Scotland's First Minister urges council to "negotiate constructively"

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has ugred Argyll and Bute council to negotiate with the local community group in South Cowal over the purchase of the Castle Toward estate. At a busy session of first ministers questions Nicola Sturgeon was asked by MSP Mike Russell to engage with Argyll and Bute council over the local authorities unwillingness to reduce the price of Castle Toward. The local authority had instead offered the community a £1 million pound commercial loan.

Here is what Mr. Russell had to say;

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Council Leader completely isolated but still thinks everyone out of step but him.

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has added her voice to the chorus of organisations and individuals urging Argyll & Bute Council to accept the bid from the South Cowal Community Development Company for the Castle Toward Estate and has urged those involved to "negotiate constructively" to secure the future of what she described as "an important community asset".

She was responding to a constituency question from Michael Russell, the MSP for Argyll & Bute during First Minister's Questions today. Mr Russell asked her if she would :

"seek an urgent opportunity personally to ask the leader of Argyll and Bute Council, Councillor Dick Walsh, to accept the bid for Castle Toward of £850,000 that the South Cowal Community Development Company has lodged? That bid will lead to 100 jobs being created in the area, but it will fall in a week’s time unless the council chooses to get out of the way of the community and stops obstructing it in its desire to own the premises."

And the First Minister responded :

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.

Speaking after First Minister's Questions Mr Russell said : "The First Minister is the latest , but undoubtedly the most distinguished, in a long line of people to urge some sense on Argyll & Bute Council which risks losing up to 100 jobs because of the arrogant intransigence of the Council Leader and his deputy.

Extraordinarily despite backing from HIE, the Scottish Land Fund, the local MSP and MP, all the community councils in Cowal , the overwhelming majority of local residents, the majority of local councillors , the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, 31 MSPs who have signed a motion and 10,000 individuals who have signed a petition , Cllr Walsh still believes everyone is out of step but him. Indeed in today's press he has hit out at what he calls "misinformation" about his stance ,and seeks to deflect attention with not just political mud slinging but also a denial of the offer of a loan by the Council in the sure knowledge that it could not be repaid. Unfortunately for Cllr Walsh that happened as the local buyout is prepared to testify.

No matter what he says, the stark reality is that in the last year when this bad has been in development and then under consideration by the Council, Cllr Walsh has done not a single thing to help the buyout but lots of things to hinder it. Now he has had a personal appeal from the First Minister, urging him to negotiate constructively and ensure that the matter concludes with a sale to the local community.

I cannot believe that even he would reject such a request from the leader of the country. "

END

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The community group have asked the local authority to clarify some matters which have appeared in the press recently in relation to the Castle Toward Estate and are awaiting responses. On the subject of Scotland's First Minister getting involved the group have said they are "absolutely delighted to see that the community buyout has gone straight to the top of the country's parliament" and that "Castle Toward is now getting top level support which it rightly deserves".

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Castle Toward is also gaining huge support on the ground locally with a recent petition handed over the local authority with some 10,000 names on it and the community group are greatly indebted to a bunch of indivduals, local and distant, calling themselves The Castle Toward Supporters group which has been set up to campaign on behalf of the SCCDC. "It is all a bit overwhelming" said an SCCDC member "and our heartfelt thanks goes out to them for their support"


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