In a sometimes heated debate at a meeting of the economic development committee on Tuesday, Councillors gave a temporary reprieve to a historic Elgin landmark.
Officials had recommended that no further action should be taken over Grant Lodge – which would have effectively consigned the building to ruin.
However, a proposal to end a feasibility study into future use for the former main library was agreed – ending any immediate hope of the building being renovated and brought back into use.
Grant Lodge, gifted to the people of Elgin in 1903 under a Trust granted by the Cooper family, was severely damaged by fire in 2003.
A campaign was launched in 2011 by Friends of Grant Lodge appeared to have succeeded in forcing Moray Council to take another look at the building, with a promised £2.6million restoration project – subject to a feasibility study.
It was that study that was dropped by Councillors this week but the recommendation that no further action be taken to at least protect the building was avoided when a recommendation to take the proposal to the Policy and Resources Committee after further discussions with the Council’s Chief Executive was agreed.
During the debate it emerged that £140,000 given to the council by insurers after the 2003 blaze had not been spent and had been kept in the Council’s general reserves. That according to Elgin SNP Councillor Graham Leadbitter was “unacceptable”.
Councillor Leadbitter said: “If it was Forres, Buckie or Keith Common Good, or a trust fund in Aberlour or Lossiemouth, this would be just as unacceptable – and the councillors for those areas would be rightly unhappy.
“I am equally not happy and it is not acceptable for an Elgin Trust to be treated like that.
“A recommendation today to ‘take no further action’ on Grant Lodge has been averted and the issue will now be discussed at the Council’s Policy and Resources Committee, which has a much wider remit and can better consider the financial and legal issues associated with resolving the future of Grant Lodge.
“I think it is important to be pragmatic on this. Many people recognise that it is not a simple thing to stick to the original trust purposes, as the services Grant Lodge hosted are now bigger than the building could cope with.
“But that does not mean the Council should ignore the problem, rather it means we need to find a creative solution.”
Councillor Leadbitter added that could involve changing the Trust conditions in the Court of Session.
He said: “If that is what must be done to get the building into productive use then that is what must be done.
“We cannot be overly precious about the original trust purposals which, frequently, have been overtaken by changes in the way services are delivered.
“But we do need as trustees to sort out these issues and get the trust deeds to reflect potential 21st century use of Grant Lodge and other historic buildings.”