West Dunbartonshire Council accused of "scandalous betrayal" by not opposing Flamingo Land plans

The council’s decision not to oppose a controversial £40million plan for a resort on Loch Lomond has been described “a scandalous betrayal of the views of tens of thousands of local people”.

West Dunbartonshire councillors gathered last week to make a decision on the local authority’s response to Flamingo Land’s bid to build a water park, monorail, swimming pool, hotel, eateries and more than 100 lodges in Balloch.

Despite clocking up a record 84,000 objections, the plans won the support of council planning officers, who had urged members to support the bid.

However, the majority of councillors backed a Labour amendment by council leader Martin Rooney to neither support or object to the planning application for permission in principle lodged with Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. It will also ask the park’s planning committee to consider that recommended works to Ballochloan Roundabout to increase capacity during busy times are undertaken.

The vote result was met to cries of “utter disgrace” from the public gallery, with provost Douglas McAllister hitting out at members of the public for “throwing items down towards elected officials” in an “appalling act”.

The council’s response marks a turnaround on the local authority’s previous outright opposition to Flamingo Land’s first bid to build on the bonnie banks, which was withdrawn after national park officers recommended it be refused.The park authority will now have the final approval on whether the resort will go ahead.

Speaking at the Church Street meeting, West Dunbartonshire Community Party member Jim Bollan pleaded with councillors to oppose the plans, commenting: “There is massive public opposition to this overdevelopment in Balloch village with over 84,000 signatories, the most ever for any planning application in Scotland.“We as a council should listen and reflect the public’s views. We won’t get a second chance to save Balloch.

“This is our last chance as a local authority to try and protect the southern most tip of Loch Lomond for the local people and for the million people who come to see the beauty of Loch Lomond every year.

“If this development goes ahead it will ruin Balloch as a village and tarnish an iconic destination. As for the amendment from the Labour party, I think it’s a scandalous betrayal of the views of tens of thousands of local people who are opposed to this development.”

Councillor Jonathan McColl
Former council leader Jonathan McColl is a firm critic of the plans. -Credit:Lennox Herald

SNP councillor Jonathan McColl lodged a motion calling on the council to formally object to the planning application, stating that the resort would “bring significant economic risk for the local area and local businesses”.

He also raised concerns over the impact it would have on the roads network, stating it would cause “unacceptable disruption, not only to local people, but also to commuters and visitors travelling north on the A82, who already suffer serious delays at these peak times”.

He said: “As with their previous application, the most troublesome part for me is the inevitable impact on our already overstretched road network.

“We all know that you don’t even need a bank holiday, just the sun coming out is enough for the A82 to be completely jammed, often all the way from beyond Luss, past the Vale of Leven and through Milton.

“It’s a significant problem now and I do not believe adding such a significant increase in traffic at peak times for the development is sensible.

“I know that public rancour is not a ground for refusal of an application, I’ve given plenty of them in my motion, but we have to be mindful that local people do not want this.

“While we have tens of thousands of objections from across the UK and overseas, we also have hundreds of objections lodged with the national park and thousands of local names on the petition. I have personally received more than 300 contacts over email, WhatsApp, text and social media direct messages asking me to vote against the application.“That doesn’t include the many, many people who have stopped me while shopping and such in the local area to talk to me about their concerns.”

He also slammed Flamingo Land’s response to a objection by environmental watchdog SEPA, who demanded that changes were made to remove lodges from part of the site designated as a flood plain.

In the latest documents submitted by Flamingo Land to the park authority, developers claim that their plans are covered by an exception because the site was “previously used” as, until 1986, there had been a railway on that part of it.

Councillor McColl said: “The developer has already given their response to SEPA and it’s awful.

“Instead of talking about how they could address the issue, they try to find ways to justify not complying with the planning requirements.

“This is about profit and nothing else. The fact they are trying to pull the wool over our eyes and that of the public but also a government agency should tell you everything you need to know about how this developer will behave going forward.”

However, Lomond council leader Martin Rooney stressed that the local authority is a statutory consultee and that the decision will ultimately lie with the national park’s planning committee.

Council candidate hustings at Concord Centre. Martin Rooney
Council leader Martin Rooney stressed that the final decision lay with the National Park. -Credit:Lennox Herald

He said: “It will be a really difficult matter for them as the stakes are really high.

“It is worthy of note that the developers have carried out a lot of engagement on their proposals and they have reflected this in their modified plans.

“The council response covers a range of important issues including climate mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity and natural spaces, zero waste issues, sustainable transport, traffic impact, parking provision, play recreation and sport, flood risk and water management and health and safety.

“It’s important that the response from the professional officers of the council is set before the planning committee.”

Breaking ranks from SNP colleague Jonathan McColl, the party’s Councillor Ian Dickson said he was voting for Labour’s amendment due to the opportunities the development would provide young people.

He explained: “We’ve heard a bit about local businesses in Alexandria and the surrounding area who are really keen and I know as former chair of the Town Centre Forum and as a member of the Vale of Leven Trust in Alexandria that this is the case.“The last time I looked a couple of years ago there were almost 500 people within walking range of this particular development if it goes ahead who are recorded officially as never being economically active.

“This is manly under 25s and this is a group of people who have not yet had a job.

“Hospitality, a field I’ve worked in for over two decades now, is an excellent opportunity for new entrants to the work force.”

SNP councillor Karen Murray Conaghan also sided with Labour’s amendment, stating: “This is an area that definitely needs regeneration and it definitely needs jobs.

