ON what is something of a D-Day for democracy in Argyll and Bute, The National can reveal that the controversial sale of Castle Toward residential centre to a private developer by Argyll and Bute Council may have lost the council £250,000 to date.

Freedom of Information details obtained by Alan Stewart of South Cowal Community Development Company (SCCDC) – which tried to buy Castle Toward for community use – show that since September 1, 2014 the council has spent more than £529,000 maintaining and marketing the school.

So far the council has received just £1.125m from the private developers who bought Castle Toward, meaning a net income to the council of just £599,000. This figure compares to a £850,000 offer from SCCDC in 2014 which would have seen the community buyers take over responsibility for the school without any need for council expenditure.

The council will earn a further £310,000, but only if it approves the buyers’ masterplan which has been significantly altered – Castle Toward will not be a hotel and spa as originally indicated but will be a private dwelling house with commercial and leisure uses.

The revelation comes on the day the council will discuss the case of the independent member for Dunoon, Councillor Mike Breslin who had 15 complaints made against him by four senior officials in what he alleges was an attempt to stop him asking awkward questions about Castle Toward and other issues.

Breslin said last night: “These figures show once and for all that the community buyout plan in 2014 would have been better for Argyll and Bute, but that plan was made to fail and I was effectively silenced by the council’s officer. For the sake of democracy in Argyll and Bute we must find out why – and that process must start today.”

Last month, the council confirmed the sale of Castle Toward to local business couple Denice Purdie and her husband Keith Punler.

The FoI information given by the council to Alan Stewart showed that the total spent on security was £422,137.43, while spending on heating oil was £45,347.06, and the total spent on electricity was £2,976.05. Another £35,065.87 went on property and ground maintenance, while marketing fees and outlays paid to DM Hall Baird Lumsden amounted to £20,508.00 with other amounts spent on legal fees.

In an email to councillors, Stewart wrote: “Parts of the masterplan look likely to be blocked by Sepa due to the sites selected for housing being at risk of flooding. It is fair to assume that the £310k will not be forthcoming. If the costs of maintenance are removed from the takings from the sale, then the council coffers will have benefited to the tune of a net £562,805.40.

“You will recall that the community offered £850k for the estate.

“It is reasonable now, though, to combine this sum with that spent in maintaining the castle until now to indicate what the council coffers would actually have benefited by had the community offer been accepted, and that comes to £1,412.914.60.”

Stewart continued: “The main reason for councillors accepting this offer was the recommendations you were given by council officers. They repeatedly told you that our [SCCDC’s] plans were flawed, despite compelling evidence to the contrary.

“However, no councillor was able to properly challenge the officers, given the threats of complaint to the Standards Commission should you step out of line.”

Stewart added: “The date of entry on the [Purdie] offer was September 28, 2015, yet the council allowed the process to drag on for a further 13 months, all the while increasing the security costs to the council, yet officers remained unchallenged as to why they were letting this happen.”

Stewart told The National: “The reputation of Argyll and Bute Council has been severely tarnished over the sale of Castle Toward and the complaints about Councillor Breslin, and we need a fresh independent examination of the way parts of the council have been operating up to now.”

A spokesman for Argyll and Bute Council said: “The council sold Castle Toward for £1.5 million, significantly more than the community buyout bid. The sale will bring a multi-million pound investment in the estate, creating well-paying jobs for local people, and boosting the local and wider economy, benefiting communities across Argyll and Bute.

“A masterplan and associated planning application are recommended to the council’s Planning, Protective Services and Licensing (PPSL) Committee for approval subject to a discretionary local hearing in South Cowal.

“As would be expected, the council took all appropriate steps to secure a sale which would bring a positive future for the site. This included maintaining the property to keep it secure and attractive to potential purchasers.

“This expense continued to be incurred throughout the period of the community buyout process when, because of right to buy legislation, the council was unable to market the property to other potential purchasers.

“In selling Castle Toward, the maintenance responsibility obviously passes to the new owners.”