Bute councillor in Castle Toward rethink call

Castle Toward, as viewed from Rothesay Bay.
Castle Toward, as viewed from Rothesay Bay.

Bute SNP councillor Isobel Strong has again urged Argyll and Bute Council to look again at its decision not to sell the Castle Toward estate, opposite Rothesay Bay, to a community group.

Councillor Strong said the authority had to be realistic about the prospect of Castle Toward being sold for £1.75 million, the price tag put on the estate by the Scottish Government’s district valuer last year.

An offer of a £1 million loan to the South Cowal Community Development Company - which has obtained a second opinion valuing the estate at £750,000 - was turned down last month after SCCDC directors said they were unwilling to saddle the community with the loan repayments.

“The council acquired Castle Toward for nothing at the break up of Strathclyde Region,” Cllr Strong said, “and it should have been willing to assist South Cowal Community Development Company (SCCDC) not just with the buyout but with the cost.

“It would actually save the council money as Castle Toward has cost £354,000 between May 2013 and December 2014 for maintenance and security of an empty building which all the time is deteriorating.”

Councillor Strong’s statement follows a call by Alex Neil, the Scottish Government’s cabinet secretary for communities, social justice and pensioners’ rights, for the authority to think again on the issue.

“A new valuation has Castle Toward at around £850,000,” Cllr Strong continued, “but it would take £4.8 million to restore the castle into a useable building.

“The council could not obtain that kind of money, but SCCDC could, and they have a business plan - but not if the council keeps the price at £1.75 million.

“It looks as if the council leadership are out of step as both HIE and the Scottish Land Fund are willing to come on board, but the council needs to be realistic and allow the price of £750,000 which would make the project viable.

“The economy of South Cowal and beyond would be boosted with 80 jobs being created and tourism revitalised in the area. For a council which is presiding over depopulation at an increasing rate I cannot understand why this opportunity for regeneration is being spurned.”

Councillor Strong’s comments come as she, and other Bute and Cowal councillors, prepare to vote on a motion of ‘no confidence’ in council leader and Dunoon ward member Dick Walsh, and his colleague Jimmy McQueen, over their handling of the affair.

The motion is on the agenda for the bi-monthly meeting of the Bute and Cowal area committee, to be held in Dunoon on Tuesday. morning.

Tuesday’s ‘no confidence’ motion in Cllrs Walsh and McQueen - two of the three Dunoon representatives whose ward includes Castle Toward - comes from the third of the Dunoon trio, Michael Breslin, and has been seconded by Cowal independent councillor Bruce Marshall.

It has been tabled in the wake of the decision by Cllrs Walsh and McQueen not to support the sale of the Castle Toward estate to SCCDC for £750,000 - first at the council’s policy and resources committee meeting on December 18, and then at a full council meeting on January 22.