The organisers of a meeting in Rothesay seeking ideas on how to grow Bute’s population have published a detailed account of the evening.
The meeting, at Rothesay Pavilion on Monday, February 16, was sponsored by Bute Community Council and organised by BCC member Martin Catlin.
The minute of the meeting - attended by around 120 people - is published below, with some gaps where the person who spoke did not introduce themselves: if you can help fill in any of the missing bits, let us know and we’ll amend this article accordingly.
In addition, we want to know what you think about the points made on Monday - whether you were present at the meeting or not. What are the top priorities from the night’s suggestions? And what was missing from the ideas raised? Click on the comments option to the right of this article to share your thoughts.
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Public Meeting on the Depopulation of Bute
Sponsored by the Bute Community Council (BCC)
The Pavilion Cafe, Rothesay, 7PM 16th February 2015
Participant count 120 approx
Martin Catlin opened the meeting with an introduction concerning the population decline on Bute of 10% from 2001 to 2011, in comparison with other Scottish islands gaining 8–12%. He thanked the BCC, Michael Russell MSP, and Alan Reid MP for their support, and recognised the presence of the Provost, Cllr Len Scoullar, and Cllr Isobel Strong. He noted that the purpose of the evening was looking for solutions, which Dorothy McDonald would write down on large chart paper.
Jim Osborne highlighted that renewable energy has been used in Lewis and Harris to fund reinvestment in the community, and that Bute Community Power were intending to duplicate this initiative with two turbines.
Ray Beverley asked for the results of the online survey. Martin noted 130 people replied to the online survey with the top three results for each question:
what is good about Bute?
1) scenery and natural environment, 2) community, 3) Safe environment
what is bad about Bute?
1) cost of ferry, 2) no jobs, 3) cost of living
what can be done to make Bute more attractive to people?
1) cheaper ferry, 2) more jobs, 3) bridge
Sara Goss-Melvin noted:
- the majority of Bute is owned by one person
- there is a good housing stock
- there is a lack of commercial units which are expensive @ £400 on Bute, whereas equivalent units in Glasgow with utilities included are available @ £100
- there is a need for commercial space
- the council needs to be flexible with “change use” requests for commercial units
- there is a need to develop units and advertise your availability
- Barone Business Park has available lots for construction of new factory units
- HIE have focused on bringing broadband investing £400+ million
- Jamie McGrigor raised the issue of the population in Argyll & Bute in the Scottish Parliament, and Michael Russell suggested big infrastructure projects are essential to sustainable growth.
Stuart Thomas highlighted that 6-10 small units will be included in the redevelopment of the Pavilion.
Marlene Hill asked at what price these units would be? She suggested that the community move quickly on actions that they can implement such as a Merchant Association, rather than waiting for action from the council.
Jean Donald gave feedback on how successful the big advert on Mackirdy’s lorry had been on encouraging her friends in Dunoon to visit the island.
Martin noted that was a collaboration between McKirdy’s and Visit Bute.
Stephen Holliday noted:
- Bute is beautiful but Rothesay is run down and needs tidying up. Present efforts are in a piecemeal approach.
- Investigate the Scottish government Charette Main-streaming programme. Local planning will choose programs: town centre Charette project can be sponsored by any local organisation; the project brings in a project manager to identify projects and funding; e.g. Port Glasgow will now have a plan to take them forward.
- Young people leave the island early and what we need is young families.
- We should ask the young families what could be done to ensure they stay on the island?
- What can be done to develop Argyll College?
- Is there an opportunity for pop-up shops, where different merchants can share rent?
Ray Beverley asked:
- how empty shop unit windows can be used as adverts for other businesses?
- how the barriers with council and owners can be addressed.
Len Scoullar confirmed that:
- derelict residential properties that have been empty for more than 12 months have had their council tax raised by 100%
- there is no business tax for empty commercial property.
- if there were any representatives from the building agencies in the room who could answer what had happened to the Ascog Nursing Home?
- It was noted that Rothesay is a good place in terms of accessibility and safety and the providing of care could be a source of jobs
Isobel Strong explained that the Ascog developers were asking for commitment from the NHS and Council for beds, and that she is with the group working on that.
