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08 January 2010

Grit and determination
AS FREEZING weather continues to hold Cowal in an icy grip, the lack of gritting on many of the district’s roads and pavements is causing widespread anger among motorists and pedestrians – and fears have emerged this week that, when the thaw eventually comes, road surfaces will be badly damaged.
As temperatures rise during daylight hours, water is getting into small cracks in the road surface and, as night brings a new freeze, the water expands into ice and causes the cracks to get bigger. The daytime thaw lets water into these bigger cracks – and the cycle continues.
The ‘freeze-thaw’ problem is likely to cause a major headache for cash-strapped Argyll and Bute Council.
Automobile Association president Edmund King said: “Early indications are that winter road damage could result in at least one third more potholes than normal.
“This will lead to one third more expenditure on reactive road maintenance and put many local authorities under more pressure. In normal years we tend to see more potholes around March, but due to the cold spell hitting Scotland earlier and more severely, the potholes are appearing sooner than normal.”
A council spokeswoman said: “We will certainly face increased problems with potholes as a result of the weather over the last couple of weeks.
“This will obviously have significant cost implications. We will have to reallocate our existing budget in order to deal with the roads priorities once the weather conditions improve.”
People returning to work after the festive break this week showed determination in navigating treacherous roads and pavements.
The council’s Winter Maintenance Policy, agreed by councillors last month, prioritises roads throughout the region.
Priority 1 routes are: A83 Kennecraig – Campbeltown, A814 Dumbarton – Garelochhead, A815 Cairndow – Dunoon Ferry, A816 Oban – Lochgilphead, A818 Arden (A82) – Helensburgh and A819 Dalmally – Inveraray.
Priority 2 routes in Cowal are: A815 Dunoon – Toward, A880 to Ardentinny, A885 Sandbank, A886 Strachur – Colintraive and A8003 Tighnabruaich.
Priority 3 routes are any section of public road including school bus routes and Priority 4 routes are all other roads.
Pavements are also prioritised for treatment. Priority 1 is given to ‘urban shopping areas and precincts,’ Priority 2 involves ‘other areas of high pedestrian concentration, eg in the vicinity of hospitals and schools’ and Priority 3 is for ‘steep hills in housing developments and in the vicinity of residential homes for the elderly.’
The document goes on to say that: “footways and footpaths will only be treated when the Duty Manager, in consultation with area staff, considers that their physical condition makes it necessary.”
The Duty Manager had obviously not been to Forest View, in Strachur. This residential street had not been treated, either on the road or pavement, since the cold snap began.
One resident said on Tuesday: “It’s really dangerous. We would like to treat it ourselves but the grit bin was taken away two years ago and was never replaced.”
We raised this point with the council on Tuesday, and received the following statement from a council spokeswoman on Wednesday:
“Normally the gritter doing the A815 would pass through Forest View. However, due to the heavy commitment on the priority routes there was little opportunity to do this. In addition, parked cars frequently obstruct the vehicles’ passage, particularly when the snow plough is attached.
“A gritter was at the Strachur area yesterday (Tuesday) dealing with an ice problem at the school, caused by a leaking water supply pipe, filling grit bins and treating some of the other minor roads.
“The gritter has passed through Forest View this morning and treated road and footways; this gritter continued onto Carrick Castle and Lochgoilhead where problems have been reported.
“We intend to deliver a replacement grit bin to Forest View this afternoon.
“It should be appreciated that resources are stretched whilst these weather conditions continue.”
Many other streets and roads in Cowal have not been treated since before Christmas. Mr McLachlan of West Glendaruel called the Standard to say that he was delighted by the efforts of the gritters, postmen and refuse collectors to reach his home. None have been successful, though, and Mr McLachlan has been unable to leave his house for some time. He was in good spirits when he called, saying: “I have heating and enough food in the freezer to last for three months, so I’m fine.”
One Dunoon man was not as impressed by the gritters’ labours. He said: “Last year we would see the flashing yellow lights go by at night and sleep in comfort. This year there has been no sign of the gritters in Alexander Street.”
The council spokeswoman continued: “Regarding winter maintenance in general across Argyll and Bute, we continue to treat our road network in accordance with our Winter Maintenance Policy, with the main routes being treated first before dealing with the less strategic routes.
“The very cold weather of last week meant that the effectiveness of salt was greatly reduced. This week the weather is better, but road surface temperatures continue to be very low so it is important that drivers take care when travelling.
“All the main routes are passable but a number of the minor roads are still difficult. It is essential that drivers take care.
“Due to the weather conditions and the low traffic volumes on our roads, it is not realistic to expect all our roads to be free from snow and ice. We continue to work as hard as we can to keep our roads clear.”
While supplies of grit and salt have been reported to be in short supply in other council areas, Argyll and Bute Council seem to be holding on to its. A spokeswoman said: “We currently have some 1,500 tonnes of salt in stock at 16 separate locations, with more due to arrive on Friday (today).
