Updated: Nov 6, 2019
A note of the PUBLIC MEETING ON TOWN CENTRES held in Chambers at the Town Hall, Ayr on June 19th 2019.
Present in addition to members of the Ayr Station Hotel Community Action Group who organised the meeting were 29 others, 23 of whom were from Ayr, with 3 from Girvan and 3 from Prestwick.
1. Having welcomed and thanked everyone for attending, Esther reminded those present that the purpose of the meeting was to build on what had been learned at the Town Hall conference on April 10th. In particular she hoped the evening would allow communities beyond Ayr to begin to explore further the opportunities brought by Community Empowerment and perhaps to consider setting up local community teams or forums.
2. Before introducing the evening’s speaker, Esther spoke briefly about the problems and frustrations which had recently arisen in connection with a successful Asset Transfer request involving the Muirhead Activity Centre in Troon. She hoped the evening would help communities better understand the help that was available to support such initiatives and bring them to fruition. Her link with the efforts to save Ayr Station Hotel was an example of what could be achieved though frustratingly those efforts had for the time being stalled as an engineer’s report on the building was now months overdue.
3. Thereafter Esther invited David Henderson, adviser with the Community Ownership Support Service (COSS), to address the meeting and a record of that address has been made available separately.
4. Having thanked David for his presentation Esther invited comment and questions.
5. It quickly became clear that a burning issue in Prestwick was the former police station which is ear-marked for demolition. One strong view expressed by those attending is that, as a classical sandstone building with some history which lends character to Main Street, it should be retained and found a new use. There was also some exasperation felt as to the difficulty members of the public had in making themselves aware of the various strategies that could in theory be available where a building is at risk.
In response David suggested that a building such as the former police station could become the focus round which members of a local group might organise themselves in a campaigning sense before moving on to other issues in a townscape. It was acknowledged that it did appear that the fate of this building appeared already to have been decided.
6. With regard to the general issue of saving/redeveloping buildings with a heritage value, one individual observed that in one part of the north of England the mayoral system within local government had encouraged processes whereby it was easier to identify and support projects. He offered anyone interested in learning more about this approach to put them in touch with the appropriate personnel.
7. In Ayr Dave felt there was value in deciding a particular focus for future action – was its centre to be developed/conserved as one with a focus on retail or should the focus be on culture? This led to discussion on the merits of there being a town centre community council. In turn this brought the observation that in rejigging the town centre, such as creating within it a new complex to take on the role of the Citadel, the South Harbour area has the uncertainty of not knowing what will replace the Citadel. There is a strong feeling in the area that simply creating more housing is an unattractive proposition.
8. A further observation made was that what went on in or is planned for any town centre is of as much interest and concern to those living beyond the centre as to those living within it.
9. In terms of the role of community councils in general, frustration was expressed as to their ability to act meaningfully as a bridge between communities and local government, with a principal concern being the significant budgetary constraints with which they have to contend.
10. Whilst it had been interesting to hear the points made, it was pointed out that the evening’s discussion had focussed entirely on Ayr and Prestwick although it was pointed out that potentially Dave’s information could be applied to towns anywhere in Scotland.
11. This gave Esther the opportunity to ask whether those attending now wised to move towards forming groups specific to each of the three towns represented. There was an obvious reluctance to take any such decision on the night. In the case of Ayr it was acknowledged that some big players were not represented. Nonetheless those present from Ayr agreed on three specific points: a) they favoured residential development at the Fish Cross area, b) they wanted to see the various groups which were expressing concern about the town centre join up and work together, and c) they agreed they wanted to keep in touch.
12. The meeting thereafter closed with thanks to all, particularly David Henderson, for having participated. Despite uncertainty as to how local communities might yet choose to respond to the various opportunities Community Empowerment offers, thanks was offered to those who had organised what was acknowledged to have been a most informative evening.
BD June 24th 2019
Email 10th July to participants at 19th June meeting with follow up and Rough Plan for Ayr.
