Fife Council faces ‘bullying’ claim over plan to demolish dilapidated shopping centre
Fife Council has been accused of "bullying" and "underhand tactics" as it seeks to buy out and demolish a dilapidated shopping centre.
Objectors to the local authority's compulsory purchase order (CPO) on the Glenwood Centre in Glenrothes say the council is not proactively engaging them to ensure the process is fair.
Council bosses began the CPO process in March this year after swearing to buy-out and demolish the run-down complex in 2019 as it was, it said, too expensive to refurbish and had become a haven for anti-social behaviour.
It has outlined proposals for a £23 million regeneration programme for the centre to benefit Macedonia and the wider West Glenrothes area, boasting 121 flats, 17 commercial units, a community hub and a library extension.
However, the buy-out is being contested by the landlord and tenant of one retail unit, who say the centre deserves a second chance.
Henry Patterson planned to open a takeaway and convenience store in Unit 14 in the centre after securing planning permission for the former Costcutter store last year.
Mr Patterson says he has "lost everything" due to the coronavirus pandemic, and suggested his future as a businessman depended on the Glenrothes unit.
Writing in his formal objection to Fife chief planner John McNairney, the 63-year-old said the council had done "very little" to try to work with Glenwood occupants before opting to buy the centre out.
"It is my business that is effected [sic] and I am the one who is suffering," he said.
"You should in my opinion...be critical towards the councils approach of somewhat bullying and underhand tactics.
"There is no excuse why these properties cannot be viable they have no structural issues which is very important."
Kendra Richardson, a solicitor representing Unit 14's owner Amara Anwar, says the decision to buy out and demolish the Glenwood is "premature".
"It is not clear what steps have or are being taken by the Council to support the affected businesses, including advice on relocation options and prospects, and how the Council intends to meet its [legal] obligations...in due course," she said.
"Our client is very concerned about the apparent lack of a relocation strategy."
Fife Council however, maintains that demolition is the best way forward for the centre, which has more vacant units than it has occupied - and pointed to a record of meetings and discussions with private owners as proof of open consultation.
"Taking into account the fact that a number of the commercial properties are currently vacant and unoccupied, with little prospect of any beneficial use and that it would not be viable to refurbish the existing residential properties it is considered that...the exercise of Compulsory Purchase Powers is justified and proportionate," it said in its statement to ministers.
Ownership of the Greenwood is complicated.
There are 24 flats above the centre, which is made up of a number of lock-ups, 16 retail units and a taxi office. Most of the units are privately owned by independent parties.
Fife Council owns one commercial unit and 15 of the flats, but put an end to allocating them four years ago due to their unpopularity with tenants. The remainder are owned by landlord Gurminder Singh of Rosyth, who has not objected to the buy-out.
And while it has the power to undertake a process of compulsory purchase, Fife Council's right to buy out the centre is not absolute. The decision must be approved by Scottish ministers, and that process is ongoing.
The next step in the process will see an inquiry held with the objectors and the council, conducted by a Scottish Government reporter.
A pre-inquiry hearing was scheduled to take place next week but has been postponed, with a new date yet to be set.
A Fife Council spokesperson said: "Negotiations are ongoing with a number of the owners."