Castle Toward, yes again

A planning application was submitted by the prospective purchasers and deemed valid last week. Instead of applying for a change of use to allow the promised spa hotel development, the change of use is to make the mansion house a private dwelling. The application can be seen at:

http://publicaccess.argyll-bute.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=O5ARLXCHN4Z00

I have made a formal objection this morning to this application. Alan Stewart has written to Cllr Walsh about it, as follows:

When you rejected the offer of £850k made by SCCDC in an effort to secure the estate for the community, you stated publicly that “nothing less than £1.75 million would do”. However the council very shortly after accepted an offer of £1.1 million, and a vague promise that a further £400k would follow subject to satisfactory planning consents. As there is no guarantee of the remaining funds being forthcoming, and indeed Audit Scotland raised this risk as being significant, it is only right to assume that the final sum realised will only be the £1.1 million. Since Actual Reality left the estate, the council has spent over half a million pounds on security and maintenance, meaning that the net receipt to the council coffers will be in the order of £600k, and it now looks like there will be minimal return to the area in the form of jobs or community benefit.

The handling of the community buyout has done serious reputational damage to the council according to Audit Scotland. The news that the promised investment from the new owners to create a spa hotel and a tourist attraction from the mansion house will now not happen will only increase that reputational damage. Social media already carries some very unflattering speculation as to the reason the council rejected the community bid over one from a private individual.

The council is now stuck very much between a rock and a hard place. If it approves the planning application to change the mansion to a private house, it will be accepting that the promised jobs and investment will come to nothing. There will be no hotel attracting visitors to the area, no restaurant, no holiday cottages, no garden centre. However if the council declines the planning application, then the purchaser will have the right to withhold the balance on the payment as they can rightly say that satisfactory planning consents have not been granted.

The estate has not yet been sold, and no money has changed hands. The plans put forward by the prospective purchaser for the mansion house are so at odds from those proposed to the council and the community as to constitute a material change, and as such would allow the council to withdraw from the sale. I would urge that you urgently consider taking this action and seek an owner who would have the community at the heart of its plans, rather than someone prepared to mislead council and community in order to get what they want.

This action would go a long way toward restoring the battered reputation the council has developed and help heal the wounds to the community of South Cowal. The net cost to the council will continue to increase, however it would be safe to assume that in the long run there would be no overall loss. Other parties have expressed interest in restoring the mansion to an educational and community role, and it would not take a huge amount of effort on the part of the council to open dialogue.

Kind Regards

Alan Stewart

Alan has also sent the above to Audit Scotland, adding the following. I have also written to Audit Scotland:

Dear Mr McKinlay

Below is the text of an email I sent today to Dick Walsh, leader of Argyll and Bute Council

When the council announced the sale of the castle to a Mr Keith Punler, they proudly announced that there would be 150 jobs created with a hotel and spa, restaurant and other attractions: https://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/news/2015/oct/castle-toward-sale-progresses

It now looks as if none of this will happen, as planning applications have been lodged to to convert the building into a private house.

The councils handling of the sale has been disastrous, and has done untold damage to its reputation. To find that the worst fears of the community are about to come to fruition and that all access will be lost, will only compound this damage.

Audit Scotland were critical of the way the council handled the bid by the community to buy the estate, but accepted their right to chose who to sell to and for whatever sum they wished. However it now looks as if the council have allowed themselves to be conned into thinking that they have got a better deal by selling to Mr Punler.

As the completion of the sale is imminent, though not yet concluded, can I ask for urgent intervention by Audit Scotland to postpone the sale until you can investigate what is happening. As a community we have been conned by a council into believing that they have achieved a better deal with many jobs being created. Instead we find that we have sold the estate to become a plaything of a wealthy individual with little benefit to the local community

Regards
Alan Stewart