THE owners of the Oak Mall have launched an appeal against the council's rejection of radical plans to demolish a large section of it.

Bosses from the struggling shopping centre are challenging planners who blocked their bid to flatten the stretch from Clyde Square along to Hunter Place.

They have also now confirmed that an inability to attract shops into empty units was the key factor in the application, having earlier insisted that road repairs on the A78 flyover were the main reason.

Lunar Greenock Sarl are asking councillors on the local review body to overturn the refusal.

The firm argue the centre is suffering because a number of their units have now been empty for five years.

They have revealed that despite extensive marketing, they have been unable to attract new tenants for empty units like the old JJB Sports store.

And they say their rationalisation plan has won the backing of some of their long-standing tenants, including McNeil's the Jewellers and Specsavers.

A statement on behalf of the Oak Mall said: "Our client actually received support from a number of retailers who considered a smaller more compact shopping centre would contribute to the vitality and future of the mall."

Bosses also note that no-one, including roads chiefs from Transport Scotland, have objected to the move.

They say the cleared site could be utilised for a hotel, residential properties or, in the short term, much needed car parking.

The owners first revealed the plan to bulldoze a large part of the centre last September.

They want to knock down the section underneath the High Street flyover, saying it is necessary to allow major road repairs to take place.

The demolition would have impacted on big names like Argos and M&Co and Timpsons, who have units in the eastern section, and necessitated moves for them to other units.

But local authority officials ruled the demolition was unjustified and noted there were no guarantees the tenants could be relocated.

In a statement at the time planning officers 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."

The local review body will be asked to make a decision on the appeal when they meet on 6 March.