In late 2020, the City of Edinburgh Council received our first proposal for re-opening and re-furbishing the Town Hall, initially under community management and, if possible, eventually under community ownership. That proposal was supported by the significant consultations done over the summer of 2020 and was prepared by Portobello Central Ltd, a not-for-profit community organisation. The proposal was made following the advertisement by the Council in February 2020 inviting applications to lease the building.
On 11 February 2021 the Council announced:
“The expressions of interest have now been reviewed and it is proposed to move to a final closing date, which will provide all the original bidders with the opportunity to submit a “best and final bid” for the Council’s consideration.
If you wish to submit an improved/revised offer, please do so by the closing date of 12 noon on Fri 19 March 2021. Instructions for submitting bids are as per the process for submission of initial bids.”
Portobello Central submitted a revised offer on 19 March. In the interim, Portobello Community Council had, at the suggestion of the Council, conducted a public consultation, with the results published here. The results suggest continued strong support for a community-based management of the Town Hall.
Our offer now sets out a timetable for the necessary actions to transfer management to a new charitable body, a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO), which opens access to new funding sources. The SCIO would have a membership body electing the trustees, ensuring community control.
The Council plans to put the remaining offers (number unknown) to the Finance & Resources Committee on 20 May – the decision is one entirely for Councillors alone.
The revised offer is entitled “Delivering New Life” building on the ideas set out in “New Life for the Heart of Portobello” (see below).
It can be read here: “Delivering New Life“.
Our November 2020 document can be read here. It is now a supporting document to our final proposal.
In a Nutshell
- Portobello Central Ltd is a company limited by guarantee, a not-for-profit community organisation, formed by members of the Portobello community to prepare a proposal to the City of Edinburgh Council in response to its call for proposals for Portobello Town Hall.
- We propose that, in partnership with the Council, we progress towards an asset transfer of the building to a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO), set up for the purpose, with a board of trustees elected by the community, as required by the relevant legislation.
- We conducted a wide-ranging public consultation, during the period of COVID-19 restrictions, which identified a clear wish from the community that:
• the building re-open as soon as is practicable for a wide range of uses, traditional and new;
• it should be managed by the community.
• the building has capacity for more uses than just big events
- We understand the reasons behind the 2019 closure and are grateful for sight of the various reports commissioned by the Council on the works needed and their likely cost. We believe that a phased programme of work is possible, enabling the building to re-open in the autumn of 2021.
- Funding the work without a security over the building as a community-based organisation is difficult. We conclude that a straightforward, commercial-style lease is impractical. However, if the building were owned and operated by a community charitable body, such funds might be obtained from, for example, the Scottish Land Fund and the Lottery. Exploring these possibilities is difficult without a clear indication from the Council that our proposal should be pursued.
- A community-owned and managed venue offering a wide range of activities would sit well with the growing population of Portobello, with the current developments in Portobello itself, and to come at Brunstane and Seafield, adding to demand. Independent architect and surveyor consultants are available and keen; first indications are that they see the building as viable and could be opened for limited use with 3-6 months work.
- Currently, we assume that a Council decision, in principle, might take at least until the end of February 2021. Assuming that is favourable, the statutory steps for creation of a SCIO and to begin the asset transfer process could well run into late summer 2021. In parallel, the search for funds could continue.
- Working in partnership with CEC, and considering the unique offer of the Town Hall in the broader local landscape of community, charity and Council-run venues, we intend to use the period while an asset transfer is under consideration to conduct further work to prepare for opening the building, safely but with limitations by 1 October 2021, as a venue complementary to, and not in competition with, other venues in Portobello. This will involve a contractual arrangement with CEC to be negotiated.