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Optimus scraps plans for Greyfriars HQ after planning delays

Greyfriars Church in Aberdeen
Greyfriars Church in Aberdeen

A north-east oil and gas company has abandoned plans to redevelop a landmark Aberdeen church as its new corporate headquarters.

Engineering consultancy Optimus (Aberdeen) cited delays in the planning process as the chief reason for ditching the revamp of Greyfriars John Knox, at the corner of Broad Street and Queen Street.

Optimus had hoped to move into the A-listed building early next year, but director Ian Bell said yesterday that the “geological” pace of renovation could not keep up with the continued growth of the company.

Last night, the city council rejected any suggestion that planners held up the process and said there had been “no contact” from the applicant since consent was granted in May. Optimus wanted to create two steel and glass structures inside the church to provide office space, leaving the original building untouched.

But Optimus founder Mr Bell revealed the company, which would have leased Greyfriars, will instead be moving to Gordon House in Rubislaw Den North.

He said: “Continuing delays to the start of work at Greyfriars meant we dropped the idea of moving there.

“The consent given in May was not straightforward, with many caveats.

“The pace of the planning process was geological in nature compared to our ongoing expansion.

“It meant that we had outgrown Osborne House on Carden Place and were unable to wait any longer.”

Mr Bell described Greyfriars as a “magnificent” building and predicted there would be no problem finding new tenants. A city council spokeswoman said conditions attached to the planning consent were “not considered onerous”.

She added: “During the processing period, a positive working relationship was experienced throughout, with the only obvious delay resulting from a request for more detail in relation to works to the A-listed building.

“It is unclear as to what delays have been caused by the planning process.”

The Church of Scotland put the site on the market in June 2011 and accepted an offer of about £500,000 in December 2012 after slashing the original asking price of £1.2million.

Optimus will instead switch to one of Aberdeen’s most prestigious office buildings after pulling out of the Greyfriars project.

Gordon House, in Rubislaw Den North, was built in 1881 for granite merchant William Keith.

It was later a nursing home and is now the HQ for Optimus and its team.

It is the second move in two years amid a period of sustained growth for the company, which was founded by director Ian Bell in 1999 with just three members of staff.

It now employs 85 people in Aberdeen, 11 in Inverness and 10 at an office in Bangkok, Thailand.

Gordon House has room for up to 150 staff and Mr Bell expects numbers at Optimus to continue their steady rise.

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