THIS week's Advertiser letters page includes your views on Hermitage Park, the latest 'local development plan' for Argyll and Bute, and on some of Helensburgh's Second World War heroes.

To have your say on any topic of local interest, all you have to do is email your thoughts to or get in touch with us via the Send Us Your News section of this website.

Please try and keep your contributions as brief and to-the-point as you can, and to provide us with your name and address.

We also require a daytime contact phone number in case we need to check any details at short notice, though this will not be published.

Happy writing!

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THE chairperson of the Friends of Hermitage Park, Fiona Baker, was correct to reject the description of what has been happening at Hermitage Park as a 'council vanity project' (Advertiser Comment, January 30).

Nevertheless, there is widespread public concern over this ongoing saga.

If you have a few moments, let me tell you how a worthwhile community project mutated into a bureaucratic shambles.

Back in 2011 Chris Packard and I would regularly don our wellington boots to walk our dogs in the park. The paths were frequently washed away and access for prams or wheelchairs was quite impossible. The original drainage system was totally blocked up and the council had no intention of repairing it.

We were both retirees from careers in the engineering and construction business, and quickly designed a new drainage system which, with the new pink tarmac surface, would cure the problem. At that time, the budgeted cost was under £500,000.

We registered the charity Friends of Hermitage Park and initiated the long process of applying for National Lottery funding, only to be advised they could fund only a complete restoration, and we should reapply for at least £2 million.

Eventually we were told that the revised application could be successful, but it would be conditional upon entering a partnership agreement with Argyll and Bute Council.

The trustees made the decision to proceed, and the nightmare began.

Our designs and budgets were binned and a council officer would chair all meetings. Applications for the design contract were invited from an officially approved list, and consultants were duly appointed via a complex procedure in which we, as so-called partners, had no say whatsoever.

Their design survived a nominal public 'consultation', and tenders were invited from another officially approved list which included several local and west of Scotland contractors. We were permitted to see the list, but not to participate in the decision-making process.

For me, the final straw was our exclusion from any part in appointing the project manager.

I had made it clear that what was required was a clerk of works with appropriate experience to manage the contract on behalf of the council and liaise with the design team and the contractor.

This was totally ignored, and the position filled by a charming young lady whose sole experience was a degree in plant species, an internship at Richmond Park, and a short spell at a garden centre.

The project was now well on the way to becoming another local embarrassment, like the northern entry to Helensburgh – the 'upgrading' of the skating pond into a bog, an eyesore depot for the roads department and our delightful see-through refuse dump; Colquhoun Square turned into a soulless, windswept concrete pavement (in the face of a petition against from a quarter of the town's population); a badly designed seafront promenade upgrade which washed away at the first winter gale and had to be rebuilt – still with minimal sea defence properties. And that's just the beginning of my list.

As a trustee of the charity, I formally moved to have the status of our so-called partnership formally recorded in the minute book. Others thought this might result in a confrontation with the council. Less impetuous heads prevailed, and I resigned as a trustee.

The contractors have now departed with the job clearly unfinished and some elements not even started; the words 'heritage' and 'restoration' do not spring to mind as a description of the hard landscaping and experimental building which constitute the 'plaza area'.

The one saving grace is the excellent restoration of the War Memorial garden, completed on schedule under the auspices of the War Memorial Trust and the MoD.

A formal request under the Freedom of Information Act for a statement of the current expenditure and an estimate of cost to completion was flatly refused. It remains to be seen what the Heritage Lottery people will have to say about it.

Over the past eight years the Friends and other volunteers have turned out regularly and in all weathers to do the work left undone by Argyll and Bute Council's parks department. To expect them to sort out this mess over the next five years is an impertinence.

We have a situation in local government whereby councillors appear to have little more than a nominal role as a democratic façade for this bureaucratic machine. At great public expense it performs its statutory obligations to the community – often tempered only by decent and considerate junior staff at the public interface.

The executive, however, appears to be primarily concerned with job preservation, box ticking and public relations. They should not be allowed anywhere near real life challenges requiring practical skills or imagination.

Gone are the good old days of a Burgh Council, a Provost and JP, unpaid councillors and a town clerk in the civic buildings where you could chap the door, have your say and get things done within a few days.

Given the chance, I know what I'd vote for...

Ronnie Morrison, via email

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READ MORE: Your letters to the Helensburgh Advertiser: January 30, 2020

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WHAT will the Local Development Plan 2 do for Helensburgh?

Produced by Argyll and Bute Council, much of LDP2 is a land allocation plan - what gets built where over the next 10 years. Based on a growing population it also aims to deliver a prosperous and expanding local economy.

It will not do as much as you think. Since 2001, Argyll and Bute's population has fallen by over five per cent and Helensburgh's by almost 10 per cent. The council wants to turn this round.

The expansion of HMNB Clyde (Faslane) aims to bring 1,700 navy personnel and their families to Helensburgh and Lomond. Will this be enough, and how many will settle in Helensburgh?

Housing: Less than 50 per cent of the new houses in the 2015 LDP have been built. There are no allocations for new houses in LDP2.

Jobs: LDP2 identifies six key areas where new jobs will come from: tourism, seafood, marine related industries, distilling, forestry, renewable energy. Apart from tourism, they will do little for Helensburgh.

