Tolbooth Asset Request Backed by Area Committee

By Jane Cruickshank / March 26, 2024

THE volunteers who took over the running of the Tolbooth Museum when the Council were going to close it in 2011 have today won the approval of local councillors for their Community Asset Transfer request for the historic building.

The familiar harbour-front landmark first served as a storehouse when it was built in the late 1500s. It later became a courthouse and prison. In recent years, it has housed a seafood restaurant in the upper floor with a museum below.

And it is the entire building the Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee voted unanimously to hand over to the Tolbooth Association for £1 – not just the ground floor and courtyard as recommended by officers who were looking to retain the upper floor as a commercial income generating asset and who also had concerns about the sustainability of the Association.

Lack of investment by Council

The upper floor of the Tolbooth currently fetches in the region of £18,000 per annum in rent.

Cllr Sarah Dickinson asked where this money went, and asked if Aberdeenshire Council were actively looking after the building.

Area manager Tim Stephen said the rent received went to the Council’s revenue budget.

He added: ”The honest answer is there is no direct link between the income raised and the building.”

And while Mr Stephen said he hoped the local authority had been a responsible landlord, the poor condition of the A-listed building was acnowledged in the report – a recent survey indicated works in excess of £100K are required.

Dennis Collie, speaking on behalf of the Tolbooth Association, said he felt this amount would now only ‘scratch the surface’

And he said this state of affairs could have been avoided if the Council had used a long-standing £55,000 fund that is ring-fenced for the building. Mr Collie asked why the money had not been spent.

Listed building in safer hands with volunteers?

As our councillors summed up their thoughts before voting on the CAT request, the lack of investment and maintenance by the local authority clearly helped in their decision-making.

Before proposing the Committee accept the request, Cllr Wendy Agnew said: ”In my view there is only one decision to make and that is to grant. The Council it would appear can’t afford to maintain the Tolbooth.”

Cllr Dawn Black said: ”It is an A-listed building so keeping it intact will be to its benefit. The income from the restaurant will be reinvested back into the building, which has obviously not been happening with the council.”

Ms Black also noted the successful running of the museum for 12 years by the volunteers and said they had improved the museum immeasurably over that time.

Committee chair, Cllr Sarah Dickinson concluded the asset transfer would support the economic development of the Tolbooth and its regeneration thanks to the income stream that would be brought to the volunteers.

”I am very grateful to them for all the work they have done over many years. They have brought and increase in footfall and a rewarding asset for the town.”

She added: ”Sustainability is an issue for every single group but the heart is there and the track record is there.”

Because the decision taken by the Kincardine and Mearns Area Committee is contrary to the recommendation made by officers, the CAT request will now go to the Business Services Committee for ratification.

Feature image: Satisfied with a good outcome – three members of the Tolbooth Association, from left, Dennis Collie, Andrew Newton and Douglas Cusine.