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25 October 2002

A HIGH PRICE TO PAY . . .
“SOMEONE is going to pay the price, perhaps with their life.”
This is the view of Tighnabruaich residents over the lax cover provided by the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS). They plan to fight tooth and nail to restore their lifeline service - especially now they have discovered that the actual ambulance was removed approximately six weeks ago.
Feelings of anger and disappointment were aired at a packed Kames Hall last Monday night, when local residents braved one of the worst nights of the year to support the Community Council meeting, with high hopes that there would be a solution to the SAS proposals to withdraw the Tighna-bruaich Ambulance, leaving all emergencies to be covered by Dunoon.
Residents arrived to find the staorm brewing inside the hall was a tornado compared to the bad weather outside, when it was announced that after being invited to the meeting not only did Argyll and Bute Liberal MSP George Lyon not arrive due to a mix-up of dates, but the Scottish Ambulance Service had also put in their apologies that very afternoon, and left 200 people at the meeting without answers.
During discussions, it was noted that an advert for an ambulance technician or paramedic had appeared in the press. It was suggested that this was a tactic to try and defuse the meeting, and it has done nothing to boost local confidence.
The non-appearance of the SAS put fuel on the fire, leaving residents feeling frustrated, and with no formal body to direct their fears and question to; the meeting went round in circles.
Things went from bad to worse, when it was also discovered that due to the ill health of both of the Tighnabruaich crew, the Ambulance had actually been taken away, leaving an already short staffed Dunoon station to provide cover for the area.
In the recent months this has meant a two-hour wait and more to get casualties to Dunoon Hospital, a time limit which is totally unacceptable in a modern society.
Chair of the Community Council, Alasdair Adams, said: “The rough population in the Kilfinan Parish area is around 1,200. There is no exact figure, the voters role accounts for around 730, and we can estimate that there would be around 450 to 500 people under 18, or who, for whatever reason, are not on the voters role.
“The communities in Tighnabruaich and surrounding areas are entitled to proper care in the community, and this includes ambulance coverage based locally.
“It is horrendous to expect that, should any emergency occur, we would have to wait for an ambulance to attend from the nearest base, which is Dunoon — a minimum of 25 miles away — which will take at least 40 minutes to get here — that is if they are not already tied up in another incident.
“The Scottish Ambulance Service have a responsibility to maintain a base in the Tighnabruaich area, and have known for some considerable time that at least one of the crew based locally has had serious health problems, as far back as January this year.
“To that effect, they have failed to obtain a replacement to give suitable cover. We have now learned that the remaining crewman has been off sick for a least six weeks, and that the vehicle has been removed from the village.
“We are now totally reliant on an ambulance coming from Dunoon, and if that is busy, then probably from Inveraray or further afield.
“Given that a lot of local people are elderly, it is imperative that any medical help arrives quickly.
“The anger at this situation is very understandable. At no time has the Ambulance Service made any attempt to contact the local community to inform them of any problems, or attempt to resolve the issues.
“This problem does not only affect Tighnabruaich, but also all the communities within Cowal.
“If the Dunoon Ambulance is sent to an emergency in the south west Cowal area, then who covers the remaining areas?
“It is imperative that we make our feelings known to every councillor, MP, MSP and the Health Minister, before a tragedy happens!”
The use of first responders was discussed, as it had been intimated in a quote from a spokesman for the SAS that they were looking at a first responder programme for Tighnabruaich.
First responders are volunteers from the local community, trained in groups of five, at around a cost of £5,000 by the ambulance service to provide life saving treatment.
Trained in first aid and in the use of A.E.Ds (Automatic External Defibrillator), and providing oxygen therapy, the responders are called out to fill in the complex time, called the therapeutic vacuum — the period of time between the 999 call being made, and the arrival of the ambulance.
Shirley Callan knows more about emergencies than most, with many years experience as a casualty sister at Dunoon General Hospital.
Asked about the responder programme, she said: “The responder programme could be justified if Dr Carl (the local doctor) was at an emergency in Colintraive; and the Ambulance was en-route from Dunoon, and there was another emergency, say in Tighnabruaich, a first responder team would be a good idea. But I would hate to think that the Scottish Ambulance Service’s plans are to withdraw the ambulance completely and replace it with a team of volunteers.
