Scotland’s local government minister has been asked to investigate Glasgow City Council’s handling of a planning application to build a block of flats in one of the city’s most prized heritage areas.
Sandra White, the MSP for Glasgow Kelvin, has written to Marco Biagi amid concerns that developer Expresso Property Ltd has received special treatment over the proposed development of A-listed Park Quadrant in the city’s west end, recognized as one of the finest examples of town planning in Europe.
The Leeds-based developer this week began felling trees on the site ahead of its planning application for the project being heard, which Ms White claims is ‘almost unheard of’.
The developer was given permission to remove a limited number of trees as part of an initial scoping exercise, but locals claim it has gone further, clearing most of the site, including trees that are up to 200 years-old. They’re calling on the council to halt the work immediately.
Ms White said: “Technically the council is acting within the law but it is highly unusual to allow trees to be felled on a site before a planning application has been granted.
“If you were to look at previous planning applications, I have it on good authority that this has only been done on one previous occasion.
“I have written to Marco Biagi asking him to look into this as a matter of urgency. I think Glasgow City Council should be made to explain why this application appears to have been treated differently from others.”
Campaigners claim that as Expresso Property does not currently own the site, or the trees in question, the company should not have the legal right to remove trees but has exploited a legal loophole.
A spokesman for the Park and Woodland Heritage group (PAWH) said: “The developer is clearly intent on clearing the site as a way of forcing the council’s hand over planning permission for its block of flats.
“This is nothing less than an act of vandalism by an absentee developer, sitting in an office in Leeds, who cares more about profit than about Glasgow’s history and built heritage.”
In a letter to the council they state: “The trees at Park Quadrant are owned by Glasgow City Council which has a duty of care to protect them as they are situated within a Conservation Area.
“The trees are currently owned by the people of Glasgow. A decision cannot be made to permit a company which does not own these trees, to remove them because they have made an application within an acceptable time frame?
“These trees have taken decades, in some cases more than 100 years, to grow and their removal prior to any change in ownership of the site is a decision that should not be made by unelected members of the Council.”
The council claims that, although Park Quadrant is in a Conservation Area, there are no Tree Protection Orders (TPOs) in place. However the council could have served a TPO on the site and prevented the developer using the legal loophole to fell the trees.
The council agreed to sell the land to the Leeds-based developer last year for £6.3million. Earlier this month after being petitioned by the developers the price was reduced by £500,000 and the council agreed to accept a one-off payment of £400,000 in lieu of its agreed share of the future profits from the development which is expected to be worth more than £40million.
Members of the PWHG are urging councillors to kick-out the planning application for 98 new flats which is due to be submitted this week.
Residents are furious at the veil of secrecy which, they allege, has accompanied the planning application and negotiations surrounding the choice of preferred bidder for the site.
Despite agreeing to sell the land to Expresso Property last summer, the council has failed to properly consult with locals who have been forced to make several Freedom of Information requests to find out what is going on, it is claimed.
The land, which was originally gardens and playing fields, was compulsorily purchased by the local authority in 1981 but it has remained untouched ever since and has been the subject of two failed planning applications, in 2002 and again in 2007.
The former was the subject of a public inquiry which resulted in a multi-million pound proposed development for 100 flats and six mews houses by Stewart Milne Homes, being thrown out after the Scottish Executive deemed it was inappropriate for the area.
Expresso Property was one of 11 developers to bid for the project and were selected as preferred bidders in what was claimed to be a ‘design led’ decision.
Campaigners discovered after launching a Freedom of Information request that its ‘design’ did not receive the highest score in a selection process that also included the price being offered for the land. The price and deal offered by Expresso Property has subsequently been negotiated downwards without recourse to the other bidders to allow a rerun of the competition.