Latest News! December 2018.
A preliminary survey led to the current works and a full structural survey will start in
the New Year. Meantime the December Newsletter below gives you a picture of what
we have been doing up to now. All this building work so far would be necessary even if demolition were to be the outcome. We have taken lots of steps to try and protect
the buildings and hope to see another life for Ayr Station Hotel.
“A Castle In Ayr’’ The Chiel Newspaper 1886
1. Initial steps
This whole exercise of trying to save this iconic building has been a struggle so far but we are now making great changes happen. I began to take an active interest in the Station Hotel when I read about rats on the platforms. I had seen bushes growing out of the walls and noticed barricades to stop falling bits. I read complaints about it all and suggestions of demolition along with expressions of horror at that idea. At the time there seemed nothing happening and no great public outcry, so I reluctantly woke up to the idea of involvement as there was no one leading a campaign.
2. History was scarce
I tried unsuccessfully to get information on the Hotel history locally. I had to go to Heritage Environment Scotland who had little except a few photos and then Register House, Edinburgh where Glasgow & S.W. Railway archives are held. I ended up with plans from 1884, 1969 and 2014 but had to work at it.
Newspapers gave some information but Register House with the railway company papers was the main help. I had lots of trips to Edinburgh and spent hours and days on it all.(See Supporting Documents).The Advertiser of the time told of all the high class U. K firms who fashioned it with the marble and mosaic by the same folk as Glasgow City Chambers, laundry boilers up from Bradford, Wyllie and Lochhead decoration and soft furnishings and a specially newly developed fire control system of lead water tanks on the roof. There were weekly excursions laid on from Glasgow and the idea was to start up the Glasgow tourist trade to Ayr. It worked and the same railway company built Turnberry six years later.
3. What was planned by the “Powers that Be’’?
I contacted the modern Railway Companies for information. I discovered that their plans were for demolition of the hotel and the building of a new glass & steel station which would last 25 years and then need replacement. All the precious Ballochmyle stone which ran out around 1900 would be wasted and new materials would be used over and over again. If it were conserved, the building could last 100 years and more. This seemed very bad use of world resources from an environmental point of view.
The estimated cost of new build was £20m. At around this time the council idea on demolition was £3m. I later got a further estimate from elsewhere of new build at £17m. with £4.5m for demolition. Incidentally, I was told that new build stations are funded by the government via Transport Scotland. I guessed that was why the council had been okay with the idea of new build since the problems started, and the foreign owner of the building opted out. NetworkRail owned about 16% of the building but they seem to like to demolish and new build, as they did for example at Gourock. It certainly has been the vogue since we had PPI and PFI. The trouble is the outcome is a glorified bus shelter and you don’t know which town you are in, as the stations look the same. We want Ayr to have character and architectural merit.
4. An Interim Committee
I had a lot of information and support from Kyle & Carrick Civic Society (KCCS) and particularly from Sheena Andrew and Michael Hitchon. Some members agreed to form an interim steering committee and we met first on 18 March with our first public meeting on 6 April.
Michael Hitchon opened the evening by welcoming everyone. He gave information about the Hotel its architectural merit and its importance as the gateway to Ayr. He introduced Colin Smyth MSP who was to chair the meeting. Colin had both a shadow Transport brief at Holyrood and experience in a previous life in conservation and community involvement. He gave an interesting insight into these areas. He then introduced Rebecca Cadie an eminent Conservation Architect who from much experience was able to explain what had happened to the Hotel due to neglect and went on to describe the steps necessary to sustain it until it could be properly repaired conserved and adapted to different appropriate and sustainable uses. The roof and windows needed replaced and it needed to be watertight to allow drying out and this time could be used to sort out the money needed for restoration
Over 70 people attended this first meeting and 7 volunteered for the committee. There was also a small exhibition made of the various plans and written information which I had collected.
I have spent a lot of time on admin, on contacting government agencies to find out what government resources might be available and how the system worked, networking, writing press releases, lobbying and agitating. This involved politicians at various levels, writing to Ministers, going to see Council Leaders, twice alone and twice with 6 committee members.
5. Networking and Lobbying
Once I had been round agencies for information like Community Right to Buy, the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) Policy Unit, Scotland’s Towns Centre etc I was able to ask the South Ayrshire Council (SAC) Leaders if the council would consider a CPO in principle, if there were no additional costs to them. This was agreed, and I then contacted the CPO Policy Unit. They began to arrange a meeting with all parties as necessary for a CPO. The necessary process would include an Engineers’ Structural Report. However, this CPO process was delayed when a Structural Engineers’ Report was commissioned. The CPO could resume later.
The council by then had issued the owners with a Dangerous Building Notice. (This had happened in 2013 already but had only been minimally followed up by NetworkRail and the foreign owner). Now a Structural Engineers’ Report was agreed. This is necessary if you demolish the building for Legal Reasons because Heritage Environment Scotland has to approve demolition of a Listed Building in most circumstances. A Report would also be necessary if we had a CPO.
First the building has to be made safe for the engineers to do the Report and the council commissioned CPMP to do this, while Mott McDonald would do the Report. The “making safe” process has taken longer than expected and the actual Report may only be started on in December. We might not see it till February/ March. 6. One possible solution with Scottish Historic Buildings Trust and some ideas on costs
The second public meeting was on 29 August and had over 320 people there. At this stage we were still looking to a CPO and possible Asset Transfer. The meeting was ably chaired by Rev. Fraser Aitken. We had as main speaker Una Richards, Director of the Scottish Historical Buildings Trust which has a history of saving buildings. She was optimistic about the building being saveable. It was important to have a full feasibility study of what the town needed, what the public wanted, what the building’s purposes would best be, to ensure a proper income for a sustainable future. She gave two successful examples of SHBT projects. They have restored and developed 25 mostly very large buildings in Scotland, mostly in the East.
