As predicted in TAC57 (p3), plans are afloat for a sea-plane service on Loch Lomond. What was not predicted is how little control the National Park Authority has over these plans. Although the local plan contains a "general presumption against the development of land or water facilities for aerial pursuits", a seaplane service does not require planning permission, only associated land-based facilities. The question of disturbance by flying machines has been taken up by the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and others. It is a big issue but seaplanes are of particular interest, as they have an allure which helicopters, microlights or basic Boeings lack.
Perhaps this stems from an association with the great flying boats pioneering their way across Africa, or the vulnerable float-planes serving remote communities in northern Canada. The nearest I have been to this romantic ideal was the scheduled flight to Barra in the Twin Otter, skimming the Argyll treetops before buzzing a schooner in the Sound of Mull. At the time, I never thought that my holiday jaunt might be some Ardnamurchan resident's regular annoyance.
Seaplanes are considered attractive by many people (including Andy Wightman who wrote to the Herald in their defence), but they are not silent and in fact make an annoying tinny noise - acceptable as a one-off, irritating if repeated too often. This applies to other apparently innocuous phenomena: a bunch of balloons boosting their burners for take-off outside your bedroom window might be novel, if startling, on the first occasion, but would soon become infuriating if you lived near a regular launch site.
Still, the proponents of seaplanes claim they are minimally intrusive and do much less damage to the environment than motorboats. And we need to ask: what would they be intruding into? It is a fallacy that Loch Lomond is a quiet and peaceful place. It may look peaceful from the A82 traffic jam on a summer Sunday, but wind down the window and you will hear the jetskis, the speedboats and the queue-jumping motorbikes. Taking to the hills does not help because, while the view is world class, the sound still travels.
Noise pollution is a difficult issue to deal with. Measuring sound levels is not sufficient - it is the annoyance factor that matters and this is subjective. Those who go to watch a car rally in the Carron Valley forest will relish the roar of the engines which will be anathema to the birdwatcher (although not necessarily to the birds), even though the decibels are the same for all. Presumably noise is part of the enjoyment for the jetskier, otherwise manufacturers would develop quieter four-stroke engines with effective silencers.
The seaplane owner, Captain David West of Loch Lomond Seaplanes Ltd (a hint of confidence there in the company's registered name), has been mounting a pervasive, persuasive campaign. Earlier this year he carried out 100 test flights on the loch (or "more than 200 take-offs and landings", pick your number to suit your purposes) without a complaint. It is not clear how complaints would have been lodged, unless the plane trailed a banner with a "Phone this number to record your views" message. The company has no web presence and my experiences of attempting to communicate with the NPA by email do not inspire confidence.
The seaplane service was on the agenda of the NPA's eeting on 23 June 2003, with a recommendation from the park's chief executive that an experimental service be operated for a few days. The minutes of this meeting are not yet available, but newspaper reports indicate that this approach was narrowly rejected. However, according to the Lennox Herald of 26 June, Captain West was happy enough with the outcome. His interpretation: "It was felt by the Park Authority that their long-held view on seaplanes was not correct and that they should look deeper into the concept."
The next stage will have to be a planning application for shore-based facilities, and it will be very interesting to see how this is dealt with. If the seaplane service receives the NPA's approval, this will indicate an acceptance of the reality of Loch Lomond as a honeypot recreational destination. And the jetskis will be here to stay, too.
Val Hamilton's comments on access in TAC58 (p5) struck a chord. The increased use of public transport by hillwalkers (where it's available, anyway) is something that would make a real difference, not least to the mountain environment we are presumably seeking to enjoy.
Punitive fares, dopey timetabling and woeful marketing still bedevil our public transport situation (it is not possible to call it a "system"). I understand and share Val's optimism that the new national parks might grasp the opportunity to develop and promote public transport to and within their boundaries, perhaps on the model of the excellent and still improving provision in the national parks of Albion's Plain, particularly the Lakes. Sadly the signs are not good. The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs authority assured me that they "are working with various partners in relation to transport matters within the Park".
I don't believe these partnerships can be going too well. Recent changes to FirstBus services from Glasgow to Aberfoyle and Drymen - two main routes into the walking areas of the Lomond/Trossachs national park - have seen some disturbing service curtailments. Most buses to/from Drymen now begin or end at Milngavie station. The last weekday bus from Aberfoyle to Glasgow involves a change of vehicles at Balfron - and a 45-minute wait! Try selling 45 minutes in a wet Balfron to tourists or walkers who would otherwise use the car. (Hmm ... 45 minutes ... how could that time be spent? See page 14 - Ed.) Also, the Rowardennan-Inverbeg ferry remains off, leaving Rowardennan as a motorist-only destination. With the Maid of the Loch seemingly no nearer re-entering service, the lack of a proper passenger service on Loch Lomond is a real inconvenience - not to mention a puzzle to visitors who have been to Austria, Switzerland or even the Lake District.
In the Balloch tourist information centre I recently heard one of the staff doing her best to help two European lassies who had asked about transport to the north of the loch. "Well, there's no boat, no (after all, it's a loch...). And the bus from here just goes to Luss. You could walk out to the bypass and get a Citylink bus, but they're not very often..."
I was struck by the link to Mike Dales' comments in Parkwatch in TAC58 (p20). I have loads of respect for the work that Mike and the MCofS do. However, his negotiations regarding access to Ben Ledi really concerned the extent, nature and positioning of car parks. Is this not the realm of the AA or the RAC, rather than of a body with an interest in mountain conservation? The A84 between Callander and Lix Toll does have bus services, but they're run by various operators (eg Citylink, FirstBus, the Royal Mail) with no combined timetable or interavailable fares. How about seeing these services improved and more widely promoted, Mike? Use the bus and you're not tied to car parks, old or new.
TAC 59 Index