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The Highland Line: is it really Fair to demolish Perth City Halls?

So for a second time Perth and Kinross Council has voted to pull down Perth City Halls.

Now we must wait to see whether the guardians of Scotland's historic environment will allow the demolition of the B listed building to proceed. Historic Scotland isn't saying anything yet.

If it does go, a lot of memories will go with it,  from Margaret Thatcher to Jimmy Shand and of course seven national Gaelic Mods.

For this blogger the mere mention of the Edwardian building's name brings back the memory of a Scottish Labour Party Conference in 1978. Or was it 1979? Indeed was it Labour or the STUC?

At any rate Jim Callaghan's Labour Government was still in power. The late John Smith was Secretary of State for Trade and he was there, as was Bruce Millan, Secretary of State for Scotland. Two cabinet ministers, they were effectively aristocracy within the Scottish party.

As such they were expected to show face at the civic reception the local council had put on for the party conference. Unfortunately they were delayed by matters of state and the building's main doors were firmly closed by the time they got there.  A couple of reporters found themselves  similarly locked out (perhaps it was the STUC) but joined the ministers in circumnavigating the hall trying all the side doors.

Eventually one was opened by a steward and the two cabinet ministers made clear they had to be let in, which they were. Bruce Millan without looking behind him, made a backwards gesture with his arm and firmly announced "These people are with us," clearly meaning the two press men.

What he hadn't realised was that a rather long line of humanity had formed on the way the hall, including several people who had already been at one civic reception too  many   - at least two holding fish suppers. But they all got in as guests of the Government, and made their own particular contributions to the evening's entertainment. A truly cherished memory, although  possibly not sufficient reason to retain the building.

Others can pay rather more wholesome testimony  to the City Halls' contribution to the cultural and social history of Perth. But will that be enough? Should it be enough?

It had opened primarily as a musical venue in 1911. But with the opening of the new Perth Concert Hall in 2005, with its  dazzling glass-fronted foyer and copper-topped dome hall, the City Halls largely fell into disuse.

However the Scottish Government policy states that no listed building should be demolished unless it has been clearly demonstrated that every effort has been made to retain it.

The case for demolition must also show: "the building is not of special interest; or the building is incapable of repair; or the demolition of the building is essential to delivering significant benefits to economic growth or the wider community; or the repair of the building is not economically viable and that it has been marketed at a price reflecting its location and condition to potential restoring purchasers."

If interpreted literally, these could be difficult hurdles.

In May last year Historic Scotland, acting for Scottish ministers, blocked the previous demolition application. The council proposed spending £4.4 million creating a new civic square with feature fountains and street furniture which would cater for a range of events and attractions throughout the year, from outdoor markets to an ice-rink.

It had been part of the council's  masterplan to regain city status, which was successful anyway.

But Historic Scotland said it didn't believe the local authority had made a compelling case for demolition, although the building closed over six years ago.

There has only been one planning application since the last council vote for a tourist information and visitor office at the entrance, a large indoor market  for speciality retailer and food vendors, small business units, and a gallery and roof top restaurant on the third floor.

But commercial property experts Jones Lang Lasalle, examined the plans for the council and were not convinced they were financially viable, needing substantial public funding. So councillors unanimously voted to throw these plans out and go back to the wrecking ball.

The saga has been followed by Prince Charles and his Prince's Regeneration Trust is calling for more talks between the council, Historic Scotland and other stakeholders.

But in the absence of a viable plan, the building will inevitably decay further, which is hardly in Perth's interests. The issue continues to divide the city.

So it will be even more difficult this time for Historic Scotland. It is a fine building and it would be a shame to see it go. But it is not the Taj Mahal.

Its removal certainly would give St John's Kirk, the oldest standing building in Perth, far greater prominence.
It was first mentioned in 1126, and the original building was completed by 1241, which rather gives It the historical edge.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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