Cap on spending throws £390,000 St Nicholas Church upgrade into doubt

© DC ThomsonSt Nicholas Church in Aberdeen
St Nicholas Church in Aberdeen

Ambitious plans to renovate one of Aberdeen’s most famous churches have been thrown into doubt because of a cap on spending on the historic building.

Councillors recently approved a £390,000 package of improvements for St Nicholas Church, with the money coming as part of a £1.3 million Scottish Government grant towards improving the city centre.

One of the conditions attached to the Holyrood investment is that the money be spent by next April.

But it has emerged that the Church of Scotland has imposed a £25,000 cap on investment in its Aberdeen estate, as the organisation prepares new plans for its presence in the city.

Ownership of the A-listed Mither Kirk, which hosts the largest carillon of bells in Scotland, is split between the Church and the Open Space Trust.

While the trust owns the east side, the Church of Scotland owns the west – meaning that any work there could not exceed £25,000.

The proposals included replacing the heating system at the 12th century place of worship, demolishing the boiler house and creating a wheelchair ramp to access St Mary’s Chapel.

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The package was organised as part of a larger £5.5million revamp, which aims to make the church a major tourist attraction.

A Church of Scotland spokesman said: “The Kirk of St Nicholas United is part-owned by the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland.

“The Presbytery of Aberdeen has introduced a moratorium on capital projects valued at more than £25,000 until the publication of a new Presbytery Plan.

“This is expected early next year.”

Opposition Liberal Democrat councillor, Martin Greig, who holds the ancient title of master of Kirk works, said: “It is essential that the funding for the work is accepted and spent.

“The grant is an opportunity handed to us that will enable some essential work to move forward.”

Alex Nicoll, opposition SNP resources spokesman, said: “It is concerning that all projects were brought forward without a single business case and the subsequent lack of clarity regarding whether this project meets the grant conditions is a fresh concern.”

But George Street and Harbour Conservative, Ryan Houghton, insisted that the team behind the project would “be mindful of any restrictions and plan accordingly”.