FOR the past eight years, Carol Woollcott has been trying to build a specialist dementia care home on Bute.

The property developer and her husband, Ian, purchased the seafront plot south-east of Rothesay in 2011, and was granted planning permission for her Ascog Park project a year later.

However, the land remains empty and Mrs Woollcott says she is on the verge of abandoning the scheme after becoming exasperated with the local council and Health and Social Care Partnership.

"I'm at the end of my tether with it now," she said. "I'm seriously just thinking about selling the land. It did have planning permission before for 10 large houses, so that could go ahead instead."

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Bute has one of the oldest populations in Scotland and high rates of dementia. 

However, it has only one residential care facility - eight-bed council-owned Thomson Court - which caters to people with dementia, learning disabilities, young people with support needs and frail older adults. 

A larger care home for older people, privately-run Craigard in Rothesay, was forced to shut down in 2016 after the Care Inspectorate said residents were at "high risk" of harm. 

As a result many families are left to cope with relatives with dementia at home, or face sending them miles away to a mainland care home.

Mrs Woollcott has worked with architects GD Lodge and experts in dementia services from Stirling University to design a purpose-built retirement village comprising 11 bungalows and a 30-bed nursing home with specialist dementia facilities, en-suite rooms, gardens, a hairdressers and restaurant.

While the demand is there, she says the couple are fearful of investing in the development without a guarantee - or 'letter of comfort' - from the authorities that they will actually send local people to the facility.

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Mrs Woollcott previously owned a small private care home on Bute during the 1980s, but said it had been forced to close after the then-Strathclyde council prioritised its own homes for referrals.

She said: "They say if I build it they'll use it, but my healthcare consultant is saying 'well, would you spend £4 million building something without any sort of guarantee?'

"This is what happened on Bute before. I had a nursing home, and there was another huge nursing home on the front too.

"We were all put out of business at that time because they had a huge annex on the hospital, and people who had chosen to come into my home or the other nursing home would be talked round to staying there instead, or told there would be more trained staff in the local authority home.

"I just need a guarantee that, if we build it, they will use it."

The project has previously been backed by Bute community council and by local MSP, Mike Russell, who said the present need to send people to the mainland for care was "bad for the individuals, the families involved and not positive for the island itself".

Mrs Woollcott says she has written to Prince Charles, the Duke of Rothesay, asking for his help.

She said: "Our old people are suffering and have been for years. I know elderly people who have to travel on the ferry every day, in all weathers, taking buses and taxis, just so that they can visit their husband or wife on the mainland.

"I've got a friend whose mum and dad have both got dementia but they're both at home because she doesn't want to have to send them away. It's traumatic."

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Bob Wade, 90, looked after his wife Margaret for 12 years until his frailty and her worsening dementia forced him to place her in a care home on the mainland, in Port Glasgow, in August 2016.

Mr Wade, a retired Ministry of Defence worker, who had lived on Bute with his wife, 92, since 1974, said it was now "very difficult" making the journey via taxi and ferry to visit Margaret because he has broken both his legs in recent years and walks with a frame.

"I'm 90. With crutches it was hard, but with the frame now it's just impossible," said Mr Ward.

A relative, who has recently retired to Bute and owns a car, now drives Mr Ward once a fortnight to Port Glasgow, helping him on and off the ferry.

He said having a facility like Ascog Park on the island would have made a big difference.

Mr Wade said: "It would have helped enormously. I read a couple of years back in the Buteman that there 'wasn't a requirement' for a care home on Bute - it strikes me that's just an excuse to save money.

"I understand that islands tend to have more older people and it is difficult for the council to justify setting up, in a small community, a home big enough to accommodate all those people who need it.

"But here's someone offering to build it."

An Argyll and Bute HSCP has previously said it “would not be appropriate” to guarantee referrals to Ascog Park because it is for families and not the HSCP to decide on the preferred home for their relative. 

A spokesman was unable to respond when asked to comment on the current situation.