The Trust operates not on CPO and Asset Transfer which we had been looking at, but usually buys from a willing seller. SHBT also mostly take responsibility for funding the costs of the project by applying for heritage funding and other grants, raising money from public appeals and finding wealthy donors. Any new station would be state funded. Ayr Station itself has been left without access lifts or escalators and generally neglected of funds for a while, saving £2m on that alone. We feel that the government should step in here financially and maintain Ayr’s heritage.
Also at this second meeting two of the Action Committee members who are professionals in building Wallace Guthrie and Harry Corrigan gave a presentation on the building, its strengths as a building, its high-quality architecture as a part of a red sandstone locale. There was also a very broad indication of cost to conserve and upgrade the site as a hotel or develop to different purposes of around £13m or so, but this was based on non-inspection and missed out the access costs of circa £2m. There was the proviso also that all the joists would need to be tested and dry rot could add costs to the roof and window replacement and the other needed work.
There followed a Question & Answer Session with Rev. Fraser Aitken, Wallace Guthrie, Una Richards, Harry Corrigan , (me) Esther Clark and Councillor Brian McGinley. Brian had come in a personal capacity to our first meeting. He now took questions on behalf of the council. He spent a lot of time on council questions and agreed to set up a council information point on line.
I was asked to summarise the Action Group position. The main objective was the retention of a wonderful part of Ayr, an architectural gem which would restore that area to one of architectural merit. The possible uses were a menu of possibilities, from social, amenity or cooperative housing to a community centre, bistro/restaurant for passengers and the users, function rooms which could be self-catering or have the option of the restaurant facilities or even a hostel. These would be if it was a multi-purpose project, but it might be a hotel since Ayr may be short of hotel rooms and this has 75 bedrooms.
Rev. Aitken thanked everyone for a lively and informative time. There was a general feeling that the hotel should be preserved as an iconic splendid building and that it should be used to benefit the town and help it develop as it had when it was built. 7. Work to make safe and produce a Report
At the time of the second public meeting the CPO Policy Unit was trying to start the ball rolling by arranging a meeting of interested parties. This was set aside at least for the time being when the Structural Engineers’ Report (SER) was announced. Further, if the SHBT under Director Una Richards did their feasibility study and took on the project, they would manage all aspects of the project. They are awaiting the SER but are collecting Questionnaires already towards it and have plans for a feasibility study to look at uses etc.
8. We have worries so have applied for a Listing Review for the hotel to Heritage Environment Scotland
We at the Action Group have concerns about the delay in the Report completion which are echoed by some professionals. To give the building more protection, we have asked for a Review by Heritage Environment Scotland (HES) of its Listing which is currently B. We have asked another Architectural Heritage group for additional evidence to add value to our application. Form. We are also writing formally to the council Head of Estates about the delay.
Our current work is rather difficult as we have put off sending information out until news was available from the Report. We now gather that this may not be available before February/ March. I have been doing frequent press releases. Also, I did other media events which were mainly connected to our public meetings. Now that we cannot have a December public meeting, we feel we should send an update anyway, so this is it.
The organisation has no income. We asked for donations for room hire at the 2 Public Meetings and there were collections of £135.50 and £324.66.= £460.66. Outgoings have been much more but the hire of the Town Hall for the two meetings and the cost of the mounting of a small exhibition of plans, pictures and information. came to £446.30.
(I mention this as one person complained that no information had been sent out about the donations given at the meetings. These were really intended to cover only cost of the room and no charge was made for tea and coffee.)
There is a separate account kindly held on behalf of the Action Group by Kyle and Carrick Civic Society which is for donations to the Ayr Station Hotel future project associated with the SHBT. Cheques may be sent to the treasurer Mr William Leslie, 13 Greenside Avenue, Prestwick, KA9 2HB, made out to ‘Kyle and Carrick Civic Society’ or KCCS. There should be a note that this is for the Station Hotel fund. A gift aid form will be added to our website, under supporting documents.
10. Where are we now?
The neglect of the hotel and incurring damage from the leaking roof particularly since the first Dangerous Building Notice has impacted on the condition and likely costs. There has been delay over repairs legally necessary to allow a proper evaluation of the building. What would have cost an estimated £3m to £4m to repair and adapt in 2014 when failed plans were made for a student hostel will probably cost £17 million or more now. You’ll get a lot more for your money if you keep the old building in terms of extra amenities which will last longer, and it would improve the town’s appearance more than a new build. Demolition is likely to take more time. There are dangers for passengers till the safety process is complete, which are worrying, but all the scaffolding is necessary to repair or demolish. The dangers could have been avoided if the foreign part owner or network rail, 16% owner, had behaved properly. The Scottish Government needs to change the law to give buildings protection from speculation whether it be home grown or foreign.
Any offer of help with a future Newsletter would be very welcome. This is rather long, but I want the story so far on record. I would be delighted if someone would come along and take it over for next time. It is crucial that we keep the pressure up because what happens will be a political decision. We need to see that the sensible option of restoring the Hotel and giving it purposes good for the town and economically viable come about. We can win this. A temporary roof is going on as we speak. The Hotel can dry out and we have time to influence the politicians. It is now supposed to be safe, so we hope to have a positive story to tell.
Thank you all for your interest and support. I have been trying to keep you all in touch
via press releases, letters and responding to calls and letters, but this is going out by email or post where possible. About half of our contact names are email (some hard to read) and nearly half are postal addresses or phone numbers. I hope the Report is out by February and we can have a public meeting or event and move on. Watch out for updates.
Merry Christmas and let us hope for a Happy New Year for Ayr Station Hotel and us all.