“The Community Empowerment Bill should be given a chance to work for the people of South Cowal”
Following last Tuesday’s meeting between representatives of the South Cowal Community and the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities, and Pensioner’s Rights, Alex Neil, Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell has taken a new initiative and written to Council Leader Dick Walsh, asking him to suspend the sale of Castle Toward until the new Community Empowerment Bill is fully enacted.
Two weeks ago, the South Cowal Community Development Company submitted an asset transfer request to the Council for Castle Toward, only to be told that the Castle was not surplus to the Council’s requirements, and therefore not deemed suitable for asset transfer.
However the new Community Empowerment Bill would create much clearer definitions of which assets are deemed surplus, and would provide a national template for the process of transfer of such assets. It will also permit an appeal to the Scottish Government when agreement could not be reached on a purchase price, a detail which was included specifically to ensure that there could be no repeat of the Castle Toward stand-off.
Commenting on the initiative, Mr Russell said:
“The meeting with Alex Neil was very positive, and during it he drew attention to the importance of the Community Empowerment Bill, and the way in which it could help the South Cowal community in its continuing desire to buy Castle Toward.
“The Council now have the property on the market at an asking price of over £1.75 million, which is ludicrously high, given that there is an existing commercial valuation of £850,000. The Council could have sold the building to the community by private treaty almost two years ago, but instead insisted on going down the formal Land Reform Bill community purchase route.
“The new Community Empowerment legislation is simpler and gives communities more power. Given that this legislation will be in place by the summer, I think the fairest thing the Council could do now is to withdraw Castle Toward from sale (thus saving money on the expensive private sector selling agents) and wait for the Community Empowerment Bill to come into effect. There can then be a rapid progress towards an appeal to the Scottish Government over the fair price to be paid, which was the ultimate sticking point, although the Council also put lots of other difficulties in the way of the community, none of which were of any long-term relevance.
“I hope Cllr Walsh – who represents the area covering Castle Toward – will take the opportunity to move the issue forward in this way and I look forward to hearing from him.”