Not so fab at the Abb as safety fears are raised

Galashiels Councillor Euan Jardine at the Abbotsford Arms Hotel, Galashiels
Galashiels Councillor Euan Jardine at the Abbotsford Arms Hotel, Galashiels

The future of an eyesore building at the heart of Galashiels town centre hangs in the balance amid fears it has become a potential death trap.

The Abbotsford Arms Hotel in Stirling Street – affectionately referred to as ‘the Abb’ by townsfolk – was once a thriving 19th coaching inn with 15 bedrooms and a 50-seat restaurant and function room.

Councillor Sandy Aitchison.

Councillor Sandy Aitchison.

But after years of neglect it closed its doors in 2015 and last year a planning bid from Galashiels-based Aitken Turnbull Architects, acting as agents on behalf of its owner, Borders property developer Gavin Stevenson, was approved.

Demolition has yet to proceed and in the interim a town group has been set up in a bid to save it from the bulldozers.

Meanwhile, concerns have been raised over the safety of the prominent building, which is located close to the town’s transport interchange.

Last month, at a meeting of Galashiels Community Council, local policeman James Harrison described it as “an accident waiting to happen”, due to reports of it being used as a drugs den and of youths clambering onto its roof.

Mr Stephenson was unavailable for comment this week and a spokesman for Aitken Turnbull Architect said the company had had no involvement with the building since submitting the demolition bid.

Galashiels and district ward councillor Euan Jardine is anxious for the future of the former hotel to be resolved and revealed one potential use for the site – as a new base for a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) drive thru restaurant.

He said “The police has expressed concerns over people getting inside the building ,but the owner of the building has got until, I think, November 2021, before he has to knock it down.

“There is a group of local volunteers led by Jessie Harrington, a member of the community council, trying to save it and put something else in. She’s speaking to South of Scotland Economic Partnership (Sosep) and people like that.

“KFC has said that Galashiels is the top of their places to come and I think this is something which could be explored. I’ve asked that they be contacted about the hotel site, so they should be aware of its availability.”

Fellow Galashiels and district ward councillor Sandy Aitchison said he would be delighted to see the hotel rise again, but believes it would take a huge community effort over a period of years to enable that to happen.

He said: “The building has been allowed to deteriorate and it’s very sad to see because it is in such an important position beside the church and the transport interchange. When these buildings are lost it’s like losing an old friend.

“Galashiels is changing, Galashiels is rising and it would be lovely to see the Abbotsford Hotel rise alongside that and I would be open to help in any way to make that happen, but it would be a huge challenge, it would need huge investment and would take a commitment over a number of years.”

The uncertainty surrounding the building’s future has also fuelled speculation and raised memories on social media sites.

Louise Riddell posted: “We had our wedding reception there in 1990. It was a lovely building. Shame it’s been left to rot!”

And Fiona Mcadam said: “I used to love going to the Abb for a meal and a few drinks. I’ve always said to my husband what a shame it’s fell into such a bad state and it really doesn’t look good when you get off the train or bus.”

Carole Carson added: “I think it may be too late, but I can’t understand why someone didn’t take the place over and do it up as a lovely hotel. It’s right where people get off the train. It would be ideal.”

But Michael Hyslop expressed an alternative view, saying: “It should be demolished. It looks a bloody mess.”

Many others have shared memories of the Abb as a live music venue, particularly in the 1960s and 70s, including an appearance by the Humblebums, featuring Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty.

Joyce Ramage recalled: “I was there when Billy Connolly was on. I had no idea who he was, except I walked home with wet pants that night. Brilliant.”