Action is needed to save historic Portsmouth Naval Base buildings from rotting

The former Royal Naval Academy
The former Royal Naval Academy

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ACTION desperately needs to be taken to prevent hundreds of years of naval history from rotting away, historians have today warned.

The head of the Naval Dockyard Society is urging the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to step in and address a ‘culture of neglect’, which has allowed historic buildings in the city’s dockyard to decay.

Number 6 Dock at Portsmouth Dockyard

Number 6 Dock at Portsmouth Dockyard

MoD officials last night said they take its heritage obligations ‘seriously’ and that a plan is in the works to address the situation.

But Dr Ann Coats, who is the chairwoman of the dockyard society, said years of inaction had left almost a dozen buildings inside Portsmouth’s Naval Base at risk.

Among the buildings most at threat include the former Royal Naval Academy, which has stood at the military hub since 1729.

Dr Coats said the Georgian Grade II-listed building is one of the oldest on the dockyard but has been left ravaged by dry rot and water penetration since its closure in 2007.

We need to change the landscape of neglected naval buildings

Dr Ann Coats, Naval Dockyard Soceity chairman

Sources say it could take as much as £7m to rescue the historic site and make it structurally safe, while Dr Coats said a project to save all the decaying buildings could cost upwards of £15m.

She is now urging the MoD to either stump up the cash or strike up a deal with heritage groups who would be able to breathe new life into the dockyard’s crumbling architecture.

Dr Coats said: ‘We need to change the landscape of neglected naval buildings. What’s happening now is a tragedy.

‘The first concern is that (the buildings) will continue to decay. The longer they decay, the more it will cost to repair them.

‘The MoD has a responsibility to keep them in a good condition and it has not done that.’

In a letter to navy top brass, including the head of Portsmouth Naval Base, Commodore Jeremy Rigby and the Second Sea Lord, Vice Admiral Jonathan Woodcock, Dr Coats laid bare the state of many of the buildings.

She claimed there were several which had been on Historic England’s at risk register for almost a decade.

Among them included 2 to 8 in The Parade, the iron and brass foundry building, No. 6 dock and the No. 25 store.

The naval academy has been on the at-risk register since 2011.

Portsmouth culture boss, Councillor Linda Symes, said the city council had raised its concerns with the navy over the state of the buildings.

Likewise, council leader Donna Jones has also been in discussions with navy chiefs and officials from the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO).

However, she felt confident the base’s heritage would be protected, adding Cdre Rigby was working closely with the DIO on a feasibility study.

Cllr Jones said: ‘If money was no object then we would all be getting on with the work immediately.

‘But this is a complex situation and the MoD has to got to work within the constraints that they have.’

She added: ‘Portsmouth Naval Base is going to be the busiest it’s been in over 60 years in the next 18 months.

‘It’s one of the biggest and most capable naval bases in the world. But it’s also one of the oldest. It does contain a number of Grade I and II-listed buildings.

‘These are some of the most expensive properties in the country to maintain and look after.

‘But I know Cdre Rigby does have a comprehensive plan he is working towards.’

More than £100m has been pumped into a major revamp of the naval base ahead of the arrival of the nation’s new aircraft carriers.

An MoD spokeswoman added: ‘The MoD takes its heritage obligations seriously.

‘All of the buildings mentioned by the society have wind and weather-proof protection with further repairs carried out when necessary to ensure that this is maintained.’

Shining a light on the work that is needed

EIGHT sites – some dating back more than 300 years – are under threat of decaying.

n The oldest is the Grade I No 6 dock, which was built in 1700. Its stone work has been weathered by sun and frost, with the lower stones disintegrating and mortar joints opening up.

n The former Royal Naval Academy, in College Road is in ‘immediate risk of further rapid deterioration’. Finished in 1732, it was the precursor to Britannia Royal Naval College. It was restored to an officers’ mess after Second World War bomb damage. However, after it was closed in 2007, water penetration has caused dry rot.

n 2-8 The Parade is also at ‘immediate risk of further rapid decline. The elegant Georgian terrace of dockyard officers’ houses was built between 1715-19 and is now blighted with wet rot and structural movement. Background heating has reduced damp, but a repairs schedule promised by May 2009 has yet to be take place.

n Slow decay has left the unused east wing of the Grade II-listed iron and brass foundry, in Victoria Road, at risk.

n The future of the No 25 Store, in Jago Road, remains ‘uncertain’, with slow decay having damaged parts of the vacant Grade II-listed block.

n Portsmouth pay office, in College Road, is suffering damage to the brickwork from rainwater where the bomb-damaged first storey was removed in 1941 and the new brickwork meets old brickwork.

n A warning has been issued about the future of the Grade I-listed Portsmouth Block Mills, in Main Road. The Naval Dockyards Society says without daily ventilation the fumes from an underground reservoir will build to an ‘unpleasant, if not unhealthy, level’.

n The last remnants of a railway track on the base also needs surveying and conserving to protect it.

Building repair costs are ‘eye-wateringly’ large

THE amount of cash it will take to repair the crumbling historic buildings at Portsmouth Naval Base has been branded ‘eye-watering’ by a ex-council leader.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson said he was concerned by the state of some of Portsmouth Naval Base’s sites.

His comments come following a letter by the chairman of the Naval Dockyards Society to Royal Navy bosses, in which concern was expressed about the state of the base’s buildings.

Speaking to The News, Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘It’s absolutely right to be worried.

‘The figures that I was informed about for some of the buildings are eye-watering.

‘The old naval academy, that is probably at most serious risk, needs £7m spent on it to just make it structurally safe.’

The revelation has also worried Flick Drummond, Portsmouth South MP, who has written to defence minister Mark Lancaster expressing her concern.

She added: ‘The old naval academy has a secure future as the new wardroom, but there are some other structures where there are grounds for concern.

‘Some of them may not have a naval use, and are within the secure area of the naval base, but that does not excuse MoD from planning their safe upkeep.’