“The first responder programme should only be used in conjunction with a properly trained crew and an ambulance based at Tighnabruaich”.
When apologising for his inability to attend the meeting Mr Lyon explained: “The mix-up of dates is completely our error, and we are very sorry that we did not attend.
“I have assured the Chair that I will be at the next meeting on Monday, November 18, and I will meet with local residents prior to any discussion with the Scottish Ambulance Service. I will be available any night to do my bit to save this vital service”.
A spokesman for the SAS stated: “The notification of the meeting was received by Oban Station last Friday and was only received higher up on Monday morning, which was too late for us to attend.
“The head of our A & E has since spoken to the organisers to arrange a meeting”.
The Conservative Party’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, Dave Petrie, said: “Last Monday I had the privilege of addressing a packed public meeting in the Kames Hall to debate the current ambulance crisis.
“I have subsequently discussed the situation with the Scottish Ambulance Service, and have been assured that local emergency provision will continue. I have accordingly emphasised the vital importance of providing immediate paramedic and driver cover to ensure that emergencies can be dealt with in the safest and most efficient manner.”


BAD WEATHER HALTS ‘ALI CAT’ SAILINGS
CALEDONIAN MacBrayne’s new vessel the ‘Ali Cat’ ran into difficulties on its first day, (Monday), when bad weather caused the 08:20 onwards catamaran sailings to be cancelled.
While the ‘Ali Cat’ waited for better weather, CalMac’s streakers continued to run, albeit carrying passengers only.
The vessel failed to sail again on Tuesday morning, as the wintry weather continued.
Former Merchant Seaman and SNP Organiser (Cowal) Alan Clayton declared: “This doesn’t surprise me in the least and it is indicative of the disasters that face the people of Cowal if CalMac is removed.”
His thoughts were echoed by local Liberal MP Alan Reid, who said: “Monday’s cancellation has proved what local people told Lewis MacDonald during the recent consultation - a passenger only service is unsustainable in the winter. This week has proven that the vehicle ferry can sail in weather conditions that the passenger ferry cannot.
“I watched the crew berth the ‘Ali Cat’ at Dunoon Pier with great difficulty at 7:20am on Monday, and I was not surprised that the next sailing was cancelled.”
The SNP’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Jim Mather added his views, as did SNP MSP Duncan Hamilton.
“I have been monitoring the inaugural use of the ‘Ali Cat’ on the Dunoon to Gourock route with increasing disquiet,” Mr Mather said.
“Firstly, its arrival is making a sham of the so-called consultation process - treating everyone in Cowal and everyone who contributed their submissions with contempt.
“That is why we in the SNP are renewing our call for a Public Inquiry, which is now needed more than ever.
“It strikes me that, at a time when risky transfers from ship to shore and frequent cancellations are being eliminated for passengers travelling to Rum and Eigg, it is intolerable to impose this on the people of Cowal. Especially as these are just a couple of the effects we can expect to see. Sitting in the wings are a whole range of adverse effects that will result as a direct effects of this crazy spineless move by the Scottish Executive.”
He continued: “This situation would never have happened in any other country in the EU, where every other Government would have fought for what was best for the local people and the local economy. There was never a greater need for a public inquiry than this. We are watching a situation unfold that seems to me to be Machiavellian in the extreme and totally contrary to the interests of the people of Cowal.”
Mr Hamilton added: “When I saw specification details of ‘Ali Cat’ announced in press releases last week, I shared the misgivings of many other Clyde ferry users, and wondered at CalMac’s choice of vessel.
“It seemed clear to me that this was not likely to be suitable for a scheduled winter ferry service on the lower Clyde. Reports that I have received from some of those unfortunate enough to be on the first trip to Gourock on Monday morning are certainly disturbing.
“Problems with boarding, discomfort en route and difficulties in disembarking all resulted in operations being suspended for the rest of the day. While sea conditions were certainly not ideal, they did not interfere with the streakers’ performance that day. Many more worse weather days will be encountered before Spring.
“Several questions are raised with the appearance of the ‘Ali Cat’ and its role in the Cal Mac operation between Dunoon and Gourock, and I will again be seeking information from the Deputy Minister for Transport Lewis MacDonald when Parliament resumes next week.
