PRESS RELEASE: SAVE calls for national debate on demolition of Scottish heritage

SAVE Britain’s Heritage has launched a public petition calling on the Scottish Parliament to host a national debate to bolster safeguards for threatened listed buildings. 

11 June 2024 

The petition, validated on 6th June 2024 by the Scottish Parliament, calls for an urgent Parliamentary debate to address a gap in legislation that leaves listed buildings across the country vulnerable to demolition.  

Support SAVE's petition by adding your signature here

The current loophole allows councils to demolish listed buildings under emergency public safety powers without providing evidence to justify their actions. The case follows the highly controversial demolition of Category B listed Ayr Station Hotel by South Ayrshire Council which is still on going.  

It has been carried out due to public safety concerns, following a major arson attack last year, but without the reports or surveys to justify the decision being made public and without providing evidence that alternatives to total demolition were robustly explored. 

While fully recognising the paramount importance of making dangerous buildings safe, enhanced guidance is needed to address this policy gap, setting out the minimum structural evidence and process before undertaking demolition works to listed buildings on public safety grounds, including when consulting national heritage advisor Historic Environment Scotland. This will ensure only the minimum demolition necessary takes place to make the building safe, avoiding excessive or total demolition. 

SAVE’s petition is calling for policy safeguards to ensure that listed buildings like Ayr Station Hotel cannot be demolished without robust and transparent justification. We are specifically calling for the following policy controls to be introduced alongside existing public safety legislation:   

1. Enhanced policy guidance setting out the minimum evidence and processes required by local planning authorities before making decisions on demolition of listed buildings under emergency powers 

2. A mandatory policy requirement for local planning authorities to engage conservation-accredited engineers in all cases involving listed buildings  

Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, said: “We see a huge opportunity in bringing this national issue to the attention of MSPs and opening a much-needed debate on the protection of listed buildings across the country. These buildings are gifts to the nation from the past – and we should be taking every step necessary to ensure they are protected from unnecessary demolition – as is intended by the legislation.” 

Paul Sweeney MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Glasgow, said: “This petition addresses a glaring loophole in existing policy. It is not acceptable that councils can demolish listed buildings in Scotland – using so-called public safety powers – without providing evidence to show that there is no alternative to demolition. It is my hope that the Scottish Parliament’s petitions committee backs this petition so that we can strengthen protections of listed buildings in Scotland.” 

Jocelyn Cunliffe, acting chair of the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, said: “The AHSS supports SAVE’s petition to the Scottish Government to provide enhanced safeguards for listed buildings across Scotland.  Local authorities are empowered to act timeously to save listed buildings and it is imperative that all options be considered and that there are adequate checks and balances before demolition, which should be a last resort, takes place.” 

Joe Traynor, director of The Scottish Civic Trust, said: “The Scottish Civic Trust endorses SAVE’s petition which encourages policy makers to respect and boost the protection of Scotland’s historic buildings.  These need to be protected, reused and celebrated as unique to the make-up of our communities and places.” 

Current conflict of interest  

In cases involving the use of emergency powers on grounds of public safety, current legislation creates a potential conflict of interest for Local Authorities between the legal duty of Planning Departments to protect listed buildings under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1997 and the duty of Building Control Departments to make any dangerous building safe, including via demolition, under Section 29 of the Building (Scotland) Act 2003.  

The drawn-out demolition of large parts of Ayr’s Category B listed Station Hotel by South Ayrshire Council following an arson attack which damaged the building in September 2023, has brought this issue into the national spotlight. Following the fire, the Council assumed legal responsibility for the site, with Building Control proceeding to demolish the south wing of the building, without publishing detailed evidence to justify its actions, and no requirement to gain approval from Historic Environment Scotland before doing so.  

SAVE has remained consistently opposed to the council’s decision to pursue demolition and raised these issues of national heritage importance at a specially convened cross party round table at the Scottish Parliament in November 2023. A joint letter was subsequently sent to the chief executive of South Ayrshire Council on 23rd November 2023 expressing concerns about listed buildings at risk of demolition across Scotland, including Ayr Station Hotel.  

Photos published with this press release show the devastating impact of the demolition of the Station Hotel’s highly ornate south wing – and subsequently much more of the building.  

In February, SAVE called for the retention of the listed building’s surviving north wing and tower as a key priority in South Ayrshire Council’s emerging vision for Ayr Town Centre which went out for public consultation in January 2024. These sections of the listed building were far less extensively impacted by the fire in September 2023 and could have formed the foundation for a refurbished modern railway station without tearing the heart out of the town.  

However, South Ayrshire Council began demolition of the tower and a substantial portion of the north wing in April 2024, on the grounds of public safety. Yesterday, the council announced that this demolition is “on target” to be complete by 17th June 2024. A Dangerous Buildings Notice has been issued by South Ayrshire Council requiring the owner of the building to make the surviving section of the north wing safe. 

SAVE’s petition, which addresses this loophole in legislation which allows councils to demolish listed buildings under emergency public safety powers without providing robust justification, was published on 6th June 2024 by the Scottish Parliament and is now open to signatures.  

The next stage will be consideration at an upcoming Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee (CPPPC) meeting, at which point the committee will decide on what action will be taken. This can include asking for a debate about the petition in the chamber or recommending actions for the Scottish Government. SAVE’s petition has called for an urgent Parliamentary debate. 

For further background, view our latest press release by visiting our website 


 Notes to Editors: 

1. For more information contact Elizabeth Hopkirk – / 020 7253 3500 

2. SAVE has been working, in collaboration with local groups and national experts, to save Ayr Station Hotel for about 5 years. More info on our website. This is our latest press release on the long-running case 

3. SAVE Britain’s Heritage is an independent voice in conservation that fights for threatened historic buildings and sustainable reuses. We stand apart from other organisations by bringing together architects, engineers, planners and investors to offer viable alternative proposals. Where necessary, and with expert advice, we take legal action to prevent major and needless losses. 

Image captions

1 -  The category B-listed landmark in better days in summer 2018, just prior to being encapsulated in scaffolding [Credit: © Nigel Hackett for SAVE Britain’s Heritage]

2 - Demolition works being carried out to the tower and north wing of Ayr Station Hotel on 19 May 2024 [Credit: © SAVE Britain’s Heritage]  

3 - A surviving section of the north wing on 29 May 2024, as substantial demolition works to the tower and north wing near completion [Credit: © SAVE Britain's Heritage]  

4 - View of the south wing on 24 March 2024, amid demolition by South Ayrshire Council [Credit: © SAVE Britain’s Heritage] 

5 - The Station Hotel post fire, before demolition began in late October 2023. The south wing is to the right, still largely intact and shrouded in the original scaffolding encapsulation, much of which survived intact from the fire [Credit: © SAVE Britain's Heritage]

6 - Aerial view of the Station Hotel in January 2024, with demolition of the south wing just commencing [Credit: © ASHCAG]