Sara Goss suggested:
- care for the elderly could be something that the island could do and could be good at
- become a retirement island to create jobs, and brand it as such
- the council wasted effort with the issue of the double glazing replacement by Harry Greene at the Bute House Hotel.
- With no support from the council, this plan would not get further.
Isobel Strong noted that:
- as the island has an excess of housing stock there is no money for housing associations for newbuilds
- they need to show that there is a housing need to receive funding
Martin noted that:
- ACHA had provided a £700 bounty to move into their property
- lucky that George Hanson was working and investing in the island
Hanne Mason suggested that Bute could become a training centre for carers and become known for it
Iain Gillespie noted that
- Rothesay had been in decline since the 1960s
- SWOT analysis in the past had identified the benefits on Bute, but had not been able to improve the population situation.
- he asked the question why the people there who had come to the island to make their business had come?
Mike Spear made four concise points:
- need to improve ferry service for commuters
- need to ensure quality of education of the joint campus
- need to improve communication
- need to devolve decision-making away from Kilmory
Len Scoullar elucidated that:
- the Scottish government is trying to implement the devolving of decision-making
- the council spent £300,000 keeping the Royal Hotel safe and preventing demolition
- Argyll & Bute Council are prepared to spend money where it will be well spent
Dorothy McDonald noted young families are the key
Carol Harding suggested that there should be reduction in fares on the ferry for students in full-time education
- that his daughter at University in Aberdeen has a Young Scot card and receives 2 free return tickets home in a year
- there is a large service sector on the island
- there is a small manufacturing sector - Flexitec/Bute Fabrics/Sheeze/Bute Brew Co
- however there is a need for jobs
- Fyne Homes have created several jobs with Fyne Futures/Bute Produce
- Housing Associations and Council need to think outside the box
[Somebody] noted that small towns, even in England outside London, lose young people, and even more so on a Scottish island
Jean Moffat shared:
that she and her husband had set up a business [Telecom Service Centres Ltd] 18 years ago
- Highland and Islands had suggested 3 locations - Stornoway/Campbeltown/Rothesay
- they employed up to 200 people at one time, with at least 2000 employees over the years
- the 1st IT graduates they employed were from the island and returned to their island for their 1st job
- there is a need to ensure the school is of good quality
- the community needs to organise its representation to CalMac for reduced fares
- in the past ferries were more robust and the island could attract commuters
- there is a need to take over empty shops and paint their windows as murals
- if the place looks like a slum, it will be treated like a slum
- delighted to see so many people at the meeting
Isobel Strong noted that Business Gateway is very helpful in terms of mentoring and identifying finance
[Somebody] suggested that new businesses should be council business tax-free for five years
Martin noted that Bute Community Council will be having a meeting with CalMac on 26th February, in the school campus where the public are encouraged to attend.
Alan Denholm noted that:
- the youths of the island had broken the [old] Academy windows, so the Academy needed to be repaired if it was not to go into disrepair
- CalMac is good
Tony Harrison related:
- that prior to 2008 and the introduction of RET he did not need to book his accommodation ahead to visit the Outer Hebrides
- presently with RET passenger numbers are up by 14% to the Outer Hebrides, (while as Bute’s is down by 10%) and one needs to book accommodation 6 months in advance
- in principle that ferry services is good
- with 250,000 people living within one hour of Wemyss Bay, the £35 car ferry fare appears to be disincentive, compared with busy Largs
- the island has been lucky with investment in the last 20 years, and Guildford Square is looking good
- entrepreneurs are the ones creating footfall
Len Scoullar noted that passenger numbers to Arran have increased by 36% since RET
Martin noted that in Scandinavian countries and Canada the ferries are considered part of the road service, and covered by road tax.
