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1 August 2008

Cowal Sawmill staff laid off Closure by end of this month
THE ageing machinery at Argyll Sawmills in Strachur turned for the final time last Friday as five sawmillers worked their last shift, signalling the end of commercial sawmilling operations in Cowal - for the time being at least.
Although the doors will remain open until the end of this month to sell the last of the stock, no more timber will be sawn at the former Cowal Ari mill as a long chapter in Cowal’s history comes to a close. General Manager Alan Gibb explained that the business has been fragile for a number of years and, despite a relatively successful 2007, the world financial situation has caught up with the company.
He said: “Builders are struggling because of the ‘credit crunch’. Timber prices have fallen over the last year and the big mills are sitting on big stock which they are selling off at crazy prices. We just can’t compete.”
Mr Gibb confirmed that the owner of the business, property developer Peter Blacker, has invested a significant amount of capital into Cowal Sawmills since taking over some six years ago. Mr Blacker has now decided that it is best to ‘mothball’ the sawmill business, taking stock of the timber trade in a couple of years time to re-examine the sawmill’s viability.
Although the retail side of the business, selling garden furniture, firewood and the like, has been growing steadily over the last few years this only accounts for around 30 per cent of the turnover and it is the wholesale side that has caused the problems.
Mr Gibb said: “A lot of folk locally will miss us, from the farmers getting sawdust to householders buying firewood and garden supplies. It’s quite sad, really.”
After a long-fought battle the company had recently been awarded planning permission to extend the retail business to include a garden centre. This is now extremely unlikely to happen.
Once one of many sawmills in Cowal, the Ari mill first opened for business just after the second world war. There were originally two mills on the site, with the upper mill producing pit props and the lower mill manufacturing fence posts and the like. At its height Cowal Ari sawmill employed around 70 people.
SNP Councillor Ron Simon (Cowal Ward) said: “It is extremely disappointing that the Strachur sawmill is to close, particularly for the workforce and their families. At a time when we are all feeling the pinch and finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet I really feel for the workers and hope that they can all find alternative employment as quickly as possible.
“I hope that this is not the end of an era; forestry is such a significant part of Cowal’s economic life and the ability to add value to the product before it leaves the area is one which should be further examined and I hope that this can be achieved sooner rather than later before these skills are lost.”
There was an air of resigned acceptance about the mill as workers cleared up for the last time last Friday, many reflecting on their time at the mill. Standing beside the starkly silent sawing machinery, one worker with nearly 20 years experience said: “Well, that’s that then. We’ve all got to move on.”

Glen controversy as bridge disruption continues
Argyll and Bute Council has stirred up controversy in a normally peaceful glen in Cowal, as it struggles to replace an arch stone bridge with a modern equivalent.
Local residents say, however, that there was little wrong with the existing structure.
The old Achanelid bridge, which had stood over the burn for around 400 years, was, they say, fine.
Another point made in the glen is that there was little or no consultation before the machines rolled in to begin the job earlier this year.
The bridge lies on the West Glendaruel road, and despite the fact that the carriageway is single track, it is the only option for travellers in the area.
Michael Kaufmann, who lives at nearby Achanelid Farm said: “I inspected the bridge before work began, and saw nothing that a bit of pointing with cement wouldn’t sort out.”
The new bridge - which is being constructed in-house by Argyll and Bute Council – should have been finished by mid June. Speaking last Friday, Michael Kaufmann commented: “Not only is the job running late, we haven’t seen any work going on for about two weeks. In the meantime, heavy rain has caused the banks of the burn, where the works have interfered with the flow, to collapse. The whole thing is a mess.
“We have been told that they hope to have the job finished by September, but we’ll see.”
A spokesperson for Argyll and Bute Council said: “The work was undertaken to remove a 7.5 tonnes maximum gross vehicle weight restriction at the bridge.
“The work is due to be completed by the end of September assuming that the weather does not cause any hold ups with the foundation works. It is estimated to cost £250,000.
“There was a Health and Safety incident in the surface dressing programme in the early summer, which caused work to be suspended for a while. The bridge work then began and the workforce had to be freed up from it to complete the surface dressing once this restarted - hence nobody was on site for a period.”
Meanwhile, the people of West Glendaruel close to the bridge must endure significant disruption, inconvenience and extra costs while the road is closed. They also face at least a five-mile detour each way to reach the main A886.
Michael Kaufmann continued: “This is costing me a fortune in fuel, probably an extra £30 per week and this has become much more serious as prices have shot up. And as far as I can see, it’s all for nothing.”
The council spokesperson concluded: “It is appreciated that the works are causing disruption to road users in the area and their continued understanding is very welcome.”

