THE chairman of the group responsible for running the Oak Mall has launched a stinging attack on Inverclyde Council's planning department over the number of empty units within the centre.

Kevin McGrath, of M&M Property Asset Management LLP, told the Telegraph that labelling Port Glasgow as a traditional town centre in the latest local development plan and giving planning consent to the new retail park had played a key role in worsening the shopping complex's struggle to stay viable.

He claims the decisions were taken at a time when demand for units from national retailers was falling and has left with the centre with empty shops that are tougher than ever to fill.

Mr McGrath said: "I must say that the actions of the planning department of Inverclyde Council have not helped the viability and vitality of the Oak Mall.

"We simply have too much floor space now - a situation that should not have been allowed to develop through the additional supply at Port Glasgow at a time when the UK as a whole was already seeing its town centres in decline.

"There have been two major reviews making the same case, and now you have central and regional government trying to promote a 'town centre first' policy - but the damage has already been done.

"When our client bought the mall, Port Glasgow was lower in retail hierarchy than Greenock, but by including Port Glasgow in the 2014 Local Development Plan and subsequently agreeing to grant planning permission for the Gallagher retail park, the supply of retail units in the area in now excessive.

"Coupled with the decline in demand from national firms for town centre space, and the growth of online shopping, the industry as a whole, not just the mall, is suffering."

Mr McGrath also said Oak Mall management had become 'increasingly frustrated' by leaks which he says are caused by long-standing problems around the A78 trunk road, which passes over the centre.

Shoppers have complained of surface water and barriers around Poundland, an issue Mr McGrath claims will finally be resolved by contractors this year.

He added: "The road has leaked consistently into the units and the mall below for several years, meaning several shops have become unlettable to a retailer.

"We are working with Transport Scotland and their contractor TranServ, who will start major repairs this year to make the mall watertight, and I would ask our customers to stay patient with us a little longer."

Despite accepting the challenges faced by the business, Mr McGrath says he remains positive about the mall's fortunes - saying new ways of revitalising the centre are being explored.

He said: "We are not complacent, we are reacting to market pressures.

"We recently secured a change of use for the old JJB unit to try and attract an occupier and we hope to bring a gym into the mall this year, as well as new caterers and retailers."

Mr McGrath said the owners have steadily invested in the centre, spending £1.3m repairing the roof and another £1.25m on replacing the floor, as well as investing in energy efficient lighting and supporting tenants with targeted promotions.

He added: "Our rents are at lower levels. service charges are almost 50 per cent down on two years ago and business rates have all been lowered following a revaluation.

"We do want to work closely with the council to improve the Oak Mall and the town centre for the betterment of the local community."