‘Next crash could bring down iconic monument’

Hotspur Tower, Alnwick
Hotspur Tower, Alnwick

Alnwick’s historic Bondgate Tower is at risk of a serious collapse if vehicles continue to damage the iconic structure, heritage experts have warned .

And a county councillor believes it is only a matter of time before the 15th century gateway – one of the main entrances to and from the town centre – will need to be closed for a ‘substantial period’ to undergo crucial repair work.

It comes after the Northumberland Estates-owned structure, also known as the Hotspur Tower, was once again included on English Heritage’s at-risk register, which was released recently.

The tower, which straddles the main B6346 through the town centre, is described as being in a very bad condition.

It is also in the highest priority category, which means that there is an ‘immediate risk of further rapid deterioration or loss of fabric’, but ‘no solution’ has been agreed.

The report says the tower’s defects relate to damage caused to the archway by ‘high-sided vehicles’. It adds: ‘Further impact of a similar nature could cause a serious collapse.’

In March, emergency repairs had to be carried out after a car hit the tower.

The Estates is working to address the issues, but stressed that the tower regularly undergoes safety tests.

Alnwick Coun Gordon Castle said any period of long-term work could result in a temporary one-way system.

Coun Castle told the Gazette: “This issue with the tower is not new, but it is probably getting more critical. I am sure that at some stage – and I think the time is getting nearer – the tower will have to receive some fairly major remedial work, which I expect would mean closure for a substantial period of time.

“That would mean that the traffic would have to be diverted around the town centre, possibly leading to a temporary one-way system with traffic going one way along Green Batt, and along Prudhoe Street the other way. I really don’t see any other option.”

Northumberland Estates is working with English Heritage and Northumberland County Council to address the issues and remove the tower from the at-risk register.

A spokeswoman said there is currently no specific action plan in place, but added: “As has been well documented in the past, the structural damage to the tower has been caused by traffic using the route and ignoring the height restrictions in place. The main issue therefore is not restoring the tower, but finding an acceptable way to prevent further damage once this work has been completed.

“Obviously public safety is paramount and we would like to reassure everyone that the Bondgate Tower undergoes regular safety assessments, carried out on behalf of all of the various organisations involved.”

The 2014 Heritage at Risk register was published last Thursday. Twenty-seven heritage assets across the North East have been removed from the 2013 list, including Coquet Island, which has undergone successful repair work.

But another 20 have been newly assessed and added, including the Church of St Michael, in Alnham, and Chatton’s Holy Cross Church. Both are rated as being in a poor condition and have a priority category of C, which means there is slow decay but no solution has been agreed.

Others to remain on the list include Ford Castle and Sharpe’s Folly, Rothbury. Visit english-heritage.org.uk for the North East register.