The £500 million Owenstown development is attracting worldwide interest as an example of what can be achieved in the co-operative movement.
But a public hearing in South Lanarkshire this week heard the local council failed to understand the benefits and instead has adopted a policy to downplay its significance.
The hearing, before a Scottish Government Reporter, was into the decision by South Lanarkshire Council in April last year to reject the Hometown Foundation’s application for Planning Permission in Principle for the town. It had been scheduled for 400 acres of a 2,000 acre site near Rigside in the Douglas Valley.
Speaking at the hearing, the former Director General of the International Co-operative Alliance, Dr Iain Macdonald, said it was a “golden opportunity” for that part of South Lanarkshire and Scotland as a whole.
The project was first announced more than five years ago and would create 3,200 homes and up to 10,000 jobs without the need for public funding. There would also be offices, restaurants and shops, land and buildings for industry, a hotel and a care home, as well as two new primary schools and one new secondary school. The Foundation also plan to create a new technology and innovation centre to develop new ideas to harness the potential of emerging technologies, locking in sustainable employment to the local area.
Since the plans were announced there has been significant interest from companies wanting to set up business in the town’s industrial zones. Plans for a distillery and craft brewery are already well advanced.
The town would be owned and managed on a co-operative basis by its residents and all surplus funds generated would be reinvested in the community instead of being taken out by property developers or landowners. The principle of Owenstown is based on social reformer Robert Owen's ideas at nearby New Lanark 200 years ago.
“I simply can’t understand why the Council aren’t screaming for it to go ahead,” said Dr Macdonald, a former Strathclyde Regional Councillor for Dumbarton.
People everywhere are asking for greater local democracy and better quality of life, exactly what Owenstown is offering….at no cost to the public purse,”
“I know the UN have a strong interest in developing towns based on co-operative principles and once this project got the go-ahead, the worldwide co-operative movement would want to be involved.”
Earlier, the hearing was told that there had been around 1500 enquiries from people interested in living in Owenstown and around 40 companies had expressed an interest in the commercial opportunities the town presented.
Hometown Foundation Project Director Bill Nicol accused council officials of “professional nit-picking” over the details of the project in a bid to block it.
“The Council is simply not addressing the needs of the people of Clydesdale. In the absence of a project like Owenstown, nothing else is happening,” he said.
Solicitor Colin Innes, representing the Hometown Foundation, told the hearing that New Lanark embodied elements of the co-operative principles and the work of the early social pioneers there influenced the subsequent Garden City movement. Owenstown would replicate New Lanark in a modern concept and would meet many of the Scottish Government’s objectives in tackling economic and social challenges.
But he said, South Lanarkshire Council’s position was utterly inconsistent and failed to recognise the benefits which would come from this “radical” development.
“The planning system and the existing Development Plan is not able to handle the unique nature of Owenstown,” he said.
“I have great concern that the huge volume of material submitted in the planning application was not even read by Council officials.”
Mr Innes added, “The Council’s approach has been to downplay the benefits at every stage. They have come to this hearing and effectively thrown stones at it from the inside.”
The Reporter is expected to take several months before announcing his findings.