- Bute has been great since he visited as a child
- when working with the Scouts, they were only able to visit Bute when brought by the Sea Scouts from Largs due to the cost of the ferry
- there is a need to sort out the front, which is seen from the ferry, There is no front picture like Tobermory
- need work to grow population
- need a trade organisation
- centralise business setup advice
Martin raised that Colintraive and Glendaruel, Kilmun, as well as many other communities have founded development trusts as the community councils have financial restraints
Mick Common noted that Bute Community Council could raise money and spend it on objectives laid down by Argyll and Bute Council
Mike Spear noted that when South Cowal established their Community Trust that they raised more money than they had intended for community buyout of Castle Toward, only to have this project rejected by Argyll & Bute Council.
- what can be done? Who do we need to lobby for pop-up shops?
- Do we need a Bute Business Association?
Martin noted that the RET will be coming to Bute in September.
Andy Walters highlighted Visit Bute was considering a trust similar to the Arran Trust, which is a web portal for donations, where they raise tens of thousands of pounds every year.
Alan Steel noted:
- there are a lot of islands in the same situation and that revival is not reliant on the local authority would rather community/residents working with business and charities
- need to study the regeneration learning process, and how they have developed into service plus communities where like businesses partner
- Bute can use this experience
Keith McIntyre highlighted:
- there is a lack of property with 3+ bedrooms
- difficult to find commercial property - he was offered a shed for £300
- some suppliers won’t deliver to the island
- need to share information about what to do
Martin noted that the restrictions on delivery should not be allowed, and were a concern for Westminster. If Inverness is classed as off-shore where does that leave the islands.
Emma Cooper recognised that a Development Trust was a good idea and would make a good focal point such as the Bute Forest Centre or Bute Fest
Mick Common commented that:
- depopulation occurred in the last 20 to 30 years, and the boom in tourism is historic from before that period
- unlikely to have a population of over 8000 again
- need to focus on what is doable
- most parameters set by the council. Need to get input from present commuters.
- Is it possible for a business tax holiday? Advertising throughout the rest of the UK?
Isobel Strong clarified that new businesses have the zero rate business tax, unless occupying large areas.
Anna Harrison noted:
- the experience of Shirley Lloyd who had the jewellery shop, moved to Oban due to lack of footfall, despite zero business rates
- what must we do to encourage tourism back? Why other coach companies not coming back to Bute?
Jane Catlin suggested:
- the ferries need to be significantly cheaper
- Argyll College and apprentice educating teens and young adults is good
- it is expensive to go to mainland colleges! Pricing of travel is key.
Richard Harding noted:
- when he first visited the island as a tourist, the ferry price did not bother him
- the problem is that people have nothing to do when they get here and the beaches dirty/covered in seaweed
- residents need to purchase items on island and not from the mainland. (he has even seen Christmas paper and TVs being carried off the ferry)
- £5 spent locally by each resident provides a turnover of £1.5 million
Martin highlighted that only Oban Express are benefiting.
Jim Osborne said he like to visit Bute community development trust idea as it fit into the need of BCP as a recipient to receive the donated profit.
Mike Spear noted that a community trust funded from the sources of BCP and Bute visit donations could then act as a source of finance overseen by local trustees.
Alistair Johnson said that these are good suggestions but how to make them public?
Martin said that he will report them in the Buteman, and Bute Community Council, and people can listen as they can attend the public gallery
Steve Holiday opinioned:
- tourism in Bute can take off again as a boutique holiday for Victorian seaside town
- however if on holiday in the UK one must be prepared to get rain
- need to review Townscape Charrette Programme
Martin Catlin noted that Achievement Bute had a Victorian week a couple of years ago which was very successful.
Richard Harding asked why Achievement Bute had not talked to the shop owners who could have joined in.
Sarah Goss identified:
- there is a need for the devolution of power
- when she had had problems before with the council, she had needed the help of an advisor
- the business owners don’t have time for big projects, although may be able to take part in the Merchant Organisation
- need the people working for the council to solve problems
- Business Gateway is for start-ups
- need permanent development officer that needs to be paid
Marlene Hill said:
- shops need to be open when the tourists are here
- Montague Street needs to be pedestrianised
Isobel Strong reflected that Montague Street had been designed to be pedestrianised but opposition from merchants stop the plan from pushing through.
Cathie Palmer noted that it was difficult for small business owners to open on Sunday.
