By Monica Gibson

Campaigners battling to save an ancient tree on a site earmarked for a housing development have been handed a boost.

Last month, we told how Barrhead Housing Association (BHA) was pursuing plans to build 14 homes near Pig Square, in Neilston, despite concerns raised by the local community.

As well as gaining planning approval, BHA was also relying on East Renfrewshire Council (ERC) to transfer the land at Kirkstyle Lane to allow the project to go ahead.

However, a campaign was launched to protect an ancient sycamore tree which sits in the heart of the square.

And the Barrhead News can reveal ERC has decided against giving BHA the land – at least for now.

A spokesperson for ERC said: “The council is in the early stages of considering the potential for developing a shared education and leisure campus in Neilston.

“As part of this process, consideration must also be given to how any future shared campus would impact on the local community and the way in which currently vacant sites could be utilised as part of the wider masterplan for the Neilston area.

“As a result of this ongoing work, it would not be prudent for the council to dispose of the Kirkstyle Lane site at this time, so that all options can still be considered.

“We are fully committed to continuing to work closely with Barrhead Housing Association to consider the best way forward.”

Neilston Community Council (NCC) has welcomed the decision and vowed to continue to oppose any move to proceed with the housing development.

A spokesman said: “Thanks go to all those who supported the community council during the past few weeks. This result was due to us all pulling together.

“Well done the people of Neilston. You spoke and your voice was heard.”

However, he added: “The planning application is still active though, so if you had intended to send in an objection, please do so anyway.“This site and the tree may still be threatened in the future.”

Shirley Robinson, BHA chief executive, confirmed the planning application will not be withdrawn.

She said: “There are only 35 objections. We will review these concerns if given the opportunity.

“It has come as a surprise to the association that the feasibility study for the joint school campus would involve our proposed site.

“Discussions are therefore ongoing with East Renfrewshire Council.

“As previously indicated, this is an approved project in the council’s Strategic Housing Investment Plan (SHIP). The site is still included in the consultation under way for the revised SHIP, due to be completed this year.

“The project has almost £1million of funding allocated to it by the Scottish Government and this would be lost to the area if not spent on this development.”

The Neilston Development Trust (NDT) supports the plans for a housing development but has opposed the retention of the site’s car park, arguing that it would mean the traditional streetscape could not be recreated.

The trust is also concerned that the development will do nothing to reduce congestion at the gates of Neilston Primary School and is contrary to polices on active travel.

In light of ERC’s decision, NDT chairperson Pauline Gallacher said: “We are not clear why the timing of the joint campus feasibility is being allowed to prejudice the sale of the Kirkstyle site to BHA, given the project is in the Strategic Housing Investment Plan, with funding committed.

“The move risks Neilston losing much-needed affordable housing investment, which we understand to have deadlines for spending.

“We continue to offer support for BHA’s ambitions to develop local housing at Kirkstyle, on the condition that the existing car park is moved to allow sensitive development of this pivotal site.”