PRESS RELEASE: Ayr Station Hotel demolition not a foregone conclusion
Specialist building engineer visits fire-damaged hotel and issues advice outlining alternative strategy to demolition following meeting with council leaders. All options should remain on the table for future of the listed building
10th November 2023
SAVE Britain’s Heritage has put forward an alternative strategy for saving Ayr Station Hotel, using the existing scaffolding to facilitate stabilisation works. The report – submitted to South Ayrshire Council leaders on 9th November - has been prepared by Conservation Engineer Ed Morton, managing director of the Morton Partnership, and outlines an alternative means of securing public safety around the building. The key objective is to allow the adjoining road and railway station to be reopened as quickly and safely as possible.
This alternative approach is also intended to respect the listed status of the building, focusing on the minimum intervention necessary, and securing time for all parties to take stock of the issues and consider the right approach for saving the building. Avoiding decisions being made in haste is now key if the building is to be saved.
Calling on his extensive experience of severely fire-damaged listed buildings, Mr Morton’s report sets out a three-step strategy for securing the hotel and its environs, avoiding the need for irreversible and costly demolition.
- Stage 1: remove all loose debris and material from the building and environs, including any damaged scaffolding [much of the latter has already been completed, with all roof sections now largely removed]
- Stage 2: instigate structural support works to secure the building and make it safe, including strengthening and reuse of the existing scaffolding which looks to remain remarkably intact from close visual inspection and drone footage
- Stage 3: reopen A70 road bridge, railway line and station. With the building and environs made safe, careful assessment of options to repair the listed building
The alternative strategy follows a meeting hosted by South Ayrshire Council leaders on 1st November which was intended to allow Mr Morton to meet the council’s expert engineers and review new drone footage of the fire damaged landmark’s condition. However, no experts were in attendance to meet Mr Morton. It was also confirmed that the council has not appointed a conservation accredited engineer to support with the ongoing safety works, despite this being recommended practice for listed buildings. Six weeks on from the fire, no reports or further drone footage on the building’s condition have been made public by the council or its engineers.
Ed Morton, managing director of The Morton Partnership, said: “It was good to meet with Mike Newall and Hugh Talbot from SAC last week. However it is disappointing that their engineers did not attend to explain their assessment of the building and that the drone footage shown to us has not been forwarded as agreed to allow greater interrogation, despite several requests. I am encouraged, however, that Mike Newall confirmed that they would consider alternative options such as use of the scaffold as I suggested. I continue to offer my assistance.”
Jocelyn Cunliffe, vice-chair of the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, said: “The AHSS hopes that South Ayrshire Council is able to work with SAVE’s experts, to find a way to stabilise the building, while maintaining public safety, and then assess options to repair the listed Station Hotel. The future preservation of this building is of vital importance to this key historic town.”
Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, said: “Since the devastating fire, Ed Morton and SAVE have offered to assist the council at every step of the way to ensure the best outcome for this important listed building and the people of Ayr. This report shows that clear and reasonable alternatives to demolition exist. Mr Morton’s staged approach offers a practical and expedient strategy to ensure the station hotel is made safe with the key objective of allowing the road and railway to be reopened as soon as possible.”
At the meeting, Mr Morton was able to assess drone footage from within the structure, and the ongoing focus on the stability of the hotel’s south gable wall which is an important component of the building’s overall structural integrity. His report states his view that the gable wall looked to be less affected by the fire than he expected.
He goes on to say that if the council were to pursue a strategy for demolishing the south gable, this may potentially undermine the structural integrity of the remaining building. From the evidence he saw, Mr Morton states his professional view that the proposed down-taking of this wall is neither justified nor necessary in order to make the building safe. It was also confirmed at the meeting by South Ayrshire Council that the gable has not yet been examined in detail by its engineers due to access restrictions.
In light of the options which this report sets out for saving Ayr Station Hotel, SAVE now calls on South Ayrshire Council to urgently adopt the practicable and expedient approach set out in Mr Morton’s advice and avoid any hasty and irreversible decisions to demolish this listed building.
In June 2023 Mr Morton carried out a detailed condition survey of the Category B-listed building. Following the fire on 25th September, the second to hit the building in 3 months, he has offered to work alongside the council’s advisors and to offer his expertise. Until the meeting last week, these offers had gone unacknowledged and unanswered.
The historic category B-listed hotel was bought in 2014 by a now absentee owner who has failed to maintain the building or respond to enforcement action. As a result, the building has fallen into a state of disrepair and is the focus of regeneration plans for the town centre. It has been enshrouded in scaffolding to keep rainwater out since October 2018.
SAVE has been campaigning to rescue and bring life back to the hotel since 2016. In August 2022, we published a major report setting out a fundable and sustainable two-stage model to repair and transform this listed building. Our report includes a phased roadmap for repairing the historic structure and converting it for new use.
For further details on the campaign to date, please see our previous press release from 5th October.
Notes to Editors:
1. For more information contact Elizabeth Hopkirk – firstname.lastname@example.org/ 020 7253 3500
2. See here for Mr Morton’s latest advice on making the Station Hotel safe without the need for demolition
3. See our latest press release on Mr Morton’s offer of assistance post fire on 5th October 2023
4. 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.