Future of old Galashiels hotel site now looking set to be finger-lickin’ good

Galashiels councillor Euan Jardine outside the old Abbotsford Arms Hotel.
Galashiels councillor Euan Jardine outside the old Abbotsford Arms Hotel.
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The economic future of a run-down part of Galashiels could be finger-lickin’ good now a bid to open a drive-through fast-food restaurant has moved a step closer to fruition.

It has been confirmed that a leading fast-food chain, believed to be Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), has made a formal approach to buy the former Abbotsford Arms Hotel site in Stirling Street.

Luigia Natillo, Jessie Harrington and Jill Forsythe have been campaigning to save the Abbotsford Arms Hotel but now fear their efforts are in vain.

Luigia Natillo, Jessie Harrington and Jill Forsythe have been campaigning to save the Abbotsford Arms Hotel but now fear their efforts are in vain.

Its plan is to flatten the disused building and construct the drive-through in its place.

Developer Gavin Stevenson, a director of Hawick property management firm GLS, says he has been approached by a fast-food chain operator with a “strong expression of interest” in building on the site, beside the town’s transport interchange.

He added: “The plans are being carried forward.

“It is hoped that a planning application will be submitted before Christmas and that the proposal will tick all the necessary planning boxes and go on to create many much-needed jobs and generate council tax revenue in Galashiels.”

Such a move might provide an economic fillip for the town, but it has not been welcomed by everyone there.

It has come as a particular blow for a group of volunteers formed to save the Abbotsford Arms Hotel, known locally as the Abb, from the bulldozers.

Proposals they’ve been considering included converting the building into a community hub for cyclists and walkers.

Jessie Harrington, one of those spearheading that campaign, says she is now resigned to the former hotel, once a thriving 19th century-style coaching inn with 15 bedrooms and a 50-seat restaurant and function room, being demolished, though.

It closed three years ago and has become a magnet for antisocial behaviour since, with a deadline for its proposed demolition set for December 2021.

The volunteers hoped to carry out a feasibility study and raise funds in order to fend off the bulldozers.

Mrs Harrington said: “Unfortunately, Mr Stevenson has informed me that he has had an approach from an operator and is optimistic from pre-planning talks that the plans will be passed.

“The Abbotsford Arms Hotel will, therefore, be demolished and a drive-through built in its place.

“We are, of course, very disappointed. We had lots of support from the people of Galashiels to save the hotel, and we were in the process of getting ideas for its use as accommodation for cyclists and walkers and as a sustainable community venture. 

“We had had advice from the Scottish Land Fund about to whom we could apply for funding once we had developed our ideas.

“As this was likely to take another six months, we were not in a position, in terms of time, to compete with Mr Stevenson’s operator.”

Galashiels councillor Euan Jardine has been in talks with KFC bosses over finding a suitable location for a new outlet in the town, but he said he understood the volunteer group’s members would be disappointed at the news.

However, he believes a fast-food outlet on the site makes economic sense, saying: “Obviously this news is very disheartening for the group looking to save the Abbotsford Arms Hotel, and I thank them for their passionate approach to this project. 

“I had pointed out previously the interest a certain fast-food giant had in a bringing a drive-through to Galashiels, and that was one area of the town that I pointed out to them, in addition to another site just outside of Galashiels on the A72. 

“In any economic climate, I believe that those looking to sell have to look at what offers are directly in front of them and not what might be coming.

“I will be sad to see the Abbotsford Hotel no longer be part of the town.

“However, I am also positive that what will be going into the site will help drive visitors to the town and other local businesses.”

Fellow Galashiels councillor Harry Scott added: “A fast-food drive-through may not be everyone’s first choice, but if it is a nationally recognised brand, hopefully it will become an asset which will attract more people to the town centre and, together with other initiatives on the go, help to stimulate business.

“I do not know what other plans Mrs Harrington’s group has at present, but I hope they do not give up and find other suitable premises which suit their purpose.

“It is a pity that the present building has to be demolished, but it is becoming an eyesore, and the site is crying out for development.

“My own preference would have been to see another hotel built there, such as Travelodge, Holiday Inn Express or similar, but it would appear that the site is not attractive enough to those companies for whatever reason.”

KFC recently announced it is expanding across the UK.

The US-based fast-food giant has listed 535 locations it is hoping to open new outlets at, including Galashiels.

It has no outlets in the Borders at the moment, the nearest ones being in Edinburgh, East Kilbride and Hamilton in South Lanarkshire, Livingston in West Lothian and Wishaw in North Lanarkshire.