Aberdeen oil firm pulls plan for Greyfriars Church

HOPES that a historic “eyesore” church in the centre of Aberdeen could finally be restored to its former glory have been completely dashed.

Optimus initial plans for Greyfriars. Picture: submitted
Optimus initial plans for Greyfriars. Picture: submitted

Earlier this year Optimus, an Aberdeen-based oil and gas engineering consultancy, announced ambitious plans to turn the disused Greyfriars Church, next Aberdeen City Council’s new headquarters at refurbished Marischal College, into the company’s global base.

The A-listed granite church had been branded an ugly eyesore by local politicians after it was left a dirty grey, while the Gothic building next door had a century of grime scrubbed off as part of the council’s £65 million refurbishment scheme.

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Optimus has planned to clean the exterior stone walls of the “iconic” kirk to bring the granite
façades back to their original
finish and to erect two modern glass structures inside to create three storeys of open-plan office space.

But, in a major blow for the ongoing redevelopment of the Broad Street area of the city, Optimus has announced that it has abandoned its plans to turn the 110 year-old church into its new international corporate headquarters and to relocate staff from its current Aberdeen headquarters in Carden Place.

A company spokeswoman said that delays in converting the building had meant its renovation had failed to keep pace with the engineering consultancy’s business expansion.

The spokeswoman said: “Plans for the renovation of Greyfriars John Knox Church were lodged at the end of 2012, with the proposed design featuring two steel and glass structures built within the interior of the church to create three storeys of open-plan office space while leaving the original building untouched.

“Optimus had hoped to move into the church in early 2014. The conversion cleared initial planning hurdles on 13 May and was granted listed building consent from Historic Scotland on 30 May. However, delays in converting the A-listed building, designed by A Marshall McKenzie and built in 1903, have seen Optimus make Gordon House, at the top of Rubislaw Den North in the heart of Aberdeen’s West End, its new corporate headquarters instead.”

Ian Bell, a director of Optimus, said: “Continuing delays to the start of work Greyfriars meant we dropped the idea of moving there. The consent given in May was not straightforward with many caveats.”

He claimed: “ The pace of the planning process was geological in nature compared to our ongoing expansion which meant we’d outgrown Osborne House on Carden Place and were unable to wait. Work at Greyfriars is yet to start and we needed to move office by the end of this year, so when Gordon House came on the market it was too good an opportunity to miss.”

Mr Bell continued: “Greyfriars is such a magnificent building that I’m sure the developers will have no problem whatsoever in finding alternative tenants.”