Erskine: The town that wants better facilities and a new heart

Erskine is at the center of a leveling up storm as residents say it’s become the forgotten town of Renfrewshire.

And people who care deeply about its future say: “What we have for a town of 16,000 people is a disgrace.

“There’s no social structure. . . not even a restaurant or coffee shop.”

Senior figures in the town have now spelled it out for the Renfrewshire Council leadership to actually do something.

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Ironically they say having the current leader Iain Nicolson as a local councilor appears to have had a negative impact.

An expensive probe nearly six years ago recommended how it could be transformed, but nothing has been acted on.

Jim O’Neil, treasurer and spokesman of Erskine Community Council, said: “This really is a plea from Erskine, the facts speak for themselves. We are poorly represented.”

The former village became a “new” community in 1970 as farmland was dug up for public housing, with many people shifting from Glasgow.

It was originally conceived to have a 30,000 population with schools, community facilities, businesses, a town center and even a harbor on the River Clyde.

Grim The shabby clinic
Grim The shabby clinic

But that never happened and over the decades private housing estates were developed, without the services most towns enjoy.

Jim is among a number of members of the community council and other residents who have blasted Renfrewshire Council for failing Erskine.

He said: “There is no industry here, no jobs, no proper park.

“They just build houses, which fill with children, and yet there is little for the youth to do.

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“There is no social structure for a town of 16,000 people, not even a restaurant, cafe or coffee shop.

“We have nearly ten per cent of the population of Renfrewshire living here yet you have to get out of the town for leisure and most other things.”

The lush land on the south bank of the Clyde was the barony of Henry de Erskine in the 13th century.

By 1782 there were 12 houses and a church. There were 3,000 residents in 1961 when Renfrewshire County Council unveiled its “New Community” plan, backed by the Scottish Special Housing Association.

Today it is actually the 50th largest center of population in Scotland.

The volunteers of the community council have the town’s paid councilors firmly in their sights.

Erskine Community Council minutes from 13 meetings staged over the past two years have revealed that Cllr Tom Begg attended 68 per cent of the time, councillors Iain Nicolson and Michelle Campbell 22 per cent and Labour’s Jim Harte didn’t bother to attend any.

None of the four councilors on ward 12 for Erskine and Inchinnan actually live in the town itself.

Residents want multi-million investment in a retail park, office park, workshops and other commercial ventures that will attract jobs.

Past its sell by date Bargarran Community Center
Past its sell by date: Bargarran Community Center

One has written to all four councilors asking them to spell out what they have done over the past five years.

Jim said: “There is no job creation here in Erskine, it is just getting deprived and dragged down.

“The big one for a lot of people is that there is no civic center like a town hall. We are a community crying out for backing. If you go down to what is laughingly called Erskine town centre, you will find it poorly maintained and a depressing place to visit.

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“Bargarran Community Center is outdated and there is nothing else in the town centre.

“We want millions of pounds ploughed into a new beating heart for the town.

“And our Clydeside which has been saved from housing – and some of which is owned by the council – provides an opportunity to develop attractions and a social area.

“Nothing has been done, just lip service and no grand plan.”

A Design Erskine charrette – a planning forum open to the public – was held in 2016 to discuss the issues facing the town.

It concluded the town center was “old fashioned and unattractive” with poor access and a disjointed layout.

The charrette was a major and expensive work, but nothing from the recommendations was ever carried forward.

More recently the community council conducted its own research and the feedback from residents was sent to the local councillors.

None of them responded.

People point to what Johnstone, with a similar population has, and Linwood with less.

There are poor public transport links with a sole bus operator and no easy access to trains.

And locals say the basic shopping center means most residents go outside the town to spend money.

Jim O’Neil believes having an Erskine councilor as the leader of Renfrewshire Council has actually been detrimental.

He said: “You would of course not think that would be the case, but the leader Iain Nicolson seems to have bigger fish to fry.

“From what I can see we have not seen any benefit here to Councilor Nicolson’s leadership. He seems to have to appease everybody else.

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“We would like to know from the councilors what they have done for us since they were elected nearly five years ago.

“And we are not talking about cutting trees down, but major redevelopment.

“We have seen nothing. But we won’t give up on this.”

Renfrewshire Council said it is always seeking opportunities for Erskine.

A spokesman said: “Our Economy and Development team are always looking to promote all of Renfrewshire’s towns as places for the private sector to invest.

“Erskine is a popular place to live, with high demand for houses and low vacancy rates for commercial units – which reflects the town’s strong community spirit, well-regarded schools, and good access to the road network and nearby centers of employment.

“The work and projects identified through the charrette process are a framework for Erskine that the council and partners use to identify and deliver appropriate investment and development in the town.

“Alongside that, the approved Local Development Plan allows us to make sure that the right developments happen in the right place, and to consider how community facilities can be developed alongside that.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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