Once an elegant expression of Carlisle’s Victorian wealth, the Central Plaza Hotel is now crumbling.

Standing only with the help of scaffolding, the ailing former hotel has all but collapsed.

With the roof gone and much of the flooring having rotted away, the city now waits for news of when - and how much of - the building can be finally demolished.

With residents having seen exactly the same saga unfold last year - danger declared, roads closed and businesses suffering losses - many are wondering why the Central Plaza has not been dealt with before now.

And more importantly, with £900,000 having already been spent by Carlisle City Council to make it safe and a previous quote of £2.5m to knock it down hanging overhead, who is going to pay for what comes next?

For former city council leader Colin Glover, who captained the authority through last year’s closure of Victoria Viaduct, the answer is clear.

“By the time the Central Plaza is finally demolished, the city council could have easily spent £2m or £3m to make the site safe,” he said.

“That is a drop in the ocean for central government, but it is a huge cost for a small district council.

“We would almost certainly have to borrow money in order to meet those costs.”

He repeated the call he made last year, for the city’s MP John Stevenson to demand that central government cover the cost.

“If I was in John Stevenson’s position, I would be knocking on the door of the Secretary of State every day,” Mr Glover added.

But Mr Stevenson said the complex legal issues surrounding the building meant the Government could not vanish the problems standing in the way of knocking it down - and claimed Mr Glover’s demand for government intervention was politically motivated.

“This is not a time for playing politics. My main concern is that the viaduct can be reopened as soon as possible.

“I will work with the businesses affected to ensure that the council and government are doing all they can to conclude this ongoing issue.

“For either the Crown Estate or central government to shoulder the financial burden alone would set a precedent with regards to derelict buildings - of which across the country there are many.

“So to demand either covers the costs is a distraction.”

The Central Plaza lies in a vacuum of responsibility. Having closed in 2004, the company that owned the hotel was dissolved, leaving it without a legal owner.

Under law, property not owned by anyone passes to the Crown Estate, a body set up to manage the public land and buildings owned by the Queen.

However, the Crown Estate has an unconventional relationship with the law. The Crown Estate does not own the building in the normal sense of the word.

A spokeswoman for the Crown Estate explained “The Central Plaza Hotel is subject to an unusual legal process called escheat, which relates to property which has no owner.

“As such, the hotel is not owned by the Crown Estate and we cannot take responsibility for its management or repairs, because to do so would contravene our commercial mandate as set out in the Crown Estate Act 1961.”

In other words, the Crown Estate’s legal responsibility for the Central Plaza, as set out by the law, is to do no more than to sell it on to a new owner, and nothing more.

Profit made by the sale is then passed to the Treasury, so returns to the public purse.

The spokeswoman continued: “While we cannot take any act of management in relation to the hotel, we are able to sell it to a suitable private owner.

“In the case of the Central Plaza Hotel, we were in discussions with the council with a view to it running a tender to invite interested parties to put forward suggestions and proposals for the future of the building, however we’ve not had recent correspondence from the council in respect of this.”

It was reported in June that a developer was keen to take on the site - though whether that interest remains today is unclear.

Without a private developer willing to buy the former hotel, the demolition needed in order to make the Central Plaza safe is going to have to be paid for with public money.

Whether paid for by the city council or by central government, the bill will ultimately fall to the taxpayer.

However, Carlisle residents are already paying. Whether it is the businesses affected by the closure of Victoria Viaduct or the commuters having to navigate the traffic snarl-ups as a result of the closure, the Central Plaza saga is costing the city, and will continue to do so until it is resolved.

This was a point made by the recently-announced Liberal Democrat candidate for the city, Julia Aglionby.

“The Central Plaza not only is a prime city centre site, but the ongoing disruption is costing businesses thousands every day in lost revenue as people avoid the city centre,” she said.

“Our MP and councillors should be in London together sitting at the desks of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government co-creating a solution.”

For Ruth Alcroft, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Carlisle, the ongoing saga proves the laws restricting action on the Central Plaza show that they are not working, and need to be changed - something she hoped to see brought before Parliament.

“I’d like to see an adjournment debate on it, and I would urge John Stevenson to bring it before Parliament,” she said.

“We hear a lot of talk around left-behind towns and cities, and how the government is keen to invest in our high streets.

“This would be a brilliant opportunity for the government to show that it is behind places like Carlisle.”

But John Kelsall, joint vice chairman of the Carlisle and District Civic Trust and himself an architect, believes the quickest and cheapest solution is not to demolish the building but to rescue it from collapse.

“Holding up the building as it currently stands is probably going to be a quicker operation,” he said.

“The location of the building would indicate that the cost of demolition would be very significant.

“I can’t believe that the structure is in such a bad way that they can’t quickly strap it up on the inside.

“That’s what you would do in London where property values would justify it.”