It's time for clock work, but nobody is paying up

THE future of a historic town clock is in the balance following a four-year wrangle over who should pay for its repairs.

The clock, which hung on a 19th-century building in Portobello High Street, was taken down by the council in 2003 after decorative cast-iron pieces crashed on to the street below.

Portobello Baptist Church - which bought the former town hall building almost 90 years ago - has been asked to cover the cost of the repairs. However, the church insists it is not liable, as it says the council retained ownership of the clock in the original purchase of the B-listed building, which dates to the 1860s.

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Now council officials fear further repairs may be necessary on the stonework of the building before it is safe to put the clock back up.

Jack Spiers, secretary of the Baptist Church, said a statutory notice to pay for the costly renovations would cripple the church, which has recently had to pay 68,000 for a new lift and accessible toilet to comply with disability regulations. He said: "The deeds we have for the building state clearly that the clock was not part of the sale and therefore still belongs to the council, so we are not liable for repairs on it.

"The council has not consulted us about this at all - the clock was removed and the statutory notice was sent to a former secretary of the church who had been dead for nine years, so we knew nothing about it until it disappeared. We should not have to pay."

He added: "We can not afford to pay for stonework on the building if a statutory notice is put on it. We would have to get a huge loan, as I am not sure if the building insurance we have would cover it."

The council has responsibility for the minor maintenance of city clocks - but more extensive work is the responsibility of each clock's owner.

"The clock itself is currently with a clockmaker in Edinburgh, where its condition is being investigated by an expert.

Repairs to the ironwork are expected to be based upon the remaining parts of the clock as no paperwork relating to its construction has been kept.

Portobello councillor Maureen Child said: "The community council has been quite concerned to get the clock back up there, as it is a feature of Portobello High Street.

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"There was some discussion as to who owns the clock and who should pay for repairs. Now another problem seems to be that some stonework needs repairing on the building before the clock goes back up, which could be quite costly."

She added: "It is a very important building for Portobello and has a lot of history behind it - it would be a shame if it was not put back up soon." The council has agreed to work with the church to help resurrect the clock, but the dispute over the rightful owner of the clock and who should pay for the repairs has not yet been resolved.

A council spokeswoman said: "The council and its partners will ensure the clock is returned to the building in good working order and we will continue to maintain this important historic landmark in Portobello community."

She added: "The clock is currently in Edinburgh. Its condition is currently being examined in detail. This will then allow us to estimate the repairs needed to return the clock to working order. Only when this is completed will we have an idea of what the repair work is likely to cost."

It is understood the council is currently carrying out an inquiry into the extent of the damage to the stonework of the church before making a decision about how renovations will be carried out.