Tories oppose Leith Museum plan

The Custom House. Picture: Scott Taylor
The Custom House. Picture: Scott Taylor
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TORIES will today oppose plans for a museum in Leith after claiming the deal would be like “signing a blank cheque”.

City chiefs have already agreed in principle to fork out £650,000 for the National Museums of Scotland-owned Custom House.

But Conservative councillors are set to vote against it because of unanswered questions over possible long-term financial risks.

Defiant campaigners insist that the plans will not be derailed, thanks to strong support from the Labour and SNP majority.

Tory finance spokesman Iain Whyte said: “Committing to purchase without knowing the future costs at a time when the council is already in financial difficulties – and has to make considerable savings – is economic madness.

“They don’t know the running costs and the revenue consequences or have any firm plans for how or who would run it. Purchasing it is premature.”

Tory culture spokeswoman Lindsay Paterson added: “We are trying to find out some further information and we do have our reservations.

“No-one is saying there shouldn’t be a museum in Leith but we don’t want to sign a blank cheque.”

The deal to buy the museum was reached following years of campaigning by heritage groups and paves the way to transform the A-listed building into a vault dedicated to celebrating the area’s proud maritime history.

Culture chiefs agreed last month to meet the asking price from the Common Good Fund after stepping in at the 11th hour as a two-week deadline to raise the cash ­approached.

Councillor Richard Lewis, the city’s culture leader, who helped broker the deal, said: “What is absolutely certain is that the opportunity to buy this first-class building of national and international significance would have been lost had we not stepped in when we did.

“If this is not the purpose of the Common Good Fund, then what is?”

He added that the council has already received three offers from potential partners but could not reveal them at this stage of the talks.

Alex Wilson, chairman of the Leith Business Association and a firm supporter of the museum plans, pledged that there would be “plenty of money” available to support the project.

He said: “The people of Leith will dip into their pockets for this, and I will be one of them. Once the museum becomes an operational entity, it will pay its way.”

Although the recent campaign for a museum was launched six years ago, Leithers have been fighting for something similar for several decades. It is understood that Rev Dr James Scott Marshall, minister of the Kirkgate Church between 1947 and 1973, had been among the first to moot the idea of using Custom House about 40 years ago.