‘Big thinking’ is required on all sides - but particularly by Argyll and Bute Council - over the worrying decline in the area’s population, according to local MSP Michael Russell.
Speaking in a debate on the subject in the Scottish Parliament this week, Mr Russell said the local authority needed to show “urgency and intelligence” in tackling the issue - and backed the work of a group in Dunoon which has been investigating the feasibility of a ‘fixed link’ between Cowal and the central belt.
In his contribution to the debate, instigated by Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie McGrigor, Mr Russell cited examples of what he called “strong [Scottish] Government involvement” in the issue, including the roll-out of high speed broadband and a meeting this week between Bute and Kintyre dairy farmers and rural affairs cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead over falling milk prices.
Pointing the finger towards Argyll and Bute Council, Mr Russell said: “The council’s ten year aim states that ‘Argyll and Bute’s economic success is built on a growing population’, yet there are no concrete plans to achieve that vital and central objective. As ever with the current administration there is a lot more effort put into process than progress.
“Nonetheless I want to make common cause with the council and in the debate I suggested three key actions the council could take including bringing together a small group focussed on action. I would be happy to be part of that.
“Argyll and Bute Council needs to show urgency and intelligence in tackling the problem and it must subordinate all its policies to the aim of achieving population and economic growth. That means an end to school closures, a much more streamlined and sympathetic planning system and a new ‘can do’ attitude.
“I also called on the council to re-consider their refusal to sell Castle Toward to the community as the community proposals could achieve up to 100 jobs in that locality with knock on benefits across Argyll.
“I was also glad to welcome to the chamber David MacKenzie who has been chairing a small group looking at the possibility of a fixed transport link between Cowal and the central belt.
“That group is now talking with HIE about an investigation of the cost benefit of a variety of new infrastructure options and I would encourage some ‘big thinking’ about new possibilities across the area.
“The idea of a new link between Dunoon and Lochgilphead, floated by HIE chief executive Alex Paterson last year, is clearly an important step in the right direction.
“In 1868 there was the first proposal for a rail link between Northern Ireland and Kintyre and whilst the Channel Tunnel, proposed at the same time, is now in existence there has been no progress at all in implementing that type of visionary project in the area. It is time to start talking about how we can take such things forward across Argyll and Bute.”