Strange – and incorrect – communication from Council senior executive to councillors makes mischief for Castle Toward buyers

Douglas Hendry, Executive Director for Customer Services at Argyll and Bute Council, one step below the CEO, is the council’s former long time in-house legal authority; the officer who polices the procedural correctness of councillors’ motions to council with an almost sadistic keenness; and the officer who routinely refuses information to councillors on often arguable ground of commercial confidentiality.

Is it remotely credible that this particular officer would accidentally send out to all councillors a briefing note on a matter of genuine commercial confidentiality – and fail to mark it protectively as confidential?

No. Of course it isn’t.

Not would the office team of such an executive let such a communication go out in their principal’s name without protective marking.

Yet on 4th May, the day before the 2016 Scottish Election, Mr Hendry circulated all councillors – many of whom and rightly or wrongly, he frequently castigates for leaking confidential information for political advantage – with an unprotected briefing note on the current state of affairs in the purchase of the Castle Toward estate.

Worse – and odder.

By some inexplicable process, Mr Hendry was damagingly misinformed on the information he was so freely promulgating and provided bizarrely false details of the buyers’ intentions for the property, for which there was no documented basis upon which he could have drawn.

Inevitably – and almost unarguably intentionally – this communication was freely passed on to all and sundry, feeding the advanced paranoia of the South Cowal Community Development Company whose Chair, Alan Stewart, re-transmitted the communication with the hysterical prefatory note that:

‘You will see that the worst fears of the community are to come to pass, instead of the spa hotel and associated 150 jobs the historic mansion is to be turned into a block of unaffordable flats. As this is so at odds with what the purchasers have been telling us, it is fair to assume that their other promises can be taken with a large pinch of salt.’

Facts are rather surplus to requirements in such pieces of cookery and they do tend to deflate the drama – but the fact is that Mr Hendry’s unequivocal assertion to councillors that the buyers propose: ‘converting part of the main house to residential accommodation for themselves and to convert the remainder into flatted dwellinghouses’ is completely without foundation or supporting evidence.

The buyers have confirmed that they have had no such intention, have made no application for any such thing and have not submitted any documents giving rise to such an interpretation.

We understand that the Council’s own planning officers are as upset as the buyers of Castle Toward as this extraordinary invention that has been disseminated without protection of confidentiality. The planners are said to be demanding a retraction and the buyers will certainly demand the same, at least.

Whether this has been an act of monumental incompetence and dereliction of duty or a piece of casual and hugely irresponsible mischief, this looks like a sacking matter beyond defence.

It has brought serious reputational damage to Argyll and Bute Council – hardly in a position to sustain more such damage.

It will make any of potential investors – which Argyll so badly needs – pretty wary of engagement with a local authority so lax in its care for  commercial confidentiality – and so lax in its care to transmit only accurate information.

It has already brought more stress upon the buyers of the Castle Toward property with more confections of abuse from the local community hurled in their undeserving direction.

These have been the consequences of an inexplicably naked wrong perpetrated by a senior executive known for his macchiavellian practices.

In this current episode, in our view an important line has been crossed; and sacking ought, in all honour, to follow.

Community response to Hendry communication to councillors

This morning, 9th May 2016, the following communication was widely disseminated, including to media contacts like ourselves:

‘Dear friend of Castle Toward

‘You are probably aware that Argyll and Bute Council are in the process of selling the Estate to a businessman who has said that he will turn the mansion into a spa hotel with facilities that all the community can use. The jount press release is here: https://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/news/2015/oct/castle-toward-sale-progresses

‘Unfortunately we have just found out that we have been misled by the council and the buyers. A planning application has been lodged to change the use of the mansion to a house, part of the application is to convert the remainder to luxury flats that will be unaffordable to the majority.

‘We assume that as we were duped by the council as to the final use of the building, that all the other promises of jobs and access will also be false. The estate will be lost to the community for ever.

‘There is a petition calling for government intervention into the running of Argyll and Bute Council. It may be too late to save the castle for the community, however we need a council that acts for its residents, not one that fights them at every turn.

