With planning permission likely to be sought later this year, according to Glasgow City Council DRS, for a “mixed use” development of Govan Graving Docks we need to ask if The Council can be trusted to make the right decision on planning applications, not just for Govan Graving Docks, but in general.
Recently (amid much controversy and opposition and with certain councillors effectively sticking their middle fingers up to public opinion) planning permission was granted for the demolition of the Royal Concert Hall steps at the top of Buchanan Street to make way for an extension of the Buchanan Galleries. However it seems the planned atrium will add very little in the way of additional retail space. A peculiar development given that the upper tier of the St Enoch Centre is virtually deserted.
It is reasonable to assume that in the case of Govan Graving Docks, Glasgow City Council has a serious conflict of interest over the historic character and heritage of the site versus maximising the rateable value to squeeze out as much council tax and business rates as possible.
So can Glasgow City Council be trusted to make the right decision or does the Scottish Government need to intervene? Given that this is in the First Minister’s constituency it is not an issue the government can easily ignore. Significantly Govan Graving Docks is a Grade-A listed site which means that ultimately Scottish Ministers have the final decision when it comes to approving any planning applications.
Even the likely plans of the current owners, whatever form they may take, may be tenuous. Govan Graving Docks appears to have several mortgages with Allied Irish Bank, Bank of Scotland and Scottish Enterprise holding securities over the site. In addition AIB appears to hold a floating charge over the company making it the preferred creditor. Thus it is not clear what sources of development capital are available and even restoring the site to a condition that would enable construction to take place would likely involve considerable cost (£8 million according to one reliable source – who also claims the docks are essentially worthless in terms of market value because of the cost of restoration). The recently obtained credit report on the owners, Bishop Loch Developments (Scotland) Limited, seems to cast a shadow of doubt over their ability to raise capital and thus the viability of their intentions to develop the site.
The greatest risk is potentially that the docks could be sold by AIB to very wealthy developers from China, Russia or the Middle East for example who will not have any modicum of sentiment for the history of the docks. Unless of course Glasgow City Council or the Scottish Government intervene to prevent this by drawing a line in the sand over planning permission.