Drop-in Session: Tuesday 25th February 3pm - 7pm, Queen's Hall, Dunoon

The Dunoon Project is a hugely ambitious and imaginative initiative being progressed by the community of Dunoon, an historic seaside resort on the banks of the Clyde in Scotland. The initiative has been developed within the community specifically to reverse their socio-economic plight as flagged in the Argyll & Bute Economic Forum findings in 2016 where Dunoon was identified as one of four towns deserving attention as a result of major decline or stagnation in population.

At this time the community has identified an ambitious project package - The Dunoon Project - based on introducing a gondola to carry people from the sea to the summit of Kilbride Hill behind the town.  The early thinking around the Dunoon Project is highlighted in the 2016 Economic Forum report as exactly the type of product and service which will attract paying visitors from the central belt and further afield. 


Corlarach Forest

The Corlarach Forest is situated to the south west of Dunoon and covers a large part of the Cowal Peninsula. 

The Dunoon Project is planning to acquire the Corlarach Forest under the terms of the Community Empowerment Act 2015 and then enter a 99-year lease with the British Strategic Investment Fund (BSIF) to own and manage the timber resource on the land in exchange for a rental to be used for community regeneration priorities and, in addition, granting the right for BSIF to develop the Dunoon Project infrastructure through a special purpose vehicle to be delivered within an agreed timeframe.

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Progress


Feasibility Study

The Feasibility Study was completed in May 2019. We are pleased to report that the feasibility study provided confidence to the steering group and investors that the project has the capability to provide the social and economic value that will attract public and private sector support for the project. It provided us with the confidence to proceed with our Community Asset Transfer (CATS) application to Forestry Land Scotland (FLS).

Company Limited by Guarantee with Charitable Status (SC049832)

The Community Asset Transfer Application (CATS) framework sets out how eligible community bodies can request to purchase land to deliver their project. The eligibility requirements for CATS are set out in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.

In response the Dunoon Project Team has registered a Company Limited by Guarantee to act as the community body in the acquisition of Corlarach Forest.

Project Management and Support

To support the project Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has provided funding allowing us to employ ruralDimensions (www.ruraldimensions.com) as project coordinators. Their knowledge and experience will be invaluable in assisting us to develop a comprehensive application. We welcome them to the team.

Land Aquisition

Corlarach Forest is currently owned by Forestry Land Scotland and we are looking to acquire it under the Community Empowerment legislation

A meeting has been held with Forestry Land Scotland (FLS) to discuss our CATS application, specifically:

  • Our Community Proposal – why we want to acquire the land, how we plan to use it and the benefits it will generate for Dunoon, the Cowal Peninsula and the Argyll and Bute region.
  • The Level of Community Support - details of the level and nature of support for the request, from our community and other relevant stakeholders.

Further meetings will be scheduled with FLS to support our CATS application.

Community Engagement Plan

The Dunoon Project Steering Board has approved a ‘Stakeholder Engagement and Communications Plan’:

  • To promote the project to those that will benefit
  • To provide an opportunity for individuals or organisations to contribute to, participate in, or influence the successful development and implementation of the Dunoon Project
  • To allow individuals or organisations to ask questions and raise concerns

Contact with the local community has, to-date, been through Community Project Meetings (such as December 6th, 2018), visiting schools to introduce the project, attendance at the Cowal Highland Games to promote the project, the recent ‘An Audience with Greg Minnaar & The Dunoon Project’ event and the scheduling of regular drop-ins at the Queens Hall, where members of the community can learn more about the project and ask questions. The above activities have already resulted in press coverage, with the project receiving positive support. In the following weeks and months, the Dunoon Project Team will be reaching out to residents, schools and colleges, the business community, regional and national organisations, local councillors and politicians. We would like to thank the residents that have already confirmed their support for the project.

Social and Economic Impact Assessment

To support our CATS application the steering board has engaged ekosgen (www.ekosgen.co.uk), a specialist economic development and regeneration consultancy, to support the continued development of the economic impact assessment initially identified in the Feasibility Study.

Cowal Tourism Summit

The Dunoon Project will be attending and speaking at the Cowal Tourism Summit. The event is being held at The Dunoon Burgh Hall on February 18th, 2020 and is open to all businesses and organisations with an interest in tourism. Booking is essential and places are limited so please book by registering at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/cowal-tourism-summit-2020-tickets-89386506447

Gondola Design Consultations

The Dunoon Project Team has been in contact with gondola suppliers and have scheduled meetings with designers to explore potential options for cabin design.

