CASTLE Toward in Argyll & Bute is set to be turned into flats, a wedding venue and a spa after being sold by the local authority for less than the asking price.

An attempt by the local community to buy the castle, which had been a community centre since the 1940s, was turned down by the local authority in February.

Yesterday afternoon Denice Purdie and Keith Punler of Kapital Assets confirmed to The National that they had bought the castle.

The news was revealed to Councillors late on Thursday night behind closed doors, in a private section of the authority’s full council meeting. It was added to the agenda at the last minute and councillors were warned not to talk about the sale.

The National understands that Purdie and Punler bought the castle for £1.51 million, below the council’s valuation of £1.75m, and will now turn it into 40 houses, luxury flats, a wedding venue, a spa, an artisan village, a training centre and a mail-order business.

The castle, which had served as a command centre during the Second World War, was bought by the Corporation of Glasgow in 1948 and then handed over to Argyll & Bute Council in 1996. It was an “outdoor educational” centre up until 2009 when the local authority decided to sell. A bid from timeshare company Seasons Holiday, initially lodged in 2011, was withdrawn in 2013.

Those behind the failed community buy-out were suspicious at how quickly Argyll & Bute Council had managed to sell Castle Toward.

The previous deal had collapsed after four years in negotiations — the new deal with Kapital Assets was arranged in three months.

There were suggestions the authority may have been talking to developers while they were supposed to be considering the community buyout.

Alan Stewart, chairman of the South Cowal Community Development Company, set up to try to buy the castle for locals, was furious: “They have done the dirty on the community. The council don’t want the community to have their way on this, and they will do their damndest to make sure that this is the case.

Stewart was hopeful that Purdie and Punler would be willing to talk: “I would now like to have talks with the developer to see what they may be able to offer the community.”

Local MSP Michael Russell said that the authority was behaving furtively: “I do not understand why the council is so obsessed with secrecy about this. The obvious reason is that they don’t want the community to know what is going on. It’s pretty disgraceful.

“We need to know more from the developers about what their plans are. Previous bids have collapsed so we need some firm guarantees about jobs and economic benefits.

“There are also questions to be asked about how long the council has been talking to the developers, and how this deal was agreed so quickly.”

Purdie and Punler have a number of ventures to their names, including soap-making business Purdies of Argyll and housing developments all over Scotland.

In a statement to The National, Denice Purdie said “We are thrilled that Castle Toward has been secured by us, as I have always been passionate about it as a venue. I have visited often and am thrilled to be given the opportunity to save this estate from ruin. We shall work to establish local jobs as well as a better recognition for Castle Toward on a more international platform. We feel the old and the new Castles are equally as important but so too is the planned grounds.

Purdie continued: “We are currently embarking on our new project, bringing back a 198T super Yacht for our new venture in the west coast.

“The Royal Shipping Line will be based in Oban as a luxury charter, creating 12 new jobs. We have identified Argyll as an under-utilised asset and want to work on different concepts and ventures throughout the area.”

A spokesperson for Argyll & Bute Council said: “Argyll and Bute Council is progressing an offer to buy Castle Toward that brings the potential to create local jobs, develop the property as a visitor attraction for the area, and provide income from the sale for investment in council services.”