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Getting the balance right – issues for planners and communities

Planning requires careful consideration of issues that have a big impact on people’s lives, whether it’s about where a new school gets built or whether land is used for local housing or for visitor accommodation.

The Buchanan area of the National Park covers Balmaha and Milton of Buchanan and almost reaches Drymen. It includes the West Highlight Way, Conic Hill and is the main access to the stunning East side of Loch Lomond. It’s a very popular area with locals and visitors alike. As you can imagine, this brings tourism income and jobs to the area. In scenic areas like this, there are always interesting discussions about how to get the balance right for both visitors and the community who live there. These are the issues that planners have to consider and through this process, we want to get your views, whether you’re a resident or someone who wants to visit or invest in the area.

What have we done so far to listen to views in Buchanan?

During the Spring months last year we held workshops with Buchanan and Drymen residents. These involved designers and partner organisations as well as our own National Park Staff. There was lots of discussion on the challenges and opportunities the area faced. You can read the report from these workshops, and the ideas they generated here.

Ideas so far

The ideas that were captured included new off-road path/cycle track from Drymen to Balmaha, improved access to Balmaha Marina and views from the Marina to the Loch, some new visitor development on the current gap sites and housing on the North side of the approach. Some of these ideas have started to be explored or scoped by landowners or the community, others are clearly something to consider for the longer term. The local community have been working on other ideas too. They recently held a Community Action Planning day to capture these ideas and to help identify the community’s priorities.

Planning issues for Buchanan

It was clear to us last year that the following were key planning issues – raised by the community – for this area’s future:

· Managing the pressure for visitor-related development
· Support housing and business/work space provision
· Ensuring that basic infrastructure is maintained and improved if new development takes place
· Improve access to Balmaha by foot, bus, bike and horse and from Balmaha to other lochside villages and towns (which eases pressure on the road).

The landowners in the area also have their own ideas or hopes for the future use of their land. Some prominent sites having planning consent and further land was submitted to us last year for housing in Balmaha and Milton of Buchanan. As an accessible and popular area for visitors there will no doubt continue to be interest in new development. This left us considering how we can try to bring both these issues and aspirations in line to support improvements to the area where possible.

How do we propose planning can help?

We think that there are two key ‘tools’ for future planning –

1. Firstly, we’re proposing that a ‘Masterplan Framework’ is prepared for Balmaha with input invited from landowners and the community. This would act as a more detailed ‘plan’ that would map out threats, opportunities for improvements and development and what features should be safeguarded. It would be adopted as ‘Supplementary Guidance’ with the new Local Development Plan and would be used when determining new planning applications.

2. Secondly, along with Luss, we’re proposing that Balmaha and the area between Balmaha and Drymen are included in new ‘Rural Development Framework Areas’. The purpose is again to map out opportunities, improvements needed or desired and what needs to be safeguarded, but this would be over a wider area. It would allow us to work with the community and landowners to also identify where new development could contribute to off-site investment in infrastructure or community and visitor facilities. It could also tie in with arrangements with land management and visitor management where there is a land use component. It would be adopted as ‘Supplementary Guidance’ with the new Local Development Plan and would also be used when determining new planning applications.

We know that’s quite a lot of additional planning and you may even be thinking, this is overkill or seems like more bureaucracy! That is the last thing we want: this additional investment of time in planning for the future of the area is our response to what we have heard from a range of people and organisations who have a stake in the future of the area.

So, over to you…what do you think?

We want to hear from you on whether the principles of this new approach would have merit or, even better, come along to the National Park visitor centre at Balmaha on Wednesday night (28th May) from 6pm.

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