Warehouses' £5.4m overhaul a sweet deal

AN INTERNATIONALLY recognised industrial landmark nearly destroyed by fire is to be restored to its former glory.

After years of uncertainty, plans to renovate the historic sugar warehouses in Inverclyde will be approved tomorrow.

Celebrated by Prince Charles and recognised by the World Monuments Fund and Unesco as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world, the structures will become home to a mixed use development, possibly including a restaurant and museum.

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It is expected that the 5.4 million overhaul of the A-listed buildings, the most complete 19th-century dock in Scotland, will be completed in time for 2011, when Inverclyde plays host to the Tall Ships Race.

The approval of the long-awaited project forms part of a wider 180m masterplan to overhaul almost five miles of derelict waterfront at Greenock's James Watt Dock. The work, to be carried out over the next 12 years, is expected to create up to 1,700 jobs, and will establish more than 1,000 flats and townhouses on the banks of the River Clyde.

Ranald McInnes, principal inspector of buildings for Historic Scotland, the Scottish Government's heritage agency, described the warehouses as "a monument to Scotland's sweet tooth", and said it was "fantastic" a new use is being found for them.

"It is a very, very important part of industrial archeology, and it's fantastic to see it saved," he said.

Riverside Inverclyde, the urban regeneration company behind the project, said it will "see a relic of Inverclyde's past turned into a beacon for its future".

Known locally as the sugar sheds, the iconic buildings were built between 1884 and 1886 to designs by Walter Kinipple, at a time when the town was a centre for sugar refining, but have been largely abandoned since the 1960s.

The warehouses have been on the Scottish Civic Trust's Buildings at Risk Register since 1995.

The landmark was ravaged by fire four years ago, but following a 3.7m initiative has been made fully wind and watertight, ready for its new future.

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The plans for the warehouses have been drawn up by FSP, the architectural practice behind the successful regeneration of Liverpool's Albert Dock.

Other elements of the masterplan for the "Tail o' the Bank" include the renovation of the town's vast Titan cantilevered crane, emulating the successful tourist attraction in nearby Clydebank by building a visitor centre at the A-listed structure.

Also planned is a 100-bed hotel, a marina with a yacht club, a public square, and more than 12,000 square metres of retail, commercial and business floorspace.

The investment in one of Scotland's economic black spots is being spearheaded by a range of public and private sources, including the Scottish Government, Inverclyde Council, Scottish Enterprise, and Clydeport, the subsidiary of Peel.

Planning permission for the masterplan, including the redevelopment of the sugar warehouses, is recommended for approval by Inverclyde Council's planning committee.

How dubious trade turned Scottish port town into 'Sugaropolis'

IT WAS a dubious commodity, procured by slave labour, but the influx of sugar brought wealth to the Clyde and initiated new industries.

The west coast of Scotland was the heart of the sugar trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, although even as early as the 1660s Glasgow was home to several sugar houses.

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By 1878, four years after the import taxes on sugar were slashed in half, 16 of Scotland's 17 sugar refineries were sited around Scotland's largest city.

As the primary destination for West Indian sugar, the industry invigorated Greenock in particular for the best part of 250 years.

Known as "Sugaropolis" and rich with the smell of syrup, it benefited from its strategic location, with its first sugar refinery opening in 1765.

As trade through the port increased, two dozen refineries came to operate on the banks of the Clydeside town, producing a quarter of a million tons annually and employing thousands of people, including a significant immigrant population.

It was in Greenock that Abram Lyle, later of Tate & Lyle – which opened its first refinery in Glebe Street in 1865 – invented golden syrup as a way of using surplus sugar at a time of glut.

By the end of the 19th century, about 400 ships a year – also carrying tobacco, rice, timber and other colonial produce – were transporting sugar from Caribbean holdings to Greenock's port, with 14 refineries operating at one point.

The names, Westburn, the Walkers, Glebe, Lochore, Ferguson and Dempster, can still be found in the town's street signs and civic quarters.

Today, though, the former sugar warehouses at James Watt Dock are the main historic connection with the trade, as Tate & Lyle closed its refinery 14 years ago.