Two weeks to keep Leith Museum plan alive

Custom House could be sold off if cash is not found to buy it. Picture: Scott Taylor
Custom House could be sold off if cash is not found to buy it. Picture: Scott Taylor
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A DREAM of a museum dedicated to Leith could be dashed after almost 30 years of ­campaigning unless a plea for a wealthy backer is answered in two weeks.

The plan to revitalise the historic Custom House has reached a crisis point following the announcement that National Museums Scotland (NMS) intends to move out of the building and sell it.

But members of the Leith Museum Campaign are now ­actively seeking potential ­patrons amid claims it would otherwise be “impossible” for them to raise £600,000 needed to acquire the A-listed building on Commercial Street.

The Evening News understands museum bosses are sticking to their time-frame despite mounting pressure from councillors, local MPs and MSPs for a “vital stay of ­execution”.

Campaign leader Mark ­Lazarowicz, Labour MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, revealed that “approaches had been made” to potential backers, and said he would be ­contact NMS directly to ask for an extension.

He said: “Getting this bid ­together is a tall order. The danger is that someone will put a higher bid in.

“This certainly presents difficulties and I will be writing to NMS to ask for more time to work up a proposal

“We are still very hopeful that all the parties involved will pull together and are prepared to seize the opportunity to make this happen.”

Malcolm Chisholm, Labour MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, has written to Scotland’s culture secretary Fiona Hyslop asking if she can intervene with the NMS.

He said he would also ­attempt to raise the issue at First Minister’s questions.

But Fraser Parkinson, administrator of the Spirit of Leithers website, said he was “very concerned” about the timeline.

He said: “Getting that money together makes the task pretty impossible unless we can get a knight in shining armour to come in.”

Graham White, who set up the Leith Museum e-petition, was defiant however, adding: “The fight is by no means over.”

NMS has not said when it plans to sell the building on the open market but campaigners understand the “first refusal” option now on the table expires in under a fortnight.

A spokesman from NMS, confirmed it was still their intention to vacate Leith Customs House by April 2015 and take its contents to new facilities being built at Granton.

She said: “As a non-departmental public body and ­charity, we are obliged to achieve the best-value outcome from the disposal and are therefore ­required to sell the building at market value.”

Alex Wilson, chairman of the Leith Business Association, branded the deadline “deplorable”, adding he believed NMS had acquired the building for a “fairly modest sum.”

Earlier this week John R Hume, of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, said the Custom House would be an “ideal location” for the museum and would be massive draw for visitors.”