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Owner of eyesore Inverness city centre hostel ‘to restore building’

By Laurence Ford

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Hostel owner Imtaiz Ali
Hostel owner Imtaiz Ali

THE owner of a fire-ravaged city centre building has spoken out for the first time about his plans to return the property to its former glory.

The Eastgate Hostel was gutted by a fierce blaze almost three years ago. It has since lain derelict and been branded an “eyesore”.

There have been repeated calls for action to be taken to restore the roofless Victorian structure and owner Imtaiz Ali said he was “very aware” of the public concern as he revealed his plans to rectify the situation.

He said he had now appointed a team of surveyors and project managers to look at getting a new roof in place during the summer months.

Mr Ali also said he expected to have the engineers back into the property during March to finalise the appraisal of the structure.

He said: “Our aim is to get a new roof on the property during the summer months.

“At this stage we will be hoping to get the scaffold down, structural stability permitting, and to get a new separating floor between the ground and first floor.”

But he warned the roof might have deteriorated so much the rear part of the building may have to be demolished and a new steel-framed structure erected behind the facade.

“This is a worst-case scenario and we are hopeful that this will not be necessary,” he added.

The structure was the subject of a dangerous building enforcement notice by Highland Council last year and Mr Ali said following the engineer’s report his agents would be applying for a building warrant for structural repairs and a new roof.

He pointed out that the property is owned by three people and the remedial work involved three loss adjusters and three insurance companies – nine parties in total.

He said: “There is so much involved in the job that I just cannot come out and say something definite because things might change.

“It’s a big job and its up to the insurance companies. We want to have the building back in operation as soon as possible.”

Inverness Central councillor Janet Campbell, who has called the former hostel a “shocking eyesore”, gave a cautious welcome to Mr Ali’s plans. But she said what she did not want to happen was for people’s hopes to be built up and then dashed.

She said: “Of course we are anticipating early action and that is what has been indicated by Mr Ali. I would like to see a timetable so we can monitor the progress here. A building warrant should be applied for now so the reinstatement work can commence in March.

“That is something that would be hugely welcomed by the people of Inverness. I will be closely monitoring the progress of what Mr Ali has talked about. It’s not good enough to make statements unless they are factual. If this is proved not to be factual and restoration work does not commence, I will be asking serious questions.”

Mike Smith, of Inverness Business Improvement District (BID) attended a meeting with Mr Ali, his advisers and Highland Council.

He said: “Obviously, we all want to find a solution to this ongoing problem. I am very pleased Mr Ali is giving these commitments and we can look forward to some more visible progress. Obviously, he has had some problems but that is for him to deal with, not us.”

The spectacular early-morning fire took place in April 2013 forcing 51 residents and three staff to escape the blaze, with many having to leave their personal belongings behind.

The building has remained in a parlous state since then and many people called on the council to take out a compulsory purchase order and reinstate the property, but this has been ruled out.

A council spokeswoman said: “We are not considering a compulsory purchase of Eastgate Hostel, as the onus lies firmly on the owner to bring it back into productive use.”

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