WELCOME TO THE BONNIE BANKS OF LOCH LOMOND – NOT!

BILL JAMIESON

Is this the future for the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond – in Scotland’s leading national park dedicated to habitat and wildlife conservation?

Welcome to the new “top tourist destination” development planned for Loch Lomond Shores, Balloch, gateway to the National Park.

Well, good luck with this!

Scottish Enterprise has appointed a preferred developer, Flamingo Land, for the site at Balloch’s West Riverside.

The £30 million “family orientated” development plan will, it says, comprise lodges, a “boutique hotel”, hostel and “glamping pods” together with a range of family based attractions and restaurants “that are fitting with the aims of the National Park”.

Oh, really?

Flamingo Land operates holiday resorts in North Yorkshire and sees Loch Lomond Shores as the ideal location for their first investment in Scotland. It has also recently purchased the adjacent 12 Acre Woodbank site for future development.

It also proudly boasts that it owns the steepest roller coaster in the world (pictured).

Its experience ranges from owning and operating a holiday resort, and theme park to running a zoo.

Loch Lomond Shores already claims to be one of Scotland’s top tourist attractions with 1.25 million visitors annually. But this masks a troubled history of business failures and pull-outs.

Various ventures aiming to appeal to aspirational visitors have succumbed to fast food, instant snacks and take-away drinks. Upmarket developers, retailers and restauranteurs have tried – and beaten a retreat.

A combined bookshop and internet café closed with the owner citing high overheads and insufficient trade.

This failure was echoed by the operator of a Spanish-themed restaurant which also closed.

Even the former iconic Jenners department store had a go – and closed. Once Edinburgh’s most coveted store, its range of weathered tartan womenswear, Armani man bags and hand-carved Indonesian footstools was augmented by pricey Scottish cheeses and oak smoked salmon.

But as one commentator reflected on its failure to attract sufficient customers, “Jenners was always rooted in Edinburgh. Glasgow never really ‘got’ Jenners”.

The jinx of Loch Lomond shores was dramatically demonstrated by the failure of a key attraction, Drumkinnon Tower, to persuade visitors to buy tickets for a high-value specially commissioned large-format film, Legend of the Loch.

Flamingo Land may not make the same mis-judgements. But for years this site has had a track record of promising more than it has been able to deliver. Can it overcome its reputation as a jinxed site? What has made it problematic for retailers and restaurants?

It is strategically situated, has wonderful views looking out to Loch Lomond and has good road and rail connections. Can the ghost of past failures be laid at last?

The problem may lie in the broad mix of visitors with which various aspirational developments at Balloch have had to contend.

It is close to Glasgow, Scotland’s largest and highly populated urban area. Indeed, 50 per cent of Scotland’s population lives within an hour’s drive of the park.

There is a conflict between providing an attractive entry point for the park which is sympathetic to its aims and purposes and catering for a mass influx of visitors looking for an inexpensive day out.

Many friends of the National Park would also challenge that such a development in any way fits with the Park’s statutory duties. The central purpose of creating the National Park was conservation and preservation – of preserving natural habitat and wildlife and making sure that some of Scotland’s most beautiful landscapes were not overrun by noiseome and intrusive commercial development.

The top two aims and purposes of the 2000 Act establishing its creation – ranked above “enjoyment in the form of recreation” are “to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area” and “to promote the sustainable use of the natural resources of the area”.

Now it seems that these lofty aims and purposes are at risk of being waived and that a key entry point to the Park is to be turned into a cross between a shopping mall and an adult play pen.

This lochside location is a highly sensitive site. But it would be a farce if the National Park’s own planning rules are cast aside for this funfair development.

Its planning department may already have choked at the prospect of Flamingo’s “steepest roller coaster in the world” on the banks of Loch Lomond. Let’s hope it has drawn the line at this. It is certainly not what the founders of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park had in mind.

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