Save The Egyptian Halls
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[Petition update: This Petition has stopped taking signatures as of 1 December 2011 as the owners have informed the city council GCC that it will not be pursuing the Planning Appeal - see the blog post of the same date for more info.]
Restore & Regenerate or Rebuild & Regenerate: The Final Opportunity for the Egyptian Halls
An important conversion scheme to save Alexander Thomson’s finest commercial example of architecture must be implemented this year to forestall redevelopment. A legal maze has translated into 30 years of dereliction while deterioration has taken its toll. A funding agreement must be met to kick-start the conversion.
Union Street Investments Ltd (USI) and Union Street Properties Ltd (USP) were formed as part of a consortium to attain complete ownership of the entire building by acquiring the upper floors and the entire ground level respectively. This was a ‘condition precedent’ to engage Glasgow City Council (GCC) and Historic Scotland (HS).
The Egyptian Halls scheme is predicted to be a catalyst for Union Street’s overdue regeneration and can be viewed by logging onto www.egyptianhalls.co.uk.
The envisaged, but delayed ‘Restore & Regenerate’ scheme will deliver a mix of retail, leisure and quality hospitality, which will in tandem support tourism and job creation.
HS’s recent allocation of £4M to compliment nearly £5M of lottery funding for Abbotsford House has given hope for a similar HS contribution towards the Egyptian Halls, a seminal architectural masterpiece and cultural asset.
It is understood by all of the stakeholders that the Union Street consortium is the springboard to deliver the £20M conversion. All stakeholders are in favour of securing its future as can be seen from the quotes below. However, action may rest with the next [ps or this] Scottish Government.
Development appraisals were carried out as necessary for GCC/HS, revealing a deficit of £8.45M upon USP and a surplus of £1.61M upon USI, therefore combining into a cross-subsidized deficit of £6.84M.
The potential grant funding of £1.81M offered thereafter to USP and £0.84M to USI would have reduced this to £4.49M.
USI then agreed to defer its developers’ profit of £2M. HS however failed to leverage the Scottish Government for the commensurate £2.49M.
The grant bodies were finally made aware of USI’s further increased cross subsidy offer of £4.5M, which grew steadily to around £5.2M in response to there being no fundable tenants on the Ground Floor to borrow against and in order to guarantee a two year income stream for USP.
Neither has this incentivised the Scottish Government as the deficit continues to grow.
The Scottish Government has refused to meet with the owners (USP/USI) or to discuss the scheme in detail with GCC and HS – by citing that it was a “wholly commercial project” and ergo subject to market forces.
USI has in consequence and with great reluctance rescinded its £5.2M subsidy, and any progress with GCC/HS has foundered.
The USP deficit has therefore reverted, but now stands at £12M due to having no fundable leases and escalating repair costs.
The Scottish Government must enact its funding responsibilities and persuade USI to restore the subsidy, otherwise demolition and redevelopment is imminent.
Tax Incremental Funding (TIF) has also been ruled out without discussion as the Scottish Government has advised GCC that it cannot allocate this for a “private regeneration project”, despite the allocation for the Buchanan Galleries extension. The Egyptian Halls has also surprisingly not qualified for any Property Assistance Fund from Scottish Enterprise. All other funding avenues have been explored with GCC/HS.
Golden opportunities regarding a visionary planning led regeneration have been suggested to GCC, which have garnered significant support, e.g. the Egyptian Halls and Mackintosh’s Lighthouse could both flourish as part of a potential new thoroughfare using NCP’s cooperation and support.
It is now understood that USP will shortly lodge an application for demolition [ps has lodged and has been refused by GCC subject to appeal preparations by USP], not in ransom for public money, but as an investment right to see 84-100 Union Street regenerated in one way or another. The ‘Rebuild & Regenerate’ proposal to replace the Egyptian Halls is already being planned because of the impending irreparability
[ps although USI will formally apply for Consent to 'Restore' the upper floors as a hotel, while USP will lodge an Appeal on the demolition refusal - therefore maintaining the argument to 'Restore' against the apprehension to 'Rebuild'.]
