Officials at the Cockburn Association have expressed their disappointment that council budget constraints have resulted in Edinburgh World Heritage abandoning its lease and plans to find a long-term and sustainable use for the 17th century Tron Kirk.
Edinburgh World Heritage took over the running of the building in 2018 on a discounted lease via the council on the basis that they would restore the building.
The Tron was brought back into temporary use as an exhibition site and book shop with plans to fully restore the former church, which is on the Buildings at Risk Register.
When it became clear that the necessary funds would not be raised, Edinburgh World Heritage approached the council. However, this appeal was refused.
At a meeting of the Finance and Resources Committee at Edinburgh Council on December 3, 2020, it was decided not to supply funds to the Tron Kirk project in part due to “significant unbudgeted capital pressures”.
Edinburgh World Heritage, which will vacate the building from April 1, said on Thursday that council contributions towards the cost of conservation and refurbishment were seen as a key aspect for their major funding partners.
The Cockburn Association said the news that Edinburgh World Heritage is to vacate the building is a “huge blow” to the city’s heritage.
Director of the Cockburn Association, Terry Levinthal, said: “The announcement that Edinburgh World Heritage has pulled out of its lease and project proposals for the Tron Kirk is a huge blow for the heritage of Edinburgh.
"The Tron is a Category A-listed building that sits in the heart of the Old Town and World Heritage Site. Its deteriorating condition and lack of a long-term use finds it placed on the Buildings at Risk Register.
"It strikes us as very odd that the council was unwilling to contribute towards a project that would secure its long-term future in the full knowledge that the financial and other liabilities will return to the council for their full responsibility if they didn’t.”
Built in 1647, the Category A listed Tron Kirk served as the focal point for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations until 1993, when the main street party migrated to Princes Street.
Mr Levinthal added that it is “ironic” the local authority is able to continue paying £800,000 in contract obligations to Underbelly for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, but cannot find the cash to save the Tron Kirk, the “spiritual home of Hogmanay”.
He said: “The Tron provided the opportunity to invest in the historic fabric of the city, which would also reinforce the city’s tourism offer given that the vast majority of people visit Edinburgh because it is a historic city.
"The Tron is also the spiritual home of Hogmanay; it is ironic that £800,000 goes to the organisers of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay but nothing to save this iconic building.”
Edinburgh Council says the combination of the coronavirus pandemic and other financial pressures meant they were unable to comply with Edinburgh World Heritage's request for funds.
Councillor Rob Munn, Convener of the Finance and Resources Committee at the City of Edinburgh Council, said: "We’re grateful to Edinburgh World Heritage for their hard work and commitment to the Tron Kirk over a number of years and respect their decision to withdraw.
“Their lease agreement was always predicated on the successful development of a viable long term business case, by EWH, which would lead to securing the necessary funding to not only restore but expand the operations of the building. Whilst the Council was able to support these aspirations through our lease agreement, no Council funding was allocated and we were always clear that this would need to be sourced from elsewhere.
“The Committee subsequently considered a funding request from EWH but decided that this request was not able to be supported given the priorities for and pressures on our capital budget and the future infrastructure needs of our growing capital city.
“A report detailing the options for the short and longer-term future of this historic and important building will be brought to the Finance and Resources Committee in May.”