“In addition, we have ordered a further 5,000 tonnes from our supplier, which we hope will have arrived by the end of next week.
“In the meantime, we continue to be prudent in the way in which our salt stock is used.”
One can’t help but wonder if the council’s salt might be more effective on the county’s roads, pavements and grit bins than sitting, however prudently, in council yards.
• The gritting of trunk roads is carried out by Scotland Transerv. There have been few complaints about its work. A spokesman said of the A83 Rest and be Thankful: “The road is black, and we’re keeping it clear.”
This good work cannot have been helped by one of Transerv Scotland’s gritter drivers who was arrested for drink driving in Lochgilphead on January 1. The spokesman continued: “He has been suspended and this is now a matter for the courts to deal with.”

TIME FOR A NEW TRADITION?
FOR many years, it was traditional for townsfolk to take in the New Year bells at Dunoon’s Jubilee Lamp, at the foot of Ferry Brae. However, after a somewhat disappointing turnout this year – is it time for a new tradition?
In years past, the town provost would meet with local residents – of all ages – who gathered beneath the lantern, regardless of the cold, to greet the New Year not just with friends and family but with the whole community.
The provost would distribute a dram to all those old enough to partake and, so that the year started in fine Scottish style, there was always a piper.
With changes in local government, the responsibility for making sure Dunoon started off each New Year in style became that of the community council.
For many years, the Standard’s first edition of the year has featured a picture of the revellers gathered at the lamp – and a look at the archive shows how things have changed.
Fifty years ago, young and old gathered together to celebrate. The last few years show only younger faces, those who leave the warmth of the nearby pubs and clubs only briefly to gather at the lamp for the few minutes of the bells.
This year, a few factors were missing. There was no photographer, no piper, no street dram and only a few revellers joined community councillors.
So, what happened? Is this simply indicative of changing Hogmanay habits? Did the cold weather keep everyone away? Or is the lack of a dedicated community New Year event, such as that enjoyed in Oban and other towns around Scotland, maintaining apathy?
Members of Dunoon Community Council said that they had tried to secure the services of a piper, as in previous years, but to no avail.
“Pipers were booked heavily in advance, and one that was free requested a fee of £100,” said one community councillor. “To spend that kind of money, we would have had to discuss the situation at a council meeting – but due to the restructuring of community councils and the timing of the first meeting of the new council, it was not possible to do so.
“We did try to find a piper at a more modest rate but this proved impossible.”
Chair Anne Gabriel added: “I’m personally very disappointed that we were unable to acquire a piper without paying so much money for a relatively short playing period.
“The poor weather didn’t help either. At the next meeting of the council, we will be discussing how we might be able to do things differently for next year.”
The community council was also disappointed at the fact that members were unable to offer the traditional dram to those gathered at the lamp, when police officers said that this was not permitted due to the street drinking bye-laws.
One councillor said: “We had brought paper cups, whisky and soft drinks as usual but we were told by police officers on patrol that we couldn’t hand it out.
“It was our understanding that this was permitted on New Year’s Eve, as in the past.”
A police spokesman told the Standard: “Officers applied the no public drinking bye-law at the junction of Ferry Brae and Argyll Street at the turn of the year as they were unaware of the special dispensation.
“The bye-law has been successfully policed all year and has resulted in a reduction in violence in the Dunoon area and in particular at this location.
“The officers acted in good faith and in no way did they set out to spoil the fun. Public safety is always our priority on every day of the year.”
The spokesman offered apologies if anyone’s enjoyment of the celebrations had been spoiled as a result, but added: “Officers did check up on the bye-law dispensation and once they realised that this was the case, they returned to advise community councillors.”
So, this year’s ‘Hogmanay at the Lamp’ was not the best there’s been – not least for those homesick ex-pats who watch proceedings on the popular webcam provided by local store Gibson’s. Have we forgotten how to celebrate in Cowal? Or is there a way we could do things differently – and give Dunoon a New Year to remember next time around?
Town centre regeneration funding proposals include the upgrade of the bandstand in Argyll Gardens and creation of a town square near the Burgh Hall. Having attractive public spaces is one thing – using them effectively in ways that the whole community can enjoy is another. If these spaces are to be truly transformed, then they also need events, activities and happenings – and the support of the community. And a Hogmanay event might be the ideal place to start.
Let’s open up the debate and find out what the public really wants – because it’s hard to believe that no one in Dunoon and Cowal wants to celebrate New Year in style.
What do you like to do at New Year? What would make you come out to a community celebration, whether at the Jubilee Lamp or at another central location? What would you like to see and do there? And, most importantly, how can we, as a community, make this happen?
Contact editorial on 01369 706854 or by e-mail on editorial@dunoon-observer.co.uk with your views – and let’s kick apathy to the kerb and start 2010 with some real hope for the future.