Planning Application

To support the Community Asset Transfer (CATS) application a meeting will be scheduled with Argyll and Bute Planning Department to discuss pre-assessment planning requirements.


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FAQ's

There are a series of key milestones which have their own timeframes. We have set up the company and charity and the next step is to pursue the land transfer from FLS. We hope to progress this to a conclusion in 2020. From that point we will then enter the lease with the investor and develop the detailed designs and impact assessments to get all consents in place. At this stage construction is unlikely to take place before 2022. However, as time is money every endeavour will be taken to progress the project as smoothly and in as streamlined a fashion as possible to allow the regeneration of Dunoon to kick start as soon as practicable.

The Community Empowerment Act in 2015 seeks to enable communities to take more control of their own destiny. Ownership and control of assets is key to that empowerment. The community, by owning assets can then negotiate with private investors to deliver community priorities. The project has been sufficiently well scoped to identify a reputable investor to progress the project.

The forest is the enabler. By owning the full forest and then selling the trees and leasing the land to an investor the community will secure an annual rental income to sustain community-based project activity and have the land for the developer to deliver the infrastructure project. The forest will also offer opportunities for further development such as forest cabins, woodland crofts and other recreational infrastructure. By owning the full forest, the community will not have to negotiate with FLS every time they want to do anything new. Also, by owning the land the community has got control over what happens on that land with the developer(s) needing to negotiate any changes and additions with them as landlord?

Because the benefits to the community far outweigh the current situation by enabling a major regeneration initiative within Dunoon in line with public sector policy and providing an annual source of income to sustain the charity and for community implementation of regeneration priorities. The lease to the developer will provide that in the event the development doesn’t proceed within a stated timeframe the rental income to the community will be increased to recognise the loss of Social Capital to the community which will further the agreed regeneration priorities and public sector priority themes. The community will also take back the development rights themselves to seek alternative partners/opportunities for community benefit.

The British Strategic Investment Fund (BSIF) will pay for the infrastructure (and reach out to other investors to also invest) and then recoup their investment through its operation. All this will be done through a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) – a new company set up specifically to deliver the project and either operate it or lease the development to an operator.

The private investor is only able to do this by securing the right to develop the land through the terms of the lease with the community as the new landowner. Without the community involvement a private developer would 1) have to pay top dollar to acquire the forest directly from FLS, 2) be unlikely to get agreement to acquire it and 3) have significantly reduced funds to develop the construction project. The community would have no say or control over what is developed other than as a planning consultee. By owning the land and being in the driving seat in terms of the lease the community determines what happens within set parameters which are legally binding.

The following uses simple round numbers to explain the concept and not the actual values which have yet to be ascertained.

Assuming Corlarach Forest is worth say, £12m on the open market, Dunoon Project offers say, 10m to FLS to acquire the forest – land for £1m and the trees for £9m. The Dunoon Project secures a Scottish Land Fund grant of say, £1m for the land and secures £9m from BSIF for the trees. BSIF will pay an annual rental of say, £100k per annum to the community over 99 years in order to be able to manage the forest together with the right to develop the infrastructure project within a set period. The £2m shortfall constitutes a “regeneration funding contribution” by the Scottish Ministers to prime the project which together with the annual rental will deliver the community benefits.

The Dunoon Project is not offering full market value as through the regeneration of Dunoon the project will deliver considerable public and community benefits. The value of this – the Social Capital - is being calculated by specialist economic consultants ekosgen. This amount is in effect the venture capital – the money that is needed for BSIF to progress all the design and consent work for it then to be built. Currently assumed to be £2m. This money is at risk with no return until after the development is built.

BSIF – the British Strategic Investment Fund - manages public sector pensions and has done so for several years. They are typically described as a safe investor and relatively risk averse. BSIF have carefully reviewed the proposals and undertaken their own feasibility work before deciding that they will invest in this project. The combined forestry and development opportunity present an unusual investment proposition which requires a specific type of investor. In this case BSIF have been identified as a suitable partner given their infrastructure experience and public sector focus. They have entered an exclusivity agreement with the Dunoon Project to ensure their investment is not usurped by others.

The community will enter a lease with the investor who in turn will appoint a professional forestry contractor to manage the trees. There will be various requirements specified in the lease including for the forest to be managed in accordance with best practice and to meet Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification standard. There will also be obligations on the investor/its contractor to employ local people and service providers wherever possible.

