Minister calls for Alexandria church devastated by blaze to be demolished

A Vale church destroyed by a devastating blaze last month should be demolished to make way for a new community space, according to a local minister.

Rev Ian Miller believes that demolishing the former St Andrew’s Church on Main Street is the only way to avoid it becoming an eyesore, with the B-listed building’s owner faced with a £400,000 bill just to make it safe.

The kirk was decimated by a blaze on April 23, with fire crews spending several hours at the scene working to extinguish the inferno.

Northern Irish businessman Andrew Cuthbert bought the venue at an online auction in 2015 for £62,000 – with it due to be transformed into a state-of-the-art venue for creatives.

But the plans hit the buffers when West Dunbartonshire Council called on a £750,000 Scottish Government grant to be withheld, as they cited concerns about the fact that the church would remain in private ownership.

Andrew now faces a bill of £400,000 just to make the church safe, with further investment required before it would be usable. He says it was not insured against wilful fire-raising.

And Rev Miller, who has spoken to Mr Cuthbert about his plans, believes that demolition is the only sensible option.

The church was gutted by a blaze last month

He said: “I cannot see the sanity in spending a vast sum of money to make the church safe. And then what?

“It will just continue to deteriorate.

“The Millburn Church and the Woodbank Hotel are a shambles. But nobody can knock them down.

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“To be honest it’s never been the most attractive of buildings. Jamestown was a more visually attractive building than the gray sandstone. It was beautiful for a fortnight a year when the cherry trees bloomed – but that was it.

“It’s going to be a blight on the landscape. Whenever you go along the Main Street the wreck will just be there. I cannot see why you’d be spending money trying to refurbish a town center and it’s still going to lie there. It doesn’t bear thinking about.”

Ian also believes that a deal to see the site moved into community ownership could suit both parties. He added: “Andrew is faced with a £400,000 bill to basically do nothing. He could give the ground over to the council or the community council. That would flush out his intentions from him. But that would need to be negotiated.

“The trade off to save the £400,000 would be that the area was handed over to the community.

“In Lomond there’s a nice wee hall and also the Lennox Hall in Jamestown. These places are used pretty much round the clock.

Rev Ian Miller

“Someone from Haldane Residents Association phoned looking to use it, but there is hardly any space.

“Churches are closing and church halls are going. So where do people meet, and where can they meet that is cheap? That’s a big issue.

“Whether some money from the regeneration fund could be used to build something for the community I don’t know.

“Jim Bollan has spoken about a community hub. Something like that wouldn’t need to be large, but it would just let people meet. And that would be great.

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“If that’s not possible then tidying the place up and building a little peace garden would be nice.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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