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.
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.
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