THE row over controversial proposals to lease valuable Common Good land in a Moray town to pave the way for a major retail development is set to rumble on.
Moray Council heard today that developers Redco Milne were prepared to pay up to £6.5 million to lease the 1.8 hectares of Common Good land in Forres, which includes Highland League football club Forres Mechanics’ Mosset Park home.
Redco Milne intend to use the land to build a £25 million retail complex at the town’s Bogton Road.
‘Battle of Bogton’
The proposals, first tabled five years ago, have been vigorously opposed by Forres residents and opponents have launched a Facebook page - “The Battle of Bogton” - to spearhead the opposition to the controversial scheme.
Councillors were today given the opportunity to reject the deal, but instead agreed unanimously to continue discussions with Redco Milne over the future of the site.
Councillors were told that Redco Milne, a joint venture between building giant the Stewart Milne Group and Aberdeen-based developer Redco Assets, had made an indicative offer of £6.5million for a 35 year lease of the land at Bogton Road.
The £6.5million would include £1.5 million to relocate Forres Mechanics FC to a new stadium to the east of the club’s existing Mosset Park ground.
Councillor ‘wishes row would go away’
George Alexander, an Independent councillor for Forres, told the committee: “The Bogton saga has been running now since 2008 and it is little wonder that there are those who are keen to see an end to this tale.
“Believe me, as a committee member of Forres Mechanics FC, I often wish in private moments it would all just go away.”
But he said it was the duty of elected members to maximise the benefits of the Forres Common Good “for all the inhabitants of Forres.”
He continued: “Today we are being asked to make a simple decision - should this development proposal be terminated now or should you instruct your officers to further explore this proposal.
“In light of the fact that it will be the people of the Royal Burgh of Forres who will make the final decision I think it is incumbent that we should choose the recommendation that this proposal can be thoroughly explored and all facts, both physical and financial, can be considered.”
He added: “If and when the developer comes up with a reasonable offer which is acceptable to this council, then that offer will be decided upon by all the people of Forres.”
‘More discussion needed’
Anne Skene, another Independent Forres councillor, said 70 per cent of the 1760 people who had taken part in a poll three years ago had voted against the sale of the Common Good land to Redco Milne. But 65 per cent of the population of the town had not voted.
She continued: “Things have changed. There have been significant developments since then. We have a much clearer picture of what is being proposed in terms of facts and figures.
“However, there needs to be much more detailed discussions about the opportunities and the risks associated with all aspects of this proposal so that we know exactly what is on offer.
“And we can only do that by continuing discussions, seeking advice and calling for further detailed reports.”
Ms Skene added: “When we have a complete picture it will be the residents of Forres who will make the decision about what they want for Bogton Road.”
The committee was told that the Redco Milne proposal would require the council to enter into a lease with the funder of the development which would mean the council renting the development from the funder for the 35 year period.
The council would receive a share of the annual rental income - an estimated £225,000 a year - from the supermarket and retail units at the site but would also carry the risk in the event of units being unoccupied. The land would revert back to Forres Common Good in 35 years.
A council spokesman said: “The company, whose plans include a supermarket and retail units, has been pursuing an interest in the site since 2008. However, it is only now that it has placed an indicative value on the development site.”
The committee agreed unanimously to receive a further report fully to assess the risks and opportunities associated with the Redco Milne proposal while reaffirming the council’s commitment to consult with the people of Forres before coming to any decision on leasing the Common Good land.
Forres Mechanics - known as the”Can Cans” - have been playing at Mosset Park since 1884.