INVERCLYDE Council is facing a potential £100m lawsuit after officials set a limit on the number of homes allowed at a major development proposal for Spango Valley.

Business tycoons Sandy and James Easdale — who want to transform the former IBM site — are understood to be consulting lawyers after council chiefs blocked their plan for 450 new homes.

Municipal Buildings bosses unilaterally capped the number of properties at 270 in a move that has sparked concern for the local democratic process.

Now the Easdales, who are in partnership with Advance Construction on the project, are considering taking the council to court.

Their spokesman, Jack Irvine, confirmed: "We are consulting our lawyers to scrutinise exactly what is going on with the non-elected officials at Inverclyde Council."

A move by Councillor Jim McEleny to amend the stipulation upwards to 420 dwellings — the maximum permitted for the whole of Spango Valley — was thrown out by council legal chiefs.

They say it would be contrary to the local development plan (LDP) because the Easdales only own part of the sprawling site and it would prevent any future housing on the other portion of land.

Councillor Chris McEleny, who has received specialist training in Scottish planning process by law firm Brodie's, said: "I have real concerns that this £100m project could be scuppered at a time Inverclyde needs investment, jobs, and housing for young families.

"I know that members of the public have major concerns for local democracy in that unelected council officials were of the view that it's okay for them to recommend a different number of houses be built than is proposed, but deem an elected member not competent to make a proposal which would have seen the total number of houses for the site within what the local development plan allows.

"I really cannot see what was not competent about that proposal.

"People are saying that officials might not have liked it, they certainly are within their rights to advise against it if they wished to limit the development and its investment into the area, but to deem it not competent makes no sense to me."

Alba's Councillor McEleny added: "This planning board meeting had two members raise concerns over the time they had to review their paperwork for the meeting, and we have had unelected officials deem motions incompetent when they have no jurisdiction to do so — that is the decision of the elected chair of the board

"Over the past few years the council has been battered for millions by being on the losing end of legal action.

"I do fear that pending the next meeting after this site visit, when you look at the numbers at stake on this application, the council could be on the end of the latest legal action that could cost millions of pounds which would come directly out of frontline services."

The Easdales have lodged outline plans for a major development 450 new homes, business space, a pub/restaurant and 'park and ride' facility at the old IBM Halt railway station.

In a statement issued last month they said had 'worked positively' with council officials since the application was submitted and had understood that they were supportive of it.

They added: "Therefore, it came as a surprise to read in local media that council officials were now recommending that there should be a 40 per cent reduction in the number of houses — as this was something that they had specifically told us would not happen."

A source close to the businessmen brothers said: "They are mystified that when they put the planning application in nobody raised this matter at all including the council lawyers.

"It would all have been fine if the council had told the Easdales and Advance Construction when the application went in that they could only build 270 houses there.

"But they didn't.

"They allowed them to continue working away on the application, commissioning architects, doing deals and the costs have mounted up."

An Inverclyde Council spokesman said: "Like all councils our planning processes are fully open to public scrutiny.

"Reports are made available in advance of meetings for anyone to review and all paperwork in connection with an active planning application is published on the planning portal to be examined.

"Our planning board, even while being conducted online, is open to scrutiny including media, applicants and their agents and members of the public in addition are able to attend online to see the proceedings.

"Mr Irvine should be clear that we have no concerns about scrutiny.

"In fact, we actively encourage it by having everything done in public."