Council set to buy Custom House for Leith Museum

Custom House is being sold off. Pic: comp
Custom House is being sold off. Pic: comp
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TALKS were taking place today to secure the Custom House in Leith as a museum for the ­historic port.

The city council is bidding to buy the building for up to £650,000 in the hope of fulfilling a long-standing dream of local campaigners to establish a Leith Museum.

But if agreement cannot be reached by Monday, the A-listed venue which dates back to 1810 will be put on the open market.

Current owners the National Museums of Scotland are ­selling the Custom House as it is no longer needed for storage.

The move is likely to raise eyebrows given the cash-strapped council is struggling to plug a £120 million black hole over the next four years.

Culture leader Councillor Richard Lewis said the city was under pressure to move quickly to acquire the building. Property officials were instructed to lodge a bid last night and negotiations are underway today.

He said: “We are hoping to sort it out and prevent it going on the open market. There has been talk of a Leith museum for years and this is an ideal opportunity. The Custom House is historically important and a national asset, not just an Edinburgh asset.”

He said the Common Good fund would be used to buy the building. And the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust is being brought in to seek additional funding and see how it could become self-financing as a museum, through such moves as including a cafe and a shop.

The trust, set up to secure the future of under-used historic buildings across Scotland, recently raised £3.5m to fund the redevelopment of Riddle’s Court in the Royal Mile.

Edinburgh Northern and Leith Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm welcomed the council’s move. He said: “The Custom House is a very important historical building and it’s the ideal location for a museum.”

The Custom House, in Commercial Street, was used for the collection of duty payable on goods imported through Leith.

Campaigners want a Leith Museum to chart the history of the area, including the visit of Mary Queen of Scots in 1561, the attack by the American navy during the War of Independence in 1779, the Siege of Leith from 1559 to 1560 and Leith’s controversial merger with Edinburgh in 1920.

Leith SNP councillor Adam McVey said: “I’m delighted the council is looking at purchasing Custom House with the aim of creating a Leith Museum. The building is an integral part of Leith’s history and this is a unique opportunity to create a public facility which will further boost Leith’s offering to tourists and the community.”

iswanson@edinburghnews.com