Park Quadrant developers investigated amid claims of dirty tricks

3D Visual 2Architects behind the controversial Park Quadrant development are being investigated over complaints they acted unethically by encouraging staff to lodge planning submissions in support of the scheme to exaggerate its popularity.

The Architects’ Registration Board (ARB) and the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) are looking into complaints that Holmes Miller Architects, consulting engineers Woolgar Hunter and environmental design consultants and engineers Atelier Ten colluded to mislead Glasgow City Council’s planning committee over the proposal for the A-listed area.

It is alleged more than two dozen staff, including the Managing Director of Woolgar Hunter and several directors of Atelier Ten, wrote to the council praising the scheme without making clear they had a financial interest in the project succeeding.

The alarm was raised by local residents suspicious of the high number of submissions from supporters of the development from outside of the local area, many of which had similar or identical wording.

The council, which stands to net £6.2million from the sale of the land, has received more than 200 formal objections to the £40million proposed development by Leeds-based Expresso Property Ltd.

Among the objectors is the Goethe Institute in neighbouring Park Circus, Germany’s cultural institute in Scotland, which occupies and manages a building owned by the Government in Berlin. It runs language courses for hundreds of students every year as well as lectures, exhibitions and other cultural functions.

A spokesman for the Park and Woodlands Heritage Trust said: “This is a blatant and underhand attempt by these companies to overstate the popularity of this proposed development.

“Woolgar Hunter’s staff have submitted numerous supporting comments on the pretence of being members of the public.

“Their supporting letters make no reference to their commercial link to their employers or the applicants and we believe they’re deliberately misrepresenting themselves in an attempt to corrupt the perception of public opinion to the planning department.”

The spokesman added: “While they may consider themselves to be the ‘public’ out with work, none of the staff concerned live anywhere near the development and it would be disingenuous to suggest their support is anything other than as a result of their employers’ attempts to have the development approved for their own financial gain.”

The ACE confirmed in an email to residents that it would investigate the matter under its normal complaints procedure.

In a letter to residents, the ARB confirmed that it was investigating allegations against 11 named individuals on the basis that they failed to declare a conflict of interest when they lodged submissions.

The letter states: “Architects are expected to follow the Standards in the Architects Code of Conduct and Practice in their professional lives and we will ask the individuals to provide a response after considering in particular Standard 1 (be honest and act with integrity).

“ARB can only investigate matters where it appears that the architect may be guilty of unacceptable professional conduct and/or serious professional incompetence.”

Councillors are due to decide on the issue at a meeting of the planning committee next month. PAWH has submitted an alternative proposal for public gardens and a pavilion on the Park Quadrant site which, members claim, is more in keeping with local architecture that will provide a public benefit and enhance the council’s vision of the area as a Cultural Quarter.

The Charles Wilson Pavilion and Gardens, named after the 19th Century architect who designed the area, has the support of the local community council.

It is, according to members, ‘driven by a desire to reclaim for the community, outdoor space and facilities’ and will allow it ‘to exhibit pride in its surroundings while safeguarding green space and trees and preserving and refurbishing the original Victorian gardens’.

Park flats plan provokes international incident

GK_Voss_4The plan to build a block of modern flats in Park Quadrant has provoked an angry response from the German Consul General in Scotland.

Jens-Peter Voss (right) has written to Glasgow City Council, on behalf of the German Government, urging it to throw out an ‘inappropriate’ and ‘clumsy’ proposal to erect 98 flats at the A-listed area.

Neighbouring Park Circus houses the Goethe Institute, Germany’s cultural institute in Scotland, which occupies and manages a building owned by the Government in Berlin. It runs language courses for hundreds of students every year as well as lectures, exhibitions and other cultural functions.

Staff at the institute and at Alliance Francaise, a private higher education establishment teaching French which occupies the same building, are said to be deeply distressed by the building plan.

The council, which stands to net £6.2million from the sale of the land, has received more than 200 formal objections to the £40million proposed development by Leeds-based Expresso Property Ltd.

Herr Voss said the townhouses at two and three Park Circus were represented by the German Consulate under international law and that he fears their functions will be negatively affected by noise and air pollution from the building project.

He said the scale of the proposed six-storey development will intrude upon the privacy of students, visitors and staff at the Goethe Institute and that the proposal, which is contrary to the council’s own development plan, takes no account of the area’s historic or architectural character.

A report commissioned by Herr Voss on behalf of the institute said it benefits from a central location in one of the most prestigious conservation areas of Glasgow, chosen because it accords with the institute’s ‘noise sensitive’ activities.

The report states: “This peace is likely to be disrupted very significantly during construction, to the point where the Goethe Institute and the Alliance Francaise may not be able to fulfil their functions satisfactorily.

“Increased noise can also be expected from the occupants of the proposed 98 flats, and associated equipment, such as fans, heat pumps etc.

“The Goethe Institute will also suffer from a reduction in air quality resulting from the mature parkland being removed and replaced by a large underground car park ventilated towards Park Circus Lane, its garden ground and rear elevation.”

