Saturday, December 16 2017

Published on November 23 2017. Opinions
Rye’s challenge for 2018
Buddleia loosening the fabric of the tower

Rye’s challenge for 2018

This week Rye News is carrying two articles on the Landgate.

One is from Gillian Roder and Kevin McCarthy of the Friends of the Landgate and outlines the recommendations of a survey commissioned by Rother District Council (RDC) many months ago, and finally released this week. It explains the problems associated with the building, details work that needs to be done, with estimated costs, a suggests ways that the structure might be maintained in the future. Altogether a useful document and, although over a year late in being made public, shows possible ways forward for the maintenance and future of our historic building. 

In total contrast is the other article, a statement by the Vice-Chairman of Rye Conservation Society giving what one must take to be the official Society’s view. In it he reaches the conclusion that nothing of any practical nature can be done with the building to help pay for its upkeep other than keeping it as a “consolidated ruin” and that it should remain in the ownership of Rother which would, he optimistically states, undertake the necessary and urgent repairs to stabilise the building and would then continue to maintain it.

The Landgate continues to suffer damage

Having read this, one really does have to ask, what world are these people living in? Where have they been for the last few years. Rye Conservation Society appears to have done nothing of any practical value in producing ideas for continued maintenance and repair. It demonstrates its closed mind and lack of any form of imagination, now that the survey report is made public, and comes up with the one idea – leaving it in the ownership of Rother District Council – that the survey categorically rejects and which anyone remotely involved with this saga knows to be a non-starter. 

Why is this so ludicrous? It may well be that it has to be regarded as a consolidated ruin (as are many monuments of similar age) but RDC has made it abundantly clear (and the survey report confirms) that it does not want the responsibility of the Landgate and would like to be rid of it. It is a drain on already-stretched resources, RDC does not have the odd £300,000-plus to carry out remedial works and, in any case, regardless of its statutory duty towards historic buildings in its care, RDC’s track record of maintenance to date has been so abysmal that there can be little confidence, should it continue to own the building, of any future improvements.

It has to be admitted, though, that there is a problem. Where will the money come from to effect repairs? How will future maintenance be funded? Could the Landgate be made to have a practical use which would help it pay for all this? To say nothing of whose ownership it should pass into – the Town Council does not want the responsibility, neither does the Museum, which has enough on its hands with the East Street site and the Ypres Tower.

The living and the dead: pigeons atop Landgate’s tower

If solutions are not found, it is not impossible that safety requirements might result in part or all of the structure being demolished before loose stonework finally falls and causes death or injury. The Conservation Society blithely states that it has been a ruin for 200 years and this may be true. But it is now 200 years older and in those far off days there were no large lorries squeezing through on a daily basis and frequently taking chunks out of the lower stonework.

But a solution will need to be found. Could the interior somehow be rebuilt to give short term holiday accommodation, could it be used for education or simply as a tourist attraction with its far-reaching views from the top of the towers? Could safe access to the interior even be achieved? Could the transformation of the Landgate be a catalyst for a re-organisation of the traffic flow through the town with cars and lorries no longer passing under its arch, thus giving safe access through the existing doors? Or perhaps some completely different and new ideas will be found. 

What is certain, however, is that it will need imagination, flair and energy to achieve a satisfactory outcome – attributes that have been sadly lacking to date.

Rye News Library

There Are 6 Comments

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  1. Pip Al-Khafaji says:

    Does anyone know how many vehicles pass through Landgate each and every day? Perhaps some form of ‘toll’ could be levied on each trade vehicle passing through the Landgate?
    It shouldn’t be prohibitive – ?20p – but with suitable notices explaining why the toll was being levied, the ‘small change’ charge would add up to something worthwhile.
    The toll boxes might even prompt ‘donations’ from others such as curious visitors, residents with some form of conscience, etc. who would feel that they were contributing towards maintaining the fabric of a much-loved townscape.
    After all, the man who invented cat’s eyes – and made a 1p profit on each one – is now a multi millionaire!

  2. There is no doubt that to conserve the Landgate would require imagination, partnership working, effort and of course funds. But, there are plenty of other recent challenging projects in Rye which have been made to work by strong leadership and sound planning. It is not clear what options have been examined for safe access to the Landgate and the scope of works to enable future use. Has anyone been to the Dymchurch Martello? Why not in Rye? People like climbing towers; look at the numbers regularly climbing the Church and Ypres Towers to see the view. Why has the Langate been “written off” ?
    Neighbourhood Planners have worked with Historic Englnd on heritage aspects of the Neigjbourhood Plan . They have asked us to strengthen the text on conserving our historic environment. Perhaps time to match words with deeds?

    http://Www.ryeneighbourhoodplan.org.uk

  3. Nigel Jennings says:

    Good idea Pip.

