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12 December 2003

BROADBAND ACCESS IN SIGHT
ACCESS to Broadband, the high-speed internet access is coming closer, and may be only weeks away for Dunoon.
The broadband system provides a much faster access to the internet, and also enables telephone calls to be made while online. Access speeds enable the download of large files in minutes which would take hours on non-broadband systems.
Broadband is spreading fast across the UK, but sparsely populated areas have been largely by-passed in favour of metropolitan areas with high population densities.
Paul O’Brien, who is responsible for e-commerce in Argyll and the Isles Enterprise, explained that AIE and its parent organisation, Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE) had been pressuring British Telecom to address the issue of extending broadband coverage to rural areas.
“Partly in response to our pressure,” said Mr O’Brien, “BT have set a trigger level - the level at which they upgrade exchanges to handle the system - at 500 for the area covered by the Dunoon exchange.
This means that if 500 people register an interest in Broadband then the exchange will be upgraded to cope with it.
Currently 285 people have registered in Dunoon, leaving a shortfall of only 215 to reach the target figure.
Registering an interest does not commit you to subscribe.
Innellan requires 150 people to register and to date 43 people have done so. Kilmun also needs 150 registrations, and 32 have shown an interest. Lochgoilhead needs only 100 and 19 have registered, and for Tighnabruaich 10 people have registered, the trigger number there being 150.
However, the situation is rather more complex than simply registering - it depends how far you are from your local exchange.
Mr O’Brien explained: “The range for broadband from the exchange is six kilometres. So you may register an interest in broadband, but if you are more than 6km from the exchange your registration won’t count. This makes it particularly difficult for places like Innellan, which stretches for a long distance down the coastline, to meet the trigger level criteria. Tighnabruaich has similar problems, because it is a scattered community.
“The Dunoon exchange should have no problem, since the 6km line stretches past the business park at Sandbank in one direction and southwards almost to Innellan - but there’s another catch - the 6km figure is determined by how the cable is laid, not by how the crow flies.”
Mr O’Brien said that the key to broadband in Cowal was unquestionably Dunoon. “Once it has a foothold on the peninsula it will be much easier to service the outlying areas, such as Innellan and Strachur” he said.
Before an exchange would be considered for broadband it must first have a trigger level set, he explained. There were currently 600 exchanges with no trigger levels; 450 of these were in Scotland, 200 of which were in the area covered by HIE.
Michael Breslin, director of Argyll College in Dunoon’s West Bay, said: “In common with a number of businesses in town we already have access to broadband through a different system, which is, however, much more expensive.
“There is no doubt that the coming of broadband would enable people to do things which are currently impractical.
“It has huge possibilities for small businesses in fields like, for instance, publishing, where there is a need to move massive files electronically- this is the sort of operation that can be absolutely transformed by broadband.”
However, broadband also benefits the home user, who can download files in minutes which now take hours, and it is likely that much of the takeup on broadband will be from domestic users.
Argyll and Bute Council’s 21st Century Government spokesperson Councillor Ian Gillies said: “Broadband services are a vital element in the regeneration and future economic prosperity of our island and rural communities both in Argyll and Bute and throughout the Highlands and Islands area.”


MP LOCKS HORNS WITH CALMAC OVER FERRY
CALMAC this week hit back at local MP Alan Reid after he made public criticisms contained in a letter he had sent to the company’s managing director over the ferry Coruisk.
The Coruisk has been the subject of much controversy since she arrived on the Clyde in September.
In his letter to Lawrie Sinclair, CalMac’s Managing Director Mr Reid said that passengers have made complaints to him about cancelled sailings, access difficulties and catering on board the vessel.
The MP said, “It is absolutely scandalous, in 2003,  that CalMac have put a ferry on the route that cannot dock at Dunoon Pier at certain states of the tide and makes access so difficult for the elderly and the disabled.
“I have written to Lawrie Sinclair, CalMac’s Managing Director, asking him to list all the cancelled sailings since the Coruisk took over the route, the reason for each cancellation and what CalMac are doing to reduce the number of cancelled sailings.
“I have also complained about the lack of warning of cancelled sailings. If CalMac know that sailings will be cancelled because of the state of the tide, there is no reason why they can’t advertise this well in advance.
“CalMac get a huge subsidy from the taxpayer. They must put matters right quickly.”
Calmac, however, were not slow to respond. Within hours of Mr Reid’s statement the company hit back, claiming that they had already dealt with many of the issues raised.
Caledonian Macbrayne’s Managing Director Lawrie Sinclair responded by saying: “Mr Reid has asked us for a list of cancelled and delayed sailings by MV Coruisk on the Gourock to Dunoon route. We will certainly provide that.
“We have noted publicly already that the vessel’s performance has not been at times what we would wish. However, in the most recent period she has been performing much better and we will continue to endeavour to improve that performance.
“Passenger access has been improved via the installation of new access at intermediate deck level to allow existing gangways to be used.
He went on: “Modified gangways incorporating a lifting frame should be in operation by the end of January 2004, allowing direct passenger access to onboard accommodation and an easier turn-round operation on the pier.”
He said that, while the company endeavoured to make as much advance notice of cancelled sailings available as possible, sometimes this decision not to allow the vessel to berth at Dunoon is taken at Dunoon by Argyll and Bute Council with only minutes to go before sailing.
He concluded: “The customer facilities on MV Coruisk are of the highest specification and in terms of comfort and ambience way beyond anything we can offer on the Streakers which are nearly thirty years old. I am disappointed that when we should be working together to try and come to a satisfactory conclusion on this route, our efforts to achieve this are not being recognised.”


