All posts by Park and Woodlands Heritage

GLASGOW’S VERY OWN ‘DODGY DOSSIER’

So, how were Councillors on the Executive Committee of Glasgow City Council persuaded to sell the Park Quadrant site to Expresso for £6.3m?

A bit of background before explaining in detail.

  • In October 2014, City Property, a relatively unaccountable ‘arm’s length organisation’ marketed the site for residential development and 11 bids were received from developers.
  • These 11 where whittled down to four by a process which allegedly gave 60% weight to planning and design and 40% to the price offered. A problem immediately arises – how do you compare apples and oranges?
  • What information has been prised out of City Property by FoI requests is inconsistent, with responses to different but overlapping FoI requests giving different perecentages and an overall stubborn refusal to provide any further information about either how scoring criteria were applied or by whom.
  • Meanwhile, a ‘Design Panel’ had been set up, with representatives from the Council, the Glasgow Institute of Architects, Historic Scotland, the Landscape Institute, the Royal Town Planning Institute, Architecture and Design Scotland, and, crucially, “amenity groups’ such as the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, Friends of Glasgow West, the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust and Scottish Civic Trust.
  • The four bidders selected made presentations to this Design Panel last March and consensus was rapidly reached over which proposal was preferred in terms of design, and it was not Expresso’s.
  • However, the Panel was asked not to make any recommendation and panel members were given to expect a further presentation of amended designs which would take account of their detailed written observations to the prospective developers. The notes concerning Expresso’s design (http://pawh.org.uk/…/2…/03/GUDP_05032015_Report_Espresso.pdf) are worth quoting from: “Ideas shown for a flamboyantly profiled penthouse roof contributing to the area’s roofscape were to be welcomed, but were very much work-in-progress and would need further refinement if a schizophrenic relationship to the stone façade below was to be avoided.”
  • The Design Panel had obviously noticed that what has become known as the ‘wonky roof’ ever since the public consultation exercise did not sit well with the rest of the design of the front elevation.

Things then started to move rather quickly. Before the Design Panel could see the modified proposals they had expected, a report, the ‘dodgy dossier’ (http://pawh.org.uk/…/Glasgow-City-Council-Report-by-Executi…), went to the City Council’s Executive Committee on 28 May last year.

The report is by the Managing Director of City Property (Glasgow) LLP but was tabled by the Council’s Executive Director of Development and Regeneration Services. It is very cleverly written and, at paragraphs 3.3 to 3.5, states:

3.3 ” … The four parties then had the opportunity to take advantage of this feedback before presenting to a special sitting of the Glasgow Urban Design Panel (GUDP) on 5th March 2015 where verbal feedback was provided to each design team by panel members (made up of design specialists in their field and local amenity groups – in this case Friends of Glasgow West and the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust) followed by detailed written feedback shortly after this dedicated session of the GUDP.

3.4 Following the GUDP forum, which ensured independent design review of the shortlisted bids, the second stage closing date was set for the four parties to provide amended proposals on 23 April 2015.

3.5 The highest scored offer was received from Expresso Property Ltd. … ”

Bear in mind that the members of the Design Panel who had seen the first version of four proposals, and who included amenity group representatives and design specialists, never ever saw the four amended proposals and had not favoured Expresso’s design in the first place.

Any Councillor, without the benefit of having like us made repeated FoI requests, review requests after refusals and appealing to the Scottish Information Commissioner over a period of nearly six months, would quite reasonably have inferred that Expresso’s bid had been favoured by a Panel which had included representatives of amenity groups. Elected members can hardly be blamed for this wholly misleading implication in the report. Note particularly that the report doesn’t actually state that the Design Panel thought Expresso was the best, but simply fails to disclose that the Panel thought they were one of the two worst!

Who exactly did then prefer Expresso’s design over the stifled consensus of the Design Panel? And how and why? And why was it so important to give Councillors a misleading impression of the opinions of participants in this flawed process? Answers please, somebody …

By the way, the ‘wonky roof’ is still part of the design.

PAWH & CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS

While the trees were being cut down, boards appeared on the railings around the Park Quadrant site and some alleged that corruption was behind what was going on. PAWH as an organisation would distance itself from such statements.

However, we have very little difficulty in understanding individuals who are driven to this conclusion for want of other logical explanation for what has taken place so far:

Expresso and the Council and City Property seem to have assumed that planning permission will be forthcoming even before the application has been submitted. Excessive tree removal is the most striking example but, six months ago, they applied to fell ALL the trees on the site. The reason given, that this was necessary for site investigation, just does not make sense as not one of four previous proposals which went as far as planning applications being lodged required any tree removal for site investigation. Capped boreholes and unfilled trial pits are still visible as evidence of these earlier investigations. What is so different about Expresso’s investigations that they require such extensive tree removal? It is very difficult to see how some of the trees removed would even facilitate any known method of site investigation.

