THE owner of arguably Rothesay’s most prominent seafront building has defended himself against widespread local frustration at the poor condition of his property.
George Hart, the owner of the Royal Hotel, spoke to The Buteman this week as work continued to make the building wind- and water-tight after an incident last month in which a man was injured when a plate glass window fell from the top floor of the hotel and smashed on a car in the street below.
Ian Hunter, whose wife Janette owns a business in West Princes Street, was hit in the eye by four shards of glass when the window fell into the street on January 17.
At the time Mr Hunter told us he was so upset - not just by the incident, but by what he saw as attempts to “shove it under the carpet” - that he had considered packing his bags and leaving Bute.
Since the incident, Argyll and Bute Council’s building control department has ordered repairs to be carried out to ensure the B-listed hotel, on the corner of Albert Place, Bishop Street and West Princes Street, is safe.
Mr Hart, who has owned the Royal since 1996, told us he was not the uncaring owner he might appear to be at first glance - and said he simply did not have the money needed to fully restore the building.
“As far as everyone out there is concerned, at the moment the state of the Royal Hotel is all my doing as an uncaring property owner,” Mr Hart said.
“That’s very far from the case. If that was the case, my pockets would be full. But they’re not full - they’re empty.
“Every penny that I’ve made out of Rothesay, through the pub and the hotel, went back into this building. If it hadn’t, it wouldn’t be standing.”
The hotel’s roof is being stripped and lined in felt and its timber work, gutters and windows repaired where required to protect the structure against the Scottish weather.
The work is being paid for initially by the council, but Mr Hart will eventually receive a bill from the local authority once the repairs are complete.
And he had some harsh words for the public bodies who he says have failed to lift a finger to help him in his attempts to improve the property.
“All I’ve had is promises, and things have never happened,” Mr Hart continued.
“Other hoteliers and other businesses have had plenty of grants, but the Royal Hotel has never had one penny. I don’t know how much I’ve spent on the place over the years - the thought frightens me.
“Although the public doesn’t see it, there’s still been a lot of internal structural work carried out. I’ve had two thirds of the wooden lintels replaced by concrete ones, all out of my own pocket, and all using materials which were bought locally, when I could get them locally.
“That’s all unseen by the public, but it’s been done, and I’ve got receipts to show that it’s been done and paid for.
“No-one has ever done anything for George Hart at the Royal Hotel that they’ve not been paid for. I don’t have a queue of debtors waiting at my door.”
Mr Hart’s friend John Craig criticised the council’s bid for money from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Townscape Heritage Initiative - in particular, he said, the decision to remove the Royal Hotel from the project on cost grounds.
“We feel as if the council used the Royal to gain access to this lottery funding, and then removed the hotel from their plans because they said it was costing too much,” Mr Craig said.
“We don’t want to see the building like this, but the plain fact is that we don’t have any funds.
“We just want the ordinary people of Rothesay to see that George Hart is not sitting there, deliberately letting this building crumble away. He has been fighting for it for many, many years.”
Asked under what circumstances he would consider selling the Royal, Mr Hart told us: “If it was going to be made into a hotel, and I got a reasonable offer, I would more than likely accept that offer.
“But I can’t see anybody offering to step into my shoes without an awful lot of assistance.”
Local councillor Len Scoullar said: “Isobel [Strong] and I have had a meeting with Mr Hart, and we tried to persuade him that it was in his own interests to carry out the work the council felt was required.
“Following the incident last month, the council’s officers examined the building and were concerned at its condition; when the work is done, the council will then pursue the owner to recover the costs involved.
“I think people are reassured to see that the council is taking the condition of the building seriously.”