THEY have become the city's primary focal point for lunching workers, sunbathed shoppers, dating couples and even political rallies.

But now plans for the demolition of the steps leading to Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall have been officially lodged. With Glasgow City Council now in receipt of the application, a decision is due in early 2015 with approval for the demolition expected to be granted.

If so, the new atrium would be in place by the end of 2016.

It is part of a £400 million expansion plan for Buchanan Galleries, which would see the centre become home to more than 100 shops, a cinema and 25 restaurants.

The submission comes on the heels of a campaign to save the steps. A petition had secured more than 11,000 signatures just a fortnight after it was launched.

Although the steps are barely 20 years old and not a listed structure, permission is required from the local authority to pull them down as they are located within the Glasgow Central Conservation Area.

Applicant LS Buchanan Ltd has said a "new rotunda structure allowing pedestrians to enter the concert hall and shopping centre" will replace the steps as part of the overall redevelopment and extension of Buchanan Galleries.

The application adds: "The design of the rotunda reflects its prominent position at the northern end of Buchanan Street and will provide pedestrians with a more user-friendly, modern entrance way to the Royal Concert Hall and to the facilities within the newly redeveloped and extended Buchanan Galleries development."

The company also lists a series of reasons why the steps should come down, including "providing significant economic and community benefits for the wider area", and claims the demolition "will preserve and enhance the character of the conservation area as the rotunda is more in keeping with the character of the area".

They add: "We are of the view that the existing steps do not provide any aesthetic benefit to the city centre, and are of little townscape value.

"Therefore it is our client's contention that both the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council's policies on demolition of unlisted buildings in the conservation area are met by this Conservation Area Consent application."

The developer has repeatedly said a gathering place will be created in front of the atrium, with new public art and lighting as well as seating.

The Donald Dewar statue will remain in the same spot.

Local councillor Nina Baker said she had received many emails and representations in connection with the plans to demolish the steps.

The Green councillor, who previously opposed demolition plans, said she had also yet to decide whether to remove herself from the planning committee to again object if requested by constituents.

Councillor Baker said: "It's early days, but I've already had emails sent directly to me on the subject. A large number of people care about the steps.

"You only need to look at how the steps have been used both for music purposes and for democratic expression during the referendum campaign."

One objector to the plans who has signed the petition, Rory S, said: "These are an iconic and important part of Glasgow's architecture. On any given day, you will see hundreds of tourists taking photographs over the course of the day. To be replaced by a modern and soulless glass frontage is disgraceful."

Anne C said: "Good for demonstrations ... provides a ready made stage. Also nice place to look at the view down Buchanan Street and beyond."

A city council spokesman said: "There is now a live planning application for the proposed development, which will be considered in due course."