[Updated below 18th October] With the decision by Helensburgh developers, Osborne Interiors, not to demolish the derelict blocks of former naval flats at Jutland Court which they recently acquired, there appears to be serious local concern on the tactics involved.
The fear is that a move Osbornes have used successfully before may be played again in this instance - to threaten impending closure of the business for financial reasons unless they can be given planning permission for a specific site – saving jobs just in time for Christmas.
Last time this card hit the table and proved a trump, the project for which permission was sought so urgently to save the company [on a second site at Cumberland Avenue] progressed at a snail’s pace – and is still doing so – because there was so much other work already on the order books.
In this case local anxiety is that the demand may be for permission to develop the protected site at Castle Woods to keep jobs in balance against a paralysis in developing the Jutland Court site.
A possible alternative move would be a win/win variation for the developers – to seek £40K per unit for refurbishment at Jutland Court from Argyll and Bute Council’s Empty Homes fund – but only on condition that permission is granted to build something like 60 market homes – labelled as affordable because they cold be eligible for assisted purchase schemes – on Castle Woods, regardless of the fact that this site is an Open Space Protected Area. This scale of developemnt would be too big for Osbornes and so would be sold with planning consent in place.
In all of this there is an imperative for the planners at Argyll and Bute Council to show that they do more than bark.
It has been eighteen months since an Osborne-owned site at Cumberland avenue in Helensburgh was clearfelled, against both Tree Protection Orders and the express instructions of the planning department.
Since then the planners have placed in the public domain online a letter from Howard Young to the Osborne’s solicitors – which we reported here – in which he unequivocally insisted that any proposed development at Castle Woods by Osbornes would have to start from scratch, with a new planning application and a new consultation process.
In that letter Mr Young reminded the developers, through their solicitor, that the council was taking legal advice on enforcement procedures over the clearfelling at the Cumberland Avenue site.
There is absolutely no reason that such enforcement should not take place. The events around this illegal clearfelling were blatantly defiant of the planning authorities and can be shown to have been knowingly so.
Barking loudly in this fashion may initially impress those fearful of lack of due protection; but the wait for action has been already overlong. If the planners expect to retain public credibility and trust that one law applies to all, the threatened enforcement over Cumberland Avenue now needs to seen to be implemented.
If it is not, the suspicion of undue influence, with Osbornes employing as agents a company – Viton – owned by a local couple one of whom is a Helensburgh councillor, will, rightly or wrongly, take root and taint the planners supposed impartiality. That is never a road for any responsible public servant to step out along.
Update 18th October
Background information on the Council Empty Homes Fund
The £40k per unit we quote above is an estimated average for the flats at Jultland Court. Such refurbishments, in the experience of the council, tend not to last very long. The properties concerned have to be managed in partnership with an RSL for at least 10 years – which produces more income for the developer. After that period, they revert back to developer.
The policy was envisaged to relate to isolated properties in private ownership not commercial developers like Osbornes.
Osbornes bought Jutland Court from administrators at very low cost on the basis of open market price less demolition etc – with every expert opinion being that the blocks of flats should be demolished. This purchase context gives a very enhanced profit margin on what is done with the site – aggravated now with the decision not to demolish after all.