Ministers have been forced to step in to try to secure the future of one of Scotland’s most neglected architectural masterpieces after the demise of a company behind plans to turn it into a new cultural venue and visitor attraction.
The Scottish Government has ordered its heritage agency to explore options for breathing new life into St Peter’s Seminary, in Argyll, after the collapse of arts organisation NVA’a long-held vision for the woodland site.
NVA, which spent more than a decade planning the rebirth of the former training centre for priests at Cardross, near Helensburgh, has announced it will be closing down in September after deciding to pull the plug on its involvement with St Peter’s, which has been lying empty for decades.
Designed by Glasgow architects Gillespie, Kidd and Coia, St Peter’s opened in 1966 but only served its original purpose for 14 years before a brief spell as a drug rehabilitation centre in the 1980s.
Many experts regard St Peter’s, which sits at the heart of a 104-acre estate, as one of the greatest modernist buildings to be found anywhere in Europe.
Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “St Peter’s significance is well known internationally for its architecture and design, its natural setting and place in history.
“I have asked Historic Environment Scotland - as Scotland’s lead body for the historic environment - to consider longer-term options so this unique site can continue to fascinate and inspire the public.”
NVA has been responsible for some of Scotland’s most ambitious arts projects since it was formed by Angus Farquhar in 1992, including Glen Lyon in Perthshire, the Old Man of Storr on Skye, and Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.
It has blamed the pursuit of the “high-risk” revamp of St Peter’s, as well as the loss of long-term Creative Scotland funding in January, for its demise. Its announcement has come despite NVA declaring it had a “strong mixed economy model” combining public funding, private donations and self-generated income.
NVA said it had decided to shelve its plans for St Peter’s, which were to be funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, due to the project’s “increasing risks”.
Its statement added: “NVA’s original plan for St Peter’s was universally acknowledged as bold, with creative ambition at its heart. It was also recognised as a high-risk venture for a small, independent arts organisation.
“NVA has spent many years working with great passion and determination, with the support of the owners of the site, the Archdiocese of Glasgow, to save this iconic building for future generations.
“Important work was done to begin to preserve and restore the building and to demonstrate the immense creative, intellectual and community potential of the site.
“However, despite our best efforts we were unable to guarantee the viable future for St Peter’s that we had imagined and hoped for.
“In the end, we had no choice but to bring the capital project to an end.”
Ms Hyslop added: “It is very sad NVA has taken the decision to close. It has earned a reputation as one of the most innovative public arts companies in the country, and many people will have fond memories of its productions, installations and performances.”
A Creative Scotland spokeswoman said: “We appreciate how difficult this decision has been for NVA’s board and staff and will continue to offer support and advice to all those involved.”