“In August, during a visit to Cowal, SNP Leader John Swinney suggested that the Dunoon to Gourock route’s future should not be determined within the overall tendering process, but should be subjected to a searching Public Inquiry. The Minister has stated that he wants to work with the local community to find a solution to their concerns about the ferry service. To do that he must first make a radical change of course.”
Representatives of Argyll and Bute Council, Councillors Walsh, McKinven, McQueen, Chennell and Marshall have also condemned the ‘Ali Cat,’ stating ‘We consider it far from acceptable that both Caledonian MacBrayne and the Scottish Executive have altered our ferry timetable without proper regard to the wishes of the people of this area, and without any meaningful consultation.
“The new timetable provides for a passenger only service for the early morning and evening service, and that this service will be provided by a catamaran type vessel that is totally unsuited to weather conditions on the Clyde.
“As the elected representatives of this area, we are appalled at the service changes, the effect that those changes will have on this area and the take it or leave it attitude now being displayed by this operator.
‘Since the introduction of this new catamaran type vessel, the service has failed to operate at peak travelling times and commuters have been left stranded on Dunoon Pier with no alternative service being provided.
‘If the streaker type class of vessel was still in operation for those services there would have been no disruption.
‘When considering that the passenger service is heavily subsidised, we call upon Lewis MacDonald to intervene and to arrange for a service that is safe and reliable.
‘Action is now required as a matter of urgency, as, two days into the provision of this new service, the sailings have failed to operate, with much inconvenience to passengers who need, and rely, on this service.’
CalMac’s Managing Director Lawrie Sinclair explained: “The ‘Ali Cat’ successfully completed the first sail before the weather deteriorated. I believe that Dunoon said that the catamaran couldn’t dock for the next sail. There is no problem with the vessel at sea, it is simply the landing that is causing problems in the rough weather.”
He added: “The streaker on the Dunoon to Gourock run is also operating passenger only at present (12:30 pm Monday) due to the severity of the weather.”
It has also been pointed out that Dunoon Pier is well known for being overly exposed to the elements and that even in the days when the steamers ran, their crews often had to head north to the more sheltered docking facilities at Hunter’s Quay- a facility that is not available to today’s vessel operators at Dunoon Pier.
The ‘Ali Cat’ finally sailed on Tuesday evening.


NO THROUGH ROAD
CONCERNS have been raised over the proposed development of the B836 Glen Lean road.
Argyll and Bute Council are in the process of upgrading the route to allow coaches to travel across it, to either Colintraive/Rothesay or Tighnabruaich, returning via Strachur.
However, coach drivers have stated that the chosen route is not the best.
One coach driver explained: “We have been promised this circular route for some time but, as yet, there is no sign of it being completed, and no readily available information of when the works will be done.
“The circular route will be a great benefit to coach drivers, but the chosen direction is far from ideal. Going in through Glen Lean on the B836 means that the coaches will have to climb all the hills, and the one at the head of Loch Striven is a particularly steep one. This is not only going to be stressful on the coaches, but it will also inconvenience the drivers who are caught behind the coaches, as it will be a long, slow climb up.
“There is also the fact that, by bringing the drivers out through Strachur, they are more likely to head north if they are not from Dunoon. The council have said that this is not a problem and that the coaches will still come into the town. But, at present we have to come that way and the majority of out of town coaches head north, so what’s going to make them come into the town when the circular route is complete?
“I, along with many other coach drivers, would ask the council to re-consider the direction of the route in the interest of the coaches and Dunoon’s economy.”
Works began on the road more than a year ago and, to date, there are no signs of completion.
A spokesman for Argyll and Bute Council said: “Works are carried out according to the profile of the council’s Capital Works Programme – not all funding for schemes is necessarily in one financial year.
“Works were started on the B836 to match the Capital Programme and concurrently negotiations were progressing, albeit very slowly, for land entry on Phase Two of the scheme.
“Phase Two land acquisition has only recently been concluded – no works could progress until negotiations were completed.
“To date the scheme has cost £475,000, with a total of £561,000 available for the project, which will be taken up.”
He continued: “An Experimental Traffic Order has been approved by the council, after consultation with road users, including the Coach and Tour Operators. The drivers may have been advised on this by their companies. The agreed route is westwards through Glen Lean and eastwards via Strachur.