Dear Participant on 19 June,
The minute of the meeting 19 June is above. It was kindly and ably produced by Bob Drummond. There were twenty three people from Ayr and three each from Girvan and Prestwick as well as some of Ayr Station Hotel Community Action Group committee present.
The Girvan folk already have a Town Team and felt they were proceeding well with community development. They appreciated the speaker and the opportunities for training. The Prestwick folk were concerned about the demolition of the former police station. They were working on their two Community Councils coming together. They were not in either group interested in heating from abandoned coalmines as had been previously mentioned by a Prestwick resident who was not present. I sent these two groups of three an email after the meeting re further training options and the hand-out from the speaker.
The Ayr folk present agreed on three things, that a residential development was a good idea for the Laigh Tollbooth/ Fish Cross area, that the groups in Ayr should not be duplicating and that they should keep in touch. I agreed to try to progress matters and then communicate with them.
I had mentioned that I had previously contacted the Ayrshire Architectural Heritage Trust about advice and support for the Fish Cross area idea including parking behind in the old Afflecks' area which has traffic implications. They have confirmed a desire to be involved. They have also agreed to my plan of Miller Rd returning to residential use and businesses there being encouraged back to the centre.
I have spoken with Ayr Deserves Better in the person of Pat Lorimer. Ideally the work I am doing should be done by a body like them rather than as a sideline to the Ayr Station Hotel Community Action Group. However we set up at a time when no-one was campaigning to keep the Hotel. We have moved on to look at the opportunities of Community Empowerment legislation while awaiting the Structural Engineers' Report. It would be fine if a body rather than the Action Group were able to take this work on.
I have exchanged emails with Jimmy Begg who is leading the Rotary bid for South Ayrshire Council to Asset Transfer the old Grammar School to them for a Museum. As there is much museum and art property both stored as well as displayed this is very complicated. My feeling is that it would be better to sell this building for flats and give some income to the Town while regenerating the Orient or, if it closes as a cinema, the Odeon. I have asked the Ayrshire Architectural Heritage Trust and others to look at the footprint of these two buildings to find out whether either has a footprint suitable for a museum. The expertise involved in this whole potential museum operation is monumental, particularly if we develop an industrial / mining aspect. The council are interested in museum improvement
I have written up a rough plan of these ideas and with a street map to illustrate the changes. I will publicise them. I have also consulted to ensure that they are consistent with what the council has in mind so far as I can. I gather that they are consistent and we have asked the council to accept the proposals in principle as part of their goal for an improved Town Centre. I have attached a copy of the rough plan.
The finances are complex. In my mind the Government would pay for a new railway station so should fix the old. The demolition of the old and building of the new would be more disruptive and probably at least as expensive as restoration and development to a range of possible new purposes of the old Hotel. A new station would cost £20m and demolition £4.5m. It would last about 20 years and it would be environmentally more damaging. So far as the Town Centre developments are concerned, finance could come from Community Empowerment sources, heritage grants, the council for any traffic changes, and the Scottish Government.
Crucial to all this is private investment. We have a top level entrepreneur and successful international businessman willing to help us with expertise which can engender investment on a large scale. We require that everyone cooperate, from the public, private and voluntary sectors to see that Ayr gets its heart back, both in terms of its town centre but also its citizens' feeling of pride and confidence.
There are a couple of issues at the moment. There are legal barriers to ownership changes which require legal changes and i am trying to clarify these. Also I must find out more about how flexible the Community empowerment legislation is so far as complex across the board development is concerned.
I will await any feedback from you and see if you want to have a further meeting.
Rough Plan for Ayr:
Subject: Ayr Town Centre Suggested Rough Plan
1 .Ayr Station Hotel.( Already discussed. Report awaited. Meantime looking at Town Centre both training for new legislation and looking at ideas.
Expertise Scottish Historic Buildings Trust Finance Scottish Government as not having to pay £22m for new station and demolition of old.
