HOPES of a community buy-out of two areas of land in Helensburgh have risen after a local group's interest in buying the first of the sites was approved.

Scottish ministers have given the green light to the application by the Helensburgh Community Woodland Group (HCWG) to register a community interest in buying the land at Cumberland Avenue.

The decision means the owners of the site cannot sell it to anyone without giving HCWG first refusal.

It's only the second time ministers have made such a decision since community right-to-buy provisions were extended to urban areas of Scotland earlier this year.

The notice of approval states: “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.”

HCWG convener David Adams 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.”

As reported in last week's Advertiser, the HCWG has also applied to register a community interest in buying a nearby site at Castle Woods.

Mr Adams said the group hoped to hear news of the outcome of that second application by Christmas.

A letter published with the notice of approval for Cumberland Avenue also seeks to answer several points raised by Morton Fraser, the Edinburgh law firm acting for the owners of both sites.

According to that letter, Morton Fraser said in their response to the application that HWCG is not a community body, that the purpose of the application is incompatible with the aim of sustainable development for the area, that the community has no connection with the land, that there is no means of objectively assessing the level of community support for the application, and that in the circumstances it is “not in the public interest” to register a community interest in the land.

The approval notice continues: “Scottish Ministers believe that these proposed developments could, for example, lead to increased levels of social cohesion within the community through interaction in managing the site, provide opportunities to enhance the health and well-being of locals and visitors alike through the creation of a relaxing place to visit and walk, improve the bio-diversity and environmental sustainability of the land, provide the ability to increase educational awareness and provide local training and volunteers opportunities for the community to build up skills.

“Having considered all the information provided in the application and the views supplied by the landowner and HCWG, Scottish Ministers' view is that they are satisfied that the proposed application to register an interest in land at Cumberland Avenue 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 community of Helensburgh 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 Cumberland Avenue, which will help promote the general and social, environmental and economic well-being of the community.”

In their application HCWG indicated that they obtained 296 signatures in a petition backing the registration of a community interest in buying the land.

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.”

Planning permission for three dwelling houses on the Cumberland Avenue site was granted in 2011, though the statutory five-year period allowed for work to start runs out next month.

Morton Fraser declined to comment.