SCOTTISH ministers have approved an application by a Helensburgh group to register a community interest in buying an area of woodland in the town - but the owner says there's no prospect of it being put up for sale

The decision puts the Helensburgh Community Woodland Group (HCWG) at the front of the queue in the event of the land at Castle Woods ever being offered for sale.

The owners of the site, Thomas Paterson and Margery Osborne, are now prohibited from selling the land to any party other than HCWG.

The government also approved a similar HCWG application for a community interest in buying another woodland site at nearby Cumberland Avenue last month.

But Mr Paterson told the Advertiser: “Although the woodlands group has first refusal, neither of our sites, in Castle Woods or Cumberland Avenue, are for sale, now or in the near future.

“They can draw up plans all they like – it's not for sale.”

David Adams, HCWG's convener, 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.”

Castle Woods is an area of ancient semi-natural woodland which the landowners have sought for over a decade to turn into a 72-unit housing estate.

It is protected by a tree preservation order, designated as an open space protection area, and identified as a key local environmental feature. The northern part of the woods is also a local nature conservation site.

The decision puts HCWG at the forefront of the urban ‘community right to buy’ movement in Scotland.

It's only the fourth such decision in the whole of urban Scotland since the ‘Community Right to Buy’ provisions of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 were extended to urban areas in April 2016 – and two of those four decisions were the result of applications submitted by HCWG.

In making their decision, Scottish Ministers stated: “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 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.”

Edinburgh law firm Morton Fraser, who represent Ms Osborne and Mr Paterson, urged ministers to reject the application for several reasons, including the claim that HCWG are not a community body, that the application was incompatible with sustainable development aims, and that a community interest in the land was “not in the public interest”.