The promised stakeholders meeting called by Rother District Council(RDC) to talk about the future of the Landgate was held on November 27 at the Town Hall.
Chaired by Councillor Lord Ampthill, he was supported by Council Officers Dr Anthony Leonard, Executive Director and Brenda Mason, Service Manager, Community and Economy.
The interested parties, from Rye Conservation Society, Rye Town Council, the Museum and the Friends of the Landgate had representatives at the table, with the Museum representative, also the RCS secretary, holding a feedback brief only. Councillor Lord Ampthill informed us that the meeting was being held in response to the letter sent to RDC by John Griffiths, Chairman of the Rye Conservation Society (RCS). He and Brenda Mason made reference to the Thomas Ford and partners Outline Vision document, a precis of which was in Rye News last week.
Each stakeholder introduced themselves and gave a brief outline of their views on the Landgate’s situation. From this interchange, it became clear that all the stakeholders were in agreement that Rother District Council holds responsibility for the Landgate, and has done so since 1974. They were further in agreement that no third party would be prepared to take on ownership unless the Landgate was repaired and in a reasonable condition.
The stakeholders did differ on what might be done with the structure, RCS views having been very clearly expressed last week in Rye News. They hope to see the Landgate as a consolidated ruin, and this was favoured by others present.
Friends of Landgate wanted to find it a purpose and future as a useful structure. They asked whether a proper feasibility study of options had ever been carried out. Reference was made to the Thomas Ford and partners Outline Vision document, which in their view does not contain enough detail.
Rye Town Council(RTC) representatives described themselves as “reticent at this stage”. They were understandably unable to take on such an onerous burden as the Landgate at present, and considerable progress would need to be evident before this could be reconsidered in any way.
RTC raised with RDC the logistics of the erection of scaffolding and building work on the road through the arch (owned by East Sussex County Council), with a road closure possible for some period of time, and necessary anyway to start the works. Others in the room joined in the discussion, but no conclusions could be reached at this meeting
RDC’s position remains that they want to pass the ownership to a third party, and were looking to see what opportunities there were to hand over to trustees or Community Interest Companies (CIC) locally. This is not a responsibility anyone in the room was prepared to undertake. Friends of the Landgate is in a very early stage of its development and this was never one of the aims of the interim committee, even though an application for CIC status is in progress.
Dr Anthony Leonard gave a very clear, concise account of the financial position of RDC at this time, with the certainty of further cuts in Local Authority spending and requirements for further savings. Whilst everyone in the room understood this position, it did lead to something of an impasse.
Dr Leonard said that basic works would continue to be undertaken, clearing guano once a year, but little further monies were available. It was also pointed out that more opportunities for funding could be available to an independent body.
The participants then attempted to map out possible large funders, but it is known that Historic England is not interested, the Heritage Lottery Fund really being the only likely contender. It became evident that any such bidding process was very complex and labour intensive, with no certainty of success. The issue of finding the manpower and funds to do this was fiercely debated. The importance of the community and educational elements, and a sustainable future, were highlighted.
A full and frank discussion, in which everyone played their part, did result in some movement. RCS, RTC and Friends of the Landgate agreed that the idea of a consolidated ruin did not mean there were no other options, but that it might well be the starting point. The stakeholders were all quite clear that RDC was still responsible for this ancient structure and RDC are equally clear that their financial situation means that the potential for new ownership will be explored.
Finally, RTC made a proposal that a small group, with one representative from each organisation present, meet, to try and agree future ideas. This was formally agreed and Terms of Reference will be circulated shortly.
So many topics were raised at this meeting, that Friends of Landgate has been making further email enquiries to more fully understand the situation. There has not been time to receive any answers. The Museum Directors will also be receiving feedback, and because the Landgate is so much a part of Rye’s history, their views will be welcome.
Photo: Rye News Library