Campaigners claim the West Highland Way walk faces being ‘devastated’ if a controversial housing development goes ahead on the banks of Loch Lomond.
Villagers in Balmaha are campaigning against the proposed development of 22 houses on the path of the world-famous West Highland Way, which stretches 96 miles from Milngavie to Fort William.
It attracts over 80,000 walkers every year, generates £3.5 million annually and supports around 200 local businesses.
Now a community biodiversity group has been formed to protect the wild woodland site that’s been proposed for development by Rural Stirling Housing Association. They want the development – which they say would more than double the population of the picturesque village – stopped in its tracks.
Professor Dino Jaroszynski, chairman of the Balmaha Biodiversity Community Action (BBCA) group, said: “The ancient woodland in Balmaha is extremely valuable, not just as one of the jewels in the crown of the West Highland Way, but as a genuine environmental concern. We’re planning to protect this area with a giant biodiversity project, similar to that in Ben Lawers.
“Several rare and protected species can be found on the land; otters nest there as do red squirrel, we have a healthy colony of endangered slow-worms – all of which are protected.
“Building these houses will destroy this precious habitat and ruin what is recognised by the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park as one of the main tourist draws to the area.
“If you start building houses on greenbelt land on the shore of Loch Lomond, you set a precedent and open the door to several similar developments. It inconceivable this could happen, never mind in heart of one of Scotland’s most well-visited National Parks.”
However, Tony Teasdale, director of the Rural Stirling Housing Association which has submitted the plans, recognised the area as “special” and said the development has the backing of villagers and the wider community.
He said: “The area attracts many visitors and tourists and this is something that all involved recognise needs to be protected and sustained. However, it is also somewhere that people need to live and work. Local house prices are extremely high, there is very little affordable rented housing and local tourist businesses in the area struggle to provide the sort of accommodation that will enable them to retain employees.
“The area has seen a de-population over the last 20 years. The concern from most people that we speak to is about ensuring that Balmaha and the wider Buchanan Community Council area can be a vibrant, inclusive and sustainable community going forward. Sensitive, small scale development of the type we are proposing is a key part of this.”
Mr Teasdale added: “The article makes no reference to the very significant community support we have received over several years for our proposed development of badly needed affordable homes. Our plans are the result of close consultation with the community which first approached us for assistance to meet local housing needs in 2003.”
Professor Jaroszynski is urging people to have their say on the proposed development, with comments to be lodged with Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Board by this Friday (February 3).
He said: “While we appreciate there is a need for some affordable housing in the area, it should not put the jewel in Scotland’s tourism crown at risk.”
Balmaha recently featured on the ITV show Britain’s Best Walks, with host Julia Bradbury praising the biodiversity of the area and describing the Loch-side stretch of Loch Lomond as one of her favourite in the UK.
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