SAVE BRITAIN'S HERITAGE have thrown their support behind our campaign to get the Scottish government, the council and NetworkRail to bring Ayr Station and Hotel up to a decent standard. Basically, for the last ten years the Hotel has been empty and ignored apart from re-pointing of the Front Elevation in 2015 by the owner and shoring up the Back Elevation by NetworkRail.
Passengers have periodically had experience of falling masonry, vegetation and even rats, while staff have lacked basic amenities and suffered infestation on at least one occasion.
Why has this happened? There have been vague plans around for a Transport Hub. One could almost think that this was in the back of folks' minds. Certainly the owner talked about fixing up the Back Elevation instead of NetworkRail having to keep fixing it but he found it impossible to get access except for an hour a night, which made it impossibly expensive. This was in 2015 when there was supposed to be a new owner on the scene. No substantive repairs were done while NetworkRail spent a lot of money putting up barriers to try to make sure nobody got hurt.
As a campaign we have tried to find out what's been happening through research, interviewing, corresponding, requesting Freedom of Information (FOI) and generally being a nuisance. What it looks like is that there has been minimum investment by NetworkRail in the Station so we have temporary arrangements and no upgrading of access facilities. Their part of the building that they owned, they abandoned.
In 2018 the condition was appalling and the campaign, in order to be able to discuss the Hotel, asked the council if in principle they would look at a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) if it would not cost the council any extra money. They agreed in principle and so the Action Group contacted the CPO policy unit. This began the action that led to the Dangerous Building Notice and the Structural Engineer's Survey which showed that both the Station and the Hotel were neglected and £10M was needed to put it in order and a lot more to conserve, restore and adapt it. It wouldn't necessarily cost much more than a glass and steel station and re-jigging the whole area.
Since then there has been a Feasibility Study and a survey. NetworkRail have spent a bit of money on a new temporary staff module behind the Station and a staff car park and are about to improve passenger facilities, it's not clear if the passengers are to get new temporary Portacabins or if they are going to restore the part of the original building they own for passenger use. NetworkRail are no longer chairing the decision making body which South Ayrshire Council now chair. The Task Force is now called the Strategic Governance Group and seems quite a well balanced operation which will have to decide the future of the Hotel. It now has a conservation remit. Of course the main decision will be made based on investment. We could get a new owner with deep pockets as it will probably take about the same as a glass and steel structure and the demolition of the old, i.e. £25M.
It might be difficult to get someone to invest that amount of money as investors can be greedy. What could happen if government contributed could be that one of the conservation trusts took over the project and made sure that economically viable options came out of the Station Hotel buildings. These could be sold off or split up. We could be talking about a restaurant, bar/cafe for passengers, a mini or a large hotel, function/meeting rooms, restored gym etc.
We are really at a watershed now. It's time for a decision. It's up to all of us to put pressure where we can if we want to keep this 'Castle in Ayr' as it was called when it was built.