Planning permissions, and the ownership of a small section of Bellahouston park

Earlier this week, I became aware of a planning application adjacent to Bellahouston park, a large park on the south-side of Glasgow. The application was to turn a disused building (formally restaurant) into a nursery. I tweeted about it quite extensively (thread), and thought I’d try and bring it together/summarise.

I’ve had very little experience with the planning system, so I was a bit perplexed to see included in its scope some land, adjacent to the property, that is not in its deeds. The applicant had simply incorporated this land, which they did not appear to own or have rights to, in the proposals.

It turns out this is something that is legal, and can and does happen: There’s apparently nothing stopping anybody applying for permission on any land they like.

The question of course is, why would you? You as the applicant go through a costly process only to give – if it is granted – the owner of the land some permission they didn’t have before. Unless you’ve already agreed some terms, you’re increasing the hand of the land owner you presumably want to agree something with. It’d surely be entirely counter-productive to do this.

I therefore got to trying to understand the only possible scenarios: whether it was a misjudgement by the applicant; whether they actually had an agreement in place; or if I had completely misunderstood something.

Just to briefly cover the application itself, before returning to terms of let and deeds: It is hugely flawed. As well as a creating a private car park on adjacent land that is public parkland, it also proposes creation of an access road to service the carpark, utilising a nearby predominantly pedestrian entrance area to the park. Whilst this entrance had some limited car usage (for an adjacent property), it would have been a major uptick in volume, as well as introducing all manner of traffic flow issues into the Palace of Art, and – of course – the park itself. Naturally I’ve objected to the proposal, and have encouraged others to do so too.

To return to the question of rights of ownership, reading the documents in the submission, it seemed that the applicant had a conversation with Glasgow Life. To quote:

The location of this proposed parking area was suggested by Glasgow Life, the owners of the site, at a meeting on site who considered that a car park in this location could best serve the proposed facility

Extract from applicants supporting statements on planning reference 20/00106/FUL

This seems odd. Glasgow Life are the arms-length, council-controlled charity that manages various facilities on the councils behalf. But it does not own the land. A quick look at the 2018-19 annual accounts, where on page 19 they even state this themselves:

All buildings operated by the charity are leased from Glasgow City Council for a peppercorn rental.

Culture and Sport Glasgow (trading as Glasgow Life), Report and Group Financial Statements, Year Ended 31 March 2019

A look at the ScotLIS registration (GLA195297) for the Palace of Art confirms this to show it’s a Tenancy interest. It’s interesting that the existing car park is not included in the public deeds, further evidence that it’s council/public land there too. It’s certainly not Glasgow Life’s.

So, the applicant misunderstood the organisation who owns the land. But I still couldn’t get my head around why they would even apply for this permission on this land, without some form of justification. If they didn’t currently own it, might they have some tacit understanding with somebody about it?

Given I am confident it is the council’s land to manage (on behalf of the residents of Glasgow), I wrote to my elected ward councillors (who also cover the location in question) via the excellent writetothem.com, in relation to this planning application’s inclusion of this land:

I would request your assistance in understanding whether this is: a) simply an overreach or misunderstanding on the part of the applicant (which should surely therefore be grounds for outright refusal); b) whether there has been a transfer of deeds or rights in relation to this part of the park not reflected in the public records, or c) some suggestion or agreement this may or is likely to occur post-application.

email to ward councillors

I received the following admirably prompt response, via two of the four councillors, quoting an officer at Development and Regeneration Services:

“1. The area of land to the south of the site between the existing Class 3 and The Palace Of Art has been included within the red line boundary of the planning application by the applicants agent. According to the submitted planning application the applicant has owner notified Glasgow Life, 38 Albion Street, G1 1LH as part owner of the site. Any queries with regards to any potential Transfer of Deeds would require to be directed to Glasgow Life. This information is not available to Development And Regeneration Services”

Development and Regeneration Services officer response

Concisely, that’s “The applicant included it for some reason. They’ve notified Glasgow Life. Talk to Glasgow Life about transfer of deeds. We don’t have any information.”

For reasons outlined above, I question this response. This is not Glasgow Life land. So, whilst I’m anxious I may rapidly be turning in to “the sort of person who writes long letters to councillors and newspapers“, I replied with the following clarification request:

Alas I have a further question raised by the response: Glasgow Life does not own the land or buildings. It is, itself, a tenant. They state this in their most recent Annual Report (page 19, Leases “All buildings operated by the charity are leased from Glasgow City Council for a peppercorn rental.”). A tenancy arrangement is also recorded on the Palace of Art ScotLIS ref. GLA195297.

It is surely therefore, for Glasgow City Council, on behalf of the people of Glasgow, to discuss and manage leases, lets and transfers of right of this part of Bellahouston Park, not Glasgow Life as the officer suggests.

I feel my query – whether any lease, let or transfer has been discussed or entered in to in relation to this plot of land – remains unanswered and will not be served by addressing it to Glasgow Life. I am a touch concerned the responsibility for said lets, leases or transfers is not clear. I would therefore appreciate your assistance in clarifying this point, or correcting my understanding if I have misunderstood some element.

Email to councillors

So, to wrap this all up, just now the situation is:

  • A private planning application was submitted, covering a part of public land that an applicant does not own.
  • That this application is deeply flawed in its assumptions of getting rights of way over public land, to the detriment of park users. But also in its analysis and proposal (very little detail about proposed construction methods, or impacts)
  • That creating a private car park on public land would (I suggest) fly entirely counter to a great many park, council and government planning policies relating to retention and enhancement of green spaces (eg. CDP6/IPG6, PAV65)
  • But additionally I was concerned the applicant has perhaps been given some indication that they may have, or get, some lease or let. Otherwise, why would they even apply for this permission?
  • So I wanted to understand if that had happened, or some suggestion given (by some part of the council) that it would or could happen.
  • So I wrote to councillors, who contacted council officers.
  • Council officers replied suggesting Glasgow Life should be contacted in relation to the deeds
  • When such matters are not the responsibility of Glasgow Life, as they are a tenant to the council.
  • So I have asked the councillors who responded (and may be regretting doing so) to find out who is ultimately responsible for this patch of land.

The simplest explanation is still “the applicant simply made a mistake”. It fits with the overall application being poorly considered or advised, and just getting the wrong end of the stick during a site visit with somebody.

But I still struggle to completely shake the prospect of some agreement or suggestion being given, or Glasgow Life/City Council operating under some premise I don’t understand. So I’d be grateful if somebody was able to explain if the terms of lease to an organisation like Glasgow Life could include, or grant the right, to allow them to let the land they for such purposes?

If so, how could we find that information out? My wife has submitted a FOI request to try and and chase down if there have been any council discussions around this. Other ideas/corrections welcome.

Will be updating this as I go. Also on twitter on this rather involved thread. Unpicking the thread was the reason for this post, but expect I’ll continue to update both.

Original twitter thread