Church to be reborn as Italians eye sell-off

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ONE of the most historic buildings on Scotland's "at risk" list is finally set for a new lease of life – having been put up for sale by the Italian Government.

Officials have finally given the go-ahead to the sale of a former Presbyterian church in Edinburgh's Old Town following years of demands to prevent it falling into ruin.

Plans to convert the building on Blackfriars Street, formerly the United Presbyterian Church, into an Italian cultural centre have come to nothing, despite the Vatican and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi being urged to intervene.

Now arts impresario Richard Demarco, who ran a venue in the building for eight years in the 1980s, has warned it would be a "disaster" if was allowed to become a backpackers' hostel or hotel, the most likely uses, according to its selling agents.

Sir Tom Farmer and Annie Lennox are among those who supported efforts to have the B-listed building, sold to the government by Mr Demarco in 1992, brought back into public use.

The church, which has a distinctive Gothic frontage, was designed by Robert Morham, and dates back to 1871. It is on the market at offers over 400,000.

Will Scarlett, a director at Rettie & Co, who are selling the building, said: "It is basically now surplus to requirements. It's in a good location in the Old Town and could be suitable for a number of uses, subject to planning, including hotel, backpackers, hotel or restaurant. We're expecting a fair bit of interest."

Mr Demarco said: "The building has to be brought back into some kind of cultural use. It's a magnificent space and it would be a disaster if it became a hostel or hotel."

Terry Levinthal, director of the Scottish Civic Trust, which has had the former church on its buildings at risk register since 2002, said: "It's very positive news to hear it's on the market and we hope an imaginative and innovative scheme comes forward."

THE FIRST ELEVEN

A BOATHOUSE, an animal hospital, a cancer research unit and a five-star hotel will compete for the honour of being named Scotland's best new building.

A school, hospital building and college complex have also been shortlisted for the UK's biggest architectural prize.

The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland has shortlisted 11 buildings for its eighth annual contest, named after the late architect Andrew Doolan.

Contenders include the Hotel Missoni, in Edinburgh's Royal Mile, the 10 million small animal hospital at Glasgow vet school and a luxury 300,000 boathouse on the banks of Loch Tay.

The new Stobhill Hospital, in Glasgow, is in the running, along with a new research facility at the Beatson Institution in the same city.

The transformation of a former public swimming pool in Edinburgh into an arts centre and the conversion of a run-down printworks in Glasgow are also shortlisted for the prize, which will be announced on 20 November.