As revealed in the Post last week, Elaine Melrose became the Wheatley Group’s director of resources in September 2013 after leaving her post as WDC’s executive director for Housing.

Last week councillors agreed to pursue plans to work with the social housing provider on its ‘strategic housing partnership’ at the expense of rival bids from five other contenders, including Dunbritton, Knowes and Clydebank housing associations.

Pierre De Fence, director of Knowes Housing Association, expressed his disappointment at the council’s decision to work with The Wheatley Group — parent organisation of Cube Housing Association — after he was involved in a number of positive meetings with Ms Melrose last year.

He says his organisation had been in discussions with WDC’s former housing chief over the housing association’s proposals to develop key sites in neighbouring Clydebank.

According to Mr De Fence, WDC was given full sight of his organisation’s plans and also gave him an assurance that the council was committed to working with local housing associations.

However, in September last year, after Ms Melrose left her post at the council to take up a new position at The Wheatley Group, he claimed the council was less forthcoming. He said: “The council has gone through a process that involves scoring the bids and there is no doubt they will be able to demonstrate how The Wheatley Group scored highly in that process.

“However, the fact remains we were involved with the council over a six month period from April/May last year to September about our plans to jointly develop with Clydebank Housing Association, sites in Clydebank, including the former Braidfield High School and St Andrew’s High sites.

“Elaine Melrose, in her then capacity as director of housing, was involved in those meetings.

“It then emerged that the council was going to go through a competitive tender process to select a preferred bidder to join its strategic housing partnership.

“From September onwards we didn’t hear much more about it and any time we asked we were told the process had been delayed. We then received a letter telling us that we had not been successful.

“As a local housing association we are more than disappointed that they have chosen The Wheatley Group. It just goes to show that the commitment WDC made to working with locally based housing associations was somewhat disingenuous.” Ms Melrose’s switch from WDC to the Wheatley Group was mentioned during a meeting of the council’s Housing, Environment and Economic Development (HEED) committee on May 7 when councillors agreed to support the developer as its preferred bidder.

Clydebank Waterfront representative councillor William Hendrie said he was “comforted by the knowledge” that Ms Melrose was now working for The Wheatley Group, on the basis that she knew how the council operated.

That prompted Richard Cairns, the council’s executive director of Infrastructure and Regeneration, to say that “for the avoidance of doubt” Ms Melrose has had “no involvement” in the discussions involving the local authority and her new employer. A spokeswoman for the authority later stated: “The strategic housing partnership would be with Cube Housing Association and its parent organisation Wheatley Group. As stated at the HEED committee meeting, Elaine Melrose is employed within a different area of Wheatley Group’s business and has had no involvement with the council in any aspect of the proposed strategic housing partnership.” The Reporter asked a spokesman for The Wheatley Group if Elaine Melrose had been involved in discussions with WDC over the strategic housing partnership or if she would participate in any future talks.

He said: “Elaine has not been involved, as Wheatley’s Group director of Resources, in any partnership discussions with West Dunbartonshire Council.” Raising concerns after the HEED meeting, Leven Cllr Jim Bollan said he wanted to know if Ms Melrose “may have had a role to play” in her new employer’s bid being favoured by the local authority.

He said: “The news that the part-time Labour councillors refused the request from two local housing associations, Dunbritton and Knowes, to become strategic housing partners with WDC will raise concerns that Elaine Melrose, the ex-director of housing at WDC, who left last year to take up a very senior post with The Wheatley Group, about whether she had any role to play in her new employer being favoured over local community-based housing associations.” Ms Melrose’s profile on the developer’s website says she has “wide strategic experience” in regeneration, community planning and infrastructure investments and has led key improvement activity in organisation culture and improving competitiveness.

WDC stated Ms Melrose had no involvement in the proposed partnership and worked in a different area of the firm.

The proposed partnership involving the council and an organisation described as one of Scotland’s leading housing developers could deliver almost 400 new homes for social rent and create hundreds of jobs in West Dunbartonshire.

A report placed before the committee noted that The Wheatley Group has access to £250m of bond finance and their board have “earmarked West Dunbartonshire Council as one of their priority areas for investment”.

WDC says that if the discussions with The Wheatley Group prove fruitful new affordable homes could be constructed at the sites of the former Bonhill Primary School, and at former school sites in Clydebank.

Land at Singer Street and Second Avenue in Clydebank and at Croft Street and Raglan Street, Bonhill, are also earmarked for development as part of a 10-year regeneration programme.

Cube, one of four social housing developers owned by Wheatley, already has more than 400 homes in West Dunbartonshire. It is also currently working in partnership with Barratt West Scotland to deliver 33 new flats for social rent in Clydebank.

Cube’s proposal would see 393 new social rented homes built, with the council receiving 100 per cent nomination rights for first lets of all the properties.

As well as assisting the council to meet housing need, Cube’s proposal would also create up to 300 new jobs and training opportunities, sustain up to 1,000 construction jobs and develop around 1,200 indirect jobs in the wider economy.

Councillor David McBride, convener of Housing, said: “This partnership has the potential to make a significant contribution towards meeting the need for more affordable homes in West Dunbartonshire. It is an exciting time and further evidence of this council’s proactive approach to improving housing in the local area.” Liz Ruine, chairwoman of Cube, said: “We’re looking forward to working with West Dunbartonshire Council on these exciting plans which will see hundreds of new homes built in our communities.” Alex McGuire, Wheatley Group director of property, added: “One of the key aims across Wheatley Group is to increase the supply of affordable housing and this strategic partnership helps us achieve this.” West Dunbartonshire Council has set itself a target of delivering 70 new socially rented homes each year. By the end of 2015 it will have delivered 322 homes in partnership with developing housing associations over the preceding four years. A report prioritising new housing development projects in West Dunbartonshire will be published in August.

However, Cllr Jim Bollan added: “The Wheatley Group is a huge conglomerate who I believe will be a predator for our 11,500 council houses. Using local housing associations would have created local jobs and made sure almost every pound invested would have circulated in the local economy.”