‘Please sign the petition and spread the word. Scotland currently does not have powers of intervention in a council, unlike England. Its time we did have the power.

‘The petition is here:https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/call-for-government-intervention-in-the-running-of-argyll-and-bute-council.

‘Thank you in advance.

‘Katey’

It should be noted that both Mr Stewart and Katey are guilty of themselves perpetrating damage upon the buyers of Castle Toward by distributing more widely on their own independent responsibility communications which are demonstrably and damagingly astray of the facts.

Text of the communication

The communication in question – with no protective marking’ – from Mr Hendry to all councillors was as follows:

‘Sale of Castle Toward Estate: Briefing Note
4th May 2016

Conveyancing:
Legal Services have been in correspondence with the purchasers’ solicitors in relation to various aspects of this transaction and eventually on 5 April 2016 the draft Disposition in favour of the purchasers was received from their solicitors. There were issues with regard to the plan referred to in the draft Disposition which were addressed as quickly as possible and up to date Plans reports were sought and these were obtained on 25 April 2016 and sent to the purchasers’ solicitors that day, seeking confirmation that purchasers were happy to proceed on the basis of these plans and reports. No substantive response has thus far been received. In the view of Legal Services with the plan issue having been resolved there is no real obstacle to settling the sale in the very near future. Officers will continue to push for settlement.

Planning:
The purchasers have submitted a planning application for part of their development proposals which now include converting part of the main house to residential accommodation for themselves and to convert the remainder into flatted dwellinghouses. The application description reads “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”. The purchasers have issued a press release explaining their position in relation to the development of the Estate as follows:

‘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, i.e 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.’

‘Planning will be contacting the purchasers planning agents by the end of this week to request the submission of a masterplan in respect of their clients proposals, to be considered with the current valid planning application.’

A spokesperson for the buyers of the property says: ‘This [the flats] is not part of the master plan and we have no idea where this has come from.’

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Related Articles & Comments

  • I fail to see how can both Mr. Stewart and Katey can be guilty of passing on information reportedly received in good faith, issued by an Executive Director of A&BC to all Councillors. It’s possible that the Director in question (no names, no pack-drill, to avoid being guilty of anything) is trying to ‘work his ticket’ with the intention of being removed from his post for incompetence, promoted and slipped in to another senior position here in Argyll or elsewhere. Time will tell if this bully receives a slapped wrist from his pal, the new Chief Executive of A&BC.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 8

    Alistair May 10, 2016 5:35 am Reply
    • It is indeed fair that both Mr Stewart and Katey were in receipt of publicly available formal information transmitted by a very senior authority at the council.
      However, this is very same officer who gulled the trusting Mr Stewart and his SCCDC colleagues into ceasing a formal action they had in process and which would have been very uncomfortable for the council side.
      At a face to face meeting, in exchange for this requested action they were given verbal assurances of specific action on the council side by Mr Hendry. which they noted for their own colleagues [and which we later published] but which was not formally minuted
      Having got the result he wanted, the executive simply later denied that such assurances had been given.
      This was first hand experience for Mr Stewart of this senior executive’s often alleged practice of deceit.
      ‘Once bitten’ should have ensured enough suspicion to lift the phone and simply ask the new buyers if they were indeed intending to put a series of flats into Castle Toward – before re-transmitting to their own wide circle the information which inflamed them once again and which is utterly incorrect.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 12

      newsroom May 10, 2016 8:51 am Reply
      • Alistair defames Newsroom alleges– she’s learning.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

        No Cheese Here May 10, 2016 4:54 pm Reply
  • Absolutely correct Alistair, this is the ABC way, they are nothing of not consistent. Sadly no surprises here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 5

