Community buy-out of old Porty church is hailed as a trailblazer

Roseanna Cunningham with Rev George Whyte of the Church of Scotland
 admire Portobello Old Parish Church. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Roseanna Cunningham with Rev George Whyte of the Church of Scotland admire Portobello Old Parish Church. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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THE community buy-out of a redundant church in Portobello has been hailed as a trailblazer for other urban groups across Scotland.

Land Reform Secretary Roseanna Cunningham 
visited the former Portobello Old Parish Church and Halls in Bellfield Street to congratulate Action Porty on becoming the first organisation in an urban area to benefit from community right-to-buy powers.

The group plans to turn the buildings into a multi-use community hub offering a base for Scouts, Guides and other groups, as well as affordable meeting rooms and a venue for performances and celebrations.

Action Porty has agreed a £600,000 purchase price with the Church of Scotland and hopes to get the keys in August, then get the buildings into shape ready to open for regular use in December or January.

Ms Cunningham said: “Congratulations to Action Porty on obtaining consent to proceed with the community right-to-buy of the former Portobello Old Parish Church and halls.

“Land is one of our most valuable assets and land reform has already delivered significant benefits to rural communities across Scotland.

“It gives me great pleasure to grant consent to Action Porty for a community right-to-buy in Edinburgh and I look forward to seeing the group’s plans to construct a community hub progress.

“This is very much a trail blazer for urban communities. There are empty properties across Scotland that could be put to really good use if communities identify them and do what the people have done here. I want people in urban communities across Scotland to look at this and say ‘we can do this too’.”

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gives communities the right to buy land and assets under certain conditions. The powers have been used widely across rural Scotland but the Bellfield buy-out is the first time permission has been granted to a group within a city to proceed with a purchase.

Action Porty has already been granted £570,000 from the Scottish Land Fund towards the purchase. The group is borrowing the remaining £30,000 and will launch a fundraising campaign to cover the cost of that and future development.

Ian Cooke, Action Porty director, said: “We are delighted to be the first urban community to use the community right-to-buy, but sincerely hope that we will be the first of many.

“Given the commercial interest in the property, it is highly unlikely that the community would have been able to acquire the Bellfield site without this support.”

David Robertson, secretary to the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland, said agreeing a settlement with Action Porty for its purchase of the former church and halls had been a straightforward process under the legislation.

He said: “The General Trustees are always willing to consider community purchase proposals for other redundant properties that are presented to them. Each case would be judged on its own merits bearing in mind the trustees’ obligations as stewards of charity assets.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com