ON Loch Lomond’s bonnie banks this week only the clouds lurking sullenly over the hills that garland them hinted at a storm. This is one of those places that looks as magnificent in wind and rain as in sunshine and this week has seen it at its moody finest. Yet it has become the focal point of a planning and environmental row which swamps anything the elements can throw at it.

Last month updated plans for a £30m leisure development at the southern gateway to Loch Lomond at Balloch were re-presented to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority. The development is being backed by Scottish Enterprise but alarms are being raised at the process by which the land was bought and the bewildering nexus of business and political ‘relationships’ that have paved the way for it to happen. In 2016 Scottish Enterprise announced that the preferred bidder to develop the site was Flamingo Land, an outfit which runs a theme park and zoo in North Yorkshire. Both Flamingo Land and its partners at Scottish Enterprise insist that their plans are sensitive to the fragile beauty and eco-structure of Loch Lomond, perhaps the most globally-recognised representation of Scotland’s natural beauty.

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The national agency, together with Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park authority and other supporters of the development have variously described this verdant expanse as ‘derelict’ and thus crying out for a themed and manufactured facility such as this. But you just have to walk around the perimeter of the area that has been marked for development to appreciate the huge scale of what is being proposed. This water and the land around it has been formed over millions of years by fire and ice into something sacred in its beauty. Now, part of its essential character is to be transformed and bent into unnatural shapes by a theme park. Places such as Ben Lomond, Balmaha, Inveraray and Balquhidder could be joined by a neighbour which calls itself Flamingo Land.

The Loch Lomond plans include something called an ‘aparthotel with 60 bedrooms. The space earmarked for this large facility suggests that it will come to dominate the shore and the surrounding terrain. There will also be a ‘budget’ facility as well as a development of self-catering units and six private houses valued at around £800,000 each. It will involve the wholesale destruction of the woodland that presently sits there and severely restrict access to a space that was gifted to the public by a 17th century royal charter. The destruction of wildlife, including red squirrels, otters and bats as well as myriad forms of insects is almost cheerfully assumed in the development proposal and justified by a pledge to ‘re-locate’ some of these wee beasts. This project is as appropriate as hanging a giant gold medallion around the neck of the sphynx.

The land was purchased more than eight years ago for the trifling sum of £200,000 by Scottish Enterprise. Conveniently, there is no mention of the profits that will be realised for the developers once this public space becomes private. Scottish Enterprise and Flamingo Land say that it will provide budget holidays for families at the lower end of the economic scale. Once, this place, described as “the lungs of Glasgow” by the great Scottish walker and naturalist, Tom Weir, could be visited on day trips by the working class families of Glasgow who were unable to afford week-long holiday packages. Nothing in Scotland’s immediate economic forecasts suggests that disadvantaged families will be flocking to this contrived woodland experience.

The failure of Scotland’s main political parties and the Scottish Government to scrutinise this development more closely or to answer questions about what laughably passed for a consultation process has been curious. It’s been left to the Scottish Greens and the MSP Ross Greer to step into the breach. Thus far he has collected and lodged more than 50,000 objections, the largest petition of this nature in Scottish civic history. This week Mr Greer poured scorn at the optimistic job estimates imagined by the developers. “We were promised 300 jobs, then we found out that most of them would be part time and seasonal, then we’re told 159 and now we’re told it’s 140. And if we read the small print in the application we see that over three in four of these jobs would be created anyway if Flamingo Land doesn’t go ahead.

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In recent years many of Scotland’s most hallowed and wild spaces have been subject to the predations of global billionaires seeking beautiful places to annexe for their tinselly portfolios. In Sutherland and Aberdeenshire Donald Trump and one of his business rivals are succeeding in turning triple-A protected stretches of the north-east coast into golf playgrounds. Most grievously of all, an exclusive housing development at the war graves of Culloden battlefield is soon to proceed. Scotland’s flimsy attempts at land reform have been rendered ridiculous by this grotesque Bargain Hunt taking place underneath our noses.

Yesterday and last week there were families walking along the loch-side pathway amidst open spaces for picnics. I counted at least 40 people, including dog-walkers and a group of young American women, strolling amidst the tress. A stretch of unspoiled parkland bounded by Drumkinnon woods is often used by local schools for their sports days. This is a vibrant place, loved by the public.

This dramatic pennant of public land doesn’t belong to any one organisation or individual. How can anyone claim ownership of this land and these hills and this water that nature gifted to the people of Scotland and to the animals who live and take shelter in it? It can never be Scottish Enterprise’s to own and parcel up then hawk around interested buyers for a knock-down price. This so-called agency of the Scottish Government has been tasked with stimulating economic development and creating jobs, not to act like an offshoot of Arthur Daley Inc by participating in the privatisation of land enjoyed by the public for centuries.