    Citizen M May 10, 2016 7:57 am Reply
  • I thought Alan Stewart had resigned from the community trust, has he taken up post again?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    dunoonjim May 10, 2016 10:35 am Reply
  • It may just be a question of unrecognised personality traits.
    Hypothetically, isn’t it possible for someone who was considered ‘as thick as a plank’ in their school days to gradually evolve into an adult who is really not that much more intelligent but who has acquired a high degree of what’s commonly referred to as ‘animal cunning’ – and who, in fertile ground, and support from family and cronies, can thrive until they reach a point where some of the other fish that they swim amongst, and terrorise, eventually get sick of the bullying and manage to cooperate sufficiently to face down the bully – but not cooperate sufficiently to force it out.
    The bully becomes resentful and vindictive, but low cunning and unreliable & unprincipled cronies might no longer be enough to prevent it from suddenly going belly-up (speaking hypothetically, of course).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 8

    Robert Wakeham May 10, 2016 11:20 am Reply
  • I cannot believe that a senior officer from Argyll & Bute Council would ever do anything duplicitous.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

    Steve May 10, 2016 11:41 am Reply
    • Of course! They’re all as honest as the day is long and have never had a lie pass their lips. 😉

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 5

      db May 10, 2016 7:06 pm Reply
  • May I draw attention to some facts?

    The first thing to happen was the submission of a planning application by the prospective purchasers. It is an application for change of use to a dwelling house, as can be seen on the Council’s on-line planning register. This is different from the use proposed in the purchasers´ bid for the property. The application can be examined at Innellan PO.

    The prospective purchasers then published a press release. It was not entirely frank about the nature of the planning application. It is difficult to understand the claim that the application has been lodged to allow the developers to accept wedding bookings. It is more likely that the purchasers do not intend to complete the purchase until they get the planning consents that they want.

    Council officers then sent elected members a brief on the progress of the sale. The most obvious reason why it is not marked Confidential is that it does not contain any confidential information: planning applications are public documents. (I know that that is unusual for Mr. Hendry but it is interesting rather than odd or sinister.) The brief appears to be have been drafted in the planning department by someone who had the planning application in front of him or her. So the fact is that “Mr. Hendry’s unequivocal assertion” to councillors that the buyers propose ‘converting part of the main house to residential accommodation for themselves and to convert the remainder into flatted dwelling houses’ is firmly founded on the application submitted by the prospective purchasers.

    It is worth noting that the Council planners have asked for the submission of a masterplan and have dropped a heavy hint that the current application will not be considered until they have received one.

    Alan Stewart’s response seems to me to be entirely reasonable and not in the least paranoid or hysterical. The prospective purchasers´ actions suggest to me that once again Mr. Hendry and his colleagues have put the Council into a clinch with developers who will not proceed to complete the purchase unless they are allowed to do as they please. When I think of the wonderful education work that used to be done at Castle Toward and of the community asset it could have become, I see much merit in the demand that the Scottish Government should have a close look at the workings of Argyll and Bute Council.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4

    Dr. Christiopher Mason May 11, 2016 11:53 pm Reply
    • I feel compelled to respond to a comment that starts “May I draw attention to some facts” and then proceeds to immediately get them wrong!

      We have applied for a planning change of use that will permit the premises to be operated as an events venue. Dr Mason, chairman of Actual Reality, former operator of the building, makes no reference whatsoever to this. We are seeking a change of use from class 8 (Residential Institution) to class 9 (residential) with Sui Generis. This is because a mix of uses is proposed, that does not fall into one particular category. This is a similar planning approach to that adopted elsewhere in Scotland with comparable estates.

      There is no foundation whatsoever to refer to converting the premises into flatted dwelling houses, as repeated here by Dr Mason, and Dr Mason will now know that Argyll and Bute Council have issued an unreserved apology for wrongly stating this in an internal memo. The comments did not originate from the planning department at all, who were taken aback by this misinformed interpretation of planning class uses. Dr Mason suggests those interested should study the application at Innellan PO but this can also be done on line. Enquirers should then seek to ensure that they have the definition of a Sui Generis application as referred to in our submission

      It would be helpful if in future when Dr Mason, purports to convey “the facts”, that he firstly carries out sufficient diligence to allow him to convey his thoughts with any degree of authority. Perhaps he, like Argyll and Bute Council, will now too issue an apology for getting it wrong caused by a failure to understand the subject matter before issuing comment.