But Helensburgh has its own business opportunities to be exploited: many more visitors at the Hill House because of its stand-out 'box', the new town centre conservation area, our status as a gateway to the National Park, the Three Lochs Way, the John Muir Way, the Argyll Sea Kayak Trail, the planned new hotel, pub and restaurant next to Waitrose, and the new innovation hub in our library, which is targeted at forces spouses, Royal Navy retirees and our own "bright young things".

Rather than new shops, an exciting public open space is needed on the pier site below West Clyde Street for pop-up events, exhibitions, leisure, recreation, concerts, markets and demonstrations. These are what will draw more visitors into the town.

LDP2 threatens Helensburgh as one of Scotland's most beautiful towns. It has taken out a raft of policies from the current LDP promoting good design for new buildings and landscapes.

Along with Helensburgh Community Council's list of key environmental features put there to "protect and enhance" all that is good in the town. Both to go back into LDP2.

LDP2 has to see Helensburgh is part of greater Glasgow for employment, higher education, sport and leisure, retail, hospitals, transport links and more.

Together they all give Helensburgh its unique status and standing within Argyll and Bute. They bring with them a unique range of opportunities for its future prosperity. LDP2 has to recognise this.

With apologies to Robert Louis Stevenson: "Argyll and Bute Council has no unity except upon the map."

Nigel Millar (member of Helensburgh Community Council)

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READ MORE: Helensburgh Advertiser readers' letters: January 23, 2020

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ARGYLL and Bute Council has just finished a consultation on LDP2. However it contains one major and very important flaw.

While it correctly places a lot of emphasis on sustainable development, it also says (paragraph 1.6) that its overall objective is that "Argyll and Bute's economic success is built on a growing population." Unfortunately it fails to see that these two concepts are incompatible.

Before explaining why they are incompatible, let me briefly explain what LDP2 is. It is defined as "a statutory planning document which provides guidance about built development to residents, developers and investors." In other words it lays down what should go where – houses, factories, care homes, fish farms, wind turbines and so on.

What does LDP2 mean by sustainable development? It says that the Scottish Government adheres to the Brundtland definition, which is "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

This leads us to the first problem.

Earth Overshoot Day tells us that we are already using up the planet's renewable resources faster than they can be renewed – in other words present generations are stealing resources from future generations.

Furthermore, Earth Overshoot Day is occurring earlier nearly every year – in 1987 it was calculated to be on October 23, whereas in 2019, it fell on July 29.

These dates are for the planet as a whole. However they can also be broken down into individual countries. Thus in 2019 Earth Overshoot Day for the United Kingdom fell even earlier, on May 17. I can see no significant reason why either Scotland's or Argyll and Bute's Earth Overshoot Day will be radically different.

So what is causing this growing and worrying problem? Basically a combination of two factors: the consumption patterns of the people on the planet and the growing number of people on the planet. And yet Argyll and Bute Council says that we need a growing population!

However this is not the end of the story. These same two factors – consumption patterns and a growing population – are also the principal reasons for climate change. And yet Argyll and Bute Council says that we need a growing population!

Anyone who is in any doubt about the extent to which the planet is already creaking at the seams should watch Chris Packham's recent television programme "7.7 Billion People and Counting", or look at the website of Population Matters, an organisation which numbers Sir David Attenborough among its patrons.

Indeed, they would argue that long-term policy should be to aim for a declining population.

In seeking to grow its population, Argyll and Bute Council is merely following the policy of the Scottish Government – and indeed the grants which the Scottish Government gives to councils, and which make up the majority of councils' income, are designed to encourage them to grow their population. But why?

A principal reason has to be the fact that a declining population means an ageing population, which in turn means an increasing demand for a wide range of services but a decreasing labour force to provide these services.

Another reason is that politicians fail to look sufficiently far into the future – instead of looking several generations ahead, they tend to look not much further than the next couple of elections.

We as voters need to be telling those who govern us that they need to be planning further into the future than they currently are, and to be thinking of imaginative ways of coping with an ageing population but without taking the easy fix of just increasing population numbers.

And that, of course, is why Argyll and Bute Council's new Local Development Plan should be rejected.

Stewart Noble, Helensburgh

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READ MORE: Your letters to the Advertiser: January 16, 2020

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I WRITE to congratulate you on the recent excellent article highlighting the sacrifices and courage displayed by those Helensburgh heroes who were compelled to work under atrocious conditions during WW2 on the 'Railway of Death' in Burma/Thailand.

Growing up in Helensburgh, I was hugely privileged to be a friend of the McGinley family, and recall fondly their father Neilly, whose courage, and that of his comrades, has now been publicly aired through the medium of the Advertiser.

Neilly McGinley Snr was a softly spoken, caring and hugely modest individual who rarely mentioned his wartime experiences. On the rare occasions that he did, it was never to highlight his own exceptional bravery, but simply to remember, with sadness and compassion, his former comrades who did not return from the Railway of Death.

As we commemorate this year the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, it is fitting that we also remember the exemplary and selfish sacrifices of our own local heroes, without whom, many of us would not be here today.

George J Connelly MBE (Lieutenant Colonel [Retd]), Culross

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