Argyll community ramps up the pressure in bid to buy Castle Toward


Council faces Friday ultimatum to back public buyout

THIS week Argyll and Bute council is facing final calls to support a community buyout bid for Castle Toward estate after 18 months of planning.

The estate, on the outskirts of Dunoon, has been left derelict by the council – but a community business plans to invest millions of pounds to establish a new development on the site.

Despite support from enterprise bodies, government, and the community Argyll and Bute Council has refused to support the terms of the business plan.

Having negotiated a final extension under the Land Reform Act 2003, the bid provider, South Cowal Community Development Company (SCCDC), now awaits a meeting of the council this Thursday 12 February to discover if the bid will be accepted.

Local campaigners have been actively supporting the bid. Many feel they have been let down by council intransigence and bureaucracy.

Karen Komurcu, who helped organise the campaign in Dunoon, said: “I have never been involved in local politics, but after having returned to Innellan in 2007 I was saddened to see how things had changed since leaving Scotland in 1999. Small local businesses closing and premises being turned into shops, school roles falling, young families and school leavers moving away in droves for better prospects.

“Our hopes and aspirations as a community are being stifled by key council members who seem to have missed the point completely.”

“When the Castle project came to the fore, we could all see light at the end of the tunnel. We have seen our hopes raised by SCCDC, with amazing events held, showing us a way forward and involving us all at every stage.

“Now our hopes and aspirations as a community are being stifled by key council members who seem to have missed the point completely. They have asked SCCDC for bigger and better plans to reduce risk in the business plan and rather than pulling out all the stops to assist the community in its dream, they have been a closed shop.

“The important issue they don’t seem to grasp is that a community is best served if it has a choice and can be involved in it’s own destiny. It makes for better working partnerships. It creates an environment that people want to come to, stay in and contribute to. You tend to take better care of your own backyard if it belongs to you.”

Komurcu fears that Friday’s deadline will pass without a resolution.

“So maybe the council in Argyll and Bute have a master plan, and can’t wait until the community buyout period ends. What are they left with? An estate that has two vastly differing values placed on it, an angry disillusioned community who wants to be able to access the estate, a big leisure or development company wanting to develop it, excluding any community involvement.

“The Council has unwittingly done us a huge favour, they have brought us together as a community and we will continue to champion the cause for community empowerment. Meanwhile, Castle Toward will sit in it’s estate, deteriorating and costing us dearly for maintenance and security.”

Campaigner Lorna Ahlquist, remained focused on persuading the necessary councillors to change their mind: “[There are] lots of plans for positive campaigning in the run up to the Special Meeting of the Council on 12 February to discuss the sale of Castle Toward for PS850,000 to SCDDC. What is really really needed is for people to talk to their local councillor about how they are going to vote.

“We need that dialogue to change the minds of those voting no and ensure they understand the facts of the matter, that it is a good deal for Argyll and Bute and a deal that is concrete and absolutely on the button in terms of Council and government policy of working with communities.”

As part of a communication campaign resident Susan Chandler wrote to all authority councillors and condemned proposals to leave the community with PS1m of debt.

Chandler said: “We regard anyone who has voted to loan the SCCDC PS1m as effectively voting against the community buyout regardless of how it is reported by council representatives afterwards.

“Every week, every month that follows will be closely scrutinised by an energised community supported by over 10,000 signatories to our petition. Every month over PS22,000 pounds maintenance and security costs, potential employment lost, potential incoming employees lost, potential revenue and business lost, potential sales of local properties lost. Please think about what you are rejecting rather than who is proposing it.”

Total maintenance costs on the building between April 2013 and December 2014 were over PS345,000. The building has been derelict over this time.

Local writer Chris Goan explained the dispute as a ‘very post-modern land/power struggle’.

“People involved in the campaign are not necessarily poor, or disenfranchised, or necessarily otherwise politically active – rather they are ordinary people from all social classes who see the opportunity to break out of the old negativity that often clings to these hills and do something that invests in the life of this place, bringing jobs, art, creativity and energy where there is only a leaking roof and lots of weeds,” he explained.

As it stands there is no other identified bidder for the estate. The council retains the possibility of selling the estate on the open market, which may lead to SCCDC purchasing the property or being outbid by a corporate alternative.

Whether community campaigning pressure has a impact will become clearer by the end of the week.

Picture courtesy of DSD.