PLANNING officials have knocked back a radical proposal to demolish a huge part of Greenock's Oak Mall shopping centre.

The owners of the precinct, Lunar Greenock Sarl, applied for permission from Inverclyde Council in September to tear down the eastern section of the complex that runs underneath the High Street flyover up to the Clyde Square entrance.

Mall bosses said the work was necessary to allow roads operators Transport Scotland to carry out major repairs to the A78 above the section of the shopping centre and due to the high vacancy rate in that area.

But local authority chiefs disagree.

They say the move would result in an 'unjustified loss of retail floorspace' and that roadworks would not require partial demolition of the complex.

A statement from the council planning department said: "Transport Scotland only requires the Mall owners to temporarily remove a small number of roof cladding panels and service pipes attached to the underside of the bridge at two localised areas (at the bridge joints) to allow access for inspection and to identify any areas that require routine maintenance."

Shopping centre chiefs had argued that the trunk road operators need access to the underside of the road to allow for extensive repairs to take place and that they had been served with a statutory notice meaning 'major downtakings are required'.

The planning application also included a new entrance, frontage and 'high quality' public areas at Hunter Place.

Council officials have now ruled that the demolition request is unjustified, noting that there have been no guarantees as to whether key tenants like Argos and M&Co, which have units in the eastern wing of the Mall, would be relocated elsewhere.

The planning statement said: "The proposal could therefore lead to these retailers, which comprise a mix of national and local operators, being lost to the town centre. "The loss of retail space would not just be limited to occupied units. "Whilst other units which would be lost may be vacant, no assessment has been carried out on whether there is an over-provision of retail floorspace within the town centre.

"Furthermore no details have been provided in respect of the marketing of the vacant units nor of an assessment as to whether the loss of this floorspace would reduce the potential for attracting new retailers to the town centre."

Officials also said that the plans would have a 'significant and unacceptable impact' on the nearby Municipal Buildings and conservation area.