Anger at piazza plan for site of Perth City Hall

IT HAS provoked the biggest furore since John Knox sparked the Scottish Reformation by preaching against the evils of idolatry in Perth’s ancient kirk.

Controversial plans to create a new central square by demolishing the Edwardian City Hall have left the town bitterly divided.

Battle-lines are now being drawn in advance of a crucial vote in October to demolish one of Scotland’s most iconic public buildings, originally constructed in 1908 as a leading concert venue, to make way for a new public space.

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Perth and Kinross Council, which voted in principle last June to raze the landmark to pave the way for the new square, has put forward a series of detailed designs, claiming it will spearhead a drive to create a thriving centre to the town, now vying to be named as one of Britain’s new cities. They will also open up views to the historic St John’s Kirk, one of the oldest medieval churches in the country.

But opposition has intensified following the decision of James Provan, the former MEP, and other prominent local figures, to unveil alternative proposals. They include part of the façade being retained.

So far only eight members of the public have written to the council supporting plans to demolish the B-listed hall, which has lain derelict for six years. But more than 330 individual letters of objection to the scheme have been received by the council and the Scottish Civic Trust and Save Britain’s Heritage are also against the demolition proposals.

And Nicholas Crane, the BBC presenter who recently featured Perth in his documentary series on Britain’s towns, has also condemned the proposals, declaring: “My feeling is that to put an Italian piazza here in Perth is rather like building a centrally-heated shopping mall in the Sahara.”

Provan, who is heading the Perth City Centre Campaign, said he strongly objected to the council acting as both “judge and jury” on the fate of the City Hall. He claimed: “They have a responsibility as a council to look after our heritage. But they have got a building that they can’t find a use for, so they have decided to demolish it. If it had been anybody else who owned that building and it was subject to listing, they probably wouldn’t allow it to be demolished.”

The future of the building has been in the balance since it was replaced by Perth Concert Hall in 2005. But Provan claimed that should the council approve the city square proposals, including the demolition the City Hall, they would be doing so against the wishes of the vast majority of the people of Perth.

But he stressed: “All that we are trying to do is to get a compromise, because I think a lot of people recognise that a civic square in Perth would be good idea. But the council wants to totally demolish a historic building. Our plan would retain less than 20 per cent of the City Hall and allow enough space to have a proper civic square without it being too big and therefore too empty and draughty.”

But Councillor Ian Miller, council leader, said: “The hall has outlived its usefulness. The alternative, as far as I can see, is just to leave it standing. And who is going to pay for the upkeep? It will be the council that will probably foot the bill and we have already had complaints in the past about the amount it was costing to maintain it.”

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