      We expect this application to be considered by the relevant personnel on the due planning merits of the application, and not on the basis of mistaken commentary

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4

      DENICE PURDIE May 14, 2016 7:17 pm Reply
  • Just for the record. Are the council taxpayers of ABC payiying still for ongoing costs such as security etc? If so when will this stop.
    As for the fancy terminology of “Sui Generis” just tell us what us planned!

    How many houses/ flats size etc
    Use of the other buildings and land
    Anything else of note!
    Facts are welcomed from all sides.

    Cheers

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

    No Cheese Here May 14, 2016 9:23 pm Reply
    • From 26th September 2014 (initial refusal to sell to SCCDC) to 18th May 2016 = 600 days @ £880 PER DAY = £528,000 spent on security, insurance, maintenance of property and grounds plus any other bits and pieces.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

      Alistair May 15, 2016 11:02 am Reply
      • Alistair you identify how much of a costing to the taxpayer is from the date of refusal to the community but if this cost is to be accurate it really needs to be from when Actual reality vacated and the Council entered into negotiations with the community group to try and purchase it, this takes it far beyond your suggested date and price. we only came into the picture July 2015 and legal agreements some time after so in all essence it demonstrates the need for the Council to dispose of this asset yet at every turn certain people are trying to stall the sale, in fact there is a call from some people to stop this sale completely, which i can not see any logic in.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

        DENICE PURDIE May 18, 2016 9:12 am Reply
  • the farce that is Castle Toward continues and at a high cost to the rate payer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

    mike May 15, 2016 1:17 pm Reply
  • I still cannot understand how you can apply for planning permission for a building that you do not yet own ??

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    george May 18, 2016 9:33 am Reply
    • Anyone can – otherwise a prospective developer would be unable to establish whether their idea was viable.
      In the case of Castle Toward, and the prospective purchaser’s comment that ‘certain people are trying to stall the sale’, let’s hope that this isn’t a reference to any council employees – or councillors.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

      Robert Wakeham May 18, 2016 12:00 pm Reply
    • George anyone can apply for planning permission even if they do not own it. This is very common practise when wanting to push things on faster, if we pay the significant amount agreed we will need to be in a position to start work very quickly also it allows us to accept bookings for weddings which we have been asked to do.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

      DENICE PURDIE May 18, 2016 4:08 pm Reply
  • Not sure about Scotland but as far as I am aware in England you can apply for planning permission on someone’s back garden or indeed their house if you want. It is unlikely to be actioned positively but once the planning department are aware then nothing else can be done to that plot until the planning application is rejected, it could of course not be rejected and deferred – I believe this has been used in the past to lengthen the process of a potential planning application on the property concerned. Not relevant at CH but interesting none the less

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

    mike May 18, 2016 12:24 pm Reply
  • Sorry for dragging this on but….
    Does this mean that if any planning permission should be refused then any prospective purchaser can withdraw their offer to buy ?
    Surely this gives the prospective owner the upper hand over the Council ?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

    george May 21, 2016 9:00 am Reply
    • I think the short answer is “Yes”. Think of it this way: Your house is for sale and I’m interested in buying it, but only if I could get planning permission to build an extension to the house, with garage and granny flat. If my planning application was rejected then I would no longer be interested and would withdraw my offer.
      However … being a sensible person, before putting in my application and paying the considerable fee, I would talk to the planners about any particular requirements/constraints (Conservation Area, say) and make sure my application had the strongest chance of being approved.
      Doubtless the prospective CT purchasers will have done just that.
      BTW, does anyone know the application number so that we can look it up ourselves and discuss from an informed point of view?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

      ClootieDumpling May 21, 2016 12:16 pm Reply
  • So it will be all cut and dried then ?
    You wouldn’t apply for planning permission unless you were almost certain that it would be approved ?
    The Council will not wish to look stupid over the whole Castle Toward fiasco by refusing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    george May 26, 2016 8:16 am Reply
    • Never underestimate the council’s appetite for making itself look stupid while costing us money.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

      db May 26, 2016 8:54 am Reply
  • Clootiedumpling
    16/00996/pp

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    george May 27, 2016 9:05 am Reply

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