No plans for “ugly” gap sites in Linlithgow town centre

“Ugly” gap sites on Linlithgow’s High Street are set to remain empty for the foreseeable future, after council officials admitted there was nothing they could do to speed up development.

Thursday, 26th August 2021, 10:44 am
Updated Thursday, 26th August 2021, 10:44 am
One of the gap sites on Linlithgow High Street.

In an update this week, West Lothian Council’s head of planning said the two most significant gap sites were still undeveloped “for reasons outwith council control”.

And a debate at the local area committee showed that there are sharp divisions in the town about what should now be done about the sites – and who should be doing it.

In a report, planning chief Craig McCorriston said: “It is unfortunate that two significant gap sites remain in Linlithgow High Street.

“Officers have engaged with the respective owners and developers on these sites which has secured some improvements. However, the sites remain undeveloped for reasons which are outwith the control of the council.”

The former bus depot site has been completed as a retirement complex by McCarthy and Stone. The approved planning consent includes a retail use with flats above on the High Street frontage. This part of the development has never been completed, with the developer not intending to do so, primarily due to ground conditions. Work has been completed to shore up an adjacent building and hoardings taken down. The area is now grassed over.

Along the High Street, planning consent exists for a mixed-use redevelopment of the site of the Victoria Halls – retail on the ground floor with residential use above.

Mr McCorriston said in his report: “It is understood that there are legal proceedings which may be preventing redevelopment of the site but these are not planning matters and the council has no role in any such proceedings, if indeed that is the case.”

Dr John Kelly, planning secretary of Linlithgow and Linlithgow Bridge Community Council, told the local area committee that it was misleading and irritating that ground conditions were used a reason for work not being carried out. “It’s not the ground conditions per se, it’s the cost of correcting them that is the problem,” he said.

It remains unclear what the future of either site will be, and there are new questions as to who will maintain the ground in front of the McCarthy and Stone site and cut newly laid grass.

A Facebook page – Linlithgow Gap Site News – keeps townspeople updated with the latest work. The most recent posting included information from McCarthy and Stone which said works would be completed as soon as suppliers were able to secure materials.

McCarthy and Stone added: “Topsoil has been seeded and we have a plan in place, including watering and mowing the grass to ensure the site remains well maintained until it is sold on.”

The Facebook Page states: “We are a group of Linlithgow residents who are keen to improve our High Street after developers have left it with ugly gap sites.”

It has 209 followers.

Dr Kelly said there was little enthusiasm for retaining the McCarthy and Stone site frontage as a garden in the future but added that this seemed the most likely option. Councillors agreed to note the update from Planning but continue discussion off-line on a way ahead for both sites.