2. Laigh Tollbooth/ Fish Cross / Parking included between Hope St. and Sandgate
The post conference meeting discussed this and it went fine Twenty three were folk from Ayr. They said they wanted Housing for Laigh Tron/ Fish Cross neglected buildings. I had spoken to Ayrshire Architectural Heritage Trust beforehand and they have agreed to look to see if they could help with this also They have agreed in principle to assist but have limited capacity. I mentioned about the parking space available through an alley at the back and the old Affleck's space with a 1960’s empty building which could be demolished, all this with car access possible from the Sandgate . They knew this as an old plan and worth revisiting.
Expertise. Ayrshire Architectural Heritage Trust in first instance.
Finance. Community Empowerment and Heritage Grants.
The council plan a new museum. Meantime Rotary's Jimmy Begg want a Museum in the old Grammar School using Asset Transfer from the council and have started an application process. I am interested in an industrial/ mining / people’s history facility. I asked Andrew Easton from Ayrshire Architectural Heritage Trust about whether either of the two buildings, the Odeon or the Orient could have a suitable footprint as a Museum for all of this. They will look into that . A museum is a very complex proposal so the council itself will be making many decisions about their stored artefacts and art etc.
The Ayrshire Architectural Heritage Trust (AAHT) are going to do what they can on counts 2, 3 and 4. They have limited capacity and may just start the ball rolling. I would like to see a restored Odeon Cinema really and a small separate mining museum but mainly I want to retain the buildings all used and conserved to good purpose and sustainable economically.
The Grammar would be easiest to make into a museum but would be easily flatted and sold. That would be an asset to the council as it would be some income to invest elsewhere. it would also be flats in a residential area. It would be better for the town to restore one of these two buildings.
Expertise . Initially Ayrshire Architectural Heritage Trust. Have also run past Scottish Historic Building Trust
Finance. Possible investment programme facilitated via expert entrepreneur/businessman initiative. He can network at high level and has proven ability.
South Ayrshire Council
4. Miller Rd.
I also mentioned Miller Road to Andrew Easton of Ayrshire Architectural Heritage. Miller Road is where he has his work base. I said I hoped Miller Road could be encouraged back to residential use as I think the council favour. He approved the idea.
Expertise Ayrshire Architectural Heritage Trust to kickstart?
Finance . ? Entrepreneur/ investment as for item (3)
A two way traffic plan is on the table for discussion as I found at a SAC consultation. Needs further clarification. I wonder what a Town Planner think off this in terns of practicality. I assume we need a traffic plan. As the council is planning the Riverside and also Housing and Leisure facilities, I assume they will involve a Town Planner. However need to check out.
We have two top supporters, one is a major railway engineer of large projects, and an d the other an international businessman who is willing to assist with bringing in top entrepreneurs, like a friend who is a Conservative Mayor of West Midlands where lots of investment is going on at the moment. He has other connections and skills. I think money could well come if we can develop cooperative town plan along these lines.
Just to add, I have today put a local man who runs a business, but also set up a charity running a theatre company for young people in touch with COSS, (Community Ownership Support Service), Asset Transfer from the council of the Darlington Church to this charity may be an option if he can raise the substantial amount required to repair and refurbish. Only a small chance it can come to anything but at least a chance.
I am hoping to meet Bill Grant MP this Friday to discuss a couple of things, associated with what I have been doing. One issue is that at the Fish Cross the various buildings are owned by different owners, like Pension Funds etc and are captured for financial purposes.and it may be necessary to seek a change in the Law both at UK and Scottish level to facilitate the process of sorting all this out. I can speak to John Scott later
I am also meeting Ayr Deserves Better and discussing with Jimmy Begg the coming together of the various community groups so that there is a commonality of purpose and cooperation to achieve what we all want for Ayr. I hope to network with the other groups like SeaAyr. I am trying to liaise with the council and hope that a comprehensive approach will bear fruit. We will see.
The situation declines continually, see the neglect and degradation of our once iconic station: