BOSSES at Historic Scotland are being asked to help develop a long-term plan for Kinneil House in Bo’ness.
The 15th century building – which boasts some of the best Renaissance wall paintings in Scotland – is currently only open six days a year. Campaigners want to improve public access and explore options to develop the site for locals and visitors.
Falkirk Council has already allocated £15,000 to Falkirk Community Trust to carry out a feasibility study into the House. Councillors now hope the Government agency will support the work, and match the funding.
Falkirk Council’s tourism convener – Bo’ness Labour councillor Adrian Mahoney – said: “Historic Scotland is currently exploring a number of options for nearby Linlithgow Palace, with local meetings being chaired by the Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop. Kinneil may not have attracted a big fashion show but has amazing potential too. After all, it’s right beside a World Heritage Site.”
He added: “Already there have been suggestions to develop a larger museum or Roman centre within Kinneil House. Other ideas have included a restaurant or wedding venue. But I think we need professional help to look at Kinneil House and see what could be done – and also if work is needed now to stabilise parts of the building.
“In parts it’s over 500 years old and the central tower section is a shell with no floors. This presents big challenges, but also, potentially, good opportunities.
“Of course a feasibility study wouldn’t drum up the significant sums needed to restore Kinneil House – but it could be a starting point to attract future funders.”
Last week, Falkirk Community Trust wrote to Historic Scotland in a bid to re-open discussions about Kinneil House. The Trust is responsible for managing the wider Kinneil Estate and Kinneil Museum on behalf of the Council.
“I’m pleased that the Council has allocated £15,000 and hope that Historic Scotland could match fund that sum,” said Councillor Mahoney. “This would give a healthy budget of say £30,000 to engage experts to look at the condition of the property – and potential uses for the building.”
Kinneil House and Estate was bought by Bo’ness Town Council in the 1920s. This ownership has since transferred to Falkirk Council. However the building has been in the guardianship of the state for many years. In practice this means Historic Scotland looks after the property, heats it and maintains it from its core government funding.
Councillor Mahoney said the time was right to look at Kinneil. However, he conceded that any major restoration project – if it ever went ahead – would take time to fund and many years to complete.
“In the late 1980s property developers mooted the idea of turning part of the House into flats and part into a new museum. The idea didn’t develop – but people continually ask about getting more access to the building and looking at ways to restore Kinneil.
“In 2006, Kinneil was re-classified as A-listed by Historic Scotland. Two years later, the Antonine Wall, which runs close to the House, was named a World Heritage Site. Kinneil also provided the inspiration for part of the re-decoration of the Palace at Stirling Castle.
“The building is also linked with great characters: from the inventor James Watt, to James, Earl of Arran – the man who had a claim to the throne and was a Regent of Scotland during the early years of Mary, Queen of Scots.”
Maria Ford, the chair of The Friends of Kinneil, said: “We welcome the Council’s support for a feasibility study into future use of Kinneil House. We’re regularly approached by visitors and local people saying something should be done with the building. A proper, professional study would allow everyone to look at the options.”
Mrs Ford said the charity had considered funding a feasiblity study itself. “It’s good to know the Trust and the Council were thinking along the same lines. Hopefully Historic Scotland – who have done so much to improve access to the House in recent years – will also be supportive.”
* The Friends charity is working with Historic Scotland to run free open days at Kinneil in 2013. The first will be on Saturday, March 16, from 10 a.m. to noon. Entry will be free of charge.
To find out more, visit www.kinneil.org.uk