The report criticizes the proposed development’s “misguided attempt to create a ‘bel etage’ at roof level” and its “clumsy…poorly justified attempt to create two additional floors of accommodation where existing buildings have a relatively unobtrusive attic”.

A spokesman for the Park and Woodlands Heritage Trust (PAWH), which has collected a 2000-strong petition opposing the development, said: “Objections to this act of architectural vandalism have come from across the UK and now we have a foreign government entering the fray.

“Councillors need to realise the wider importance of what they’re doing. It’s not as simple as throwing up a block of flats and pocketing the cash.

“There are real and significant human, environmental and diplomatic considerations to this proposal and it’s clear that none of those have been thought through properly, if at all.”

Councillors are due to decide on the issue at a meeting of the planning committee next month. PAWH has submitted an alternative proposal for public gardens and a pavilion on the Park Quadrant site which, members claim, is more in keeping with local architecture that will provide a public benefit and enhance the council’s vision of the area as a Cultural Quarter.

The Charles Wilson Pavilion and Gardens, named after the 19th Century architect who designed the area, has the support of the local community council.

It is, according to members, ‘driven by a desire to reclaim for the community, outdoor space and facilities’ and will allow it ‘to exhibit pride in its surroundings while safeguarding green space and trees and preserving and refurbishing the original Victorian gardens’.

Planning application lodged for Visitors Centre and Gardens on Park Quadrant

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Campaigners fighting plans to build a modern block of flats in one of Glasgow’s most historic areas have submitted an alternative proposal for public gardens and a visitors’ centre that will celebrate the unique architectural heritage of the Park district.

They have lodged a planning application for a pavilion on Park Quadrant which, they claim is more in keeping with the historic buildings that surround the site and its status as a conservation area.

The project, that includes a statue to Charles Wilson, the 19th century architect who designed the area, will provide a public benefit and enhance Glasgow City Council’s vision  for the area as an international-standard Cultural Quarter, according to campaigners.

The proposed Charles Wilson Pavilion and Gardens, which has the full support of the local Community Council, will be built and managed by a charitable trust with funding expected to come from the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as from private donations.

The proposal, expected to go before Glasgow City Council’s planning committee in May, will present councillors with an alternative to plans by Leeds-based developer Expresso Property to build a six-storey block of 98 modern flats on the site.

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Plans and 3D modelling of the pavilion and gardens, drawn-up by architects and landscape specialists employed by the Park and Woodlands Heritage (PAWH) group, will go on display on Wednesday (March 16) in the local St Silas Church Hall,  Woodlands, as part of a public exhibition and consultation event.

The event has been organised to give the community the opportunity to see the designs first hand and to offer comments and suggested amendments.

The project design follows extensive research in the Woodlands and Park area to establish the views of local residents and to determine future needs.

As well as including refurbished gardens, children’s play area and nature trail, there will also be a pavilion incorporating a café and gift shop; a flexible gallery/ interpretation space, telling the history of the area; and a meeting/education space, all of which will help generate revenue to support running costs and sustainability of the project.

The facility will be owned and managed by a charitable trust that will employ a small number of people on an ongoing basis, on both a full and part time basis, funded from community and commercial activities.

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Supporters say the heritage project is driven by a desire to maintain outdoor facilities that allow the local community to celebrate the unique architecture of the area while safeguarding its green space.

A spokesman for the PAWH group said: “By regenerating the Park Quadrant gardens, we will not only provide a community and visitor asset, but will maintain the integrity of the site and the setting of the wider, world-class conservation area for future generations.

“We’re seeking to develop a facility that will tell the story of our history and attract visitors who will use the pavilion and gardens and its facilities.

“We anticipate offering spending opportunities in the proposals to allow us to generate funds to maintain the garden and pavilion on an ongoing basis, ensuring community access into the future.”

There is considerable local opposition to the proposal by Expresso Property to develop flats on the site which, locals say, will spoil one of Europe’s finest examples of Victorian heritage, architecture and urban planning.

The spokesman added: “There is, rightly, a lot of concern that this historic area should not be destroyed by an ill-thought out plan, motivated by private profit.

“Our alternative proposal will make proper use of the land, in a way that’s sustainable and sympathetic to the local landscape. It will provide an elegant, living resource that will benefit the entire community and beyond rather than the pocket of a developer.”

 

Petition tops 1000 signatures

The petition to save Park Quadrant from an unwanted development has topped 1000 signatures.

A total of 1043 people have added their names to our call to halt the proposed development of 98 modern flats in the area, which is one of europe’s finest examples of architecture and town planning.

We hope that Glasgow City Council pays heed to the strength of feeling that exists over this issue and sees sense.

Many thanks to all those tho have signed the petition so far. Please tell your friends, neighbours, work colleagues and family members about our campaign and ask them to lend their support.

Together we can and will defeat this.

to add your name to the petition, click HERE

 

 

 

 

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!

Minister asked to intervene in Park Quadrant dispute

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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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