I WOULD like to comment on behalf of the Church of Scotland on Lesley Riddoch’s article about the Church and the community right to buy. The Church supports Community Right to Buy legislation and, whenever we have to dispose of a building, we encourage congregations and community groups to consider using it.

We are proud of our 90-year record of working with communities to ensure buildings that can no longer be maintained by congregations are put to the best possible use. We work with trusts and other heritage groups whenever possible. More and more we hope this will also involve working with community groups eager to find ways for church buildings to remain in community usage.

The Church of Scotland General Trustees are responsible for more than 4000 buildings and, when congregations merge, the local congregations and the church have to make a decision about which buildings to keep.

In the case of the London Road Church [in Edinburgh], a decision was made in November 2016 to close the building in January 2017. Members of the community group were aware of this but did not tell the General Trustees of their interest in forming a “right to buy” group. So it was not until after the building had been put on the market in April that the trustees learned of the group’s interest in buying the property.

As soon as the General Trustees were informed they delayed fixing a closing date for offers to give the group an opportunity to make a bid, and met with the group to discuss the options. The General Trustees also strongly advised the group to submit a bid at the closing date which would underline their interest. The group chose not to submit a bid.

In the event, the Scottish Government, not the Church of Scotland, turned down the community group’s application. The building is now under offer to a buyer we hope will continue to use it as a church and community asset. And the income from the sale will be invested back into the other church buildings in the local parish.

The Church of Scotland will always try to secure the best possible outcome for the church, with the interests of the congregation and the community as a priority. We believe that the Community Right to Buy is an important option in achieving what will be in the best interests of all parties.
Raymond K Young
Chair of the Church of Scotland General Trustees

LESLEY Riddoch’s article (No room at the Kirk for community buyouts?, December 14) raises important issues and asks some pertinent questions of the Church of Scotland.

We shouldn’t, however, lose sight of the fact that what ultimately ended In:Spire East End’s community buy-out bid for London Road Church wasn’t the attitude of the Church of Scotland – hugely unhelpful though it was – but rather the decision of Roseanna Cunningham MSP as the responsible minister to refuse to allow our bid to be registered.

She could have chosen to support our bid.

Such a positive choice would not have been “so unreasonable” an exercise of her powers and would have been difficult for the Church of Scotland to successfully appeal.

As a result of her decision we have now had to de-register our campaign’s involvement with the Scottish Land Fund. And the flawed legislation is not the fault of the Church of Scotland but the Scottish Parliament.

I am clear the Scottish Government, abetted by the Church of Scotland, have chosen to value the market more than the community. Moreover, it’s also clear we were misdirected by the officials in the Scottish Government’s Community Right to Buy (CRtB) team.

The CRtB legislation is indeed clearly failing, especially in cities; it is not “fit for purpose”. We had hoped the Scottish Government would wish to support such a huge community effort as we have undertaken. To say that we feel badly let down would be an understatement.
Lawrence Marshall
Secretary, In:Spire East End Ltd