A decision on whether to close a car park in a West Lothian beauty spot could be taken by March.
The car park in the Bathgate Hills is popular with stargazers but has attracted vandals and fly tippers in recent months.
Council officers say allowing 24 hour access to the site has given the council spiralling clean-up costs, and have suggested it be closed at night.
The Hilltop car park had a £4,000 smart bin set on fire for a second time. Boundary fencing which had been installed by the council has also been smashed.
A community consultation was started after the initial suggestion of closure was made by the council’s Countryside managers.
Bathgate Local Area committee heard that council cleansing crews were now having to attend three times a week to clear the car park, also unknown as Gordon’s View, to clear it up.
The car park, off a quiet back road high above the northern edge of the town has also been used regularly for fly-tipping.
A council Operations manager, Andy Johnston, explained that the reason the smart bin had been put there was to collect the fast food cartons that make up the bulk of the rubbish being left. The bin compacts the rubbish and alerts council staff when it is full and needs to be emptied.
Mr Johnston said: “ There was a lengthy debate about whether the gate should open or closed at night. In the last six or seven months there’s been a fair amount of vandalism. The smart bin has been set on fire a couple of times, vandalised and fence posts torn down.
“On three or four occasions we have had to go up and clear fly tipping. It’s costing the council time and money to manage the car park.”
He pointed out that other council car parks are locked at night and there has been a significant drop in littering and vandalism in the locked car parks.
Mr Johnston said it was time to review the situation and promised consultation with the community before any decision is made.
But a local councillor, the SNP’s Willie Boyle, said he would have concerns about proposals to close the car park, arguing that it wouldn’t deter littering in the Bathgate hills, and he questioned why an expensive smart bin had been left in such a remote spot.
He told the meeting: “I’m concerned about attempts to close the car park. I would ask why we would put a £4,000 bin in a remote car park where it might better serve in a built up area. Putting it in a remote area it’s being left to be vandalised.”
The car park affords uninterrupted views across the south west of the county. Its position, high above the town and on an unlit road, also opens up the night sky to stargazers.
It was first opened after a campaign by the town’s community council, on which Councillor Boyle served at the time. It is named Gordon’s View after a fellow member of the community council .
The community council sought assurances that its views would be taken into account before any final decision is made.
A report to the local area committee said: “A barrier was placed on Hill Top / Gordon’s View Car Park back in 2020 due to ongoing anti-social issues in the car park, both pre, through and post-Covid. The barrier was locked at night briefly and this stopped these issues, however this solution was overturned in 2021 and it was agreed that the situation would be monitored.”
Councillor Boyle said any trip through the Bathgate Hills would reveal McDonald’s bags lying at the side of the road and suggested it was easier to collect rubbish from the car park than pull it out of ditches of narrow county roads.
“It’s a societal problem , and one we have to manage the best we can,” he told members of the local area committee recently.
Councillor Boyle said he was fundamentally opposed to the nightly closing of the car park which he suggested was driven mainly on the strength of complaints from neighbours.
Mr Johnston said the review had been decided only because of the number of incidents of vandalism and the mounting weekly clean-up costs.
He reiterated that no decision would be taken without consultation, including with the community council.
A West Lothian Council spokesperson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We will be engaging with interested parties and groups over the Hilltop car park in the Bathgate Hills during January and February.
“Once this consultation process is complete, we will consider all the feedback received before making a decision on the car park’s future opening hours.”
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