Campaigners petition MSPs to introduce legal protection for listed buildings

Campaigners petition MSPs to introduce legal protection for listed buildings

The ongoing demolition of the category B-listed Ayr Station Hotel has sparked calls for the Scottish Parliament to host a national debate to bolster safeguards for threatened listed buildings.

A public petition launched by SAVE Britain’s Heritage calls for an urgent Parliamentary debate to address a gap in legislation that leaves listed buildings across the country vulnerable to demolition.

The built environment charity argues that a current ‘loophole’ allows councils to demolish listed buildings under emergency public safety powers without providing evidence to justify their actions.

The case follows South Ayrshire Council’s demolition of Ayr Station Hotel due to public safety concerns following an extensive fire in September 2023.

According to SAVE Britain’s Heritage, the work is being carried out without reports or surveys to justify the decision being made public and without providing evidence that alternatives to total demolition were robustly explored.

The charity said: “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 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, added: “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.”

The petition comes as South Ayrshire Council announced it is on target to finish safety works at the Station Hotel on Monday 17 June 2024.

The works have addressed the risk of collapsing chimneys, fire damaged supporting beams and crumbling walls and have led to the removal of the southern section of the building, the tower and the first three bays of the northern section.

The remaining part of the building has been assessed and although it’s in a poor condition, it’s not an immediate safety risk, so it cannot be removed under Section 29 of the Building (Scotland) Act 2003. Therefore, a Dangerous Building Notice has been issued in accordance with Section 30 of the Building (Scotland) Act 2003, which means the owners of the remainder of the building must make it safe.

Network Rail is already looking to prevent unauthorised access, prop the newly formed gable, secure the canopies which run across the platform and the tracks and remove or repair any loose materials.

This means that when the council’s safety works finish on 17 June, ScotRail will be able to reintroduce electric services between Ayr and Glasgow and, due to the extended period of closure, work with Network Rail to complete all activities required to re-establish services south of Ayr, working towards the full return of services later in July.

Mike Newall, chief executive of South Ayrshire Council said: “For over 10 years, we have been actively working to protect the public and the critical infrastructure of the railway.

“Our responsibilities have increased significantly since the devastating fire last year, but throughout we have maintained and developed strong working ties with our key stakeholders, particularly Network Rail and ScotRail.

“We issued the Dangerous Building Notice to the owners in advance of our safety works finishing and Network Rail has begun the works to satisfy the requirements of that Notice and facilitate the re-opening of the railway station.

“We continue to pursue Mr Ung for sums due in respect of the safety works, and decrees that have been awarded in the Council’s favour in both the Sheriff Court and Court of Session. Debt recovery action is being taken in both the United Kingdom and in Malaysia.”

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