PRESS RELEASE: Ayr becoming a city of holes
30th March 2021
The centre of the lovely Scottish resort town of Ayr is becoming a wasteland of demolition sites. The latest historic building faced with the bulldozers is the grade B listed station hotel, one of the most impressive hotel buildings in Scotland.
A Feasibility Study published in February 2021 by Atkins consultants for South Ayrshire Council offers ten options for the hotel site ranging from restoration to partial demolition and total demolition.
Just weeks later, on March 19, the Council has now issued a tender request calling for fully funded proposals with business case by April 2. The Council says that the ongoing costs of encapsulating and scaffolding the hotel means a decision must now be made.
It is clear to campaigners that demolition will be the preferred option to the Council. SAVE Britain’s Heritage and local campaigners believe that demolition is premature. The Atkins report states that no decision or action on the site can be taken until a compulsory purchase order is issued, a process that will take up to two years.
With news that rail franchisee Abellio is to be stripped of the ScotRail franchise three years early in 2022, it is clear that no funds will be available for urgent station works for three years or more. The Council, Network Rail and Scottish Ministers must therefore delay demolition and support a new community led drive to retain the station and revive the station hotel.
Marcus Binney, executive chairman of SAVE Britain’s Heritage says: “Ayr is at a crossroads. The town is one of the most attractive coastal resorts in Scotland, brimming with impressive civic landmarks and streets of attractive houses. All over Britain resort towns are on the way up, but not Ayr. The town must make more of its heritage".
Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, says: “the demolition and rebuilding of a building as large as the Station Hotel comes with a massive carbon cost, completely at odds with the Scottish Government’s landmark commitment in 2019 to becoming a net-zero society by 2045.”
David Ramsay, chair of the Ayr Station Community Action Group says: “the Council’s urgent request for detailed information of development proposals is completely unrealistic and clearly intended to intimidate the very electorate the Council is employed to serve”.
No more bulldozers
Ayr Station Hotel straddles the large Victorian station and looms over the line to Stranraer. The Atkins report reveals that even demolition could cost the Council millions and would create huge dislocation and inconvenience for rail passengers and Ayr residents alike.
A large area along the river, High Street Riverside, has already been bulldozed and is now a blight on the town following a dispute over plans for redevelopment. Another large vacant site is being created by the demolition of the unloved 1970s Burns House opposite the station.
A brighter future
SAVE’s 2020 report Ayr Station Hotel: the new journey features a number of station hotels in Scotland which have been handsomely restored and illustrates how grand station hotels in Canada, built in a Scottish baronial style, have also been magnificently refurbished.
Historic buildings do not need to be permanent pensioners on the State. It is only when they have been callously neglected with a complete lack of ordinary maintenance that historic building grants are needed to put them back in working order.
Rob Close, author of the definitive survey of Ayrshire buildings, says: "When originally built, Ayr's civic leaders recognised what this landmark building could do for Ayr; how it demonstrated Ayr’s rightful high regard for itself, and how it portrayed Ayr as a town of vision and enterprise. 130 years later, the town’s elected members and officers have allowed the Station Hotel to fall into desuetude and decay, have allowed it to become a problem for which, in their unimaginative way, they believe demolition is the only solution.”
“Woodrow Wilson, the American President, stayed here; Robert Lorimer’s magnificent GSWR War Memorial adorns Platform 3. The loss of the Station Hotel would be a major blow to Britain’s railway heritage, and has to be seen in a national context, as well as in the local context.”
Professor David Walker, Scotland’s leading architectural historian, says: “Ayr Station Hotel is one of the most impressive hotel buildings in Scotland. It has immense presence as you go out of town to the west and come in from the east.”
Michael Davis a past chairman of the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland says: “In Ayr, at the other end of the town centre and facing onto the High Street and backing to the river Ayr, a large area was cleared a few years ago. It was intended as a potential contribution to Ayr's renaissance, but the proposals were merely for Council Offices and resulted in much public opposition and the abandonment of the proposal. It remains open space. Removal of the Station Hotel would create a similar open space.”
Patrick Lorimer, a leading local architect supporting the campaign to save the station hotel, says: “the Atkins report states that demolition of the hotel will provide the opportunity for a new gateway to Ayr. The idea that whatever replaces the station hotel would be a better gateway building for the town than the current splendid building is patently absurd.”
Beautiful details of the hotel’s masonry are displayed in the original architect’s plans and drawings which SAVE has located in the Scottish National Archives.
These plans show the original layout of the hotel interior as well as beautiful details of the roof and tower. These are complemented by even more beautiful drawings of the hotel elevations found in historic railway archives, dating from 1968 but redrawn from originals.
According to the Ayr Advertiser of June 3rd 1886, Ayr Station Hotel opened on 1st June 1886 to designs by Andrew Galloway, the late engineer to the Glasgow & South Western Railway (GSWR). Building works were superintended by Mr Robert Wilson, assistant engineer to the GSWR.
Ayr Station Hotel is built of beautiful russet red Ballochmyle sandstone, one of Scotland’s most distinctive buildings stones but which is sadly no longer quarried. The design and completion of the station hotel was a source of immense civic pride in the 1880s.
In March 1883 John Mercer, Ayr’s Burgh Surveyor, was shown the plans of the proposed new station and hotel by Andrew Galloway, the Chief Engineer of the Glasgow & South Western Railway. He wrote to Andrew Galloway saying: “I was very much pleased with them and have been sounding their praises so much since, that the Provost and Magistrates are quite on the qui vive [lookout] to see them, and I may say they are almost to a man in favour of the scheme.”
The exterior design is a mixture of classical and simple Renaissance style. To the south end of the west wing is surmounted by a grand chateaux-like tower with four clock dials. In total the hotel spans over 350 metres in length, overlooking the station platforms which are covered by an ornate iron and glass roof constructed by Messrs George Smith & Co. of Sun Foundry, Glasgow.
The station hotel also included Coffee and Drawing Rooms decorated and furnished by Wylie & Lochhead.
Marble, mosaic and tiles for the interiors were provided by Galbraith & Winton, Glasgow, with stained glass by J B Bennett & Sons.
Notes to editors:
1. For more information and images contact Ben Oakley, Conservation Officer at SAVE Britain's Heritage: firstname.lastname@example.org / 07388 181 181.
2. SAVE Britain’s Heritage has been campaigning for historic buildings since its formation in 1975 by a group of architectural historians, writers, journalists and planners. It is a strong, independent voice in conservation, free to respond rapidly to emergencies and to speak out loud for the historic built environment.