I will be asking a question on the state of the town wall at full Council next Thursday 25 September. The procedure is that a written question is submitted and answered in advance of the meeting. I then get to ask a supplementary question. In doing so, I will have the opportunity to comment on the current lack of progress in getting the wall repaired.
Meanwhile, I am looking for photographs of the churchyard taken more than a year ago. I need photographs of the trees that line the town wall. If you can help, please get in touch.
I’ll write more on this at the end of the week. Meanwhile, here is my question and Keith Barrow’s answer from the Council Agenda.
MR ANDY BODDINGTON will ask the following question:
In February 2013, a major section of Ludlow’s town walls collapsed beside the graveyard of St Laurence’s church. Shropshire Council initially acted with alacrity with former Cabinet member Martin Taylor-Smith promising urgent action and funding. Since then nothing almost has happened – except that the security fencing has been vandalised, the temporary supports for the vulnerable areas of the wall are in a state of collapse, human bones have been carried away by dogs and officials argue over responsibility.
My questions to the Leader of Shropshire Council are:
1) Whether the letter he tweeted on 22 August represents the official view of Shropshire Council that Ludlow Town Council is responsible for the repair of the walls?
2) Why a task force was not set up to establish responsibility for the wall and to action its repairs?
3) What is the timescale for ensuring that this precious heritage asset is repaired and kept in good order?
MR KEITH BARROW will reply:
1) In response to the question tabled by Cllr Boddington in respect of Ludlow Town Walls, the Leader of the Council can confirm the current situation in respect of the wall:
- Ever since the collapse of the wall in February 2013, the three separate issues of ownership, responsibility for maintenance and the responsibility to rebuild the wall have been investigated by the Council. At present, it is still very unclear where these responsibilities lie and so the Council is continuing to engage with the Parochial Church Council (PCC) and Ludlow Town Council in order to establish where responsibility lies.
- The issues currently being discussed with the PCC and Ludlow Town Council are as follows:
- It is not clear whether the wall is a “Town Wall” i.e. it was there before the Church was built in the 13th century or whether it is a “Church Wall” – obviously the status of this is critical in establishing ownership/responsibility.
- It would appear that the PCC transferred the maintenance of the Church Yard to the then Town Council in the 1930’s. There are Town Council minutes from this period and also subsequently which appear to corroborate this. There is also further evidence that the Town Council has been maintaining, at least in part, the Church Yard and the wall since this time.
- It would appear that because of the above transfer to the Town Council in the 1930’s that the subsequent transfer of the Church Yard from the Town Council to Shropshire Council in August 2012 could be void.
- In addition to the questions regarding maintenance above, it is accepted that the ownership of the church yard and wall still remains with the PCC. However, it is still very unclear whether “maintaining” the church yard and wall extends to rebuilding the collapsed wall, as generally rebuilding works would be the responsibility of the owner, i.e. the PCC in this case.
- Given the facts set out above, it is apparent that the copy letter retweeted on the 22nd August is just part of the evidence being collated in order to establish where the various responsibilities lie.
2) Shropshire Council has been actively engaged from the outset in trying to find a solution to the collapsed section of the town wall. However, the wall and adjoining church yard are subject to different and overlapping pieces of civil and ecclesiastical legislation, with the consequence that resolving legal responsibility for repairing the wall and the steps that need to be undertaken to carry out the repairs are both highly complex matters. The Council appreciates that it is now over eighteen months since the collapse first occurred and fully understands the urgency of repairing the damage to this nationally important piece of our heritage. We recognise the importance of working in partnership with all of the interested parties and have been in dialogue with them. We also established an officer group under the leadership of the Area Commissioner South and comprising members from the Historic Environment, Risk Management, Legal Services and Finance teams who meet regularly to co-ordinate the Council’s approach. In addition, the Council’s engineers Mouchel are undertaking regular inspections of the collapsed section and the stabilisation works that were put in place to ensure the public safety is maintained.
3) Shropshire Council is clear that there are a number of steps that need to be undertaken to enable the wall to be repaired. These comprise initial site investigations for archaeological and structural engineering purposes, which will inform the design of the repairs scheme, the scope of associated mitigation measures, and also help to establish the costs for the scheme. Once a scheme has been designed formal consent will be required from both English Heritage and the Diocese before repair works can commence, and liaison with these parties will therefore need to be maintained throughout. Given the complexity of these matters, the Council has therefore written to both the Parochial Church Council and Ludlow Town Council suggesting that we enter into mediation in order resolve matters relating to legal responsibilities.