A CAMPAIGN group set up to fight for the future of a popular local visitor attraction has accused the property's owners of a “high-handed” attitude over its future.

The Geilston Garden Action Group has written to the chairman and chief executive of the National Trust for Scotland after the organisation announced last month that it was to consult on the future of both the gardens and Geilston House.

The NTS warned staff, volunteers and members of the public that it regarded losses of £85,000 a year at the property near Cardross as “untenable”.

But the group's letter raises concerns not only about the way the Trust has managed the property since it was gifted to the organisation in 1991, but about the way it conducted a meeting on June 27 at which staff and volunteers were told of the uncertain future which lay ahead.

Their letter criticises the Trust's insistence that Geilston House itself would never open to the public, and says staff and volunteers were left with the impression that the consultation was “not a consultation, but a top-down, high-handed expression of what was to be”.

The group also says that while the Trust may have acted legally, and in line with the bequest of the Geilston estate to the NTS by the late Miss Elizabeth Hendry, they have not acted in the spirit of the bequest.

Their letter urges the NTS to “consider the house as an asset to generate income and not an impediment”, and to consider suggestions such as a national and international fund-raising campaign, linking up with other local restoration projects such as St Peter's Seminary in Cardross and Hermitage Park in Helensburgh, and forming partnerships with community groups to raise the profile of, and visitor numbers to, the estate.

Five people are currently employed at Geilston – two full-time and the other three seasonally – while according to National Trust figures the property is amongst the least visited of any of its attractions.

The number of people visiting the property did increase significantly in 2016-17 to 11,277 – up from 7,330 four years previously – but a Trust spokesman said that the total number for 2016-17 included only 800 paying visitors, with the others being NTS members or those with reciprocal entry rights.

The NTS spokesman said: “It is perfectly understandable that the prospect of any potential change at the property will be unwelcome to people who have had such a long and much appreciated involvement with it and that they may react forcefully as a result. 

“Nevertheless, we need to offer a reminder that, contrary to what is being asserted, no decisions have been made about Geilston’s future and we are disappointed if this was not crystal clear at the initial meeting.

“While we are open to alternatives for the future of both the house and garden, these have to be considered in the context of hard reality and not wishful thinking.

“The one immoveable fact we have to confront is that the status quo at Geilston is unsustainable.

“Evidence shows us that some of the speculative proposals for Geilston House in order to make it viable and safe for public access would require eye-watering amounts of investment that would not make a return nor necessarily affect visitor numbers. 

“We initiated this review by stating that we wanted to be ‘open, honest and upfront’. 

“If we did not explain the hard realities behind running a property like Geilston, we would be failing to do this.”