GLASGOW's former planning chief has warned the council's own landlord firm is undermining the regeneration of the city's historic heart.

Steve Inch slammed the rent and lease policy of City Property, the council's arm's-length company that is already under fire for allegedly aggressive tactics against business and charity tenants.

Mr Inch, widely credited with helping to transform Glasgow over the last decade, warned City Property's actions in the Merchant City and in and around High Street were counterproductive.

He said: "The policy seems to have changed from 'securing good tenant mix' to 'securing full commercial rent'. That is not good regeneration.

"It is better to have 100% of shops let at 50% of 'market rent' than 50% of shops empty at full rent."

The remarks chime with the views of local businesses, which have accused City Property of trying to squeeze every last penny out of them in a difficult economic climate.

John Renwick, who has off-licences in Saltmarket and High Street, said: "All we have now are more and more vacant premises.

"You would have thought they would consider concessionary rents to bring more people into the area.

"But the number of people is way down and the neighbourhood is dying. There does not seem to be any regeneration, just people collecting rents."

The Evening Times revealed last week that a new merchants' association had been set up in the area as the number of "To Let" signs mushroomed in what was once Glasgow's heart.

Chairwoman Samantha Cooper, of Ladywell Healing And Crystals in High Street, believes City Property is carrying out what she calls a "social clearance" of the neighbourhood, once home to numerous alternative businesses such as her own.

This is denied by City Property, an arm's-length external organisation (Aleo) still wholly owned by the council.

It insists it is doing its best to find new occupants for vacant shops – and help those tenants struggling.

A spokesman for City Property rejected criticism from Mr Inch and tenants – and claimed "huge dividends" for regeneration from its lease and rent strategy.

The spokesman said: "We are working hard across Glasgow to secure a good tenant mix for its properties that will guarantee the long term viability and sustainability of our city centre shopping areas.

"We also work very closely with council officers to ensure the property portfolio can be used as part of the council's economic development schemes to help regenerate and rejuvenate neighbourhoods and districts.

"This work is already showing huge dividends for us and in the last year about 40% of lettings were to new or start-up companies or individuals.

"The success of our strategy is due, in the main, to the flexibility of City Property in terms of lease lengths, offering competitive rentals and the location of our property portfolio."

The spokesman also said City Property – which conducts much of its business through a private firm, Ryden – was "in regular contact" with tenants and "always open to discussion".

Nina Baker, Green Party councillor for the city centre, said: "The many similar complaints I hear suggests City Property does not do what it says it does."

City Property told the Evening Times it had plans to decorate vacant shop windows, encourage temporary shops and artists' galleries.

This fits firmly with Ms Baker's vision, unveiled last week, of the High Street as a new "heart of Glasgow" district of alternative retailers, art galleries and cafes.

However, right now empty shops are unwashed, there are no temporary stores and next week a gallery, The Duchy in Duke Street, will close, having failed to renegotiate a concessionary rent.

The Merchant City and High Street were once the main focus of Glasgow's much-vaunted regeneration efforts and was said to have inspired Barcelona's facelift of the 1990s.

Local politicians now talk of Glasgow copying the Catalan capital.

City Property, wholly owned by Glasgow City Council, "bought" around 2000 business premises from the local authority in 2010 for £120m.

This money was used to fund a series of controversial early retirement deals, including one for Mr Inch, who stepped down in 2010.

City Property now has to raise enough rents to cover payments on this mortgage.

IT'S a retail Catch 22. Samantha Cooper says she will lose everything if she closes her shop – and she will lose everything if she keeps it open.

The 43-year-old has invested her life savings into Ladywell Healing And Crystals in High Street.

The business – part of a once vibrant alternative religious scene in the area – is doing well.

But a row between the tenant and City Property and its commercial partner Ryden over who pays for repairs is giving Ms Cooper a real headache.

She said: "We are left in a dilemma; we cannot leave because we will be pursued for the huge costs of repairs.

"We can't sign our new lease because we will be liable for the repairs. We stand to lose the life savings we invested in renovating our shop, hence we can't relocate.

"We spent a large sum converting Ladywell to our specifications."

Ms Cooper said her problems were typical of nearby retailers.

She said: "I have been inundated with stories from businesses and charities in High Street, Parnie Street, Trongate, Duke Street, Saltmarket and King Street about how people had lost their business through the same repairs regime as ourselves.

"The consensus was that due to the new management of our properties by CP and Ryden, we felt we are kept at 'arm's length'.

"It is extremely difficult to reach decision makers when reporting repairs and complaining about procedures. And we don't know what our tenants' rights are."

City Property denied its repairs regime was putting anybody out of business or that the appointment of Ryden had affected tenants' rights.

A spokesman said: "We have not imposed any additional repairing obligations on tenants.

"If there are significant repairs required to Ms Cooper's property then this is due to a lack of maintenance on her part, not the landlord."

A few years ago Ms Cooper would have dealt with just one organisation, the city council.

Now she has to handle City Property and its commercial partner Ryden; Glasgow Housing Association's factoring wing YourPlaces; City Building; and, if she wishes a business grant, the city council.

Her local councillor Nina Baker said: "It's hard to figure out who holds accountability any more."