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Gloucestershire Business News

EXCLUSIVE: Breakthrough on 'eyesore' town hall after two tragic deaths

A breakthrough appears likely on long-delayed plans to repair an unsafe building in the Cotswold town of Wotton-under-Edge.

Marred by two deaths among key personnel whose lost reports led to prolonged delays, Wotton-under-Edge Town Council (WTC) says that a meeting scheduled for next month is likely to see a timescale for the repairs and removal of unsightly scaffolding that has obscured the front of the historic 1698 building since 2020.

As a key landmark set on Market Street, in the heart of the town's most popular area for night-time trade and midway between the Electric Picture House, Swan Hotel and Star public house, traders and residents are hoping that progress, now promised to be in next month's council meeting (March 18th), will set a timetable for the work.

One trader who asked not to be named told Punchline-Gloucester.com: "It's been a paralysed situation with a wait for simple repairs to make sure no more pieces of the building fell off. Meanwhile, we've been stuck with the ongoing cost of this eyesore scaffolding jutting into the road, which spoils the whole look of the area."

Punchline has been unable to confirm whether the initial £100,000 cost estimate for repairs is agreed, or obtain the ongoing total price of the scaffolding, which was initially rumoured to have been some £600 per month when a 36-week contract was set up for the scaffold in 2020. 

However, as of this month, it is believed that the total bill for scaffolding so far has exceeded £20,000.

However, Andrea Durn, clerk to WTC, said a "concatenation of circumstances" had sabotaged plans for rescue of the building, with two deaths forcing the process to go around in circles.

She said: "The Town Hall is much treasured by the Council and they also are very keen to have the building safe and repaired, as well as in good decoration, unfortunately this has been hampered by tragedy."

She added: "The Town Hall suffered from storms which caused parts of the building to come off. The Council took the health and safety of the public seriously and therefore had scaffolding and safety netting installed to protect the public from possible further incidents whilst a survey could be commissioned."

It was then quickly established that the survey would "a very long process due to the impact of COVID on the public and private sectors including the construction industry and Government", she added.

However, a "competitive long term agreement" with a scaffolder was put in place which was extended in a further long-term agreement when it became clear from the tendering process was going to be lengthy.

After an initial survey was carried out on the building by neighbouring surveyors David James Ltd, which identified works to be carried out, the council enlisted a project manager to review the report and draw up tender documents for a procurement process in compliance with building and health and safety standards, and the government procurement process.

"This was a lengthy process. He was due to publish on the Government portal when he suddenly and tragically died, which understandably was a huge shock to those who knew him. He was a sole trader and it was a very sensitive time trying to work with his family and his estate."

Despite efforts by the council to access the project manager's work to date, "access was not achievable", which meant to council had to start again.

WTC contacted Stroud District Council's Planning and Heritage Officer and Building Control team for guidance on progressing this project which, Ms Durn said, again took time.

"During this time the surveyor author of the report also sadly died and David James Ltd reconfigured their business, however they were helpful in sharing the details of the outsourced surveyors."

WTC said it has now procured these surveyors, who were also involved in the first survey, to carry out an updated survey, which will go before the council's next meeting on March 18th.

She added: "These surveys should give an update on the condition of the buildings using a priority action plan and suggestions for next steps in the tendering and procurement process. From this, we can obtain an estimate of costs which can be used for obtaining grants and looking at other funding opportunities."

Nesting birds that used the front of the Town Hall's overhanging eaves have left the site since the scaffolding went up, but WTC plans to install a series of donated swift boxes on a sheltered elevation as part of the final restoration work.

Punchline-Gloucester.com says: "It is good to hear that progress may finally be on the horizon for this much-needed restoration, but it does point to a pattern of similar developments across the county where the Pandemic, combined with upward pressure on building and labour costs, has cast a shadow over the upkeep of our valued public buildings. We hope Wotton gets this handsome facility back to its former glory soon."

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