AN “END game” is in sight for a Helensburgh group in its 15-year battle to secure two areas of land in the town for the use of the community.

That’s the view of the new convener of the Helensburgh Community Woodland Group (HCWG), who says new laws in Scotland on the community’s right to buy land could help pave the way for the group to purchase the Castle Woods and open land at Cumberland Avenue in the west end of the town.

Andy Donald was speaking shortly after taking over from David Adams as HCWG’s new convener at the organisation’s annual meeting.

The group has been attempting to secure the two sites for community use from their current owners, Thomas Paterson and Margery Osborne, since 2004.

READ MORE: Talks break down over Helensburgh woodland's future.

Mr Donald, who only joined HCWG a few months ago, told members of the group: “I’m getting involved because of the dedication and passion that has been demonstrated to me for making this project come to fruition.

“I’ve been incredibly impressed by the professionalism and knowledge of all the people involved in the group.

“I think there is an end game. It really appears to me to be happening now, and the key for me and the rest of the group is to try to drive that forward.”

Mr Donald and his predecessor pointed towards new regulations which came into force on June 27, 2018 paving the way for the compulsory sale to registered community groups of land which is deemed to be “abandoned, neglected or detrimental”.

But Mr Adams told the group there were still several hurdles to be overcome before Scottish ministers would approve any application from the group to buy the sites.

“There are three key elements that have to be satisfied,” he said.

“We have to be able to establish in principle that the land meets the requirements of the legislation, and we think from initial feedback it will not be too hard to make a technical case.

“There also needs to be a secret postal ballot of everyone living in the area – and for us, the area means all of Helensburgh to the west of Suffolk Street – with a turnout of at least 50 per cent, and we would also, obviously, have to win the ballot.

“The third thing is that we would need to raise the money to buy and maintain the land.”

Once those conditions are satisfied, and the land owners have been given an opportunity to respond to HCWG’s application for a compulsory purchase of the sites, Scottish ministers would then be required to weigh up views on both sides before making a decision.

READ MORE: Council set to walk away from Helensburgh wood management role.

Mr Adams, who served as HCWG’s convener for seven years, stepped down at the AGM as he has recently moved from Helensburgh to the Borders.

But he said that the process was likely to take at least six months between the group applying for a compulsory purchase of the land and a decision being made by ministers.

He added: “This group is 15 years old and has campaigned hard in that time to retain the Castle Woods and land at Cumberland Avenue as important open spaces within the town.

“The principle of community open space within Helensburgh is highly valued. We now have a chance to make that happen, regardless of the land owners’ views, by bringing the land into community ownership – and I think success is within our grasp.”

The meeting heard that HCWG’s members had rejected an offer last year from the land owners which would have seen HCWG accept the principle of building new homes on parts of both sites in return for the rest of the land being donated to the group.

Mr Paterson, Mrs Osborne and their agent, Helensburgh architect Lawrence Hill, spoke to the Advertiser last year about their hopes to build flats on part of the Castle Woods, and three houses at Cumberland Avenue.

Mr Adams said members had decided it was not their place to express a view on any future development in the Castle Woods when the area is already subject to a number of planning protections.

He also said a counter-offer from HCWG, to buy the land at market value and rename the Castle Woods to honour the land owners’ contribution, had been “turned down flat”.

Discussions between the group and the land owners took place last year, but Mr Adams said there had been “no further contact since September”.

In a joint statement Mr Paterson and Mrs Osborne said it was a “ disappointment” that HCWG had rejected what they called a “generous offer” which would have gifted the group 80 per cent of the land at Castle Woods for community use.

“This was in conjunction with construction of 18 much needed affordable homes,” they said.

“The landowners would be agreeable to work alongside another community group to find a way forward.”

They added: “It is our understanding that the legislation HCWG is relying on is not designed for community groups to purchase land for the sole purpose of preventing any future development, as is the case here.

“Pre maintenance works will be starting shortly at Castle Woods and land maintenance at Cumberland Avenue to eradicate invasive weeds.”