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November 2017: Annual General Meeting

Our Annual General Meeting will be held on Monday 6 November 2017 at 7.00 pm in Helensburgh Parish Church Hall, Colquhoun Square.

We will be launching our new management plan for the land at Cumberland Avenue at this meeting. This has been drawn up by our environmental consultant, Iona Hyde, following the open consultative event meeting which took place earlier this year at Lomond School Sports Hall. Iona will therefore be our main speaker at the AGM, when she will explain in detail how the Cumberland Avenue site can be transformed into an environmental asset for everyone’s benefit.

Refreshments will be available at the midway break, after which we shall conduct all the normal AGM business, including the election of committee members or trustees.

Anyone needing a lift to and from Helensburgh Parish Church Hall, or who can offer someone else a lift to the meeting, should contact Kathleen Siddle, HCWG Secretary, on 678328 or at kathleen.ralph@virgin.net.

May 2017: Successful consultation event on future of Cumberland Avenue land

Trevor Welch (left) and David Adams (right)
Over 40 people came together for two hours on the afternoon of Saturday 20 May, to plan a brighter future for the land at Cumberland Avenue. Alongside local residents, attendees at the consultative event organised by HCWG included Councillor Aileen Morton (Local Ward Councillor and Leader of Argyll and Bute Council), Councillor Lorna Douglas (Local Ward Councillor), representatives of the Friends of Duchess Wood, and the two current owners of the land (Mrs Margery Osborne and Mr Thomas Paterson).

The meeting started with a presentation on future options from David Robertson of HCWG and Iona Hyde, an arboricultural consultant who has been commissioned by HCWG to help prepare a management plan for the land. The meeting then split into small workshops allowing everyone present to table their own particular ideas and suggestions.

Before the meeting, Trevor Welch of Helensburgh and District Civic Society presented HCWG with a cheque for £1,000 as part of its distribution of funds consequent on the winding up of the society, and in recognition of HCWG’s efforts to retain and enhance Castle Woods and the land at Cumberland Avenue as important open spaces within the town.

David Adams, HCWG Convenor said “HCWG now intends to use the numerous comments and suggestions gathered at this event to prepare a detailed management plan for the land as an important step towards the community buy-out. We are also particularly grateful for the financial support from Helensburgh and District Civic Society which we shall use to help bring the Cumberland Avenue land and Castle Woods into community ownership.

May 2017: Community consultation event planned on Cumberland Avenue

Cumberand Avenue site
Following the decision of Scottish Ministers last November to approve HCWG’s application to register a community interest at Cumberland Avenue, we are now planning to hold an open consultative event to discuss how best to turn this neglected area of land into a real environmental asset for everyone’s benefit.

This event will take place on Saturday, 20 May between 3-5 pm at Lomond School Sports Hall on Rhu Road Higher, Helensburgh. All members of the local community are invited to come. We will also be inviting our MSP and newly-elected local councillors.

At the event, we will be particularly keen to gather local views on:

  • What kind of trees and shrubs should we aim to plant and where?
  • Where should footpaths be provided?
  • Should we retain or remove the mounds left from earlier felling?
  • Should we create a central open space?
  • Are boundary fences needed?
  • How can dogs best be managed?

We intend to use all the comments gathered at the event to prepare and publish a detailed management plan for the Cumberland Avenue land.

December 2016: Another HCWG application approved by Scottish Government – this time at Castle Woods

Castle Woods, Helensburgh
Following our success at Cumberland Avenue last month, Scottish Ministers have now approved our application to register a community interest in Castle Woods. This again means that the owners are now prohibited from selling to any party other than HCWG. We now intend to redouble our efforts to bring both sites into community ownership and believe this could be possible by the end of 2018.

In making their decision, Scottish Ministers stated that “they are satisfied that the proposed application to register an interest in land known as Castle Woods is in the public interest. HCWG’S aspirations show intent to address the needs identified and supported by the local community and, if HCWG are successful in acquiring the land in the future, the sustainable development proposals by HCWG should benefit the local community, the wider Helensburgh community and the wider area through ensuring the land is used for the benefit of the community through the provision of a long-term land and forestry management plan for the land known as Castle Woods, which will help promote the general and social, environmental and economic well-being of the community.

HCWG has long campaigned to preserve and enhance Castle Woods, which is an area of ancient semi-natural woodland that forms an important ecological extension of the local nature reserve of Duchess Woods. It is protected by a Tree Preservation Order, designated as an Open Space Protection Area, and identified as a local Key Environmental Feature. The northern part is a Local Nature Conservation Site. Unfortunately, however, for over a decade the landowners have sought to turn Castle Woods into a 72-unit housing estate.