“The importance of getting the route improved is to all of Cowal in getting coach operators back into the area, especially Dunoon.
“In recent years some operators have been avoiding Dunoon, because of the lack of the circular route – these operators have stated they will again include Dunoon in their itinerary once the link is completed.
“Dunoon and Rothesay will mutually benefit from coaches using the route. There may still be routes on their itinerary which will be outwith the area, and coaches may be seen travelling via Strachur and northwards – this is not necessarily because of the B836.”


ALL ROSY AT CRARAE GARDEN
WITH last year’s Foot and Mouth disease and September 11 affecting tourism and agricultural businesses in Britain, it is highly unusual for someone to talk positively about the tourist trade.
However, Crarae Garden has come through the past year, when tourist numbers have considerably fallen, and have been able to come up ‘smelling of roses.’
The good fortune is mainly due to The Scottish National Trust, who took over the running of the Garden when they were facing bankruptcy in 1999.
Crarae Garden, which are situated on a steep slope by the northern edge of Loch Fyne, can boast some of the best collections of rhododendrons in Scotland. First planted in 1799, the grounds consist of large wooded areas which offer 10 ‘national champion’ trees, and a rare strand of the Pica Koyamae Spruce tree.
Nevertheless, the Scottish National Trust’s main aim is to drive forward the conservation of the nation’s cultural and natural heritage for present and future generations to enjoy.
Chairman of the National Trust, Roger Wheater, said: “The importance of Crarae Garden was identified and an appeal was launched.
“What a stunning response we had from the membership, and from others at home and abroad, particularly the USA! By the end of February, 2002, we had exceeded our £1.5m target for the endowment of this property — a magnificent effort by all concerned.”
In addition, the Trust continues to raise money through a number of projects, such as corporate hospitality, weddings and functions in and around their properties.
The Chief Executive’s report for 2001/2002 has shown that the Trust’s overall deficit has been reduced to just £566,000 on a total turnover of £34m. This is a considerable improvement on the previous 12 months.
Maurice Wilkins, Property Manager at Crarae commented: “Although Crarae is very sound at heart, and has not been neglected over the years, much needs to be done to bring the Garden up to the standard expected by those who visit the properties, particularly on the public safety front.
“Access is limited to one circular route at the moment, but by the spring this will have been extended and the Garden officially reopened to begin a new stage in its long life.”
Even though the Scottish National Trust is a charitable organisation, it employs more than 470 employees nationwide, and can rely on 2,500 volunteers to upkeep its 127 estates.
The organisation’s main patron is HM Queen Elizabeth, who recently joined the celebrations for the 70th anniversary last year.
To commemorate the anniversary The Scottish National Trust published a book entitled: ‘For The Benefit Of The Nation,’ which highlights the people who have shaped the Trust’s activities and history.
One such person, who has given significant financial donations to Crarae Garden, is Miss Fawcett, a retired educational psychologist from Sheffield.
She said: “I was very concerned when the Garden closed and thrilled that the Trust re-opened it so promptly.
“Wester Ross and Sutherland are my first loves but my late sister had lived in Argyll for a long time, so I had often visited Crarae, and for many years it has been a link with her.
“When I first saw the appeal for Crarae I made two donations. Then, six months later, I wrote to the Trust and asked whether they’d reached their target.
“When they told me what the shortfall was I felt able to contribute rather more than half that.
“Obviously I thought about it quite a bit, and when I heard that the Garden was closing, it stimulated me to get even more involved.”
At this difficult time for the tourist industry, it is heartening to hear that one such business is making a success, and giving much pleasure to people’s lives in the process.
To contact the Garden call 01546 886614.


LOCAL SUCCESS AT LARGS MOD
DUNOON Grammar School pupil, Eilidh Ross, won’t be ‘singing the blues,’ as she has recently won the nine to 12-year-old female section for Solo Singing at the National Mod in Largs.
The 11-year-old faced stiff competition from a field of 33 participants, but eventually came out on top, taking first prize and the D. Munro Trophy for Gaelic learners.
Eilidh, who has only been singing for three years, has accumulated an impressive number of trophies on the local circuit, which include competitions in Oban and Lochgilphead. Eilidh is a student of Isobel McDonald’s singing school in Paisley, and a former pupil of local Gaelic tutor, Elma McArthur.