Scottish Government turns down chance to save Cardross seminary

St Peter’s College in Cardross, now and then. Source: Architects’ Journal

By Democrat reporter

The SNP government has accepted Historic Environment Scotland’s recommendation and declined a request from the Catholic Church to take St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross, near Dumbarton, into state care.

 A report by HES, commissioned by ministers, estimated the cost of maintaining the ‘one-off’ Category A-listed Modernist building, and making it safe for public access, could be more than £13 million over 20 years. The building, a target for vandals, has not been used since the early 1980s.

The HES report stated that the Archdiocese of Glasgow was likely to seek permission to demolish the building and that, without a developer interested in the ‘challenging and unique’ site, its retention will likely require government intervention.

In that case, the report recommended ‘curated decay’ – managing the deterioration of the seminary while providing a degree of public access.

This option, according to the report, would require initial investment of £3.5 million. Beyond this, recurring costs of care over five years would be around £2.5 million, while a major intervention to the building costing a further £500,000 would be needed every five years over a 20-year period.

The report concluded: “We are particularly concerned by the considerable practical issues of access, safety and cost. Having considered all of the issues our advice is that we could not recommend that ministers intervene by bringing St Peter’s into care.”

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Glasgow said it was ‘deeply disappointed’ by the Scottish Government’s decision and that the request to take the building into state control was ‘a last option’ for the structure.

“For 40 years the archdiocese has been proactive in trying to find a new use for the building, co-operating with developers and planners to find a way forward,” he said. “Every project has failed, due to costs or planning restrictions.

“The archdiocese has even offered to give the building away without charge to any agency able to take it on.”

The Archbishop of Glasgow commissioned St Peter’s Seminary in 1958. Influenced by the architecture of Le Corbusier, the building, designed by Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan, won the RIBA Architecture award in 1967 and was listed in 1992. It fell into disrepair following its closure in 1980.

Since then, none of the suggestions for the future of the site have progressed. In 2011, developer Urban Splash walked away from a Gareth Hoskins-designed proposal.

In late 2017, the Glasgow-based arts charity NVA decided not to proceed with a project, overseen by Avanti Architects and McGinlay Bell, to stabilise parts of the structure and restore some of the interior for arts and educational use.

Following the closure of NVA in June 2018, the Archdiocese of Glasgow took back formal management of the site. In January this year, the archdiocese’s director of communications Ronnie Convery described the estate as “a huge albatross around our neck”.

St Peter’s College at Kilmahew in Cardross. Pictures by Bill Heaney

However architects remained optimistic that the building could be saved. 

Fiona Hyslop, the cabinet secretary for culture, has written to the archdiocese to offer to facilitate discussion with interested parties on the seminary’s future.

She said: “The Scottish Government has no choice but to accept the recommendations from Historic Environment Scotland not to take St Peter’s Seminary into state care, due to the risk and cost to the public purse it would entail to the detriment of other properties in care.

“We accept the report’s analysis that the only reasonable way forward for this site would be “curated decay” and I plan to convene a meeting with all key partners to see if there is a way forward collectively to deliver what looks to be the only viable option for St Peter’s.”

The spokesman for the Archdiocese of Glasgow said it noted the government’s recognition that “curated decay” is perhaps the only remaining option. “We are disappointed that the opportunity to save one of Scotland’s great post-war buildings has been missed by the government,” he said.

In February, the Scottish laird John Bute, of Mount Stewart in Rothesay,  pledged to commit funds from his charitable trust to save the building if the government would also step in.

Readers’ response:

RAY WILLIAMSON:  What a tragedy it would be if this modern masterpiece were to be demolished. Whilst I can understand the Scottish Government’s reluctance to take on the liability surely this is a situation which cries out for a JV approach involving the Archdiocese, Scottish Government and multiple developers to take advantage of these glorious spaces and give new life to Cardross.

CHRIS BOYCE: This is a terrible culturally ignorant position by HES….and I suspect some sort of political reason here – if this was an ancient monument the debate would be different – this is just concrete haters in the HES!  As for the church – the massive cash rich church….sell some land and fix your mistake:

“The spokesman for the Archdiocese of Glasgow said it noted the government’s recognition that ‘curated decay’ is perhaps the only remaining option. ‘We are disappointed that the opportunity to save one of Scotland’s great post-war buildings has been missed by the government,’ he said.”

Really? It’s the Church’s fault the place is in the state it’s in. It’s the Church that failed the project and failed to find a sustainable new use in the 1970/80’s and it’s not the church and the Scottish Government who need to put some cash into St Peter, take up Jonny’s offer and then get clever with the uses that could happen here.

Well-being/Yoga/Youth Training/ Outdoor + leadership courses – Just Airbnb the damn rooms it’s a rock star of a building that just needs a seed fund.

Heck gift it to Urban Splash or Capital + Centric or General Projects or U+I to sort out, create a special housing SPD for some of the woodland surrounding it and let them make money long term but inject some cash now and save the only building of its type in the UK and one matched only by Corbusier’s La Tourette.

ROBERT WAKEHAM: Perhaps the Urban Splash proposal could be revisited, but with conversion to hotel / conference ‘retreat’ with the government as both partner and user. Surely this would best fit the original design with least architectural compromise.


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