A ROW has erupted over plans for a new 'dark sky observatory' to replace a facility in Ayrshire which was destroyed by fire.

Trustees from the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory (SDSO) have hit out at a petition calling for a new facility to be built on the site of the previous one, which was destroyed in a devastating fire in June 2021.

The row comes as the SDSO revealed it has whittled down the choice of sites for a new observatory to a shortlist of two - but said there were "serious inadequacies" around the Loch Doon site where the original venue was located.

The popular venue had to be demolished after the huge blaze.

We announced last year that East Ayrshire councillors had approved a funding request for a feasibility study to explore options to replace the facility.

Independent Doon Valley councillor Drew Filson revealed in September that Craigengillan Estate had offered to provide the land for the new build.

Cumnock Chronicle: Fire damage from 2021.Fire damage from 2021. (Image: Danny Cameron)

However, in an update issued by the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory (SDSO), the organisation's trustees say they have yet to select a location for the new facility - and that "various factors" will be considered before a final decision is reached.

The feasibility study concluded that building a new observatory on the same site as the original "would not be financially sustainable in the long term", and that new sites were to be explored instead.

After the results of the feasibility study were made public, a petition was launched online by Dalmellington resident Dave Hancox, calling for the new observatory to be built on the same site as the previous one.

The petition said there would be major educational, economic, academic, conservation and cultural benefits to the area if a new observatory were built at the same location.

It received 1,670 signatures before it closed earlier this month.

But in their statement, the SDSO's trustees claim Mr Hancox's petition "included a number of false and misleading statements" and that the original site "has serious inadequacies".

They said: "We are pleased to advise we have now identified two potential sites, both of which we believe meet our criteria, subject to reaching agreement with the landowners.

"In line with the observatory’s principal charitable aim, each of these sites is located within the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park area.

"One is in proximity to Loch Doon, the other is nearer to the centre of the Park.

"Unfortunately, the petition’s originator has included a number of false and misleading statements within the petition itself and its subsequent updates.

"We believe those who have signed the petition in good faith will be unaware of this."

Cumnock Chronicle: The fire from a distance. The fire from a distance. (Image: NQ Archive)

The trustees added: "We have visited the site proposed in updates linked to the petition.

"Having assessed it thoroughly we have identified that, contrary to the claims of the petitioner, that site has serious inadequacies.

"Therefore, we are instead focussing our attention on the two much more suitable sites referred to above.

"We understand that many people would like to see the observatory being rebuilt in the Dalmellington area.

"However, we sincerely hope everyone will understand that our priority must be to build a facility which is truly sustainable far into the future and, in order for this to be achievable, we need to select the very best possible site location.

"We will provide a further update in due course."

Cumnock Chronicle:  The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory as it stood before. The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory as it stood before. (Image: Dave Hancox)

The statement sparked some backlash online, with some members of the public calling for the trustees to be more transparent on the reasons for regarding the site of the original observatory as unsuitable.

Mr Hancox also responded to the statement, saying: "I will have to check if an error was made with the fire date. But I feel that is irrelevant.

"Rather than engage and explain actions they have continually made false allegations against the petition, i.e. using their pictures, fund raising and acting in their name.

"We can see this as a fail for the petition and local feeling.

"All we could do was try to say thank you to all who gave their support."