The future of Spango Valley – ‘Not houses’

I was dismayed to read in the Greenock Telegraph on the 6th March 2017 that the possibility of looking favourably upon planning consent for houses was being considered and even promoted by Inverclyde council for the Spango Valley site.

The valley can be split into four different areas defined by their current ownership.

Furthest West is the site being developed as the Ardgowan distillery and tourist centre. If ever we needed an example to follow this is it. On our doorstep and in fact in Spango Valley. It utilises the surroundings and maximises the natural beauty of its location. It will bring jobs to the area and fulfil the requirements of tourists from the cruise ships and beyond. They have not gone cap in hand for government (tax payers) money and they have short-term, medium-term and longterm plans thought out and costed.

The adjoining piece of land coming East is owned by Sanmina. It covers 40 acres and is a green field site.

Continue up the valley and we come to, what most people would have known as, the IBM site. In its heyday it employed over five thousand people. This site covers 70 acres. Many a local has started and even completed successful careers having taken their first job at IBM Spango Valley. But IBM have moved on from the Spango Valley and all that remains is one large shed like building that was last used as a call centre. All other buildings are derelict and require to be demolished. The land needs cleaned and returned to a brown field site. The current owner (Canmoor) are prepared to do this at their own expense.

I have been in discussion with a number of local stakeholders and businesses for the best part of a year now. We see this as a site that has the potential to spark innovation, ambition and excellence. But these things don’t happen overnight. My idea is to turn Spango Valley into a centre of excellence for renewable energy technology. This will involve a number of companies collaborating in the development of the site. As of yet Inverclyde council have not been involved in the discussion but I have kept them aware of the project and once it has been defined to a satisfactory level discussions will take place.

Finally we come to the old Greenock High School site, now owned by the Scottish Prison service. It has been cleared and levelled. It is well maintained and awaits a fruitful purpose.

The question is what can we do with this land that will best serve the people of Inverclyde. I know the council are far from making a decision and I welcome their request for proposals.

Would it be too glib of me to say, anything but houses?

The simple option to make a few bob is to build houses. The longterm future for an ambitious Inverclyde is to develop industry. It will not be easy but it is achievable. Houses in Spango Valley are not the answer. Building houses in Spango Valley in conjunction with the plans to develop six hundred and fifty houses in Inverkip would result in unbearable traffic congestion on that part of the A78. It is time we used our land correctly and stopped using a piecemeal approach across Inverclyde.

Too many sites, especially on the waterfront have been utilised inappropriately when there are other sites available. The views across the water belong to everyone and instead we are building a wall of commercial properties and housing which will someday obscure the entire coast. When that happens we will have lost an important part of our local identity.

The coastline of Inverclyde has changed shape a number of times throughout history. Mostly recently the docks that once hosted ships from across the globe have been filled in. The industries that these docks once sustained, both large and small, have disappeared. In their place we have a range of buildings that could easily have been located elsewhere within Inverclyde but instead they inhabit plots of land that should have been used to promote maritime industry. A housing estate, call centre and a bar diner could all be located away from the shore but maritime industry does by its very definition benefit from and in most cases depend upon a coastal location. There are still plots that remain to be utilised but they fall into two categories. They are either ear marked for housing or land banked as an investment with possible developers being spurned. The common land of Inverclyde should be for the common good of its citizens. The opportunities that Inverclyde’s coastal land provide should not be over looked for short term gain nor be allowed to go untapped so multi national companies can buy them up while providing no benefit for the local community.

Across from the Greenock fire station we have a carbuncle of a police station that not even the biggest fan of brutalist architecture could ever warm to. My understanding is that the cell provision is the primary reason for maintaining a building of this size with prisoners from out-with the area being housed here. We have West Coast college on Finnart street that is beyond its sell by date and can safely be added to the list of buildings that are not likely to win a beauty pageant.

It’s clear to see that over the years the utilisation of our resources, the preservation of our heritage and the development of Inverclyde as a place to live and work have not been managed as successfully as we would all of hoped. Rather than putting up signs that say come and live in Inverclyde it’s really great, we should have been talking to businesses and providing the necessary support to locate them in Inverclyde. Jobs will reinvigorate Inverclyde, jobs will increase the population and only jobs can lead to a prosperous sustainable future.