A CRUNCH planning decision over a proposed £100m transformation of the former IBM site in Greenock has been dramatically postponed — after procedures followed by council officials were branded ‘incompetent’.
Inverclyde Planning Board yesterday voted 5-4 to conduct a visit to the Spango Valley site and demand a further briefing by Municipal Buildings officials regarding the application by businessmen bus tycoons Sandy and James Easdale, as the Greenock Telegraph reports.
The decision came after a proposal by board member Councillor Jim McEleny to lift a council officer-imposed cap on new homes on the site from 270 to 420 was thrown out by legal chief Jim Kerr.
A bid by the developers for permission in principle for 450 dwellings has been deemed excessive by planning bosses because it is 30 above the current limit for the whole Spango Valley site — only part of which is owned by the Easdale brothers.
Cllr McEleny was told that his motion was ‘incompetent’ with the local development plan (LDP) and would render the other portion of the site unviable for development by its owners, who have opposed the Easdales’ application.
Mr McEleny argued that capping the application at 270 houses would ‘kill it stone dead’ because Sandy Easdale publicly declared in the Telegraph last month that the site would remain ‘derelict’ with such a reduction in the number of properties.
Councillor McEleny — who described the development proposal as ‘exciting’ — said: “The fact of the matter is that the process followed by council officers has been incompetent.
“They should have deemed the application for 450 houses outwith the LDP and recommended refusal and go with a public hearing.
“These should have been the two options.”
Legal chief Mr Kerr said that changing a planning condition from 270 to 420 houses would be a ‘significant departure’ from the LDP, adding: “I don’t think we can rewind the position.”
Councillor McEleny countered: “‘I don’t think’ is not sufficient legal grounds.
“We should give this application every opportunity to succeed and not put the death knell on it.”
Mr Jamieson replied: “The economic viability of the site is not a material planning consideration.”
The Easdales — who have been working with delivery partner Advance Construction — lodged outline plans for a major development of 450 new homes, business space, a pub/restaurant and ‘park and ride’ facility at the old IBM Halt railway station.
In a statement issued last month the Easdales said: “We have worked positively with council officials since the application was submitted and had understood that officials were supportive of our application.
“Therefore, it came as a surprise to read in local media that council officials were now recommending that there should be a 40 per cent reduction in the number of houses — as this was something that they had specifically told us would not happen.”
Councillor Innes Nelson proposed a site visit and a further briefing of elected members by council officers.
Cllr Jim Clocherty moved approval of the application as recommended by officials for 270 homes.
He said: “The frustration for me is that there is no masterplan for the whole site.
“I know it’s not the applicant’s fault but if we went with all of the houses proposed then the other portion of the site would not be viable, and that is not in keeping with the LDP.”
Convener David Wilson asked that if members approved the proposal with the recommendation for 270 houses whether the developers could appeal.
Mr Jamieson said: “It is in every applicant’s gift to appeal any decision of the planning board and it would be Scottish ministers who review the application.”
Councillors David Wilson, John Crowther, Jim McEleny, Robert Moran and Innes Nelson voted for a site visit and further briefing before deciding the application.
Councillors Jim Clocherty, Gerry Dorrian, Drew McKenzie and Ciano Rebecchi voted to approve the application with the recommendation for 270 new homes.