THE founder of the charity behind plans to save a landmark Helensburgh building from demolition has admitted that converting the C-listed structure won’t be an easy task.

A planning application has been lodged with Argyll and Bute Council for the change of use of the Clock Tower, at the corner of Sinclair Street and East Clyde Street, from retail to food and drink.

The former tourist information centre was vacated by VisitScotland in 2012 and purchased by The Tower Digital Arts Centre in 2016, and a decision on the new proposals, lodged on behalf of The Tower by Glasgow-based architects Honeyman, Jack and Robertson, is expected to be made by mid to late-August.

Asked whether it was a case of now or never to save the Clock Tower, Brian Keating, founder of The Tower Digital Arts Centre, told the Advertiser: “The building is in an exposed position and despite being a landmark building for the town and one of the oldest in the town, little or no money was spent on it over the years.

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“In the same way we have sought to and succeeded in bringing the former St Columba’s Church, now The Tower, into successful public use, The Tower purchased the Clock Tower to save it.

“Since the acquisition The Tower has been seeking funding to assist renovation work and save the building and the town’s clock.”

The plans for the Clock Tower are to create a staffed visitor information point, a box office for ticket sales and a coffee shop, to be known as 'Coffee Religion', to ensure the building is sustainable, but Mr Keating believes the project could prove difficult.

He said: “We have approached numerous funding bodies who all want to help us save the Clock Tower but we need to see a sustainable future for the building.

“Creating viable, sustainable plans for social enterprises in small repurposed buildings is very challenging.”

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A supporting statement by the architects also warns that demolition of the clock tower “might ultimately be inevitable” if the building remains unoccupied.

Sheet lead was blown from the building’s high level roof in January 2020, requiring emergency intervention by Argyll and Bute Council’s building control officers to make the roof safe.

The supporting document says: “The Clock Tower is all that remains of Helensburgh Old Parish Church. The body of the building was demolished in the 1970s to make way for a housing development.

“Conservation is necessary. Replacement of slate and sheet lead roofing together with re-pointing of masonry could keep the building serviceable for many years to come.”

The document adds: “An increasing number of church buildings are sadly becoming surplus to requirements.

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“They are generally of aesthetic merit, created in an age when building construction was effortlessly beautiful.

“This is in direct contrast to contemporary buildings which are routinely dull with anything of distinction being extraordinary.

“Historic buildings are a wonderful cultural asset. If neglected they can rapidly deteriorate with repair costs quickly escalating beyond viable levels.

“With imagination and ambition, historic buildings can also become a financial asset.

"If the Clock Tower has any prospect of surviving it is essential that it is used in some purposeful way.

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“The only alternative is for the local authority to accept responsibility for upkeep which seems very unlikely. Bringing the building back into use is a vital first step.”

Mr Keating, who also runs the Scottish Submarine Centre in West King Street, added: “The business plan we have drafted to help save the Clock Tower seems to resonate with funders but it needs a change of use to enable it to go ahead.

“Once we have a sustainable plan approved, we will attempt to secure the funds to renovate the building, which we believe is an important landmark for the town.

“We have also requested the council include the Clock Tower in the newly created conservation area in the town centre which could help with the funding going forward.”

The plans can be viewed through the council’s online planning portal, where you can search for the reference codes 20/01094/LIB and 20/01048/PP.

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