Plan for Leith museum in doubt over shortfall

The city council has agreed to pay �650,000 for Custom House in Leith but is refusing to commit any more money to the museum project. Picture: Scott Taylor
The city council has agreed to pay �650,000 for Custom House in Leith but is refusing to commit any more money to the museum project. Picture: Scott Taylor
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AMBITIOUS plans for a Leith museum have been left hanging in the balance after campaigners revealed the project was facing a funding shortfall.

City chiefs have already agreed to pay £650,000 for the National Museums of Scotland-owned Custom House after decades of campaigning by heritage groups.

But with the keys due to be handed over in April, the council is unable to pledge any more cash to kick-start the project and will be taking a back seat.

The Scottish Historic Buildings Trust (SHBT) was among the front-runners to run the museum but it has now emerged that additional funds would be needed before it would take Custom House on.

The city will have to foot the bill for costs if negotiations are not concluded before April, and it is now inviting bids for “mixed-use”.

Campaigner Alex Wilson, chairman of the Leith ­Business Association, estimated making the building “look loved” would cost up to £30,000.

He stressed that recent meetings between heritage groups and city chiefs had been “positive” but added that campaigners were essentially on their own following the handover.

Between now and then, heritage groups may appeal to Leithers to make donations to pay for the building to be painted and cleaned before potential tenants arrive.

Though it is understood talks are continuing with the SHBT, a source said there was “concern” over its commitment to the project. The insider added: “I wonder what the council thought they were doing when they committed to buying ­Custom House? I wonder if they have another more lucrative plan in mind – they know it is worth much more on the commercial market.”

Councillor Richard Lewis, the city’s culture leader, said: “The council has stepped ­forward with an offer to acquire Custom House, but as is necessary for a building of such historical significance, a number of due-diligence ­surveys and reports need to be finalised before any further decisions are taken.

“We are inviting all interested parties to come ­forward with creative and imaginative proposals for the development.

“We look forward to considering bids for a mixed-use building which offers long-term benefits to local people while celebrating the heritage of Leith.”

The criteria for bids require developers to consider how the building would benefit the local community, ­including 250 square metres for the museum.

The council will be ­retaining ownership, with any ­surplus revenue going into the ­Common Good Fund used to buy the building.

john.connell@edinburghnews.com