Nigel Sutherland identified that there are two issues being discussed. These are:
- people moving to Bute to live
- the second could be from people visiting first as tourists
- however people in England have not heard of Bute and the island profile needs to be raised
- tourism is key as Bute is an amazing place
Ray Murray suggested that money from the council and development plan could be used for relocation packages for teachers as the role of the school is key in pulling new families to the island.
Also the other teachers post are not likely to be filled.
Martin Catlin noted that warehouses off the M8 are being offered rent free for three years. Bute needs to incentivise
Jean Moffat noted her wish list was to:
- buy Shearings and make it into a six star hotel
- set up a distillery and become part of the Whisky Trail
Richard Harding noted that Cowal has relocation packages
And Jane Catlin posited that relocation packages were worth a try to get the best
Gordon Shaw agreed:
- educators important and difficult to recruit and retain
- it is important for attracting families as schools are rated online
Isobel Strong said:
- turnover of head teachers is not due to one reason but rather a variety
- within two days of the head teacher quitting at Rothesay Joint Campus she spoke to the head of services to work on quick recruitment to ensure continuity
Len Scoullar noted:
- the headteacher left for personal reasons, and up to her announcement she had always told him she was happy
- he is worried about the interruption
Stuart Thomas highlighted:
- we must aim for a thriving community and not just an increase in population
- the ferry price is not too high for tourists
- need to approach Cal Mac to allow video about the island and presentation of what is on the island
- if residents find the ferry fare too high, they should refuse to pay
- different type of tourists are going to Mount Stuart, but are they good for the rest of the island? Money needs to be spread around
- noted he can’t buy locally grown food even in February e.g. kale or potatoes
- we need to be supporting local businesses
- work out who is your market and what they want
Liam Walsh suggested that the residents need to push for advertising/tourist material on ferry like Arran.
Martin noted there are two TVs on the ferry. Can one be used for an Isle of Bute video on loop?
Andy Walters noted:
- that the area right of the condiments kiosk would be ideal for material
- Visit Bute have rethought the relocation of the ferry to Gourock, as there is a 15% discount and tourists get to see the Clyde. Daytrippers could visit for £6 return
- when Waverley arrives, the passengers come off and swamp Rothesay
Tony Harrison suggested:
- there is an opportunity to make representation to Cal Mac for special rate tickets during the low peak hours. Apparently less than 20% of the ferry’s capacity is been used.
- Need to create footfall
- the ferries work for Cal Mac and not the island’s residents
- there is no Wi-Fi
- there is high cost of setting up business on Bute. The courier service needs to be addressed.
Mick Common suggested that a Development Trust should get the involvement of Mount Stuart.
Martin Catlin said:
- he would take the results of the meeting to Bute Community Council
- discuss with the Community Council how to progress these issues
- MSP/MP, Marquess of Bute, Highland and Islands Enterprise have roles but not tonight. Two months down the line would be a good time to have another summit.
Isobel Strong noted that the Bute 2000 group had asked Cal Mac for off-peak returns and recognition of young Scots cards to no avail
Rae Marie Lilley noted there are six charity shops. She tries to buy locally but cannot buy shoes or clothes for her baby.
[Somebody] noted that Gourock and Glasgow tourist are huge market for Bute
Mike Spear noted that the Marquess of Bute is an absentee landlord who owns 95% of the island, with his assets protected by a registered charity
Martin Catlin asked how to move forward with the Development Trust and Merchant’s Association
[First name] McDonald related that at a motorway cafe on A66 she persuaded someone to visit Bute. She has had five visitors since September and suggested that people can be their own salespeople for the island.
Dorothy McDonald noted that:
- things have already been done investing in Bute.
- The key question is “what can you do?
- However sometimes disagreements occur in meetings and community organisations and it’s important to try to be nice to each other so that we can succeed.
- If we don’t, people will drop out of groups to avoid the aggravation
Paul Duncan stated:
- I’ve only been here 16 days, but the people are friendly
- however I’ve only seen one kilt, and that was on the mannequin.
- Proud to be on Bute
- Bute need to get it “scene” and stick to it
- island needs to promote “where is Bute?”, and “why move to Bute”