EIGHT landowners must agree to sell their land before a £28 million A82 relief road can be built into Bowling – part of hopes to open up regeneration opportunities at the former Exxon Mobil site.

Land ownership, flooding, contamination and access to the Exxon site have been outlined as the main challenges facing chiefs working on the Clyde Valley City Deal – a £1.13 billion regeneration project.

The West Dunbartonshire element of the project includes a £27.9 million invested in the site to create an industrial and commercial centre 20,000m2 in size. It would also see a new road built providing an alternative route to the A82.

At a full meeting of West Dunbartonshire Council on Wednesday, June 24, councillors heard at least two landowners, situated along the route of the proposed road, have stated they are not willing to part with their land.

Jim McAloon, head of regeneration, said the council would only apply for a compulsory purchase order as a last resort.

He said: “I know some of the landowners will not be keen to enter into a dialogue about selling, but to have the access [to the Exxon site] and the alternative road we will need to enter into negotiations.

“I don’t know how negotiations would go. There are other avenues in terms of compulsory purchase orders if we don’t get the land. I would be looking to our experts to avoid that where possible. I would be asking how can we design the road to make it less painful for landowners in the area.” Mr McAloon also admitted the level of contamination at the 31-hectare site is unknown until Exxon permit council officers to complete their own investigations.

When the Reporter asked the council about the contamination, a spokesman said: “The council report highlights the extensive contamination across the site from its previous industrial use. This has implications for the ongoing liabilities associated with the site.

“The transfer of ownership from Exxon to West Dunbartonshire Council will be dependent on a mutually acceptable resolution. This would involve Exxon undertaking the decontamination work or paying the council to do it on their behalf.” Despite the mounting challenges facing the project, the Mr McAloon said the potential benefits of the project far outweigh the risks.

He said the site’s location and its proximity to the A82, and Glasgow, means it would attract businesses from all over the world. He added: “It will attract key players in advanced manufacturing, logistics, and distribution.

“This would attract a significant number of jobs, but importantly it will create that economic activity that will contribute the economic growth of the area.” At the meeting councillors were asked to agree the business case for the project and release a further £500,000 to move to the second stage of the process.

Independent councillor George Black objected, saying: “We have a site that’s very contaminated, a site we can’t access, and a site we don’t own. We have spent almost £100,000 on consultants.

“Given that we have much more immediate concerns, this is complete mismanagement of public funds.” Council leader Martin Rooney, told the meeting: “The strategic business case is required by the City Deal so that we remain in the process and can access the funding, but only as and when we are satisfied that all due diligence has been carried out, that risks are identified and managed and that the project ultimately represents good value for money. The alternative would be to do nothing, forego the opportunity of funding and accept that West Dunbartonshire would have a diminished economic future.” Following a prolonged debate, councillors ultimately approved the project’s strategic business case, which will now be presented to the Clyde Valley City Deal Cabinet for final approval on August 18. Once this has happened consultations with the local community can begin.

Councillor Jim Bollan told the Reporter: “The report regarding the City Deal project detailed 26 risks, 21 of which are to be borne by the council.

“This is an extremely poor and very risky deal for the council taxpayer. The council does not own the heavily contaminated toxic land which is owned by Esso, yet we have already committed to date £1.250m to the project. Nobody even knows the level and toxicity of the site. There is no doubt we need a relief road but at what cost? This proposal is toxic itself.

“We need to look at alternative ways of funding this project. Esso in a similar deal transferred heavily polluted land in the US and the public purse ended up paying for the very costly de-contamination.

“There is a great risk this could happen with West Dunbartonshire Council taxpayers picking up the bill.”