For sale: Landgate (needs TLC)

....dark and forbidding....

Nearly a year after local Rother District Councillor Lord Ampthill  said a condition survey had been ordered on Rye’s 14th century Landgate, the report has been received by Rye Town Council (and also by Rye Conservation Society) – along, effectively, with a “For sale” notice.

Rother District Council (RDC) previously sold the neglected Ypres Tower to Rye’s museum, but it seems the museum is unlikely to be willing to take on this burden. Another Community Interest Company (CIC) is reported to have had talks with the RDC though.

The RDC’s Cabinet met earlier this week “to consider the possible divestment of this asset” and apparently decided it wanted a new owner for the much neglected tower which will need a lot of tender loving care (TLC). However Rye Town Council has not yet been officially told this as Rother’s meeting minutes need to be confirmed next week.

A year ago Town Mayor Cllr Bernardine Fiddimore said a Friends of the Landgate charity might be needed to rescue the ancient gateway once the condition report had been received and read. A Freedom of Information request to Rother from then Town Councillor Mary Smith showed the RDC had done no work on the Landgate since 2011-12, and the RDC was told this week that “the deteriorating condition of the Landgate has been an issue for some time now particularly with respect to roosting pigeons and the associated guano deposits”.

In February this year Rother employed high pressure water jets to clean tonnes of bird excrement out of the tower so it was safe to inspect its condition  and produce a report.

In May however Rother refused to reveal the contents of the report to Mary Smith  and said they were getting a second report with detailed specifications to “guide the RDC or any future custodians” – which seemed to imply they were already washing their hands of the neglected Landgate.

This second report, along with detailed specifications for repairs, has now just been received by the Town Council and councillors will be given a chance to read the apparently thick report before it is discussed by the Policy Committee or the full Council.

The Landgate, built in 1329 with a grant from Edward III for fortifications to keep out the French, is the only one of the four town gateways left. It used to have a gate, portcullis and drawbridge, but what remains is a chamber over the arch, two towers and a lot of repairs required. The report suggests, RDC were told, that the Landgate is “one of the most important 14th century town defences to survive in England, but , in its present condition, it is at risk of further deterioration.”

The RDC is currently responsible for the Grade-1 listed structure, an ancient monument, but seems to think that other organisations including private sector and voluntary groups will be better placed to seek grants, particularly as any works will prove costly. RDC officers now want to discuss the Landgate’s future with the Town Council, and the Mayor may have to dust off her “Friends of Landgate” idea.

But what might the Landgate then be used for ? Read this week’s Opinion and give us your ideas. The report to Rother DC this week concluded that “unless significant grant funding can be realised to maintain the Landgate, it will be difficult to maintain this building in a safe condition… incurring significant risk in ensuring the safety of the general public”. Currently a road and footpaths leading into the town centre pass under the arch.

Photo: Nick Taylor