Council report says state of disrepair at fort could see activity centre forced out

Having a rock-climbing session at the Peter Ashley Activity Centre at Fort Purbrook''Picture: Allan Hutchings (131787-756)
Having a rock-climbing session at the Peter Ashley Activity Centre at Fort Purbrook''Picture: Allan Hutchings (131787-756)
Leamington House in Portsmouth as hundreds of residents are told there is a structural weakness in the concrete. Picture: Malcolm Wells

Portsmouth taxpayers to foot part of bill for repairs to Horatia House and Leamington House

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CONCERNS have been raised that a popular fort which hosts outdoor activities could be left empty and derelict – or even collapse – unless urgent repairs are made.

Fort Purbrook, on Portsdown Hill, was placed on the Historic England Heritage At Risk register in 2016 and fresh calls are being made for refurbishments to start quickly.

Fort Southwick''Picture: Ian Hargreaves (032318-29)

Fort Southwick''Picture: Ian Hargreaves (032318-29)

A report due to be presented at the Portsmouth City Council cabinet meeting for culture, leisure and sport on Friday said the wrought iron bridge beams ‘could collapse suddenly’.

It added that, due to health and safety concerns, Peter Ashley Activity Centre Trust (PAACT), which organises all the events and sports at the fort, is ‘rapidly approaching a tipping point whereby afterwards it will become impossible for them to remain’.

But Councillor Linda Symes, cabinet member for the porfolio, has played down concerns saying the activity centre will remain at the fort and it is safe to use.

She said: ‘Fort Purbrook is a vital asset to this city. It is a very important building and we would like to keep it for future generations.

Horse Sand Fort

Horse Sand Fort

‘But it needs a lot of upkeep and while the activities put on by PAACT are magnificent, they need more help to get grants to facilitate its maintenance work.

‘Everyone is working for the very best interests of the fort and the PAACT.’

Cllr Symes added: ‘There is scaffolding in place on the iron beam bridges so they are safe to use.

‘The works will be carried out and I don’t think there’s any danger of PAACT being forced to leave Fort Purbrook.’

Wymering Manor''Picture: Will Caddy (081088-7)

Wymering Manor''Picture: Will Caddy (081088-7)

The future of the site is coming before councillors after suggestions the local authority, which owns the land; PAACT, which leases the land; and Heritage England, which can provide grants for repairs, enter into an agreement to secure future use of the Victorian fort.

This could see all parties contribute cash for repairs.

The report said: ‘Some of the repair problems could pose health and safety issues for PAACT.

‘The most urgent of the issues is the condition of the wrought iron bridge beams, which structural engineers have acknowledged could collapse suddenly.

‘PAACT are committed to continuing to provide their outdoor activities from Fort Purbrook and Fort Widley and its trustees are adamant they would no longer be able to provide these if they are no longer able to use the forts to do so.’

It added: ‘Should the centres remove themselves, it is unlikely the council would find new tenants quickly, particularly given its current state of disrepair.’

SITES AT RISK

A number of forts in Portsmouth and the surrounding area are also on the Historic England Heritage At Risk register.

The sites identified as at risk of being lost through neglect, decay or inappropriate development are:

• Fort Southwick, on Portsdown Hill

• Horse Sand Ford, in the Solent

• Fort Fareham, on Newgate Lane

• Fort Cumberland, in Eastney

• Fort Widley, on Portsdown Hill

Other buildings in the Portsmouth area are also on the register, including:

• Bastion 4 and Bastion 5 at Hilsea Lines

• No 25 Store, at Portsmouth Naval Base

• Wymering Manor, on Old Wymering Lan