Councillors have refused to amend plans to zone land for over 1,100 new houses, saying any changes would lead to unacceptable delays.
Argyll and Bute Council’s draft Local Development Plan is due to come into force in October.
And on Tuesday one member of the Helensburgh and Lomond area committee spoke of a ‘gun to his head’, while another said the situation was ‘unsatisfactory’ in terms of local democracy – but they unanimously backed the proposals.
Development policy manager Fergus Murray told councillors the document would plan land use for the next five to ten years, aiming to ‘achieve economic growth through a growing population’.
“Planning staff have looked extremely carefully at people’s concerns but we can only modify the plan where we have acceptable alternatives in place,” he said, stressing that any changes would mean the plan had to go back to consultation, delaying the process by at least a year and that a government-appointed inspector would visit all the sites which had led to significant objections.
Councillor Ellen Morton said: “The Scottish Government decided to try to speed up the local plan process.
“They have given us quite an inflexible procedure, in that there are changes which some people would like to make here but that would delay it by a year.
“This process is not totally satisfactory from the point of view of local democracy.
“We are in discussion through COSLA, but at the moment we are stuck with the process that we are stuck with.”
She added: “All of us have had significant representations from our communities and I think perhaps there’s a misunderstanding in the public of the position of councillors here.”
She asked Mr Murray: “If I vote for this plan, does that mean that I endorse every single proposal that is in this paper or that I am asking the Reporter to look at the issues?”
But Mr Murray replied that the plan was the ‘settled will of the council’, adding that it had taken a ‘monumental effort’ for officials to produce it as quickly as they had done.
Former council leader James Robb said Helensburgh was seen as a ‘cash cow’ for the rest of the council area and the area’s settlements should not grow bigger than they ought to be just to fund issues elsewhere.
“If it is delayed for a year – tough. The gun to my head has disappeared,” he said
“We are not going to make bad decisions just because we are under time pressure.
“I am also slightly wary about population increase for its own sake. Those of us who live in communities have a clear view of how big those communities should be. “
Councillor George Freeman said Argyll and Bute’s population was declining, especially in the Helensburgh and Lomond area.
“We know households are getting smaller, so unless that is addressed by allocations we will suffer,” he said.
“We are now in a stage in a legal process where the changes that members can make at this stage are very limited. If we make any significant changes we would delay it by a year or more.”
Discussion was split into three sections – Rhu Marina (see separate story), the ‘sawmill field’ area and the rest of the plan.
All were approved unanimously, with only two minor modifications to wording; the final decision will be at a meeting of the full council next week.
Cllr Robb said he was ‘disturbed’ by the plans to zone the sawmill field area off the A814 east of Helensburgh for 145 houses.
“We are breaking into the green belt with ribbon development,” he said
“How big do we want this town to be? This seems to break a natural boundary of the town. It disturbs me.”
But Mr Murray said: “We are doing this in a planned and logical way.
“We can’t see at this stage any further expansion to the east. It seems a logical and defensive boundary.”
And Liberal Democrat Cllr Morton accused the SNP’s Cllr Robb of ‘political point scoring’, as he was now in opposition but had been in power in December 2012 when the sites were previously discussed.
She said the council had to work under legislation set by the SNP Scottish Government and that community groups including Helensburgh and Rhu and Shandon community councils had said ‘whatever you do, please do not delay this by another year’.
Cllr Robb said he would vote in favour as he was satisfied with the officials’ responses.
A request to redesignate Helensburgh’s Castle Woods was made by the Friends of Duchess Wood, Helensburgh Community Council and the town’s community woodlands and green belt groups.
They asked for it to be green belt, a local nature conservation site and an open space protection area – it is still at the centre of a dispute with developers who have been ordered to replant trees that were ripped up without permission.
Councillors were told that the designated protections could be pursued independently of the local plan process.
Click here for a separate report on the Rhu Marina debate.
Click here for an earlier report with details of sites and housing allocations.