune system. A few miles along the same coastal stretch, another exclusive golf facility is being planned by a rival US billionaire developer.
The battle over Loch Long comes a few months after plans to build a Flamingo Land on the shores of nearby Loch Lomond were defeated due to an international outcry. Earlier last year controversial proposals to build luxury homes on Culloden Moor, site of the last land battle fought in Britain, were waved through.
Most of Portincaple’s residents fear that lax and inconsistent planning regulations across Scotland give encouragement to global entrepreneurs looking to cash in on the country’s natural beauty. They also feel that Scotland is becoming a development Klondyke for rich prospectors.
The launch of their official campaign, Save Loch Long, Protect Portincaple, last week has achieved something rare in Scottish politics: genuine cross-party consensus. Representatives of Labour, the Conservatives and Scottish Greens all attended while the SNP have also pledged to back the campaign.
Ross Greer, the Scottish Greens MSP, who spearheaded the challenge to Flamingo Land at neighbouring Loch Lomond told the campaign launch: “There is something really special about this area and there are so many areas of this development that simply would not work. It struck me as the definition of over-development. It would overwhelm the community, something we are becoming all too familiar with as developers look to maximise profits.”
When the proposal was first put forward, Bruce Jamieson of Puregreenspace said: “It is an exciting development and an amazing opportunity to rediscover a lost connection to Loch Long.”
Some aspects of the proposal are curious, though. The title deeds show this magnificent part of Scotland’s natural heritage changed hands for a mere £80,000 while the environmental impact report shows that the area should be protected by its woodland park retention status. Later this year Glasgow, barely 40 miles away, will host the UN climate change summit. Campaigners say it could be embarrassing if delegates arrived to the news that this hallowed fragment of the ancient Atlantic rainforest had been replaced by a row of beach chalets.
The Observer contacted Pelham Olive for comment.