Hopes have been raised that an eyesore building in Elgin town centre could finally be demolished.
Moray Council supported original plans to knock down the 19th century former tobacconists on the High Street to make way for a shop and 15 flats.
However, the decision was overturned by the Scottish Government after an objection as lodged by Historic Environment Scotland (HES).
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Now the heritage agency has revealed it does not intend to try and block the latest proposals – but has still expressed its preference for the structure to be retained.
Last night, Elgin City South councillor John Divers, a director of the town’s business improvement district, described the decision as “common sense”.
He said: “It’s a positive step forward. Something needs to happen with the building because when you go round the back of it it’s falling apart, it can’t just be left like that.
“Freshening it up will bring that part of the High Street into a better condition and the flats will bring more people into the town centre, which will help the evening economy.
“It’s really something we need to be encouraging with all our shops, not just this particular building, so we can make the town centre as good as it can be.”
Surveys at the rear of the former tobacconist and tackle shop at 184–188 High Street, which has been empty for more than a decade, have found that the structure has “significantly deteriorated”.
The flats being built as part of the development are expected to be targeted at NHS staff and other professionals who have recently moved to the region or are on short-term contracts.
Developer Action Elgin has stressed it intends to number each brick while the frontage is carefully taken apart before being built again with the original materials.
Director Sandy Adam targeted beginning work on the building early next year when his firm submitted the revised plans in October.
HES objected to the original proposals due to the unusual stone frontage making the building a “critical heritage site” for the town centre.
However, the agency has now written to the council to say they accept the shop is not of “national significance”.
It is understood that the downgrade of the building from B-listed to C-listed has influenced the change of mind.
In a letter to Moray Council, a spokesman for HES said they had considered the “urgent need” to revitalise the west end of Elgin’s High Street – but still had reservations about demolition.
He said: “We remain of the view the buildings are of special interest. We also remain of the view that the demolition of these buildings would be a significant loss to Elgin, and we continue to strongly encourage a scheme or repair and re-use.”
He added: “On balance, while our view remains that efforts to seek a more positive outcome for the buildings should continue, we do not object to this application for development.”
However, the Scottish Civic Trust, which campaigns to preserve the country’s heritage, including listed buildings, has objected to the proposals.
Director Susan O’Connor said: “Given the national significance of the site to the history of Scotland’s medieval burgh settlements, the original building must be retained as far as possible.”