Rye Town Council is calling a summit meeting of interested parties in the town about the historic Landgate arch, pictured above, as urgently needed repairs could block the main entrance into the historic town centre.
But the arch may still remain an “official ruin” after the repairs, serving no useful purpose in the town, and the big question remains of who will fund the repairs. A scathing report from Rye Conservation Society (RCS) to the town council slams Rother District Council (RDC) for failing to look after the arch.
“The ultimate responsibility for a safe and long-term future of the Landgate rests with the RDC”, says RCS, and “liability for negligence can arise from an owner inaction as well as action”.
The Landgate is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Listed Building Grade 1 which came into the ownership of the RDC under the 1972 Local Government Act. Because it is an ancient monument, the RDC has a statutory obligation to maintain the building.
RCS goes on to point out that this “is all the more important given that the Landgate spans the public highway and serves as the current sole access to the High Street and hence to the citadel” – the historic area at the top of town, with cobbled streets and many listed buildings much visited by tourists from overseas as well as the UK.
Repairs to the Landgate will most certainly involve external scaffolding and RCS is concerned about “the potential danger to the public and loss of access for residents” apart from the impact, of course, on the town centre’s businesses, including shops, restaurants, hotels and other establishments.
A detailed report on the repairs needed was prepared for the RDC in the summer by Thomas Ford and Partners, which has only recently been passed to the Town Council. This identifies, says RCS, “that, although the majority of the structure appears sound, considerable repair works are needed to ensure its long term future”.
However RCS also says that “in terms of health and safety, the access to the towers directly off the roadway, where traffic passes under the arch, would seem to mitigate against continuous public use”. Because of these restrictions RCS believes: “The Landgate is therefore likely to remain a ruin” and the immediate need is to minimise the future maintenance burden”.
But RCS is concerned at “the apparent wish of the RDC to offload its responsibility by seeking either to sell the freehold or effect a long term lease with an outside body in the belief that grant aid is more likely to be obtained by an organisation other than Rother itself.”
The Town Council is arranging “an exploratory meeting of interested parties” to consider these issues, including the council itself, the RCS, Rye Castle Museum, Rye Amenity CIC (Community Interest Company), English Heritage, RDC ward members and former Town Councillor Mike Eve (who was heavily involved in the Kino cinema coming to Rye).
The future of the town centre itself, and how traffic and parking is managed, will inevitably be part of that discussion – whether or not a future useful role can be found for the Landgate – as any repairs will inevitably cause disruption, sooner rather than later. If a role can be found for the Landgate, to help cover maintenance costs, disruption to traffic may prove be permanent, rather than temporary.
Photo: Ray Prewer