PACKING out a public meeting on a Monday night is pretty rare. When it does happen, it’s usually to save a school, a library or a hospital.

In Balloch recently, though, we were gathering the community to defend Loch Lomond from a controversial plan, one to sell off public land in our national park for a deeply damaging and unwelcome Flamingoland resort.

It isn’t just locals who are angry about these plans. More than 57,000 people have objected to the development, making it the most unpopular planning application in Scottish history. No wonder West Dunbartonshire Council have formally objected.

This massive national response can be explained by the question at the heart of the debate over Flamingoland: who owns Scotland? Are our national parks really the plaything of private developers who can make irreversible changes and whose profits disappear out of the community?

A glance at the plans shows quite clearly why anger is so widespread. Flamingoland admit their development will result in injury and death to red squirrels and otters, pollute running and standing water and damage ancient woodland.

Despite major traffic concerns from residents and the council, the plan includes a 291-space car park.

Despite requirements in the Local Development Plan, there’s no provision for affordable housing.

And despite their claims of job creation, the numbers promised have halved in recent months. The impact assessment now concedes that 75% of the jobs claimed would be created even if their development didn’t go ahead, owing to the growth of the hospitality and tourism industries in the region.

Local councillors also managed to extract an admission that they wouldn’t rule out employing contractors who use zero-hours contracts.

Around 40% of the site – mainly woodland – isn’t even allocated for development at all.

To secure planning consent you need to either prove that you meet local planning policy, which for all the reasons above and more Flamingoland is clearly utterly contrary to, or you argue for an “overriding public interest”. The developer isn’t arguing that interest, they’re just continuing with the ludicrous claims that their development is in keeping with the Local Development Plan.

This really should be the easiest rejection the National Park Board has ever made.

Beyond local environmental and economic concerns, though, we come back to the fundamental question of ownership over Scotland’s land, especially our national parks. Go elsewhere in Europe and proposals like this wouldn’t even be entertained inside such a valuable public asset.

The purpose of the National Parks is to conserve and protect our spectacular natural environment and wildlife, both for their inherent value and for the enjoyment of those who live here and those who travel from all over the world to experience our world-famous scenery.

So questions really must be asked about how this has got so far. The government agency who own the land, Scottish Enterprise, as well as Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority, need to explain publicly why they selected Flamingoland as the preferred developer. Have these bodies really been acting in the public interest in the rush to sell off the land? The local community certainly don’t feel that’s the case.

Our campaign has gone from strength to strength. With the support of West Dunbartonshire Council, we now have real momentum. We’re fighting these plans with one hand tied behind our back, though, given how slanted Scotland’s planning law is towards developers.

Holyrood had a chance to fix this just last month, with the first overhaul of the planning system in more than a decade. To our bitter disappointment, though, dozens of backroom deals between the SNP and Conservatives sunk any hope of a progressive, community-centred bill. To see the Conservative housing spokesperson lavish praise on a “Tory-style Planning Bill” was both nauseating and telling.

From giving communities the same right of appeal as developers to requiring planning permission for the hunting tracks which scar so many of our hills, progressive amendments were repeatedly voted down by an SNP/Tory majority.

The worst example of this was the removal of provisions previously added to the bill by my Scottish Greens colleague Andy Wightman, aimed at regulating the short-term lets industry devastating central Edinburgh in particular. After intense corporate lobbying by Airbnb, an amendment was proposed by the Tories’ tourism spokesperson and passed with SNP votes, stripping out the protections communities have been crying out for.

Our communities, from Balloch to central Edinburgh to the Highlands, need empowered in the face of greedy developers. Instead, an SNP and Conservative stitch-up entrenched the power of these vested interests.

It’s highly likely the Flamingoland decision will be called in by the Scottish Government. For the sake of the community and our national park, I dearly hope they can find the courage to take an approach different to that of the planning bill by rejecting the greed of developers and defending Scotland’s world-famous public land.