A MYSTERY buyer has foiled a community bid to take over a landmark city centre church.
Agents behind the sale of St Stephen’s Church in the New Town have told members of St Stephen’s Playfair Trust (SSPT) that their £505,000 offer has been beaten.
Bosses at Rettie & Co say they are now moving ahead with a “preferred bidder” but remain tight-lipped on the buyer’s identity.
SSPT leaders admitted they were bitterly disappointed but said they understood the purchaser is “reputable” and intends the “present usage” of the church – which is well known as a community centre and Fringe venue – to continue.
Dr James Simpson, SSPT chair, said: “We’re disappointed. I think we put in a very credible proposal. I’ve been assured that the bidder is well-intentioned and either is, or has, a charitable trust vehicle in which St Stephen’s would be vested, and that they intend to continue making use of the building as it has been used.
“That has yet to be tested.”
SSPT leaders said they would aim to make contact with the buyer and form a partnership, but stressed no dialogue could begin until missives are formally exchanged.
“We know that we had a lot of support from councillors and MSPs, and a lot of interest,” said Dr Simpson.
“I’ve been concerned to ensure that the future of St Stephen’s is community-based and that it is properly sustainable in the long term.
“That’s the sort of thing we would wish to talk to the owner about. But they have been very well spoken of and I wish them very well.”
Political reaction to the news was downbeat.
Councillor Nigel Bagshaw, Green member for Inverleith, said: “I’d be very disappointed – especially if the church is no longer going to be available for public use.
“The other thing is that we have lost the theatre workshop and I was hoping that there would be a community facility left in Stockbridge. There won’t be unless the new people use it for a similar purpose.”
He added: “The one thing I would not want to see is that it’s no longer available for community use. Anyone who’s going to keep it open, available and accessible is to be welcomed.”
Rettie confirmed it was proceeding with a preferred bidder, but declined to comment further.