Campaigners fighting to reopen the doors of a cherished Moray landmark have been dealt a fresh blow on the 15th anniversary of the fire that led to its closure.
Grant Lodge in Elgin has been boarded up since 2003 after a blaze started in the building’s basement before stretching to the upper floors.
The Friends of Grant Lodge campaign group had hoped the 18th century building would be able to welcome visitors again this year as part of Doors Open Day in September.
But, yesterday it was revealed that, for the second year in succession, their proposals have been thwarted on health and safety grounds – despite Moray Council authorising £25,000 for repairs caused by dry rot in August last year.
The blow has led the group to accuse the local authority of favouring its own vision of restoring the building as a whisky attraction over its own proposals for a heritage centre – a claim denied last night by the council.
A statement from the Friends of Grant Lodge said: “We did ask the council to give the reasons for denying entry but the best they could come up with was that there was some loose plaster near the entrance.
“Failing the production of any evidence for this, we can only assume an executive decision has been made to exclude the Friends from any future plans for the lodge and to lend support to a proposed whisky centre.”
Moray Council has insisted it is supportive of showcasing buildings as part of Doors Open Day but insisted the safety of the public was its primary concern.
A £5million price tag has been set on restoring the Cooper Park lodge to its former glory.
The former residence of George Cooper was gifted to the town for use as a library and reading rooms in order to benefit Elgin’s residents.
However, the document has been blamed for restricting possible plans for its future without a bid to the Court of Session to alter it – which is estimated to cost tens of thousands of pounds.
Stuart Huyton, a member of Grant Lodge Trust, said: “The sticking point has undoubtedly been the deed of gift.
“The changing make-up of the council hasn’t helped either. The funding looked like it was in place a few years ago but then the mood changed.
“The main thing for us is that we want to see it open again, in whatever form that may be.”
Elgin City South councillor John Diver added: “After the fire we were told the damage was quite considerable. When we got in there a few years after it wasn’t as bad as what we thought.
“At least we have some plans in the pipeline now for it. Hopefully in the next few years we can see it open again – whether it’s through the Growth Deal or from the Friends of Grant Lodge.”
Last month, Moray Council approved a bid to the Scottish Government’s regeneration capital grant to help cover the costs of converting the former library into a whisky-themed attraction.
Yesterday, a council spokeswoman insisted they have not “excluded” any group for discussions about the future of Grant Lodge.
She added: “While we’re supportive of Doors Open Day, due to the current condition of Grant Lodge, and the ongoing works required within the building, it’s unsuitable to stage such an event at this time.
“Because of this, we’re unable to grant the request on the grounds of public safety.”