This petition seeks to engage and deploy critical community support to urge the Scottish Government, GCC and HS into enacting their responsibility for the aforesaid preservation of the Egyptian Halls.
Public response is therefore necessary to rescue the building. Please respond positively and record your support for the project that would preserve the Egyptian Halls.
The initial stakeholder and media responses were as follows:
“One of Glasgow’s most important grade A listed buildings and is of real international significance. There is no doubt that it is a master-piece of Victorian design and construction – unfortunately now showing clear signs of accelerating deterioration.”
“The proposed development is clearly in line with national economic and tourism strategy and is a critical part of our developing strategy for the refurbishment /upgrading of Union Street.”
(Extracts from GCC’s Bailie Cameron’s letter of 7/7/10 to Culture Minister Hyslop)
“Based upon the available information I cannot see how there can be any chance of the building being remediated if the proposed work / project is not well underway by this time next year.” “What else can be said to stress the concerns and urgency of this matter?”
George Morrison, The Morrison Partnership, November 2010.
“There is no question that the Egyptian Halls is the finest surviving example of an Alexander Thomson commercial building. And it would be a great pity if lack of a relatively small amount of money in terms of public expenditure, condemned this building, which is a building of the first importance, not simply in Glasgow or Scotland but in European terms.”
Neil Baxter, RIAS June 2010
“City’s ‘Greek’ gem must be rescued.”
The Evening Times, December 2010
“The Egyptian Halls and the unique location, continue to give advantages, which are considerably greater than other potential city centre projects.”
Steve Inch, Exec Director DRS- GCC- July 2010
“This place is special on a world stage and worthy of support from every direction. Its Category A historic status means it is a cultural asset for all society for all time”
John Addison, Addison Conservation – The Herald/Times-June 2010
“The Alexander Thomson Society enthusiastically supports all efforts to save the building, which it recognises is a Thomson masterpiece.”
Robin Webster, Chairman The Alexander Thomson Society
This petition will be lodged initially in 2 parts to the Scottish Government (SG) in aid of the owners' cause, i.e. to realise a partly funded hotel conversion scheme. The petition sponsor will report back any forthcoming progress on its Blog page.
Part 1 was lodged prior to the indicative 2-month target-date (17 June 2011) of the statutory GCC Decision Notice on USP's application to demolish, with over 1800 signatures;
Part 2 (comprising 2524 signatures and 3654 Facebook-likes
was lodged with the SG on 1 August 2011.
[ps to avoid confusion: 598 likers were omitted from this iPetition during website developments in early to mid August], the circa 3050 figure on the actual facebook site has not dropped it has simply stabilised.]
The petition will continue to run with further parts until either A) its organisers receive a full response from the SG or B) in the event that the owners withdraw from their 'restore or rebuild' venture. Please keep updated via our blog page.
Ultimately we are pleading for the Egyptian Halls to be preserved in the face of a threatening and extremely weak national planning policy [SHEP cl.3.50], i.e. in terms of protecting our most cherished architectural wonders. We, in our thousands, would be nothing short of stunned if Egyptian Halls was to be a victim of the recent policy. SG [ps perhaps with 3rd sector support] must collaborate effectively to enable the delayed conversion scheme to proceed - or instead be accountable for permitting inconsolable demise.
The signatories of this petition (the undersigned) ask the Scottish Government if it can collaborate towards securing a viable future for the Egyptian Halls.
All friends of Alexander "Greek" Thomson The sponsor is made up of a community engagement team of three volunteers including its founder Derek Souter of USI/USP, making four volunteers in total under the alias of 'All Friends of Alexander "Greek" Thomson'. Kevin Toner is the author of the written material on the petition and Blog. Here he acts individually as a volunteer and therefore does not represent any other organisation to which he is affiliated - The same is true of the other 3 volunteers including Derek Souter, Ann Laird and another on the social networking side.