The bidding and disposal processes for the site appear to have been undertaken with absolutely no transparency. There have been numerous FoI requests to City Property and the Council and, in each case, the responses have been provided on the 19th working day, late in the afternoon and, in most cases, have amounted to a refusal to provide the information requested. These have led to reviews which have been handled in the same manner and ultimately the Scottish Information Commissioner has had to extract the information for us. The scoring provided contradicts itself in different versions and Expresso, who came fourth equal in the first round of design scoring, went on to score significantly higher than the other bidders in the second round, despite not being the preferred bidder in the view of the ‘design panel’ (as confirmed by several design panel members). City Property refuse to reveal who made the final scoring decisions and on what basis. The Executive Committee were then misled last May into believing that the design panel had favoured Expresso’s design. Note the two highest scoring designs in round one were excluded for not offering enough money (despite claims that design was predominant) and then City Property let the final bidders alter their designs and financial offers during phase two of the process. Now, months later Expresso are proposing a completely different design to the one scored during the tendering process.

More recently, the Council’s Executive Committee agreed in February to reduce the sale price of the site by £500K due to a ‘reduction in the developable area’. Expresso claimed that they didn’t want to build on the footpath due to ‘concerns about its loss from the local community’. Then neighbours were told just before trees were felled that it was because of concern over the structural integrity of the exposed gable of Park Quadrant. One (or perhaps both) of these explanations must be wrong. Other possible reasons might be: a) There are windows on the existing Park Quadrant gable end which would need ‘bought out’ b) there is a buried high voltage power cable under the path c) building right up to the existing gable has serious structural challenges due to the small shallow foundations (mere ‘strip footings’) d) leaving a gap could save Expresso £1m or more in costs e) the ‘stopping up order’ on the footpath was confirmed all of 16 years ago and the Council may be concerned that the right of way may have re-established itself. So, the developer gets an 8% reduction in price for about 2% reduction in area and saves themselves a huge amount of money and hassle. The Executive Committee also agreed to let them buy out their ‘excess profit’ clause for only £400k. So each of the 98 flats only needs to sell for £4081 more than predicted for them to be laughing all the way to the bank. The minutes from this meeting suggest that nobody even questioned these staggeringly poor recommendations by DRS and they were approved by the Committee.

Had the Council been trying, they could hardly have done more to court allegations of impropriety!

COUNCIL MEETS TO SHRINK DEVELOPMENT SITE …

The Park Quadrant site is back on the agenda of the Council’s Executive Committee this Thursday http://www.glasgow.gov.uk/councillorsandcommittees/Agenda.asp?meetingid=13838 (item 14) with a recommendation to chop off the land over which a path runs between Park Quadrant and Park Circus Lane.

The reason given in the report? Because public concern has been expressed at the loss of the path. Trouble is nobody we know has expressed concern about this.

So what is the real reason? There is a rumour that the Council may not have clear title to the path, even though they made a Stopping Up Order over it in 2001/2. Have Expresso’s solicitors by any chance discovered this? Nothing about it in the report of course.

It certainly looks as if Expresso’s solicitors are driving a hard bargain with the Council’s legal people as, from the same report, the non-returnable deposit of £100,000 will now become returnable if the sale falls through and it’s not the developer’s fault.

Here’s hoping some Councillors will ask searching questions of their senior officials this Thursday, such as: “Does the Council actually own the bit of land where the path is?”. If yes, what is the real reason for removing this bit of the development site? If no, why did the Council ask City Property to sell a piece of land the Council doesn’t own?

Or maybe we should just start campaigning to continue shrinking the development site until there is nothing left at all!

Park Circus Study Area – Conservation Appraisal January 2016

Glasgow has 24 Conservation Areas, all but 4 of which have completed Conservation Area Appraisals (CAAs). Planning authorities are required to identify Conservation Areas and prepare Appraisals for each of them which, after a period of public consultation, serve to guide development so as to preserve the character and integrity of the Conservation Area. Only 4 of the City’s conservation areas do not yet have CAAs. One of the omissions is Park, despite this area having been recognised as a Conservation and Improvement Area as long ago as 1964, before conservation areas had any statutory meaning.
We now have a major development proposed at Park Quadrant, with no completed CAA to protect the Park area from inappropriate development. Freedom of Information requests to the Council were initially met with denials that a draft CAA existed. Six months later, after appeals to the Information Commissioner, a preconsultative draft was reluctantly made available but this contains very little detail for an area of such architectural heritage importance as Park, and has no statutory force.
It is regrettable that such an important conservation area has less protection than those which have completed CAAs in place. At their own expense, Park and Woodlands Heritage Group therefore commissioned MAST Architects to produce a Study Area Appraisal for the part of the Park Area centred on Park Circus and containing the development site. This was first published at a Symposium held in the Goethe Institut on 23 January, followed by an Exhibition which runs there until 1 February from 10am until 8pm, and may be relocating thereafter.