FERRY BIDS INVITED
THE Scottish government has published a notice inviting ferry operators to tender for the Gourock-Dunoon service, with a subsidy available only for carrying passengers.
The tender process follows an investigation by the European Commission into the state subsidy of ferry services in Scotland.
Transparent
When the commission announced its decision on October 28 last year, a strict condition was imposed on the Scottish government that the Gourock-Dunoon service would be subject to a “transparent and non-discriminatory” public tender process, to be launched by the end of 2009. The invitation to potential bidders was published on December 31 – the latest possible date on which this could have been done, according to conditions laid down by the commission.
The contract itself will offer government funding in the region of £9 million to £12 million over six years, and will be awarded on the basis of ‘the most economically advantageous tender in terms of criteria as stated in contract documents’.
Intimations from interested parties are requested by February 15, with the contract due to start by June next year.
Vehicles
Within the contract, the Scottish government will allow for a subsidy for passenger traffic, though bidders will be ‘allowed’ to provide an unrestricted commercial vehicle carrying service. Crucially, this is not a requirement.
One of the likely bidders is Cowal-based Western Ferries. Gordon Ross, company managing director, has confirmed that Western Ferries is likely to submit a bid for a passenger-only service.
“Obviously, the form of any tender submission will depend on the minimum specificatiosn, which have not yet been published.” Mr Ross told the Standard.
Frequency
Ferry campaigner Ronnie Smith was unimpressed by the tender invitation, commenting: “As no vessels are to be provided, the chances of a vehicle and passenger service must be remote. The one last chance, the creation of a two year tender with ships being built in the interval, as proposed by Professor Kay, has been ignored.”
Monopoly
The views of Professor Neil Kay can be read in a letter in this week’s Safety Valve (see page 9). His opening paragraph sets the tone, however: “The government’s tender outline for the Gourock-Dunoon ferries would be a sick joke were it not so serious.”
Jim Mather, MSP for Argyll and Bute, when asked about the prospect of a passenger-only service between Gourock and Dunoon, said: “I believe that it would be really useful to hear more and more voices making it clear to all bidders that the objective here is to attract the sort of service that will meet local needs, and that means a robust vehicle service.”
“There is a shameful lack of detail in the specification,” Argyll and Bute MP, Alan Reid commented. “Without even a minimum timetable laid down for the passenger-only service, we look like ending up with a poor passenger-only service with even less journeys than the present CalMac one.”
The Scottish government has re-stated the view expressed by Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson in a recent visit to Dunoon that EU law will only allow a subsidy in respect of the carriage of passengers on the Gourock-Dunoon route.
Tender
When asked about the technical details seemingly lacking in the tender notice, a Scottish government spokesperson replied: “The service specification will be included in the Invitation to Tender (ITT) package, which will be issued to all shortlisted bidders.
“We expect to issue ITT packages in the spring, with a deadline for their return in early summer.
“We therefore expect to be able to award a contract sometime in late summer 2010. However, this initial timetable may be subject to amendments as the process progresses.”

KJELD EXCELS!
FORMER DYFL player Kjeld McIntyre has now become one of Glasgow Rangers Youth Academy’s hot prospects since signing for the club in March last year.
Mum Belinda said: “Stepping up to pro youth level was always going to be difficult, not to mention hard work, but Kjeld has excelled at everything that has come his way.
“He ended the season in June with pleasing performances, scoring ten goals in 11 games. Because of these above-average stats, he was invited to Italy with the under-14 squad - a great accolade.”
This season has seen Kjeld switch from striker to right midfielder after some stunning displays when he was moved due to injuries within the squad.
He didn’t let this affect his scoring statistics though - once again impressing coaches with 26 goals in 18 games, including five hat-tricks, one of which was in his under-15 debut match.
Kjeld was also recently selected to play for the Rangers under-16 squad who faced the Australian National Elite Select - and played a significant part in Rangers’ ultimate 3-0 victory.
Talks with Murray Park chiefs lately have been encouraging, said Belinda: “They have expressed their desire to re-sign Kjeld for next season and fend off anyone who tries to pinch him!”
She added: “As long as he keeps his feet on the ground and continues the hard work, he will keep taking steps towards every academy player’s dream of making the first team.”
Kjeld has had considerable local support in helping him to achieve his dream to date, and would like to thank Stokes Memorials, Headcases, Ingram’s Bar and S Moore - not forgetting his own private chauffeur, Grandpa Iain McIntyre.
The spiralling costs of travelling to the academy and other associated expenses could not have been met without the assistance of Kjeld’s main sponsor, the Three Dolphins Trust.
Kjeld is now looking forward to a 2010 season that will build on the success of last year, and is training hard to ensure good performances in his upcoming fixtures against Celtic and Scotland under-15s. Pro youth games are open to the public, and good crowds are expected at both.