Fears raised for Alnwick's historic Bondgate Tower - closed for three weeks as engineers assess crumbling stonework
Fears have been raised about the structural stability of Bondgate Tower in Alnwick.
The historic gateway to the town centre is to be closed until next month while engineers investigate crumbling stonework.
It had been thought the latest damage to the 15th Century tower had been caused by a passing vehicle but CCTV footage has shown no evidence of that.
Cllr Gordon Castle, in an update to members of Alnwick Town Council, said: “The tower is probably going to be closed for at least three weeks.
"Part of the front keystone, which is a vital part of the arch structure, fell.
"The assumption was that it was struck by a vehicle which has caused masonry to fall.
"Curiously, the police have trawled three days of footage and nothing struck the tower.
"If anything, that is slightly more worrying if something fell because of decades of vehicles hitting it which has loosened the masonry.
"When engineers went in on Monday they said some of the stonework was actually loose and were concerned so for that reason it’s got to be closed. It’s very serious.
"Those inside pillars could be hit by a tank at 50mph and wouldn’t shift but unfortunately it’s the roof inside the archway which is the problem.
"It’s been weakened over decades of vehicle strikes and, if that were to collapse, it would be desperately serious.
"That mustn’t happen so there are engineering inspections under way now to see what is necessary to strengthen that roof area and to ensure that the building is actually safe.”
As a consequence, traffic is being diverted along the back streets of Prudhoe Street, Lisburn Street and Green Batt where calls have been made for a temporary 20mph speed limit.
However, it also throws up longer term issues if the main gateway to the town centre is deemed unsafe for traffic to pass through.
Cllr Castle said Northumberland County Council was aware that it needed to assess traffic flow options. These could range from signage to a one-way system or a ban on HGVs using the archway.
A working group of key stakeholders including tower owner Northumberland Estates, Northumberland County Council as the highways authority, Alnwick Town Council and Historic England is also discussing the issue.
"There are no pre-conceived ideas on this,” said Cllr Castle. “This working group is now working with a greater sense of urgency to see how we direct traffic.
"At the moment the residents of Prudhoe Street, Lisburn Street and Green Batt are suffering massively increased traffic flows. There aren’t many options though.”
Cllr Peter Broom, a Green Batt resident, felt a one-way system might be the only way forward but that mini-roundabouts might be needed to ease traffic congestion at junctions.
He also called for the pedestrianised Narrowgate to be temporarily reopened to help improve traffic flows out of the town centre.
Cllr Martin Swinbank, chairman of the town council’s planning committee, said: “The tower is the crux of any traffic questions in Alnwick. It’s massive for Alnwick. Any change in how it is used will have an impact but if people keep thumping it, it’s going to fall down so we need action.”
Historic England has previously warned the tower, also known as the Hotspur Gateway, might need to be closed if substantial damage occurred.