As provided for above the lease will ensure that FSC standard is applied and the forest is managed in accordance with the Long-Term Forest Plan approved by Forestry Land Scotland. This requires the adoption of a re-planting programme for all felled timber. One of the reasons BSIF has been selected is because they have a responsible investment approach but are also financially very well resourced should it be necessary to take enforcement action. In addition, they already have a significant investment in forestry in the area and meet the required standards.

The development is being driven by an investor who has done initial feasibility work and will continue to do so to ensure the development is viable. The feasibility study done so far has been based on conservative estimates and the investor is confident the development is viable and attractive. Any lease and development agreements entered into will consider the scenario of operations ceasing and define the responsibilities of all parties in the event that this occurs.

This has yet to be scoped out. It will run from a base station on the West Shore to the summit of Kilbride Hill. Experts are being approached to advise on this and it will consider viable options in terms of routes. It will consider environmental impact, land use along any route proposed and health and safety implications.

The final route of the gondola, including the position of the base station, will be finalised after our Community Asset Transfer (CATS) application has been submitted to FLS.

Cowal and Dunoon is an area of outstanding beauty and as this project is led by the community, we will stipulate the highest environmental standards. A project of this scale and type will require a full environmental impact assessment under planning legislation to ensure the impacts are minimal and any unavoidable impact is mitigated.

Through ownership of the entire forest, the community will be able to provide the land needed for the infrastructure development and grant the rights to develop it – and simultaneously gain long term rental income from the forest resource to sustain the new charity and help the community take forward agreed community regeneration priorities within and around the town. Looking to the future they will be able to engage in the future management of the forest and permit further development rights (subject to planning) for activity which will complement the Gondola project and continue to regenerate the town and its hinterland - and in so doing actively secure quality jobs, attract economically active residents, generate a new visitor footfall and provide significant health and wellbeing benefits for residents.

The Feasibility Study was the first step in identifying the potential economic impact of the project. It provided us with the confidence to proceed to the next stage of the project, the acquisition of the forest. Our application to acquire the forest will include a detailed social and economic assessment, highlighting the potential benefits that will be delivered through the project.

It is expected that the project will provide school leavers with additional employment, increased skills opportunities and ability to remain in their home community; holiday, weekend and after school employment and work experience; and, access to additional outdoor activities (MTB, zip-line, high-ropes park, walking & hiking, etc.)

The project will benefit local businesses in a number of ways: there will be an increase in domestic and international visitors, including day and overnight visitors; we envisage new business opportunities, as a result of new activities and the increase in visitor volume; acts as a catalyst for private sector investment in visitor accommodation, attractions and activities; and, it is the intent of the Project to use local businesses to support the development and construction of the various activities, and to promote local businesses.

The lease, subject to agreement, will include provision for returning development rights and enhanced annual rental for the forest in the event that the development does not proceed within a specified timeframe. This will increase the fund for community driven regeneration initiatives. It also means the community will be able to renegotiate any development deal based on a change in the economic climate as well as what people are seeking to do with their leisure time.

TRecent megatrend analysis by VisitScotland and others has clearly demonstrated that wellness is a major future trend – being active and getting outdoors. Mountain biking and cycling are growing year on year and with the introduction of e-bikes is accessible to more and more people. Travel is one aspect of tourism which may change with climate change targets. Dunoon’s proximity to the central belt and direct rail and ferry access to the city centre means if anything this could prove much more popular than more remote destinations that require flights and driving.

A core objective of the Project is to provide access to activities for all ages and abilities, creating a destination that can be enjoyed by all.

Visit www.thedunoonproject.org.uk for more information and regular updates. Join our Facebook group @TheDunoonProject. Come to any of our regular drop in events in 2020 at the Queens Hall in Dunoon where the directors and our community coordinator Helen Dick will be on hand to update you and answer any specific queries or concerns you may have.

Yes! We are looking for local residents to show their support by becoming members of the project. We are also keen to hear from anyone who has skills they can offer to help spread the load. Our directors and trustees are volunteers and are passionate about this regeneration initiative but if you believe in Dunoon and its future let us know what help you can offer by selecting the 'Get Involved' option here or contacting us at info@thedunoonproject.org.uk

Residents of the local community can become members. Registration will be coming to the website soon.

We do need your support. As part of the CATs process, we need to demonstrate that this is community driven and community supported. Please use that opportunity to secure the best outcome for Dunoon by using this link to Show your Support for the project.

We are keen to hear any concerns or doubts at the earliest opportunity so we can seek to address these promptly. To get in touch you can Ask A Question and a member of the project team will respond to you.