Special council meeting on Castle Toward buyout

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

A special meeting of Argyll and Bute Council is to be held to discuss the Cowal community’s attempt to buy the Castle Toward estate, opposite Rothesay Bay.

The meeting will take place at the council chamber in Lochgilphead on Thursday, February 12 - immediately after a separate council meeting to set the authority’s budget and council tax level for 2015-16.

The Castle Toward meeting will take place at the written request of 12 councillors, among them Bute SNP councillor Isobel Strong, who want the authority to revisit its decision not to sell the estate to a community development company at a price considerably less than the £1.75 million put on the estate by the Scottish Government’s district valuer.

The 12 councillors asked that the meeting be held in the Queen’s Hall in Dunoon before Friday, February 13 - the end of a two-week extension on the community’s right to buy the Castle Toward estate - and it is unclear why the decision has been taken to hold it in Lochgilphead instead.

The South Cowal Community Development Company had a £750,000 bid for the estate turned down by the council’s policy and resources committee in December and by the full council in January; instead the SCCDC was offered a £1 million loan by the council, which the company said it could not afford.

Since then a revised valuation of £850,000 has been put on the site by estate agents Savills.

The request for a special council meeting was made after the intervention of Alex Neil MSP, the Scottish government’s cabinet secretary for social justice, communities and pensioners’ rights, on the issue - but before First Minister Nicola Sturgeon commented on the matter in the chamber at Holyrood on Thursday.

Questioned by Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon said: “Under the community right-to-buy legislation, the decision on whether to accept the bid lies with Argyll and Bute Council, but there is no doubt that the community in South Cowal is highly supportive of the buyout and the potential that it has to create new jobs.

“Last week, the cabinet secretary for social justice, communities and pensioners’ rights asked the council to consider the new valuation of the estate and to extend the right-to-buy deadline to allow time for further discussions, which I know was welcomed by Mr Russell.

“I encourage the council to negotiate constructively with the community body and to use the extension that is now agreed in order to find a solution that will secure the future of an important community asset.

The request of the 12 councillors - none of them in the ruling council administration of independents, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives - states: “In view of the new information we have on the Castle Toward Estate, in particular the RICS Red Book valuation by Savilles and the matching revised offer from South Cowal Community Development Company, we ask that a special meeting of Argyll and Bute Council is held in the Queen’s Hall Dunoon at the earliest possible opportunity and before the two week extension expires.

“The business of this meeting will be: 1. to reflect on this new information and our ongoing costs of £22k per month to keep the property empty. 2. To consider selling the property to SCCDC for the new valuation and offer, ie £850k.”