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

May 2015: Partial victory in campaign to Clear Out That Mess

Helensburgh Community Woodlands Group - Clear Out That Mess Campaign
Following HCWG’s campaign to secure the removal of all the logs and debris left behind from the Cumberland Avenue felling four years ago, we understand that Argyll and Bute Council now intends to serve notices before the end of May requiring the landowners to clear out the large pile of logs near the road along with the adjacent mound of debris.

This must be just the first step in getting rid of all the mess left from the 2011 felling. All the other mounds are equally unsightly and dangerous, and they must all be removed. They certainly have no long-term place in a designated Open Space Protection Area. We trust Council planners will soon respond to the strength of local feeling about this, as shown by the recent petition and fully supported by Jackie Baillie MSP and our local councillors, Maurice Corry, Aileen Morton, Gary Mulvaney and James Robb, and make sure the job is finished in full.

For more information, see:

For Argyll: Novel skillset discovered in Argyll and Bute Council Planning Committee

Helensburgh Advertiser: ‘Eyesore’ tree debris finally to be removed [PDF – 3.3MB]

April 2015: Widespread political and public support for campaign to “Clear out that Mess!!”

HCWG’s campaign to clear out the large mounds of logs and debris from the former woodland at Cumberland Avenue has received strong support across the political spectrum. Jackie Baillie MSP (Labour) has told HCWG that she “is happy to support the campaign and will write to Angus Gilmour (the Council’s Head of Planning)”. Mr Gilmour’s department has also received strong representations from Councillor James Robb (SNP), while Councillor Gary Mulvaney (Conservative) has advised HCWG that he “agrees with the desire to get things tidied up” and that he also would be taking up the matter with council officials. Councillor Aileen Morton (Liberal Democrat) and Councillor Maurice Corry (Conservative) have added their voices to the call for action, writing to Mr Gilmour and sending strong messages of support to HCWG. As Councillor Morton says: “This is a substantial green space in what is a fairly densely built-up area; residents deserve better than its current condition.”

Over the last three weeks, HCWG members have also been calling house to house and gathering signatures from friends and family on a petition requesting the Council to take action under Section 179 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 to require the debris and logs to be removed from Cumberland Avenue. The petition with a total of 308 signatures was handed over personally to Councillor David Kinniburgh, Chair of the Council’s Planning, Protective Services and Licensing (PPSL) Committee on 14 April.

In all, 190 of the 308 signatures (62%) came from the immediate area around Cumberland Avenue, with the remainder mostly drawn from elsewhere in Helensburgh. The 190 signatures gathered around Cumberland Avenue represent 60% of the properties in the area. At a further 32% of properties, no-one was at home when HCWG called, leaving only 8% of properties (18 people in total) where residents refused to sign the petition.

With such strong political and public support for action, we now await the meeting of the Council’s PPSL Committee on 22 April, at which the matter is to be decided.

March 2015: Time to “Clear out that Mess!”

piled debris in March 2015Almost four years after woodland at Cumberland Avenue, Helensburgh, was unlawfully felled by its owners in May and June 2011, HCWG says it is high time that the mounds of debris and logs still remaining on the site were cleared out. That’s why we’ve initiated a new campaign to persuade Argyll and Bute Council to take action under Section 179 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 to require the removal of leftover debris and logs.

There are four reasons why this needs to be done as early as possible

  1. What’s left behind is essentially waste material from an industrial felling operation that has no place in a designated Open Space Protection Area within a residential area. The sooner it’s removed, the sooner natural regeneration can take place.
  2. The debris and logs pose a real danger, especially to children. If there’s ever a serious accident, then the landowners, and by implication the Council if it decides not to act, will bear a very heavy responsibility.
  3. The Council must finish the job it began last year, when it took direct action to replant 28 trees, and served enforcement notices that secured the removal of the building materials unlawfully stored on site and the lowering of the perimeter fence. The full benefits of these earlier actions will be evident only when the mounds of debris and logs are removed.
  4. There is a very strong determination among local residents to see the land at Cumberland Avenue cleared and restored and this has been backed by public visits by the MP, MSP and local councillors from across the political spectrum. Taking action now will demonstrate the Council’s commitment to its local communities.

HCWG has written to Councillor David Kinniburgh, Chair of Argyll & Bute’s Planning, Protective Services and Licensing Committee, making the formal request for action to be taken. You can read that letter here, along with the leaflet we are distributing in the neighbourhood around Cumberland Avenue. We will then be collecting signatures on a petition to be presented to the Councillor Kinniburgh and the Leader of the Council before the April meeting of the PPSL.

If you can help delivering leaflets or collecting signatures on the petition, please get in touch with Gordon Greig at

For more information, see:
For Argyll: 4 years after developers’ unlawful felling, Helensburgh Community Woodland Group calls time on the debris
Lochside Press: Clean-up called for at Cumberland Avenue

July 2014

July 2014HCWG welcomed the decision of Argyll and Bute Council to refuse retrospective planning permission on 18 July 2014 for a 1.8 metre high wooden fence on to Cumberland Avenue. The Council’s refusal notice described the fence as “an alien and formal boundary treatment which undermines the previously attractive context of the street merging with the open space (and which) also undermines the Council’s objectives to seek to restore the amenity value of the site.”

HCWG had consistently sought the removal of this fence ever since it was erected by Margery Osborne and Thomas Paterson without any permission in October 2012. Some 17 months later, the owners were finally persuaded to apply for retrospective planning permission by the threat of Council enforcement action. Within days of the planning refusal in July 2014, the landowners reduced the height of the fence to 1 metre to comply with permitted development rights. This re-opens the Cumberland Avenue site to public view from the street and makes it even more important to remove the remnants of logs and debris from the 2011 felling.

For more information, see the report at:
Lochside Press: Fence at Cumberland Avenue should go, say planners