St Stephen’s out of fringe 2014

May 6 2014 | By More

Trust hints further at identity of purchaser

St Stephens

St Stephens: Still no movement. Photo © sale particulars.

By Thom Dibdin

St Stephen’s has been all but ruled out as a venue for this year’s fringe as it emerges that the Church of Scotland and the prospective purchaser of the venue are still negotiating the legal side of the sale.

The one-time Stockbridge church has been a fringe venue for several years and year-round community space for local schools and organisation since it became the St. Stephen’s Centre 1992.

The Church of Scotland announced it had found a buyer for the building in February this year.

The latest news was precipitated by a statement on Monday 5 May from the St Stephen’s Playfair Trust which had its own bid to purchase the venue rejected in favour of a higher one from the private bidder.

The SSPT statement also comes the closest yet to identifying the prospective purchaser of St Stephen’s. It states that he: “lives locally and is a multimillionaire President of a vast video games empire”.

The trust’s major concern seems to be over the lack of information about the sale. Members of the trust apparently met with the prospective buyer’s agent, Philip Johnston, before the trust’s public meeting in St Stephen’s on February 6 this year.

While he indicated a willingness to work with the SSPT at that meeting, the statement says that: “since the acceptance by the General Trustees of the prospective buyer’s offer Mr Johnston has been unwilling to communicate with the trust, or to outline his client’s plans.”

Following the release of the SSPT statement through its Facebook page, Æ spoke with David Reid of Rettie & Co, the Church of Scotland’s agents in the sale, and Philip Johnston.

“taking time to conclude the deal”

While neither agent was willing to make any on-the-record statement concerning the sale, there is no indication that there is anything amiss with the process of selling the St Stephen’s building to its new owner. It is simply taking time to conclude the deal.

Text of the Trust Letter of May 5. Click to see full size.

Text of the Trust Letter of May 5. Click to see full size.

Nor does it appear that there has been any change from the state where, if successful in acquiring the church, the new owner’s intention is for it to continue to be used as a community and arts venue.

However, with the deadline for inclusion in the Fringe Programme long past and its launch just over four weeks away, the possibility of St Stephen’s being used as a venue at this year’s fringe has become vanishingly small.

The sale is complicated by the potential for intervention by the Edinburgh City Council. Once the purchase details of the building have been settled, the council has a “right of pre-emption”, to purchase the building on the same financial terms. This is because St Stephen’s was originally a city church which was gifted to the Church of Scotland.

The Council could take up this right if it thought that the sale was, in some way, detrimental to the future of the building or its use in the community. It has 28 days from the point of legal agreement over the sale to consider pre-emption.

Both agents in the sale refused to say where in the process the negotiations have reached – and specifically refused to indicate whether they have passed the point where the council becomes entitled to become involved if it deems it appropriate to do so.

There is widespread speculation about the identity of the purchaser – the number of locally-based presidents of  vast video games empires is not large. However, Johnston would only say: “I am not willing to make any statement about who the purchaser may or may not be at this time.”

The timing of the SSPT letter would appear to be for its own financial reasons. Having incurred solicitor’s fees of £2,800 in the setting up of the company and in the drafting of its bid offer, it is now asking supporters for donations to help cover the fees. Details of how to contribute to its costs are in the letter to the right of the page.

The SSPT facebook page is at:

Further details of the background to the sale are available here: tag “St Stephen’s Centre”


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