PRESTONPANS Community Council has lodged a note of interest to either own or lease the “under-utilised” town hall on High Street.

The historic building at the centre of Prestonpans was identified by East Lothian Council as one of six viable properties suitable for a Community Asset Transfer (CAT), offering local organisations the chance to either buy or lease them.

The community council put in a note of interest following its meeting last month.

A sub committee of the group has also been set up to help progress the project: it features community councillors DJ Johnston-Smith, Calum Miller and Professor Roger Bromley.

Their job will be to explore the possibility of creating a development trust which could facilitate the community asset transfer.

Mr Johnston-Smith said: “We have been discussing for a number of years the enormous potential that our under-utilised historic town hall presents as a possible catalyst for the positive transformation of our High Street and historic town centre.

“So, when the opportunity of a CAT of the site was presented to us by the council, we decided to set up a sub-committee to explore the details of the council proposal. As part of our remit we shall also be investigating similar heritage building transfers to communities elsewhere to better understand what others have done when assuming community stewardship of historic buildings in their towns”.

Mr Miller said the first task would be to establish the “best model” for the trust and engage with East Lothian Council.

He added: “The ambition for the trust is much broader in scope than the management and development of one building: we will be reviewing unused or underdeveloped assets throughout Prestonpans and seeking ideas for bringing them back to life.

“We have a first-class interim board in place to kickstart the project but we are looking for additional trust members to get involved. Anyone interested in helping out can reach us via the community council Facebook page.”

The running costs of the town hall are about £27,000 pr annum, which would have to be absorbed by any group which successfully takes control of the building.

The hall was built in 1897, designed by local architect Paul Whitecross, and has been used as a community building ever since.

Now it is used for a day-time lunch club, children’s groups and activities and is also available for renting for party space.

Councillor Fiona O’Donnell, of East Lothian Council, said: “This is a great opportunity for the Prestonpans community and I am pleased that the community council is taking this first step. I want to encourage local people to get involved with their ideas for what use the community could make of this resource.

“There have been some really positive discussions at the community council about the potential to improve the facility and to breathe new life into High Street.

“With all that energy and enthusiasm, and with the support of the community, I think the transfer of the town hall building could bring real benefit to Prestonpans.”

Any group in the community can put a note of interest in for the CAT identified properties, and East Lothian Council has confirmed that “some expression of interest has been received and a very thorough evaluation of these will take place in due course.” 

The other properties the council noted for CAT were East Linton Council Chamber, Gullane Recreation Hall, Macmerry Village Hall, Stoneyhill Community Centre in Musselburgh and Trevelyan Hall in Pencaitland.