Supporters of South Cowal Community Development Company [SCCDC] have taken to the barricades again in their response to a change of use application by the winning bidders for the council-owned Castle Toward Estate.
There is something of self-mutilation in the continuing efforts of SCCDC and its supporters serially to enrage themselves on this issue and, in our view, in this latest outbreak, they may well again be doing so unnecessarily.
The ahout-to-be-owners of the property have lodged a change of use application – not to move the mansion house to become the luxury hotel they had envisaged but to undergo a:
‘Change of use from Class 8 (residential institution) to Class 9 (dwellinghouse), including ancillary housekeepers accommodation and Sui Generis use as a commercial/leisure events venue ‘. [Ed: Sui generis indicates that the property has a unique identity.]
The kerfuffle now is that the move away from a hotel business will see local jobs lost.
This is not necessarily the case.
The change of use application specifies its future use as ‘a commercial/leisure events venue’ – which will still mean local jobs and local business – arguably in a more sustainable business model. Such events have an advance financial commitment where hotels have to be kept open , fully functioning and ready for business which may or may not materialise.
Had the owners-to-be gone ahead with the hotel proposal, its business as a high end operation would have been uncertain and certainly imperilled by the very poor road access to Castle Toward and Loch Striven. It is not hard to see the commercial sense of the redirection of the proposed business – and it is one that should clearly be of substantial economic benefit to the local community.
Businesswoman Denice Purdie, who, with her husband now owns the property, has this morning issued to media outlets the following statement on the situation with Castle Toward. She says:
‘The first of several forthcoming planning applications have just been lodged for Castle Toward.
‘This application reflects a mixed use to allow us to commence events later this year.
‘More applications will follow relating to the further development of the estate in the coming months and weeks in accordance with our development strategy. These will include the retail, spa and manufacturing together with development of luxury accommodations.
‘The reason for coming forward at this very early stage, ie before purchase has been concluded, is to allow us to confirm booking enquiries for weddings already requested.
‘Public access will be enhanced with the approval of these consents, access will be formalised to major elements of the Estate, allowing an increase in public access from what was previously available under the premises operation as an outdoor centre.’
The content of this statement suggests a scenario that mirrors our own reading of the purpose of the change of use application.
South Cowal Community Development Company[SCCDC] was frustrated in its bid to buy the Castle Toward estate from Argyll and Bute Council and take it into community ownership with support from public money through the Community Land Fund.
There can be no argument that Argyll and Bute Council played ducks and drakes in their insistence upon an inflated valuation delivered by the District Valuer and queried by senior property market authorities.
There can also be no argument that Executive Directo, Douglas Hendry, bamboozled the representatives of SCCDC into dropping a formal move they had initiated which was uncomfortable for the council. Yes, the SCCDC reps ought to have been sharper tools than they were on this but yes, the deceit was perpetrated and was successful.
And there can be no argument that the phenomenal cost of insuring and securing the property over the long period when it was unoccupied makes something of a nonsense of the ‘best value’ precept councils are obliged to pursue in property disposals and contracts.
At every point in its stewardship of Castle Toward Argyll and Bute Council has signally failed in competent and responsible management in presiding over the progressive dereliction of a major asset into a white elephant.
None of that involves the integrity of new owners, who have every right to pitch the business they propose to conduct there in a form that copperfastens its chances of success.
It is very much in the interests of South Cowal that Castle Toward is host to a successful entrepreneurial investment – and the hybrid nature of mixed use is obvioulsy an intelligent hedge to protect that success.
It is also encouraging to see the property pass into the responsibility of the private sector, particularly at this time of severe governmental cuts to local authority budgets.