I attended the above on behalf of South Cowal Community Development Company (SCCDC) to hear how the land reform movement was progressing through community ownership. SCCDC failed in their bid to buy the Castle Toward estate due to the owner, Argyll & Bute Council, being unwilling to budge on the price they were demanding.
The story of Castle Toward is told earlier in this blog here. This is well worth the read if you’ve not already read it because, in the words of Dr Christopher Mason, the ownership and management of this property since the council inherited it for nothing has seen “unwavering chicanery” on the part of the council for the last 20 years.
During the long process when SCCDC tried to buy the estate, some of the views I heard from fellow councillors on community ownership were from another age altogether. A number were clearly of the view that community ownership was a bad thing and some cited the example of Gigha to demonstrate how bad community ownership could be.
Margaret McSporran, who chairs the community company that now owns the island, spoke at the conference and what they have achieved is truly remarkable. The housing stock has been transformed and she paid tribute to a number of organisations including the council, which was good to hear. The population has almost doubled and small businesses are thriving. They started life with a very large debt related to the purchase price for the island and they have had to re-structure the debt recently but what business has not had to do that?
The conference confirmed to me that community ownership is the way forward and we should be encouraging this as a council. After all, the council is only the guardian of the property; it’s us, the people of Argyll & Bute, who own it ultimately. Here are some highlights from the conference from what was said on Twitter during the event. The first tweet refers to Aileen McLeod MSP, the minister responsible for the legislation going through the Scottish Parliament at the moment, some of which was specifically amended to ensure another buy out would not end the way the Castle Toward one did.