    The two councils need to get together and look at this and other ideas to resolve this situation. It is a disgrace that this landmark is being left to go to ruin.

    I repeat below a suggestion that I have made under the main news headline for the Landgate:

    This is a very important landmark in the town and a solution needs to be found. The Town Council probably has more flexibility than Rother to raise funds by a combination of an increase in the Parish precept and borrowing. There would need to be an income to repay any borrowing so perhaps a deal could be done with Rother to take on the Landgate plus one or more of the Town car parks that would produce an income to repay the costs over a period.

  4. Andrew Bamji says:

    As a member of Rye Conservation Society’s Executive Committee I must take issue with Mr Minter’s contention that RCS is not living in the real world and has a closed mind. It may well be the fault of RCS that it has not made clear, in public, how very many hours of discussion have been devoted to the Landgate and its future – but in the six years that it has been on our agenda the committee – which contains professional surveyors and architects – have failed to come up with any plan that is practical, other than siting a communications hub in one of the towers. It’s all very well imagining possible uses, but are they possible, or affordable? Access by the public can only be achieved by breaking holes through the structure. And what would that achieve, even if Historic England allowed the mutilation of a Scheduled Ancient Monument? A usable building would have to be staffed and insured. Have the dreamers considered the cost of that? Have they any idea what it might cost to make the building fully usable? RCS has considered both of these and estimates that the cost of a major restoration could be in excess of £1.5 million, and possibly much more than that. There are no services, other than electricity, and no obvious way of diverting rainwater. I am not sure how the Town Council, or indeed any other local group, would have the “flexibility” to achieve the sums necessary, not least if there is no reasonable prospect of any significant financial return. People should also examine the battle that Rye Museum had to try and roof the courtyard of the Ypres Tower – which they lost – and the reasons why it never happened.

    I would remind Mr Minter that it is only thanks to RCS’ continuing badgering of Rother District Council that there is both a proper survey of the Landgate and that there is currently a flurry of activity. The Committee’s pragmatic views have been formulated after detailed appraisal of the survey. I would also point out that Rother’s obvious anxiety to dispose of the Landgate reflects their wish to rid themselves of a financial liability. And if it’s a liability for Rother, how will it not be one for the Town Council? The experience of Winchelsea in “taking over” their gates is a salutary lesson in the risks of acquiring unaffordable millstones. Rother has a statutory responsibility to maintain its historic assets and rather than letting it get away with ducking that responsibility we should be holding it to account.

    RCS is in the process of organising meetings with representatives of Historic England to discuss the possibility of grants etc for a “consolidate and save” approach which would be far cheaper than a full restoration. It is not being negative. It is being sensible.

  5. John Minter says:

    Mr Bamji seems to have missed the point of my article. My contention was that to leave the Landgate, as the RCS have proposed as the only solution, in the sole hands of Rother District Council and expect them to carry out even a “consolidate and save” restoration is simply not living in the real world. RDS have had years when they could have carried out phased work on the building and scheduled the cost – which would have been far less than the current estimates – over that period. But they have made absolutely no attempt to do this, nor given any indication that they propose to do it, in fact quite the contrary (as their statement a year or so ago that they were not even prepared to replace a rotting flag pole makes abundantly clear).

    Mr Bamji says that Rother has a “statutory responsibility to maintain its historic assets”. This presumes that if they do not comply with their statutory duty, they can be made to do so by legal action and, in turn therefore, begs the question, if they could have been forced, years ago to maintain the Landgate, why have the Conservation Society not instigated this enforcement? Surely this is exactly what they are there for, and not to have done so is a dereliction of their duty as guardians of Rye’s heritage. It may well be that there is a good reason for this apparent lack of action, however with the Society’s admitted failure to keep the town as a whole up to date with the discussions claimed to have been made with Rother, they cannot be surprised if ordinary citizens, who do not have the privilege of living within the hallowed streets of the Citadel, assume that they are doing nothing. Nor can they, as you Mr Bamji, have attempted to do, blame others such as myself, when their feathers are ruffled. The pages of this paper are, however, open to you to explain exactly why your recommendation of Rother’s continued ownership is the only practical one and what evidence you have that would guarantee that Rother would carry out the work required within a reasonable timescale.

  6. Andrew Bamji says:

    Rother District Council has a responsibility to maintain the Landgate. Fact. That it has not done so is because it hasn’t the funds. Attempts by RCS to make it fulfil its obligations have been numerous and repeated but I would still ask Mr Minter why local philanthropists should bail the Council out. That sets a dangerous precedent, as it would encourage any council to sit on its hands and wait for others to adopt responsibility for all their shortcomings. In my view we should continue to apply pressure – which pressure, if recent developments are to go by, is actually getting somewhere.

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