Tron Kirk future uncertain as Edinburgh World Heritage departs due to council cash constraints

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It was once the focal point of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations, but council budget constraints have forced a leading heritage conservation body to unlink arms with the city’s historic Tron Kirk.

Edinburgh World Heritage Trust (EWHT) has announced it is to end its occupancy of the Tron Kirk on April 1, sparking concerns for the future of the medieval building.

The heritage charity, which is funded by the council and Historic Environment Scotland, and is responsible for the conservation and promotion of the Old and New Town World Heritage sites, took over the building in 2018.

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Since EWHT moved in to the council-owned property, the Tron Kirk has been brought back into temporary use as the home to Our World Heritage, an exhibition showcasing the World Heritage Sites of Scotland, and included John Kay’s Shop, the Scottish Textile Showcase and the Edinburgh Welcome ticket desk.

But at a meeting of the Finance and Resources Committee of December 3, 2020, the Council decided it was unable to allocate funding for the project due to “significant unbudgeted capital pressures”.

EWHT’s ultimate vision for the medieval landmark involved a multi-million pound refurbishment of the building to create a centre for Scotland’s World Heritage Sites and other UNESCO designations, such as the Creative Cities Network, geoparks and biospheres.

However, the plans are now up in the air following EWHT’s announcement to vacate the premises.

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Councillor Rob Munn, Convener of the Finance and Resources Committee at the City of Edinburgh Council, said plans for the immediate and long-term future of the Tron Kirk would be published in the spring.

Edinburgh World Heritage has announced it is to end its occupancy of the historic Tron Kirk.Edinburgh World Heritage has announced it is to end its occupancy of the historic Tron Kirk.
Edinburgh World Heritage has announced it is to end its occupancy of the historic Tron Kirk.

Cllr Rob Munn said: “The Council appreciates the work that Edinburgh World Heritage put into the Tron over a number of years and respect their decision to withdraw from the building.

“After carefully considering our options in December last year Committee decided that allocating the funding requested would put too much stress on our budget, which has many competing pressures, including those due to the current health pandemic.

"We’re bringing a report on options for the short and longer-term future of this historic and important building to the city in May.”

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Situated in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town 17th century Tron Kirk was added to the Buildings at Risk Register in 2003 and the Category A listed property, which, until 1993, was the focal point of the city’s Hogmanay celebrations, has remained under threat ever since.

Indoor markets have proved popular at the Tron Kirk in recent years.Indoor markets have proved popular at the Tron Kirk in recent years.
Indoor markets have proved popular at the Tron Kirk in recent years.

New life had been injected into the building in recent years, including the erection of indoor market stalls and the glassing over of the archaeological remains of Marlin’s Wynd, the earliest paved street in Scotland.

EWHT say a key aspect for major funders was that the council, which owns the building, make a contribution to the cost of conservation and refurbishment.

In their announcement on Thursday, EWHT bosses, who were committed to finding a sustainable long-term use for the building, say the decision by the local authority means that the likelihood of securing support from other major funders the project is now judged to be very low.

A spokesperson for EWHT said the charity may seek to renew its ties with the building as an occupant in the future – if funding is made available.

They said: “The principal reason the Tron Kirk is on the ‘at risk’ register is because it does not have a sustainable long-term use. Looking ahead, Edinburgh World Heritage will continue to work with the City of Edinburgh Council and other partners towards identifying an appropriate use.

“Many urban World Heritage Sites in Europe benefit from a central building where residents and visitors can learn about the site and get involved in planning for the future. We believe that Edinburgh should have a similar resource.

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"The Tron may be a long term option – but not without some form of capital commitment from the city for its conservation and refurbishment.”

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