TEMPERS BOIL OVER INFILL MEETING
Sandbank Community Council Chairman Stewart McIlvar performed a Herculanean task in the village hall last week in controlling a meeting called to discuss proposals to infill part of the foreshore of the Holy Loch to allow for the extension of the Marina.
The hall was packed with over 70 local residents who had come to hear the opposing views on the subject, and there to give them was marina owner Matthew Downs and Louise Drinkwater, the owner of one of the properties bordering the shore which would be affected by the infill.
Mr McIlvar opened the meeting by outlining its purpose, which was to ascertain the views of the community on the formal planning application which had been submitted, and to convey them, via the community council, to the planning authority in Argyll and Bute Council.
Matthew Downs was invited to speak first, and explained the logic behind his plans, which would be carried out in three phases over a six-year period. To allow for vessels to berth at the marina without grounding at low tide, it was necessary to excavate the existing foreshore to a maximum width of 100m. The spoil from the excavation would be moved on to the existing foreshore above the high water mark.
When the scheme was completed it would allow a path to run from Broxwood to Lazaretto Point, which fitted in with the stated desire of the community.
He explained that the material would dry and the top layer would eventually form a crust which would eventually be able to take considerable weight - land reclaimed already on the marina had machines of up to 50 tonnes moving across it. The intention was that it could be landscaped, which would give the marina an attractive backdrop and would also give the community an attractive recreation area, which would be grassed and landscaped.
Speaking against the proposal, Louise Drinkwater stressed that she and the other objectors were all for the marina, but were against the infill, which they believed was unnecessary. Mr Downs had said that he would go ahead without the infill, although it was only a preferred option.
She argued that the proposal would see the reclaimed land at a higher level than the seawall along the houses on the shore.
The main objections, she said were loss of privacy and security, danger to children and pets, and no control of access in or out of the marina. It also meant that residents would no longer have right of access to their own boats. The infill would also be detrimental to the ‘sheer beauty’ of the sea view enjoyed to the rear of these properties, and would also have a detrimental effect on their value.
There was also a concern over the noise and disturbance, as well as the stench which would be generated by the creation of the infill.
She made an impassioned plea to the floor: “There are 21 people directly affected by this, and 900 who are not. Don’t vote ‘yes’ because it’s at someone else’s back door and you won’t see it!”
Mr Downs took issue with the argument that the infill would rise above the sea wall, and a long discussion on the matter ended with him stating categorically: “If you can see over your seawall at present you will continue to see over it. The only properties that will be affected will be Clyde Cottages, where the level has already sunk.”
He explained that in between each stage of infilling the previous stage would be grassed and landscaped. The landscaping would not be carried out by Argyll and Bute, but by his company, the council’s only role would be to tell him what he could do.
One resident said that Mr Downs would turn the aspect from a loch to a wide river, but another said that the walkway would enable people to take in the view at their leisure, rather than drive past it at 30mph.
There was an exchange of views about the possible future uses for the infilled area; Mr Riddoch, who owns Miller Cottage, the last house on the shore, asked why Mr Downs would not gift the land to the community.
“Because it’s mine,” said Mr Downs.
The discussion got heated at this point, and Mr McIlvar told Mr Riddoch that if he was not prepared to give up the floor he would have to ask him to leave.
Mr Riddoch said he was leaving anyway but said that it was his belief that the ultimate intention was to build upon the land, and on that note he walked out to considerable applause - whether it was in support of his view or because he was leaving was impossible to tell.
Mr Downs explained that the exercise was subject to monitoring from a number of different bodies that would take random samples while the process was underway.
After two hours of often heated discussion the chairman drew the question and answer session to a close, with one final comment from a resident of the shore properties: “My home is everything I’ve got -I just don’t understand why people who aren’t going to pay the price are going to have a say in this.”
The penultimate item on the evening’s agenda was for the community council to collate the views expressed The chairman stressed that the vote would only be open to residents of Sandbank, and was solely for the purpose of ascertaining opinions. He pointed out that, due to the nature of the development, the village as a whole had to be involved.
34 people voted in favour of the application with15 against, and one spoiled paper.
This result means that the community council will not oppose the application, but will raise planning concerns arising from issues identified at the meeting.


