Row over council plans for St Magnus Cathedral

St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney.
St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney.

A row has broken out in Orkney over alterations to the grand entrance at the iconic St Magnus Cathedral.

Orkney Islands Council is consulting on plans to have a disabled access ramp, a 100-year-old door removed and a new glass entrance put in.

Councillor John Ross Scott has come under fire for backing the plans, funded by voluntary group the Society of the Friends of St Magnus Cathedral.

If approved, the plans will see a raised walkway from the Palace Road side of the cathedral towards the main entrance.

As part of the works an interior doorway, fitted in 1926, will be removed and a glass entrance fitted to the interior of the ancient building.

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But the plans are now at the centre of a row with locals accusing Mr Scott of riding roughshod over objections based on concerns about changing the look of the cathedral.

Mr Scott is a “advisor” to the Society of the Friends of St Magnus Cathedral appointed by Orkney Islands Council.

On social media, islander Aine King said to Mr Scott: “Dismissing objections as merely ‘negative’ is very worrying. This kind of imbalance just pours more fuel on the fire of people’s sense of powerlessness and disenfranchisement.

“You’re well on your way to establishing a situation where anyone raising any objection is a ‘troll’ or ‘rubbish’. You are being a bully.”

Mrs King told the P&J: “John Ross Scott was being bombastic because he is passionate about the plans, and he was defending the Friends of St Magnus Cathedral, and I called him out.

“But I would also say John Ross Scott works tirelessly for other people – and he was defending the “Friends” in this case.”

The P&J were also contacted by another woman, who did not want to give her name, who said: “I feel I can not have my say about the plans because I will be called names by that councillor.

“I just don’t think it is right to change the whole look of the cathedral for disabled access.

“I know that is not politically correct, and I also want everyone to feel welcome in the church – but if the access was kept to the side of the building it would keep the whole look from the outside as the historic building that it is.”

Mr Scott said: “I am not a bully, I am shooting from the hip, as I always do.

“Most people do not like change but this – in my view and others involved in conservation – the plans are a change for the better and will also involve much needed repairs to the cathedral’s West Door.

St Magnus Cathedral
St Magnus Cathedral doors

“I know how hard the Friends have worked to get these changes, and as Depute Front of House at St Magnus Festival I know how many folk in wheelchairs struggle to get through the south door. This building is a gem in Orkney’s crown and people should have access to it.

“Don’t bark about change through ignorance. Do not let the ‘Friends’ down.”

A spokeswoman for Orkney Island Council  said: “We are aware that the cathedral story generated some very active discussion on social media.

“We have not received any complaints from members of the public in regards to this.

“The Standards Commission for Scotland has set out a Councillors Code of Conduct outlining the standards of conduct expected of councillors  – should any person feel that these standards have not been met by an elected member then they are free to make their concerns known.”