The Study Area Appraisal is now available in the resources section of this website http://pawh.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Park-Circus-Study-Area-Conservation-Appraisal-January-2016.pdf or from Dropbox https://www.dropbox.com/s/jlbz15lthrcy3vd/Park%20Circus%20Study%20Area%20-%20Conservation%20Appraisal%20January%202016.pdf?dl=0

Glasgow’s Controversial Park Quadrant Preferred Developer Disappears

On 16 September, the Park Quadrant site preferred developer (Expresso Property) held a ‘public consultation’ in St. Silas Church, Woodlands.
Within days the developer’s website (http://www.expressoproperty.co.uk) which included artist’s rendering of the proposed designs disappeared.

missing-page

What do you think happened?

Here’s some possible explanations to get you started:

  • Developer ashamed after ‘public consultation’ – wonky designs withdrawn.
  • Developer had to pay a £100k non-refundable deposit – now they can’t afford the £4.99 web-hosting fee.

We’d love to hear your speculations in the comments.

In case you missed them, these are the artist’s renderings of the proposed design:

Expresso-01

Expresso-02

Expresso-05

And if you missed the public consultation, photos of the display boards can be seen here.

ACTION GROUP FIGHTS THREAT TO GLASGOW HERITAGE

An action group has been formed to protect the heritage of one of Glasgow’s architectural gems.
A-listed Park Circus is part of a planned development created by distinguished architect Charles Wilson in the 1850s, with a layout similar to the New Town in Edinburgh. It is considered to be one the finest examples of town planning in Europe.
Park Quadrant was acquired by Glasgow City Council through a compulsory purchase order in 1981.
Plans to build 107 flats at the site in 2006 collapsed amid the worldwide financial crisis and a 2002 proposal was rejected following a public inquiry.
City Property Glasgow, the council’s arms-length property organisation, put Park Quadrant up for sale in October 2014. Their marketing brochure describes Park Circus as “probably the most iconic of Glasgow’s Victorian Cityscapes”.
The organisation received 11 bids which they narrowed down to a shortlist of four. All four shortlisted bids were invited to present their plans to City Property and GCC officers before being reviewed by the Glasgow Urban Design Panel.
When the proposals, including the design, were resubmitted the bid from Leeds-based developer Expresso Property was chosen and subsequently approved by Glasgow City Council’s Executive Committee.
The action group is concerned that 11 bids became one without either the public or their elected representatives having any input.
Tom Johnstone, a spokesman for the Park and Woodlands Heritage Group, said: “We are outraged. The decision to sell Park Quadrant to Expresso Property who intend to build 111 flats was taken behind closed doors before members of the public had a chance to get involved.
“Park Circus is a conservation area of international importance. It’s ludicrous that Glasgow is celebrating its built heritage with a week-long Doors Open Day festival while at the same time rushing through a potentially unsuitable development in one of the most architecturally significant areas of the city.”
He added: “We are deeply concerned about the selection process which appears to have fundamental flaws and has resulted in just one proposal going before our elected representatives. We’ve used Freedom of Information legislation to try to understand the decision making process but our requests have been repeatedly blocked.
“It is a joke to say that a public consultation is being carried out when the decision has already been made.

“We are not saying that Park Quadrant should never be built on. We understand that it is a prime piece of land in a sought after location and we also understand that its redevelopment could benefit Glasgow by creating new jobs.
“We urge Glasgow City Council to go back to the drawing board and have a full and frank public debate about how the land should be used.
“Are new flats the answer? What about sport and recreation facilities, or a social enterprise project, that would generate jobs and promote community use?
“If there is unanimous agreement that new flats should be built on the land then care must be taken to ensure they are as high-quality architecture as the surrounding buildings and sympathetic to the unique characteristics of Charles Wilson’s renowned designs.
“Glasgow’s architecture attracts visitors from all over the world. Many of us take it for granted that we have designs by Charles Wilson, Charles Rennie Macintosh and Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson on our doorstep.”
The company’s plans will be on display at St. Silas Church in Woodlands 13.00-20.00pm on Wednesday 16th September 2015.