Our pupils are top of the class
OUR pupils have not only gone to the top of the class, but top of the tables with their excellent exam results.
Secondary school examination results published by the Scottish Executive this month show that overall, Argyll and Bute pupils are above the national average for the fourth year running.
Results for Dunoon Grammar School’s S4 pupils showed an increase in the number of Standard Grades at credit level, with 22 pupils attaining at least six awards at Grade 1, as opposed to only four pupils last year.
Higher results for S5 and S6 pupils were also pleasing, and although there was a slight decline in the number of students gaining awards at Level 7 (CSYS grades between A and C) by the end of S6, there was an increased performance with the number of pupils achieving five awards or more at Level 6 (Higher grades between A and C).
Principal Teacher of Dunoon Grammar School, Joe Rhodes, told councillors at last week’s Area Committee meeting that their Standard Grade results were particularly pleasing because the year group was heavily skewed.
He explained: “The year group was one that worried us because there were over 100 boys and only 63 girls, and we felt that boys didn’t do quite as well as girls - but we were proved wrong on this occasion!”
The council’s Education and Lifelong Learning spokesperson Dick Walsh added: “This high standard of achievement reflects the excellent work of teachers and pupils, and has put Argyll and Bute’s results among the top third of authorities in Scotland.
“These young people are our future, and their results show we can place every confidence in them.”
Rothesay Academy’s High-er results were reportedly the best achieved by the school in living memory.
Michelle Robertson.


SAM IS SCOTLAND’S BRAVEST!
THE story of brave five-year-old Samuel Bell has touched the hearts of the nation, and this week, he was awarded a ‘Children of Courage’ award for his sheer determination and fight to survive.
Samuel’s parents Sharon and Marty and brother Martin were forced to move from William Street, Dunoon to be near Glasgow’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children after Samuel was born, when it emerged that he had the extremely rare condition of total intestinal Hirschsprung’s Disease, meaning that he cannot eat any food, can drink only water, and has to be fed through a tube for 16 hours a day - and is the only child in the UK to suffer from it.
They were initially told the Samuel wouldn’t live for more than three months as the intravenous drugs which were fed into his body could cause damage to his liver.
However, despite 19 operations, Samuel’s fighting spirit has pulled him through, and he proudly wears the backpack that contains the tube which leads into his body, and provides all the nutrients he needs to keep him alive.
Not only did he meet the Prime Minister on Wednesday morning, as part of the events leading up to the ceremony organised by Women’s Own, but a whole host of celebrities on the night including Pop Idol judges Simon Cowell, Nicki Chapman and presenter Cat Deeley. He and the other children picking up awards were treated also to lunch in the House of Lords.
Yesterday (Thursday) Samuel appeared on GMTV and was interviewed by Lorraine Kelly.
Before the family left for the ceremony, Sharon told the Observer: “Samuel is really looking forward to it.
“He even picked his kilt himself - a new purple tartan - and it turned out to be called ‘Scotland the Brave’. We thought it was very appropriate!”
As reported in the Dunoon Observer on November 7, Samuel’s grandfather Richard Reid is currently promoting a single he has written for his grandson, titled ‘Samuel’s Song’.
It is hoped that the moving tribute about Samuel’s life will help to raise funds for his treatment.


A CHRISTMAS CRACKER!
DUNOON’S Christmas switch-on event went with a bang last week, as crowds turned out in force in Argyll Street.
A large group of revellers gathered in Argyll Street, Dunoon last Thursday to watch the Christmas lights being switched on for the festive season.
Rick Murry, Chairman of Cowal Community Events had the honour of switching on the lights, and thanked local businesses for giving sponsorship and support to the event.
The crowd were entertained by choir singers from Dunoon Primary, Kirn Primary, Sandbank Gaelic Unit and Dunoon Grammar School brass band. Stilt walkers were also on hand displaying their juggling skills to amazed youngsters, while Santa Claus and his helper were busy handing out sweets to children.
Councillor Dick Walsh kept the crowd amused with his repertoire of jokes, and many people felt that this year’s event had been a definite success.
Santa exclusively told the Observer: “I would have liked to have stayed longer but unfortunately, I had to finish wrapping all the children’s presents for Christmas.”