Scottish Government weighs in to Castle Toward row

Alex Neil MSP.
Alex Neil MSP.

Scotland’s communities secretary has intervened in the bitter row over a community buy-out of Castle Toward, opposite Rothesay Bay.

Alex Neil has written to the leader of Argyll and Bute Council, Dick Walsh, whose ward includes the Toward area, asking the authority to help South Cowal Community Development Company (SCCDC) in its efforts to buy the estate.

Only last month the council appeared to have ended any realistic hope of a community buy-out after rejecting a proposal to sell Castle Toward to SCCDC for £750,000, instead of the £1.75m valuation given to the site by the district valuer.

The council voted instead to offer SCCDC a £1 million commercial loan - which the community company said, before and since the vote, that it could not accept because it could not afford the repayments.

SCCDC’s attempt to buy the site is based on an assessment by estate agents Savills that Castle Toward is actually worth between £750,000 and £800,000.

Mr Neil’s intervention comes after councillors voted to turn down a request from SCCDC to extend the right-to-buy period for Castle Toward by four weeks, from January 31 until February 27.

Mr Neil said on Wednesday: “We want communities to shape the decisions that affect their lives and, where appropriate, own and run community assets. South Cowal Community Development Company’s (SCCDC) attempts to buy the Castle Toward estate through community right to buy could support much needed regeneration, create new jobs and make a real difference to the local community.

“I have seen evidence from the SCCDC that the Castle Toward estate is now valued at £850,000, rather than the previous figure of £1.7 million. In light of this I have today asked Argyll and Bute Council to consider its assessment of best consideration, and the offer on the table from SCCDC for the Castle Toward estate. That offer is backed by the Scottish Land Fund and by investment from Highlands and Islands Enterprise once this asset is in community ownership.

“The right to buy is due to expire on January 31 and I have also have asked the council to take whatever steps possible to extend this, to give SCCDC the time to fully consider all its options. That strikes me as a fair and sensible move in light of the new circumstances.”

Mr Neil’s statement also comes on the same day that a motion of no confidence in Cllr Walsh and his colleague Jimmy McQueen - who also represents the Dunoon ward (including Toward), and who also voted against the sale of the site at the lower rate - was published on the council’s own website.

The motion, proposed by the third Dunoon ward councillor Michael Breslin, who supports the buy-out, will be voted on at the next meeting of the authority’s Bute and Cowal area committee, to be held in Dunoon on Tuesday, February 3.