A HELENSBURGH community group aiming to protect and restore two woodland areas in the town has become the first to successfully apply to a new Scottish Government legislation process.

The Helensburgh Community Woodland Group (HCWG), which was set up in 2004, is campaigning to take control of Castle Wood and a site on Cumberland Avenue, both currently owned by Thomas Paterson and Margery Osborne.

Following a postal ballot of more than 2,100 residents living in the west end of the town earlier this year, 931 responses were received showing 92.5 per cent and 90.2 per cent of respondents in favour of the HCWG purchasing the respective areas of land.

That backing, despite the landowners claiming it demonstrates a “general lack of support” for the initiative, has prompted the local group to take their proposals to the Scottish Government and a formal application for community acquisition was lodged on Friday, December 6.

READ MORE: Public vote in favour of Helensburgh land buy-out plans

In a significant step forward for the HCWG members, the application – publicly available on the new Register of Applications by Community Bodies to Buy Land (RoACBL) website – is the first in Scotland to be accepted for process under updated legislation introduced in 2018.

Part 3A of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 allows a community group the right to buy “abandoned, neglected or detrimental land” and the HCWG application will now be considered by ministers before a final decision is made by the cabinet secretary in May 2020.

Speaking at a meeting of Helensburgh Community Council (HCC) on Thursday, December 19, HCWG vice convenor David Robertson said: “It’s quite notable that we are the very first in Scotland.

“We are very much at the forefront and Helensburgh is leading the way.

“We’ve only got around 100 members, and that’s still a good number, but to get over 900 people responding to the ballot, it’s obviously quite an emotive issue in the town and we had good results from that.”

READ MORE: Land owners hit back over woodland buy-out proposals

Convenor Andy Donald added: “We’re not kidding anybody on, it’s a lot of work and you’ve got to be pretty determined and prepared to take a few knock-backs, but particularly because of the new focus on environmental issues, trying to sustain and develop woodlands and the efforts in local schools like Hermitage Primary and Lomond School, we are hopeful this will go our way.

“Hopefully that becomes an intrinsic part of what we have to offer in the community.

“The more support we can demonstrate from the local community the better.”

A planning application had been lodged for the site at Castle Wood for the proposed development of up to 72 homes in 2006, while the land on Cumberland Avenue was also earmarked for potential new houses.

The HCWG made an offer of £100,000 to buy the Castle Wood site and £45,000 for the Cumberland Avenue land but the landowners did not accept either offer.

READ MORE: 'End game in sight' for Helensburgh woodlands ownership battle

Outlining the HCWG vision for the future of the woodlands, Andy said the community buy-out process will be protracted but worth it if successful.

He told the HCC meeting: “The owners can clean up and take remedial action within the next six months. They can go in and address the neglect. The onus now comes back on them to say what their proposed uses are.

“There is no guarantee the Scottish Government will find in our favour. We hope they will; this has been an effort by the people in Helensburgh for 12 years.

“The new legislation has allowed communities to say ‘we are willing to do something about it’.

“You have got to be really determined and have a good case, and go into a lot of depth about how it’s going to benefit your community.

“Recognising the benefits to mental health of walking and being out in the local environment, one of the key things we’re wanting to do is try and work to set up health walks, which are relatively short walks with a trained health volunteer.

READ MORE: Helensburgh land owners ask public for views on homes plan

“This would link both woodlands in a loop which goes all along the seafront. For a lot of older people, it’s the elevation which is the issue, but this would work well. We’re quite excited about that.

“There is a plethora of potential funding options out there, but our focus is on the purchase at the moment.”

Reacting to the ballot result in October, Mr Paterson and Mrs Osborne said the turnout of 43.5 per cent should encourage HCWG to “concentrate their effort on sites that are readily available within the Helensburgh district”.

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