I was in The Honeybee and the Hare café in Ayr recently (great food/dog-friendly/human-friendly) when I got chatting to the staff and customers about a subject that simply cannot be avoided by anyone who lives or works in the town. There it is, right outside, just a short walk from the café. It looms, or rises, above everything else, as a building and as a subject. People worry about it. They’re angry about it. What on earth is to be done?

I’m talking, of course, about Ayr Station Hotel, once one of the grandest station hotels in the country but now empty and un-used. As you probably know, it’s currently covered by scaffolding and plastic sheeting that’s turned the building into a great white iceberg slap bang in the middle of the town. But if we could see under the sheeting, we’d see the beautiful red sandstone and the chateau-style finishes and flourishes designed by the great Scottish engineer Andrew Galloway who also did the incredible Glaisnock viaduct in Cumnock. To summarise: this is an important building.

What’s to be done about the situation isn’t clear. Certainly, the staff and customers of The Honeybee and the Hare weren’t sure about the solution and I understand that. The hotel is a giant of a building so anyone who wants to rescue it will have to think big. Everyone in Ayr has also been repeatedly told by the council – they were saying it again at a meeting the other day – that the building is on its last legs and the only answer is demolition. The recent fire didn’t help either and it’s all starting to feel like a story we’ve seen many times before: closure-neglect- deterioration-demolition-extinction.

But fortunately the council isn’t getting away with it that easily. SAVE, which fights to conserve historic buildings, has pushed back against the pull-it-down narrative and they were doing so again on Friday when they pointed out once more that demolition is not only deeply sad for anyone who cares about the hotel, it actually makes no logical sense.

The problem is that the council’s position, and justification for demolishing a listed building, is based on the idea that the hotel is crumbling, dangerous and beyond the point of rescuing. However, SAVE asked the conservation engineer Ed Morton to take a proper look at the building and his conclusion was that it’s in much better condition than widely assumed. Indeed, Mr Morton said that he’d seen many buildings in a much poorer state than Ayr Station Hotel which had been retained and given new life. It would be perfectly practical, he said, to repair the building and bring it back into long-term sustainable use.

The council says in response that it’s all very well for Mr Morton and SAVE to say that the hotel can be saved but it’s the council who’ll have to foot the bill and, even according to SAVE’s own report, it would cost around £9m just to make the hotel wind and water tight. There’s also the ongoing cost of the scaffolding and sheeting and to be fair, there will be some council taxpayers in Ayr who will agree that there are better things to spend £9m on than a big empty building.

But even seen from the council’s own apparently frugal position, demolition still makes no sense. Yes, getting the building into a fit state again would cost £9m but the council’s own plans to pull it down would cost nearly as much at £6.6m and that’s not even to demolish the whole thing: only the southern wing would be destroyed. The council would then be left with a rather strange site that was neither fish nor fowl and that they don’t even own (the absentee owner lives in Malaysia). In other words, millions of pounds spent to make the situation worse.

You also have to wonder whether the council have properly looked at the alternatives to demolition. I was speaking recently to a local developer Robin Ghosh – who did an amazing job converting Ayr’s former children’s hospital Seafield House into flats – and it’s fair to say he’s frustrated with South Ayrshire Council’s attitude to the station hotel. Basically, he thinks the council is determined to push ahead with demolition as the only option.

However, Mr Ghosh thinks there is a realistic alternative and believes there could be a way to save the building – indeed, he came up with a plan to turn the hotel into council offices along the same lines as the work he did with the old Johnnie Walker site in Kilmarnock but no progress on the Ayr plans was ever made. Mr Ghosh points out that the Johnnie Walker building brought people and money into a dying town centre and he thinks that, with the right package, the same could happen with Ayr Station Hotel.

Quite why the council won’t listen to any of this isn’t clear – in fact, it seems to metaphorically have its hands over its ears and is saying la-la-la-can’t-hear-you to any of the alternatives that are on the table. SAVE outlined some of them in its report. The railway station could use some of the old hotel instead of the ugly temporary buildings they’re currently using. There could be a pub or café. Offices. Studios. And hotel or hostel rooms on the upper floors. SAVE also point out that saving a listed building opens up other potential sources of funding and that raising cash to save a listed building is much more likely to succeed than raising cash to demolish it.

For the moment, however, the council seems closed to such arguments but it will also discover that tearing down Ayr Station Hotel is going to be much harder than it thinks it is. There’s great affection for the building obviously, but it’s also grade B listed and is structurally sound so any plan to demolish it would meet with considerable resistance. Demolition is also resting on a logical flaw over costs that means their plan will crumble: maybe not now, maybe not soon, but eventually.

South Ayrshire Council will also have to accept that the public mood on buildings such as Ayr Station Hotel is changing. Not only do people realise that the environmental cost of pulling down a building and putting up a new one is much greater than renovating the building that’s already there, people are becoming impatient with the lack of care for our built heritage. Over and over again, we get the same thing: closure-neglect-deterioration-demolition-extinction. But we’re now demanding something different: protect-protect-protect.