A collapsed wall in a town-centre alley has had a major impact on nearby businesses, with premises being forced to close, staff laid off and an estate agent having to work from his car.
As our dramatic picture shows, part of Bow Alley, in Alnwick, became a mass of rubble after a section of the gable end of Oscar’s Wine Bar came down at around 10.45pm on Thursday.
Customers and staff were in the nightspot at the time of the incident, but nobody was hurt.
In July, the area was closed off by Northumberland County Council for health and safety reasons, following concerns that part of the wall was distorted and could come down.
Action is being taken to carry out short and long-term repairs, but the impact could be felt for some time.
Derek Charlton, owner of Oscar’s, said that he will have to close the premises for the foreseeable future and has had to lay off four members of part-time staff on a temporary basis.
“It is distressing and we are pursuing a solution as quickly as possible and working with the local authority,” he said.
“We can’t reopen until the repairs are done properly.
“The short-term is to make the building safe, then there will be the remedial work for the long-term future.
“As far as when we will be open again – how long is a piece of string?”
The initial estimates for a long-term repair mount up to tens of thousands of pounds and a claim to the insurance company has been submitted.
Derek added: “We suspect the cause of the collapse might be the long-term result of flooding last year and the recent torrential rain.
“We did have a structural surveyor out before the wall came down and were told it was safe inside the building.”
Derek told the Gazette that he had tried to carry out repairs before the wall came down, but Northumberland Estates, which owns the alley, had not signed off on a necessary licence.
It is not just Oscar’s which will be affected by the collapse.
Staff at property firm Turvey Westgarth moved out of their Narrowgate premises, which is next to Bow Alley, on Friday due to safety concerns and the office is currently closed.
Employees are either working from home or in another office in Rothbury, while owner Ian Turvey is working from his car. “It is an inconvenience and we are a little bit in limbo at the moment,” he said.
The Estates owns the building and has offered alternative accommodation at Cawledge Business Park.
Mr Turvey said: “We are grateful, but we decided, on balance, to muddle through with working how we are at the moment. But it might be that if the situation isn’t resolved, we may need to relocate there, although we do really need to be in the town centre.”
The saga has had a longer impact on Bow Alley businesses Marilyn and Melrose (M&M) and Specially for You, which were relocated to premises in Narrowgate in August by the Estates and given seven-month licences.
Karen Scrimshaw, from M&M, said: “How long it will take to repair is a complete unknown. We have lost customers and our furniture sales have gone down since moving to Narrowgate.
“But there are worse things that can happen and no one was hurt. It is inconvenient and has cost us money, but there is no point jumping up in arms about it. We are fortunate that the Estates gave us an alternative premises and the issue will resolve itself in time.”
The county council’s public safety unit manager, Phil Soderquest, said the authority has commissioned a structural engineer to provide a detailed schedule of works intended to address any danger arising from the current condition of the building.
He added: “The council will continue to work with the owner, who is responsible for the premises, but we will, if they are not prepared to do so, carry out the work required and seek to recover the costs we incur from them in dealing with this matter.”
An Estates spokesman said: “While it is understood that responsibility for resolving the issue lies with the owner alone, the Estates are, as their neighbour, happy to work with them to address this.”