AN investigation is under way into the cause of a fire which destroyed a hotel which was put in the hands of receivers two weeks ago.

The Towans Hotel, near Prestwick Airport, run for many years by former Rangers goalkeeper Norrie Martin, was burned down early yesterday.

In July, Mr Martin, 56, told The Herald that his plans to sell the hotel to a developer had turned sour when South Ayrshire Council told him the building was B-listed and could not be demolished.

It is understood the former mansion house, built between 1888 and 1902, was designed by a close associate of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and is considered to be a fine example of the period.

However, both Mr Martin and his MP, Mr Phil Gallie, have accused the council of ``hiding their heads in the sand'' and blaming Historic Scotland for blocking the development which would have secured the former footballer's financial future.

Mr Martin told The Herald last month that his plan to sell the crumbling 57-bed hotel for a housing development had been blocked by ``out of touch'' planning officials and that he faced ruin.

He is separated from his wife Inge and has an income of #46.15 a week disability allowance. The building was not insured because Mr Martin said he could no longer afford the premiums.

Fire service investigators and detectives were still at the scene late last night.

Detective Inspector Jim Kirkwood, of Ayr CID, said: ``All fires are examined and investigated thoroughly by our own specialists, assisted by the fire brigade.

``It is too early to say what the cause of the fire was and we are keeping an open mind. The amount of damage caused is extensive and early estimates put the value at more than #600,000.''

Assistant Divisional Officer Arthur Cairns, of Strathclyde Fire Brigade, said: ``The fire spread very quickly along the roofline of the hotel and when firefighters arrived the building was well alight. The cause of the fire is not clear at this stage and we will be assisting the police to prepare a full report.

``It was fortunate that no-one was in the hotel at the time.''

Mr Martin said last night: ``I have nothing left. I am frightened to go and look at what is left of a business which has been in the family for nearly 40 years.

``The first I knew of the fire was when I was having a drink with friends and the police knocked on my door. It was already well alight and the police and firemen had taken some people out of the chalets next door as a precaution.

``I tried to sell the hotel as a going concern but no-one was interested. Vandals and the weather slowly got it into such a state that it could not be saved. I have no pension from Rangers and my chance of a retirement nest egg was to sell the site to a developer.

``The council ruined that plan and they would not listen when I told them that the plan would use their precious hotel frontage as the centrepiece of a prestige housing development.

``I am now so broke that my phone has been cut off and the business is in the hands of the receivers. I don't know where to turn.''

The Towans Hotel is now in the hands of a Glasgow accountant following a court action by the Lord Advocate on behalf of HM Customs and Excise. It is understood the action centres on an unpaid VAT bill of around #6500.

Mr Martin was the custodian of the Rangers goal for 12 years until 1970 and played alongside the late Jock Wallace in the infamous 1-0 Scottish Cup defeat by Berwick Rangers in 1967 as well as performing before Scotland's biggest crowd yet, of 132,000, at Hampden two years later in the Old Firm cup final.