At a busy Toward memorial hall on Thursday evening (28th May 2015) The SCCDC held thier first AGM since the stalled bid to buy the Castle Toward estate. Current chairman Alan Stewart addressed the attendees at the hall and presented them with a stark warning about the community buyout project and it's unlikeness now to ever succeed. The AGM, although it was meant to be a round up of the past years business, quickly turned into a Q&A session as residents expressed thier anger and dismay at the buy outs failure. Much was made of the many millions that would now be lost from this project and from South Cowal, with residents asking why the local authority didn't work harder to make this happen. Most of the assembled mass in the hall wanted to know what they could do to help and Alan Stewart laid out some possibilties for the way forward.
There was a report on the SCCDC's acccounts by the outgoing treasurer and the election of three new directors to the group. Here are the minutes of the AGM.
Castle Toward AGM 2015
Project started in Sept 2013. SCCDC had 10 weeks to lodge CRTB. HIE supportive and process of comm engagement resulted in ballot result of 95% in favour of a buyout with a turnout of 57%.
Negotiations began with major outdoor ed company. Major benefit for local economy.
DV valued estate at 1.75M. Appeal lodged. SCCDC persuaded to drop appeal with promise of reduction in price being negotiated. Countless questions answered to Economic Dev team.
In Feb 2015 A&B refused to extend CRTB process. Project effectively finished. Tenant is likely to be lost but there are other opportunities for SCCDC to benefit South Cowal.
[Full copy of Chairpersons Report distributed to all present].
Q: “is there any mileage in asset transfer route?”.
Period reported covered from Sept 2013 to end April 2015. There are still outstanding bills to pay, despite balance showing £400+.
Treasurer confirmed that we had no option other than to drop appeal on valuation. SCCDC did not have funds available to support appeal.
Q: Who was at meeting which led SCCDC to drop appeal?
A: Alan, Paul, Douglas Hendry, Cleland Sneddon.
Q: How much did we spend?
A: Approximately £97-£100K on whole process. This does not include work paid for directly by HIE. Most expensive item was work carried out by McAslan (approx. £48K).
Q: Is it correct that this money paid for professional documents which could be of benefit to other parties?
A: Yes. Work was even approved by HIE and SG but just not A&B Council.
Paul: This was a £10M project. Everything was in place. A&B would have benefitted by up to 100 jobs, mostly for local people.
Q: Can we revisit the project now that Community Empowerment legislation has been promised?
A: Very unlikely. Now that we have lost the tenant it will likely not be profitable.
Q: Is purchasing just the gatehouse an option?
A: Possibly. Would be hard to get backing of HIE though. We cannot and must not burden the community with a debt so any project would have to be very carefully considered. We would need to weigh up how many jobs could be created vs how much renovations would cost.
Q: Would it be feasible to get an agency such as Historic Scotland on board to fund the purchase and renovation of the mansion house?
A: Uncertain but unlikely. It would be a huge liability for anyone to take on without commercial interest.
Comment: Historic Scotland will not take on a property unless it is in its entirety.
A: HS does have a reputation for being tough to work with.
Chair: SCCDC was presented with a doc by A&BC which appraised Seasons economic plan for CT. Document had suggestions on how Seasons could improve their case. At no point did A&B provide us with any similar advice or assistance. Council gave us this document to suggest ways that SCCDC could pay off the loan offered to purchase SCCDC. Essentially the loan meant that the Council would regain the Mansion after 3 years and the Council would then reap the benefits of any rent paid by XXX (clients name removed).
Comment: What is the answer to all of these issues?
A: There have been countless complaints to A&B, Audit Scotland and others but without success.
Q: Is this really all down to Councillor Walsh?
A: Unsure. He has never attended any local meetings or entered in to constructive dialogue with us. Nor has Councillor McQueen. McQueen specifically requested that he be allowed to vote AGAINST the issue.
Q: What has been the involvement of Sally Louden in all this?
A: Sally has refused to respond to complaints and allegations made by a range of people.
Chair: In the Performance Review & Scrutiny committee today, Ian Ross (Chair) questioned why so much emphasis was placed in the report on SCCDC’s Savills’ valuation not being “Red Book”. No straight answer could be provided. There is a chance that an internal audit may be launched to examine the decision making process in relation to CT.
Treasurer: Explained that SCCDC commissioned Savills to carry out a valuation. This valued it as £850K. A&B had 2 valuations carried out: BL valued it at £1.8M and 2nd valuation valued it at £1.75M. Council did not examine why there was such variation between valuations.
Comment from audience: I praise the work that SCCDC has carried out. Remember that FOI requests can be very effective.
A: Chair agrees but there have been accusations that FOI responses from A&BC are not accurate.
Q: How can this decision be overturned?
A: No clear way of achieving this. A public petition would be beneficial.
Comment from audience: A&B senior staff are acting as elected members. This is wrong.
Chair: On the issue of State Aid – SCCDC confirmed that only Directors would have been liable for any fallout.
Comment from audience: It appears that Directors were not offered support or guidance by A&B.
A: Meetings have been cancelled at short-notice. An appeal is a normal part of business negotiations. A&B seemed not to want to talk to us at all. It would also have cost us approx. £15K just for the first appeal.
Q: Was there any minute from these meetings regarding the appeal?
A: An email was sent by SCCDC to A&BC day after appeal was dropped with summary of minute. This content has never been refuted.
Comment (Bill Ferguson): There have been several complaints about elected officials. If anybody wishes to have guidance on how to make a complaint, please come and see me.
Comment: CT Supporters group can also help with guidance on complaints.
Treasurer: SCCDC must avoid being used as a vehicle to criticise the council. We must remain politically neutral.
Comment: What is the committee referred to that is discussing CT timeline?
A: It is called the Performance Review and Scrutiny committee and is chaired by Ian Ross as independent chair and is made up of elected councillors.
Election of New Directors
All Directors have stepped down in accordance with of Constitution. Alain and Paul will not be restanding.
Chair: We need to accept that CT project is over. Can we have ideas of other things that we could do as a development company:
Suggestions from Community:
Help support Toward Memorial Hall.
Mountain Bike Trail
Open up walking trail to connect Golf Club to Innellan.
Community tea room.
Work to reduce the impact of upcoming budget cuts.
Robert Trybis: Explained project around access route: there is currently a footpath through a large part of CT estate. We could propose that there is a “public right of way” to A&B and apply for “core path” status. This will require a lot of support from the community. There is criteria that has to be met in order for application to be accepted (how long path has been used for, etc).
Robert will talk to the South Cowal Community Council about the idea.
Comment: Could we get all sports groups and other comm groups together to form a united group?
Comment: Toward Memorial Hall may be closing down. A second meeting will be held soon to determine fate of hall. Huge renovations are needed and this will be expensive. There is potential for SCCDC to help in some way. We must be aware though that we don’t want to get in the way of other groups efforts (e.g Sailing Club).
Q: Is it still worth writing to Audit Scotland?
A: Yes. Keep up the pressure.
Comment: The CT supporters group has kicked off a huge community desire to get involved in changing policy from bottom-up. The CT project will certainly have a lasting legacy in South Cowal. Well done to everyone who has been involved.
The SCCDC will hold thier first meeting the new directors in place in the coming weeks.