The Castle v the ‘Cooncil’ – the Sad Tale of Castle Toward.
A short ferry trip from Gourock to the west of Glasgow takes you to the town of Dunoon. This seaside town was once a favoured destination as families from the polluted tenements of Glasgow would seek a respite from the foul air. The Cowal peninsula is a gateway to the highlands and one of the prettiest spots to ever be within easy reach of a major city. But the area has seen much decline over the years. The town of Dunoon has a patina of decay which even large scale events such as the Cowal Highland Games struggles to clean off. The industries have all gone and as Billy Connoly famously sang “A nightlife that ends in the afternoon”, “Why wont they come back to Dunoon?”
If ever there was an area of Scotland, blessed with natural beauty that needed a shot in the arm to bring much needed tourists back it was Cowal. You would think that the local council would be exploring every possible avenue in order to bring forth some shoots of regeneration?
If you think that then you don’t know much about Argyll and Bute Council.
Argyll and Bute council; famous in recent years for being the council that tried to bully a nine year old schoolgirl who challenged their paltry school meals by photographing them for her blog. Schoolgirl Martha Payne’s ‘Never Seconds’ blog raised awareness of the School nutrition on offer and into the bargain raised around £20,000 for African charities and had the backing of celebrity chefs but the council tried to shut her down – the plan backfired spectacularly then the story went viral and the bean counters at the council had a fair helping of egg on their faces and reluctantly backed down.
Clearly this episode has caused some sort of goodwill meltdown at the council chambers because once again they are on the counterbalance to public opinion, once again the media, and this time the government too are calling them out and once again they have reverted back to siege mentality
A short drive south from Dunoon takes you to Toward point and a little further on to Castle Toward. Its a stunning spot; the mountain range of Arran rises from the sea to the south and the ruin of old castle Toward a stronghold of the Lamont Clan with a terrible tragic past keeps a lonely vigil partially hidden by centuries of undergrowth. Nearby lies the large victorian mansion house known as the more modern Castle Toward.
The castle was once a home to Lord Provost of Glasgow; Kirkman Findlay (one can only imagine the wages were better in those days) Later the castle was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and played a vital part in the liberation of Europe as the base from where landing craft crews were trained for the amphibious assault on D-Day. In later years it became an outdoor education centre and residential school.
In 2009 on the recommendation of fire officers the building was forced to close and has remained that way ever since. A year later the idea of a community buy out was explored and a full scale campaign to raise money began. Over the years the South Cowal Community Development Company (SCCDC) has managed to raise £750,000 to purchase the estate and has produced a solid business plan to back it up.
Voices in Cowal were crying out to save the building and bring much needed employment and tourism into the area – but Argyll and Bute Council turned their deaf ear towards them.
The council (who incidentally paid £1 for the estate after a boundary change and also have to find nearly £350,000 a year in security and maintenance costs on the building settled on an asking price of £1.75m for the property. One of the most experience estate agents in Scotland, Savills (they actually sell estates!) valued the property at £850,000 but the council refused to budge on the ridiculous asking price.
Council leader Dick Walsh then suggested that the council loan the SCCDC £1m to make up the difference. Naturally the SCCDC refused stating that such a loan would bankrupt the venture. Undeterred the council then suggested that it would be OK if they defaulted on the loan since the council would just take back the assets.
So lets get this right – the council lends the money to the community scheme, who then put in the considerable time, money and effort to renovate the building and make it fit for purpose and produce an excellent facility for the area, then when they cant find the cash to pay back the council they come in and take the whole lot back.
There is one other operation that works this way, you may be familiar with them if you are a fan of Mario Puzo novels. There are the Mafia. In all honesty I cannot think of a more despicable and underhand bit of business perpetrated by a local authority. Its underhand and downright nasty
Naturally the local community are up in arms about the council’s intransigence. It would be safe to say that many of them will find their tenure at the council will not be renewed come local election time but that day of reckoning will come far too late for this worthwhile project. Land reform legislation on the book of the Scottish Government will prevent this sort of debacle from recurring but that legislation will come too late for Toward.
But there is chink of light still glimmering in the window of this faded mansion. thrown open to the wider global community many have thrown their weight behind a campaign to force the council to see sense. signing the online petition for example will take a few seconds out of your day and might, just might tip the balance that ensures this forgotten jewel does not go the way of its predecessor and sadly many of its contemporaries around Scotland.
There may only be days left….
For more information see the save Castle Toward site at: www.savecastletoward.comTagged