“These are jobs which get people into the habit of working, give them skills for life and skills to go on and obtain other jobs.“We have heard about SEPA and there’s a holding objection in. This is planning permission in principle. We are only here as a consultee.

“These things can all be addressed when it gets to that further level.”

Speaking afterwards, Labour councillor David McBride told the Lennox: “I understand this was a very emotive and controversial planning application. There were very strong views expressed by councillors at the council meeting.

“Ultimately it was agreed the council should remain neutral but press the national park that any application if successful should have mitigations on improvement to the roads infrastructure and traffic management. This was a concern universally raised by local residents.”

Save Loch Lomond Rally against Flamingo Land
The plans have been met with strong public opposition for almost seven years. -Credit:Lennox Herald

Green MSP Ross Greer, who has been a fierce opponent to the plans, said it was a “very disappointing decision”.

He said: “Councillors who ducked the chance to boot the plans out altogether still have a chance to show some backbone and issue an objection later.

“I hope that the National Park come to the right decision when they finally get to hear the arguments and vote and an objection from councillors would make that much more likely.

“This fudge was a very disappointing decision by West Dunbartonshire Council and an abdication of responsibility. They could have acted in the best interest of their community and issued a similarly stinging objection as their predecessors in 2019.

“It’s inexplicable that they have decided not to object to this proposal, the most unpopular in Scottish history.

“In their desperation to make a profit out of an iconic and precious location, Flamingo Land has treated the area and it’s residents with contempt for almost a decade now. After five years of minor tweaks and rebranding, little has changed.”

Visualisation of Flamingo Land
Artists' impressions show how the resort could look if built. -Credit:Flamingo Land Lomond Banks

Flamingo Land boss ‘encouraged’ by decision

The chief overseeing plans for the development said Flamingo Land was “extremely encouraged by the positive decision” taken by the council.

Speaking after the meeting, Jim Paterson, Development Director for the firm’s Lomond Banks project, said: “We are extremely encouraged by the positive decision made by the councillors at West Dunbartonshire Council.

“Our economic case bringing about £40million of sustainable investment and jobs, shaped by the feedback by both the local community and key stakeholders alike have prevailed in helping us reach the next phase of the planning process.

“We look forward to progressing with our plans as they move forward to the National Park for determination.”

Flamingo Land bosses say they have made “significant amendments” to their original bid, which they ditched at the eleventh hour after park chiefs recommended it be refused.

As part of their resubmitted plans, the developers say they are committed to ‘The Lomond Promise’ – which they say legally binds its promises for the area into legal obligations for the proposed development.

The pledge includes: no zero-hour contracts, real living wages, job and training opportunities for local people, a commitment to local business, supply chain and marketing campaigns, mitigating traffic impact, 24/7 access to woodland paths and national walkways, preserving, protecting and enhancing Drumkinnon Wood, subsidised entry to facilities for residents (where charges apply) and measures to control anti-social behaviour.

Flamingo Land say that an estimated 200 full-time and part-time jobs will be required to run the new resort.

Developers have also promised to upgrade the congested Stoneymollan Roundabout in Balloch, after concerns from locals, with a legal funding agreement in place with Transport Scotland.

As part of their response, West Dunbartonshire Council will also ask that works take place to Ballochloan Roundabout.

The works would see a widening of the A811 west approach to allow a left slip lane to mitigate an unequal lane usage to increase capacity during high usage.

A public hearing on the plans will be held by Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, whose board will then vote to accept or reject the development.

This will be the first time that the resort proposal will be considered by the Park Authority in public.

Loch Lomond Shore Ross Greer meets Balloch and Haldane Community Council
Balloch and Haldane Community Council formally opposed the plans earlier this year. -Credit:Lennox Herald

"Please consider the views of locals"

The chair of Balloch and Haldane Community Council has pleaded with the park authority to take account of community anger.

Lynne Somerville said: “This is the last piece of land in public ownership that not just the people of Balloch and Haldane but of West Dunbartonshire can call their own around the banks of Loch Lomond. That should be reason enough, not considering the other hard facts in reference to the environmental impacts, the economic reasons and so on.

“So I really would ask the national park authority to consider local feeling. That land really should be utilised for the people, run by the people, for the people, for the betterment of our local community. Not to line someone else’s pockets or to be a cash cow for anyone.”

The local mum, who addressed the council’s meeting on Wednesday, suggested local chiefs were “breaching due process” by not taking into account community objections.

Lynne added: “These people get a lot of power and they’re not taking their power seriously. They’re passing the buck.”

Marion Saorse Plunkett, who lives in neighbouring Alexandria and is a regular visitor to the proposed site, hit out: “West Dunbartonshire Council may have orchestrated a whitewash but the local community has no intention of giving up our fight.

“Save Loch Lomond and Balloch and Haldane Community Council will be stepping up our efforts to protect our beautiful places.”

Following the meeting, a spokesperson for Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park said the response will be considered as part of officers’ assessment.

She said: “West Dunbartonshire Council is a neighbouring planning authority and also delivers services such as roads in the local area of the application site. So their responses, as well as those from other statutory consultees such as SEPA, will be considered as part of officers’ assessment of this planning application. We have also received further information recently, mostly related to flooding and traffic matters.

“We have a duty to formally notify the public and further consult with statutory consultees on this new information and will do so in the coming weeks.

“This will allow officers to progress with their assessment, prepare a report and make a recommendation to the National Park Authority Board.

“The final decision will be taken at a public meeting and hearing. Exact timelines for that meeting to determine the application will become clearer once this final round of consultation is complete.”