New Pubwatch scheme
Strathclyde Police ‘L’ Division has joined forces with all of the publicans in Dunoon in a new pro-active initiative designed to promote safety in and around licensed premises.
From August 1, the Pubwatch scheme will be in force in all eleven public houses in the Dunoon area. Action will be taken against anyone behaving in a manner which is not acceptable within any of these premises.
While serious incidents are rare, all those involved are working together to ensure that they are prevented from the start, rather than reacting to situations after they have happened.
The members of the Dunoon Pubwatch scheme aim to ensure the safety, security and comfort of all their customers and staff by identifying and reporting issues of concern, not only to the police, but also to each other. This early warning system can deal with potential instances of disorder, dishonesty, violence, drug dealing and any other situations through early intervention
Pubwatch can also be described as a means of setting standards of acceptable behaviour. Where a customer acts in an unacceptable manner, from verbal abuse to acts of violence or other intolerable conduct, they may be ejected and then banned from those premises. A ban by the licensee of a participating venue may then be extended to cover all premises taking part in the scheme.
In other areas where Pubwatch schemes have been established, marked improvements have been reported. Problems such as assault, vandalism and drunkenness have been reduced.
The participating licensees in the scheme feel that taking a co-ordinated and pro-active role in community safety will be to everyone’s benefit, including customers, staff and the local neighbourhood alike.
Sergeant Scott Richmond of Dunoon Police Office believes that through the commitment and participation of the members of the Pubwatch scheme, Dunoon’s public houses will be justly recognised as safe and pleasant places to enjoy time out.
Anyone wishing further information about the scheme can contact Sergeant Richmond at Dunoon Police Office on 01369 763000.

The latest meeting of Cowal Locality Public Partnership Forum was held on Monday July 28 at St Mun’s Hall, Dunoon.
The meeting heard from Dr Robert Paterson, Clinical Director for Cowal within Argyll and Bute Community Health Partnership, and Viv Smith Cowal and Bute locality manager.
Dr Paterson outlined the latest position concerning out-of-hours GP cover, commenting: “When the new out-of-hours contract was agreed with the (then) Scottish Executive, the vision involved a multi-disciplinary response, catering for clinical and care needs and designed with the ageing demographics of Cowal in mind.”
“I have to admit with some frustration that I don’t see this materialising, and the fact is that the out-of-hours burden still sits on the shoulders of GPs and hospital staff.”
On the vexed question of ambulance cover and patient transport services in the Cowal peninsula, Dr Paterson was perhaps slightly more optimistic, and reported “progress, if slow” on the appraisal and review of ambulance cover.
Assisted by Viv Smith, Dr Paterson explained that the non-financial options appraisal process was well underway. Simply put, this is a wish list of what it would take to provide an optimum service to the people of Cowal, including ‘outlying’ areas such as Tighnabruaich, Strachur and Lochgoilhead.
His own preference would be for an extra ambulance, which could cater for transfers from Dunoon to Inverclyde, Paisley and Glasgow. In addition, Dr Paterson would like to see a paramedic response vehicle based in rural Cowal, as well as an Accident and Emergency ambulance.
Dr Paterson said : “I’m very, very aware that the people of rural Cowal feel exposed, and that GPs would welcome the back-up of an emergency response vehicle in these areas.”
What quickly became apparent during this meeting was that Dr Paterson was unable to answer many points raised on the ambulance service.
Members of the Community Health Partnership shrugged their shoulders resignedly when asked why no there was no management representation from the Scottish Ambulance Service, saying: “They never send anyone to these meetings.”
In finalising the resource allocation to Cowal, NHS boards and Scottish Ambulance Service senior management would be wise to note the concerns of Dr Paterson and other local people, including Councillor Alex McNaughton, who said at the meeting: “The lack of progress is extremely disappointing. There is a disgraceful level of ambulance cover in country areas. When I leave here today, what am I going to tell people?”
The options appraisal for Cowal ambulance cover is due to be completed by late December.
On the negotiations with NHS boards and the ambulance service, Dr Paterson revealed: “After many years of discussion, problems are now being accepted as problems which need resolution.”
The obvious response to this statement must be: Why has this grudging acceptance, however welcome it might be, required years of discussion when any Cowal resident could have explained the seriousness of the situation in a five-minute chat?