David Adams, HCWG Convenor, said: “We are delighted to have Scottish Government’s backing for transforming Castle Woods into a community-owned asset for everyone’s benefit. HCWG produced a draft management plan for the woods in 2012 which received widespread support in the local community. In 2013, we almost secured very substantial funding from the Armed Forces Community Covenant Fund to implement the plan and we have been encouraged to re-apply if the owners can be persuaded to sell. Now that the Scottish Government has approved our application, we will be seeking to meet the owners to discuss the long-term future of Castle Woods.

Download a copy of the Scottish Government’s decision here.

For more information, see:

Helensburgh Advertiser: Helensburgh woodland buyout interest approved – but owner says land is not for sale

Lochside Press: Castle Woods community buyout a step nearer

November 2016: Scottish Government approves HCWG application to register a community interest at Cumberland Avenue

HCWG’s application to register a community interest in the land at Cumberland Avenue was approved by Scottish Ministers on 2 November. This is the first step towards a community buy-out and it means that the landowners are now prohibited from selling to any other party than HCWG. This means we can now legitimately see ourselves as the future owners of the land and make active plans to bring this about.

Significantly, this was only the second such decision in the whole of Scotland since the ‘Community Right to Buy’ provisions of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 were extended to urban areas in April 2016. (The first such decision was in October at Portobello, Edinburgh.)

HCWG is highly encouraged by the very positive support given in the decision letter from the Scottish Government, which stated that: “Scottish Ministers believe that, if successfully delivered, HCWG’s proposals could contribute positively to the sustainable development of the land and the local community of Helensburgh.”

David Adams, HCWG Convenor, said: “I’m delighted that our application to register a community interest in the land at Cumberland Avenue has been approved by the Scottish Government. As the next stage in our campaign to bring the land at into community ownership, we will soon be holding a public consultation event to enable the local community draw up detailed plans for the future of the site.”

HCWG expects to hear the outcome of the related application at Castle Woods, Helensburgh around Christmas.

Download a copy of the Scottish Government’s decision here.
Ministers back community buy-out plan for Helensburgh woodlands
Scottish Ministers approve community buyout bid for Cumberland Avenue

October 2016: HCWG looking to invoke Community Right to Buy

Castle Woods, October 2016
HCWG has submitted applications to the Scottish Government to register a community interest in sites at Cumberland Avenue and Castle Woods, Helensburgh. If the applications are approved, they would enable HCWG to trigger the ‘Community Right to Buy’ provisions of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, should the current owners decide to sell. These important powers were only extended to urban Scotland in April 2016. Consequently, HCWG is one of the first community bodies in an urban area within Scotland to seek to take advantage of this legislation.

David Adams, HCWG Convenor said “There has been a long history of controversy around these sites as the current owners have relentlessly, but unsuccessfully, tried to persuade Argyll and Bute Council to set aside well-established environmental protections and allow the sites to be developed for housing. In the meantime, local residents have become increasingly concerned at the way in which the owners have allowed the condition of both sites to deteriorate. HCWG now intends to offer them a brighter future. Applying to register a community interest is the first step towards bringing them into community ownership. HCWG is determined to transform Castle Woods and the land at Cumberland Avenue into community woodlands that will provide real environmental assets for the people of Helensburgh.”

Community buyout bid for woods in Helensburgh
First steps taken towards Helensburgh woodland community buy-out

February 2016: Log Pile Finally Removed at Cumberland Avenue

Cumberland Avenue Helensburgh - log pile gone 03 February 2016
Almost five years after protected woodland at Cumberland Avenue, Helensburgh was controversially felled in April and May 2011, the landowners, Margery Osborne and Thomas Paterson, have finally removed the large pile of logs they created on the edge of the street. This complies with an order served by Argyll and Bute Council in June 2015 following a determined local campaign organised by HCWG. The order was confirmed by the Scottish Government in October 2015, following an appeal by the landowners.

David Adams, HCWG Convenor, said “We are glad that on this occasion the landowners decided to comply with the order and so avoided any need for the Council to implement it directly. Now that the log pile has gone, the owners must restore longstanding public access to the land, which they have refused to allow since 2007. HCWG intends to press the Council to ensure this happens as soon as possible.”

