Wrecking ball for dangerous hotel to end Royal saga

Stow councillor Sandy Aitchison outside the Royal Hotel.
Stow councillor Sandy Aitchison outside the Royal Hotel.

THE Borders will lose one its most iconic buildings when the former Royal Hotel in Stow is demolished next month.

The building, with its fine Victorian frontage, will finally face the wrecking ball 18 months after its owners were granted planning permission to raze it to the ground.

The recession and, in particular, the lack of demand for flats meant that Braidwood Estates’ vision of building 11 apartments and a restaurant at the site never came to pass.

And last week, Scottish Borders Council’s planning enforcement unit served a dangerous building notice ordering the firm to make the site safe.

“The developer has agreed to demolish the building and is working with an engineer to make sure this is carried out properly,” said an SBC spokesman on Monday.

And yesterday, Donal Toner, the architect who represented Carluke-based Braidwood in a protracted planning dispute with the council, confirmed the old hotel would be demolished, with work expected to start on Tuesday week.

The saga goes back to 2004 when the owners of the Royal, which ceased trading in 2000, were granted planning consent to convert the hotel into four flats as part of an 11-house development which included a bistro/restaurant.

But a year later and amid local disquet about the deteriorating state of the property, Braidwood changed tack, removing a single-storey section because it was structurally unsafe and announcing its intention to demolish the main hotel building and begin its development from scratch.

In 2007, the firm sought consent for the demolition from SBC but this was refused because of the Royal’s “contribution to the character and appearance of the Stow conservation area”. The council, supported by Historic Scotland, felt the distinctive frontage should be retained.

The company lodged an appeal with the Scottish Government, prompting local councillor Sandy Aitchison to make tentative moves to explore a community buy-out.

But Stowites who attended a public meeting organised by Christine Grahame MSP backed plans to have what had become a dangerous eyesore removed. And when, after a public inquiry in July, 2008, reporter Mike Croft overruled the council and gave Braidwood consent to demolish, Mr Aitchison’s venture bit the dust.

This week, Mr Aitchison said news of the demolition was “a mixed blessing”.

“I suppose the resolution of this long-running saga is to be welcomed, but it is sad that Stow will lose a landmark building in Townfoot which was laid out in Victorian times and still boasts wonderful architecture at the post office and town hall,” said Mr Aitchison.

“I have no doubt this situation has come about because of neglect by its owners. The timescale for the hotel to be demolished expired in December last year.”

But Mr Toner told us he had been in touch with Braidwood director Malcolm Hogg who said he had contacted the council in December to inform it the building was now becoming dangerous to the public, despite the barriers which were erected two years ago.

“About two weeks ago, Mr Hogg was informed of the dangerous building order and he has since been consulting with an engineer and the demolition contractor, who has now been appointed.

“The work is due to take place on Tuesday week and the cleared site will be put on the market immediately. The lack of action since the public inquiry has been down to the economic recession and, particularly, the lack of demand for flats.”

Ms Grahame, seeking election in Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, told us: “I am delighted at the decision to demolish the Royal Hotel which has been for a considerable time a major eyesore in Stow.

“I first became involved in this issue back in 2008 and I am as relieved as local residents will be to see some progress is being made at last.

“The work to be undertaken will make safe and tidy a building which has posed a danger.

“Given the conservation status of the village, careful consideration will need to be given to whatever development takes place on the site in future and I will be pressing to ensure that the local community is fully consulted on whatever plans emerge.”