A friend of mine sent me a picture the other day that’s been on my mind ever since. It was a picture of a man and a woman walking down a street. The man’s holding an umbrella – he’s seen the forecast – but the woman is ready too and is wearing one of those old-style plastic headscarves. You can see from the clothes and the cars in the background – an old Rover 2000 and a Morris 1300 – that the picture is quite old. 1960s I’m guessing.

But the reason my friend Scott was sending me the picture was the building in the background. Did I know what the building was, he asked, and where the picture might have been taken? He’d been told it was Aberdeen but no, I could see it was Glasgow.

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The building confused me though: Victorian, red sandstone, seven or eight stories, with a huge Gothic turret at the front; what on earth was it? The old St Enoch station? Or maybe the Rottenrow hospital? I thought I knew all the old Glasgow buildings but this one had me stumped.

Eventually, Scott put me out of my misery: the handsome Victorian building was the Christian Institute on Bothwell Street and a quick bit of research uncovered the fact that it was built in the 1870s but demolished in the 1980s after property developers bought it.

What stands on the site now is a horrible generic office block with sightless dark windows, like hundreds of other horrible generic office blocks with sightless dark windows. Sad, but in no way unusual.

The reason I bring up the subject of the Christian Institute (and the ungodly thing that replaced it) is that it’s a perfect example of fine buildings that have been lost in Scotland’s towns and cities. Obviously, not every building can be saved and things change, but there are so many examples of great disappeared architecture that it underlines the need to think carefully before we allow it to happen again.

All over Scotland, there are buildings that are still here but are ghosts of their former selves: neglected, burnt-out or crumbling. Buildings on the edge of vanishing.

One of the most obvious at the moment is the Station Hotel in Ayr. Before the recent fire, the local council’s position on the empty building was that it was crumbling, dangerous and beyond the point of rescuing and after the fire, the tear-it-down narrative has just gathered more momentum. I also spoke recently to David Ramsay, an engineer and former chair of the Ayr Station Hotel Community Action Group, who claims that there has basically been a secret agenda by some of the parties involved to let the hotel deteriorate to the point where they could pull it down. If that’s true, the fire could certainly help them achieve their aim.

But not everyone’s buying it. Even before the fire happened, the organisation SAVE, which fights to conserve historic buildings, asked the conservation engineer Ed Morton to look at the hotel and his conclusion was that it was in much better condition than widely assumed. The fire then happened and that might have been expected to change the prognosis, but the good news is that Mr Norton was out to look at the hotel again recently and his judgement is that demolition is still not a foregone conclusion. The building can be saved.

But it won’t happen on its own and action still has to be taken, as Mr Norton outlines in a report which he submitted to South Ayrshire Council last week. The most important point he makes in the report is that decisions about the hotel should not be made in haste – we should not be bounced into demolition as it were. He also suggests a three-step strategy for securing the hotel until the important decision about its future can be taken – seriously and carefully, not quickly and rashly.

The Herald: Ayr Station HotelAyr Station Hotel (Image: free)

Mr Morton’s plan is basically this. First, remove all the loose debris and material from the building, including any damaged scaffolding (some of this has been done already). Second, initiate structural support work to secure the building, including the strengthening and reuse of the existing scaffolding (it would appear the scaffolding was largely undamaged by the fire). And third, reopen the road bridge, railway line and station so that life around the hotel can get back to normal. The council could then properly assess what the future options are.

To me, this seems like a sensible plan from a man and an organisation who know what they’re talking about, but I’m afraid I still hear the ringing of alarm bells. A meeting was arranged for earlier this month which was intended to allow Mr Morton to meet the council’s expert engineers and review the latest drone footage of the damage. However, no experts were in attendance to meet Mr Morton. SAVE also says the council has not appointed a conservation accredited engineer to support the ongoing safety works, despite this being recommended practice for listed buildings. And 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.

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None of this fills me with confidence I must say and if I was a suspicious man (which I am) I might be tempted to believe the idea that the council will not seriously look at all the options for the hotel because they just want shot of the place. Perhaps it’s all about money – and there will be some council-tax payers who will sympathise with prioritising the potential cost. But even if the council went ahead with their plans for demolishing the southern wing, they would still have to stump up around £6.6m and would be left with a rather strange semi-demolished site they don’t even own (the absentee owner lives in Malaysia).

What the council could do instead, and I wish they would, is engage seriously with SAVE and other organisations and individuals who want to save the Ayr Station Hotel. The director of SAVE, Henrietta Billings, says its report makes it clear that reasonable alternatives to demolition exist. “Mr Morton’s staged approach,” she says, “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.”

I know to some people this will sound unlikely but I was speaking to someone in Network Rail recently who knows the situation well and showed me some of the drone footage that was taken from above the hotel. Yes, it was shocking – the building is a blackened shell – but the man from Network Rail said – as SAVE have also said – it really isn’t as bad as it looks and the hotel is nowhere near the point of no return.

What we need to happen now is for the custodians of the hotel to accept this point officially – demolition is not a fait accompli. We then need them to engage properly with the process of looking at all the options, not just demolition. Then we can talk about what talk about what happens next. We can talk about the future. We can talk about preventing the Station Hotel becoming another Christian Institute.