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Battle looms over plan to commercialise city parks

SCOTLAND'S largest local authority risks further warfare with campaign groups as it prepares to unveil plans to open up city parks to commercial ventures.

Glasgow City Council said it would be seeking expressions of interest from the private sector about taking over vacant buildings across its parks estate, with a view to removing the burden of maintaining them from the authority, generating cash through their lease or sale and "ensure Glasgow continues to be a leading parks authority on an international platform".

It risks a major public backlash. Previous attempts to introduce a nightclub in the Botanic Gardens were scrapped following a high-profile campaign, while the plug was also pulled on the Go Ape aerial assault course in Pollok Country Park on the back of opposition.

The creation of "An Clachan" cafe in Kelvingrove Park, however, has been something of a success.

Any moves to take control of a park building also faces the hurdle of complying with thorny Common Good legislation, taking into account the terms of the original grant or gift to the council, a reflection of historical use and public access, and potential usage, with each case assessed on an individual basis.

It has already received proposals to transform a toilet block within Kelvingrove Park for use as a cafe, the development of the former equestrian centre at Linn Park for a variety of uses and the creation of further cafes at Victoria Park in the west of the city and at Newlands Pavilion on the south side.

It also raises the prospect of commercial schemes at Hogganfield and Tollcross Parks, both in the east of the city.

Among the ideas floated are cafes and restaurants; childcare and nursery provision; educational, environmental, cultural and artistic projects; outdoor recreational schemes; and small-scale specialist retail developments.

The council said it had learned from previous "challenges" on the levels of community consultation before and during the process, including what residents think is an appropriate activity or development in any area and what level of charging would be appropriate.

Brian Devlin, the council's head of land and environmental services, which includes parks, said: "The process involves community consultation at the project outset, to help define what proposals the community would find acceptable in any specific location, and to mitigate opposition to projects."

Mr Devlin also said in the report that the council had two options for proceeding, the first being an open tendering process. However, it warns this could take up to 18 months.

The second option would involve responding to market approaches. Mr Devlin added: "It is envisaged that in order to facilitate the use of vacant buildings in parks, an 'expressions of interest' programme will need to be carried out. This would involve setting out specific buildings in parks and consulting with the community on potential uses, and carrying out the longer process, which involves a tender procedure."

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