Castle Toward Community Buyout delays raised in Scottish Parliament
The Castle Toward community buyout has gone all the way to the Scottish Parliament with Mike Russell MSP asking again why the community group still have no definitive answer to the question they raised many months ago about a reduction in price. The community group have only till the 31st of December to complete the purchase otherwise their "Right to buy" with the Scottish Government will lapse. Below is what Mike Russell tabled at parliament
Argyll & Bute Council has "dog in the manger" attitude says Russell
Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell has described Argyll & Bute Council's attitude towards the community buyout of Castle Toward as "dog in the manager" and pledged his full support to the residents of South Cowal in their fight to secure the property.
Mr Russell raised the issue at Scottish Parliament's Rural Affairs Committee which was considering the Community Empowerment Bill which deals with reforms to community right to buy.
Commenting later Mr Russell said: "The administration and senior management of Argyll and Bute Council has behaved appallingly towards the South Cowal Community buyout as I know from my involvement in this issue over the past year. There have been constant delays, endless unnecessary demands for more information and now abrupt cancellations of meetings.
As ever with the present Council administration a great deal of mis-information is being spread but little actual information has been made available.
Amongst the myths being peddled is that the Council is being asked to grant the community a million pounds at a time of financial stringency. That is simply not true - the reduction in the purchase price that is being asked for is a paper transaction. In fact the Council would gain £750,000 in a cash receipt and in addition would no longer have to pay out over £20,000 a month in security and property costs.
It is also not true that alternatives exist that would provide a viable future for the estate. There are no other purchasers on the horizon and the jobs that the community buyout would secure will simply not happen if the Council refuses to sell. There is no do about that and no doubt either that the HiE resource pledged to the community for the building would not be available to the Council itself which has allowed Castle Toward to deteriorate over many years.
There is also no barrier to the sale under State Aids rules and nothing in legislation or "best value" requirements that prevent the Council agreeing the reduced price. In fact legislation encourages Councils to transfer assets to communities in order to help communities build economic strength and undertake regeneration.
Finally the Council's attitude makes a mockery of its supposed determination to reverse depopulation and runs counter to Government policy in transfer of assets , community purchase and land reform. A failed buyout will not only accelerate depopulation in South Cowal it will also sends a signal across Argyll & Bute that the Council will not help communities stand on their own feet but instead will always be a "dog in the manager" when new ideas and innovative plans require its participation.
I have been writing to , and speaking to , Ministers about this matter for months. There has been much encouragement to the Council behind the scenes from a range of bodies but the Council seems impervious to reason. I will continue to press for as much support as possible but the Land Fund is at the limit of its resource and there is an understandable reluctance to reward Argyll & Bute Council for bad behaviour.
I will go on working with the community over the next few weeks and I would ask everyone who cares about the future of the area to lobby their own Councillor and Cllr Walsh - the leader of the Council and, incredibly, one of the local councillors for South Cowal - demanding a change of heart before the crucial Council Policy & Resources Committee Meeting on 18th December.
There is a deadline on purchase of 31st December and the Council is presently refusing to change that. Many believe that is yet another cynical move which hopes to take advantage of the Christmas period to divert attention from what is happening. But although the compressed timescale makes a successful completion of sale even more difficult it can be achieved if the will is there."
The community group were due to hear if they had been successful in negotiating a reduction with the local authority on the 27th of November but this meeting has now been delayed to the 18th of December, leaving little time before the deadline of December the 31st,