Today, Saturday, it will have been four years to the day since the town walls behind St Laurence’s church collapsed. Almost nothing has happened to get repairs underway. The town council has missed the 2017 funding cycle. There must now be doubt whether the council can get funding in place by 2018. It should appoint heritage champion to ensure that there are no further delays in getting the walls repaired. Otherwise, I fear it will be years before the repairs start.
This is a miserable tale.
The walls behind St Laurence’s Church fell during a particularly bad winter. Water had built up in the graveyard, the town wall acting like the dam of a reservoir. A prolonged freeze put pressure on the wall as the ground expanded. Decades ago, the wall had been repaired with modern cement, not historic lime mortar. That meant the wall could not flex to cope with changing weather conditions. The result was the walls at the back of the Garden of Rest collapsed on 18 February 2013.
Then we had the “big row”. At first Shropshire Council said money was not an issue. But when it realised it might not be responsible for the repairs, it dug its heels in over paying. The council shelled out for the shoring and Heras fencing. It also commissioned an archaeological survey. But it was adamant that it was not responsible for the costs of repairs. Lawyers backed the council. After some very difficult meetings, and the passing of two-and-a-half years, Ludlow Town Council accepted responsibility for repairs.
That was in October 2015. Nothing much has happened since then.
The walls can’t be fixed in 2017 because no money is in place – or even applied for. An application for a large heritage grant takes at least a year, and in our cash strapped times, two years is closer to the mark. That means we look like missing out on the 2018 season. Lime mortar can only be laid when the temperature is at least 5 degrees.
Part of the reason this is taking so long is that council staff are overstretched. I can’t recall when I last heard a town councillor mention the town walls. Their minds are on service transfers from Shropshire Council. That’s why I think that Ludlow Town Council should appoint a heritage specialist to get this project going.
The council has the money. Next year it will raise its precept by 24% bringing in an income of £451,000. It will also make a £41,000 raid on reserves. This is despite it underspending by £86,000 this financial year. I sure it will underspend again in 2017/18.
Ludlow councillors should seize the opportunity of being a cash rich council. The council should hire the expertise it needs and work flat out to get the repairs going in 2018.