Housing

Empty Edinburgh church building to become community hub

Edinburgh campaigners become first urban group in Scotland to benefit from the country’s community right-to-buy powers.

Campaigners in Edinburgh are set to transform an empty church into a multi-purpose community hub – the first group in a Scottish city to benefit from the country’s “community right-to-buy” powers.

The Action Porty group have been given permission by ministers at Holyrood to take over the Portobello Old Parish Church and halls, deemed surplus to requirements by the Church of Scotland.

The buildings will now be restored and run in the public interest, with plans to create a new cafe, meeting spaces and a viewing platform. It will also be made available to youth group activities and hired out as a wedding venue.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gives community groups the right to buy land and assets under certain conditions. Although the powers have been used widely across rural Scotland, this is the first time permission has been granted to a group inside a major city.

“Land is one of our most valuable assets and land reform has already delivered significant benefits to rural communities across Scotland,” said land reform secretary Roseanna Cunningham.

“It gives me great pleasure to grant consent to Action Porty for a community right to buy in Edinburgh and I look forward to seeing the group’s plans to construct a community hub progress.”

We sincerely hope that we will be the first of many

Ian Cooke, director of Action Porty, explained that the legislation and local fundraising had helped them fend off potential competition from private developers to purchase the building from the Church of Scotland for an undisclosed sum.

“We are delighted to be the first urban community to use the community right to buy, but sincerely hope that we will be the first of many,” said Cooke.

“Given the commercial interest in the property, it is highly unlikely that the community would have been able to acquire the site without this support.”

In England and Wales, community land trusts (CLTs) have a similar power to obtain land and assets. A CLT is an increasingly popular way for small organisations set up and run by ordinary people to build or restore homes for use by the community. There are now 225 CLTs with plans to build 3,000 homes by 2020.

In Liverpool, the Granby 4 Streets CLT was given 10 empty terraced homes in the city to restore.

So far, five have been rented out by the CLT, with three more put up for sale for £90,000 – a price linked to the Liverpool living wage. In the next phase, the CLT will refurbish derelict shops and set up an arts hub.

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