A HELENSBURGH group has taken the first steps towards a community buy-out of two areas of land in the town.

The Helensburgh Community Woodland Group (HCWG) has applied to the Scottish Government to register a community interest in buying the sites at the Castle Woods and in Cumberland Avenue.

The group is hoping to be one of the first in Scotland to make use of new legislation extending the community's right to buy land to urban areas.

If the applications are approved, they would put the group at the front of the queue in the event of the current owners deciding to put the land up for sale.

And the group's convener says a decision on the first of its two applications could be made later this month.

HCWG's plans for Castle Woods include building durable footpaths and boardwalks, creating signed access points, encouraging suitable wildlife habitats, felling dead, dying or dangerous trees, and removing non-native and invasive species.

The group also hopes to create a footpath network at the Cumberland Road site, including an all-ability access circuit, as well as establishing a full native woodland, managing vegetation, creating access points and creating a central area of open space.

Convener David Adams 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.”

Approval of the application by the Scottish Government would give the group first refusal if and when the land is put up for sale.

Mr Adams said that in the event of the sites being put up for sale, the group was confident it could raise the sums needed for a community purchase.

“We've had professional valuations on the purchase price of both sites,” he continued, “but the details of those are confidential at present.

“However, we intend to apply to the Scottish Land Fund for financial support, and we know that the figures we have fall within the amount we can realistically apply for.”

Enforcement action was taken by Argyll and Bute Council at the Cumberland Road site in 2014 after the owners failed to comply with a tree replacement notice.

The group's Castle Woods application has also been revised to take account of a recent planning application to demolish the derelict Jutland Court flats next to the site and to build new houses in their place.

Some members of the public have objected to the Jutland Court proposal on the grounds of vehicle access, suggesting that a new access route should be built to the properties from Rhu Road Higher through the Castle Woods.

“We would oppose the construction of any road through the Castle Woods,” Mr Adams continued. “W e think it's unnecessary, and the council's roads department has no objection to the access to Jutland Court being via West King Street.

“We think our proposal is complementary to the plans for Jutland Court. We would also welcome discussions with the developer, land owner, and planners to ensure that the community woodland development can happen around the same time as Jutland Court.

“Improvements to both areas would be really good news for the west end of Helensburgh.”

The town's MSP, Jackie Baillie, said: “Local residents have spent years trying to persuade the landowners to take action and lobbying local and central government to have the site cleared.

“I have always supported their efforts and I am pleased to see that they have now taken the first step towards a community buy-out.

“Although the process will depend on whether the landowner decides to sell, bringing the land back into public ownership now seems like the best way of transforming the site into a natural space the whole community can enjoy and I will do anything I can to support the application.”

Helensburgh Central councillor Aileen Morton said: “Having attended the Woodland Group’s AGM at the start of September it was exciting to see the members unanimously back the proposals to invoke the community right to buy.

“Considering just how new this legislation is for urban areas the group are at the very forefront of this, and the progress of their bid should provide a route-map for other groups considering similar actions.

“At the AGM, Linsay Chalmers from Community Land Scotland spoke about the successes and challenges faced by similar community groups across Scotland in rural areas which gave a realistic perspective for the group.

“There is very strong local feeling about the importance of these woodland sites so I certainly hope that a sustainable way forward can be found that provides benefit for the whole community.”

Fellow Helensburgh Central councillor James Robb added: “This is fantastic news as this group has put in a huge amount of work over the last few years to bring this woodland into community ownership.

“With the connected redevelopment at Jutland Court, an area of Helensburgh that has been blighted and neglected for many years looks set for a bright new future.

“My congratulations, and sincere thanks on behalf of the community, to all those involved.”

Edinburgh law firm Morton Fraser, which represents the owners of the Castle Woods and Cumberland Avenue sites, was approached for a comment but was unable to provide one before this article was published.