South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth and Annandale East and Eskdale Councillor Archie Dryburgh are urging the Church of Scotland to work with the local community over the future of Gretna Old Church Hall in Gretna Green.
Owners the Church of Scotland have put the hall up for sale for offers over £90,000, raising fears that community groups using the neighbouring Stormont Hall will lose access to the Church Hall car park. With no car parking available at the Stormont Hall itself, groups have used the Church Hall Car Park for more than 20 years. The lack of car parking space would mean many people would be unable to attend events at the Stormont Hall or be forced to park in nearby residential areas.
An approach by Springfield and Gretna Green Community Asset Trust with the support of the local Community Council to the Church in 2019 expressing an interest in a community buy out of the Church hall, which had been empty for a number of years, and car park, then just the car park was never responded to by the Church who have now advertised the site for commercial sale.
Colin Smyth has written to the Moderator of the Church of Scotland Ian Greenshields asking the church to meet with local politicians and community groups to discuss the future of the hall, including access to the car park.
Colin Smyth said, “Everyone accepts that the Church of Scotland are going through a major process where they are disposing of many of their churches and halls because of a lack of use and no one disputes the right to sell the hall. It’s just disappointing that an opportunity for the community to buy the hall and car park rather than simply putting it on the open market wasn’t pursued first by the church. It looks as if the church is going for a sudden, quick sale and clearly that doesn’t give the community time to pull together a bid and secure funding.
“If the Church Hall is sold and access to the car park is restricted for public use, then it could put the very future of the neighbouring Stormont Hall at risk as well as the playing field. The income from the hall funds the upkeep of the field. The Stormont Hall relies on users accessing the Church Hall car park and in fact double yellow lines outside Stormont Hall means without the use of the car park, you couldn’t even load and unload and that would make certain events impossible.
“There may not be any written deal between the church and community to access the car park because no one ever thought there would need to be, but funding was secured through the community to improve the car park a number of years ago as a result of an explicit statement by the church that the car park was used by the community.
“I have written to the Moderator of the Church of Scotland seeking a meeting between the Church, myself and local councillor Archie Dryburgh and the Community Council and Community Trust to discuss whether we can find a way forward. Ideally we would hope the church would put a halt on any sale to allow time for a community buy-out to be developed or at the very least secure a commitment in any sale that any future owners would continue to allow public access to the car park for those using the Stormont Hall”.
Annandale East and Eskdale Councillor Archie Dryburgh has also written to the Church. Archie Dryburgh said, “There is no doubt that there would be significant demand from the community for a buy-out and crucially there is likely to be funding available. Dumfries and Galloway Council through our place based regeneration plans as part of the Borderlands Growth Deal means this is the type of project that could secure support and there are other funders. The Church Hall could be used by local groups or businesses who have already been in touch with me. We just need the church to sit down and discuss options that at the very least maintains access to the car park. The last thing we need are the large number of groups who use the Stormont Hall simply stopping that use because there is nowhere to park at the hall or causing problems for local residents by parking in residential areas.
“At the end of the day we are one community and many of the people involved in local groups who use Stormont Hall and also involved in the local church. I am sure that by working together we can find a solution that meets the best interests of the community because that should be the priority for everyone.”