For more information see:

For Argyll: Helensburgh Community Woodland Group finally sees log pile debris removed from Cumberland Avenue site

Helensburgh Advertiser: Conservationists praise clearing of log debris [296KB PDF]

January 2016: Broad Support for McPhillimy Report on Castle Woods

HCWG has today published a summary of the comments received from a number of locally-knowledgeable experts on the independent report it commissioned from Donald McPhillimy B. Ecol. Sci. (Hons. Forestry) M.I.C.For. These can be downloaded here. [92KB PDF]

Among these comments, the Biodiversity Officer for Argyll & Bute Council stated that “Mr. McPhillimy has produced an insightful report with sensible recommendations.” The local Operations Officer for Scottish Natural Heritage supported Mr McPhillimy’s recommendation in favour of community ownership of Castle Woods as “the most beneficial option for the local natural heritage interests”, while the local Woodland Officer for Forestry Commission Scotland concluded that the “report accurately reflects the current condition of the woodlands and that the management proposals contained within the plan, including managing invasive non-native species and enrichment planting of trees, would help contribute to sustainable management of the woodland.”

Sandy Kerr from the Helensburgh Tree Conservation Trust felt that “it would be sensible to see the Community Woodland (at Castle Woods) as part of an ecological corridor including Duchess Wood” while Stewart Campbell from the Friends of Duchess Wood pointed out to ecological and historical similarities between the two woodland areas and emphasised that “Having an accessible and managed Castle Wood could help relieve some of this pressure (at Duchess Wood), and enable both woodlands to develop a better balance between access, education, and habitat protection.”

David Adams, HCWG Convenor commented: “The validity of Donald McPhillimy’s analysis and recommendations has been tested and supported by other experts in the field. We cannot allow the current owners of Castle Woods to preside over another ten years of further deterioration in its condition. We shall be pressing Argyll and Bute Council to help us bring the woods into community ownership as soon as possible.”

November 2015: Castle Wood suffering from at least 10 years of neglect, says independent expert

An independent report commissioned by HCWG from the highly respected Scottish forestry expert, Donald McPhillimy, says Castle Wood has suffered at least 10 years of neglect. Despite being on the Ancient Woodland register and carrying the local authority designations of Tree Preservation Order (TPO), Local Nature Conservation Site (LNCS) and Open Space Protection Area (OSPA) it has continued to decline. This is in stark contrast to the adjacent and well managed Duchess Wood, which is much larger and much better managed.

According to Mr McPhillemy, the key issues are firstly, invasive species in the form of laurel, Rhododendron ponticum and to a lesser extent, sycamore. Secondly, drains have become blocked and the woodland is very wet in places. Some water is seeping out and causing a hazard for adjacent properties. Thirdly, a few trees are leaning out over neighbouring properties and are a cause for concern. Finally, the wood is suffering from low level anti-social behaviour, mainly in the form of littering.

Mr McPhillemy concluded that locally responsive community management offers the best hope to reverse the decline in fortune suffered through the abandonment of Castle Wood. HCWG remains determined to bring this about as soon as possible.

Download Donald McPhillemy’s report here

October 2015: Removal of Cumberland Avenue Log Pile ordered by Scottish Government

HCWG’s longstanding campaign to restore the former woodland at Cumberland Avenue has been boosted by an appeal decision from the Scottish Government issued on 22 October. This confirmed the notice issued by Argyll and Bute Council giving the landowners four months to remove the large pile of logs left on the site since the woodland was felled in April and May 2011.

In making this decision, the Scottish Government Reporter stated that “The log pile, and the trunks and branches comprising it, are substantial in scale and visually prominent in views from Cumberland Avenue and adjoining residential properties. I do not regard the log pile as a feature that would be expected or characteristic of an open area within a residential environment. I find it to be visually incongruous, and to detract from the appearance of the site and the character of the locality.” These arguments had long been put forward by HCWG and were eventually supported by the Council.

Unfortunately, a second Section 179 notice, requiring the removal of an adjacent bund or mound of debris was quashed by the same Reporter who said “Overall, I do not find the bund to be visually incongruous or obtrusive so as to detract from the appearance of the site or the character of the locality. Its presence on the land does not adversely affect the amenity of the area, and the appeal therefore succeeds.”

Significantly, the Reporter’s opinion about the bund was not shared by the 318 people who signed the HCWG petition to Argyll and Bute Council in April 2015, nor by the four local councillors who supported our campaign, nor by the 11 elected councillors sitting on the Council’s PPSL Committee who unanimously decided that the owners should be required to remove the bund.

Even so, HCWG’s campaigns have resulted in significant improvements at Cumberland Avenue over the past two years with building materials unlawfully stored on the site taken away, new trees planted by the local authority, the perimeter fence reduced in height and with the removal of the log pile now in prospect.

For more information see:

For Argyll:
Government Reporter offers curate’s egg to Helensburgh Community Woodlands Group in developer’s appeals

Lochside Press:
Appeal decision ‘brings planning process into disrepute’ claims woodland group

Helensburgh Advertiser:
Logs must be cleared [510KB PDF]

Scottish Government appeal decision on the log pile
Scottish Government appeal decision on the bund or mound of debris