VIDEO: Hurst Castle wall collapse 'could have been avoided if warnings were heeded'
THE devastating collapse of a significant section of Hurst Castle could have been avoided if English Heritage had acted on warnings issued more than a month ago, local supporters have claimed.
Friends of Hurst Castle member Ben Collins, from Keyhaven, said the collapse on Friday was inevitable “with no attempt at any protection in place”.
“We had been warning English Heritage about the way the Solent waterline had been eating into this particular section of the castle for months. We were repeatedly told ‘the matter is in hand’,” he told the A&T.
“The foundations were literally hanging over a void created by the sea and by the recent south-easterly winds whose waves dug deep under the walls.
“English Heritage were aware of the hazards yet access to the section of beach under the wall which was only vaguely sectioned had an air of neglectful management by the contractors who frequently left the site untended.”
In January the A&T revealed sources at the castle had also warned that coastal erosion beneath the east wing was leading to “real fears” the whole wall could collapse without immediate action.
Describing the predicted collapse as “catastrophic”, A&T reader Martin Weston said English Heritage continually underplayed the criticality of the situation, despite many warnings that the castle foundations had been compromised.
He said: “As the custodians of this incredible national treasure – I really feel that English Heritage did not take the warnings seriously. With some timely and relatively cheap mitigation work this collapse could have been avoided but now they will be left facing a huge cost.
“It is not only about holding them to account for their failings, but also learning from this mistake in the future.
“The collapse is being blamed on a winter storm – but it is not down to a winter storm. We have had stormy weather since the castle was built. The failure was that they did not act in time to protect it.”
The castle, which is managed on behalf of English Heritage by Hurst Marine, currently remains closed to the public.
Jason Crane, Hurst Marine director, said: “We are devastated that part of the 19th century east wing at Hurst Castle collapsed on Friday.
“Most importantly, no one was hurt and the castle was closed at the time. It was a tremendous shock but we have had lots of messages of support from the local community and that means a lot.
“I’d say to anyone to please avoid the area. The castle is closed anyway at the moment, but the beach will remain fenced off for the foreseeable future.”
A spokesperson for English Heritage confirmed staff from its engineering team were on site when the incident happened, and inspections of the damaged area have taken place to identify the immediate work necessary to stabilise the surrounding masonry.
English Heritage estates director Rob Woodside said: “This is a devastating blow to a Hampshire icon and for all of us whose life’s work is to protect England’s historic buildings.
“Hurst Castle is the most challenging of our sites to protect – a coastal fort built on a shingle spit directly facing the hammering sea. Faced with more frequent storms and rising sea levels, Hurst Castle is emblematic of the issues posed by climate change to our heritage.
“The castle is in an extremely vulnerable position. The castle faces the full force of the wind and waves. With changes in longshore drift, rising sea levels and more frequent storms, Hurst Castle is amongst the most difficult heritage sites to protect in England.”
Lymington Coastguard confirmed staff attended the incident at Hurst Castle after receiving a call at around 1pm on Friday when they were engaged in a call nearby at Milford.
Spokesperson Paul Rickman said: “We had a report from a dredging barge that was out in the Solent. He actually saw it collapse in front of him and was swamped by a wave from it so we were tasked to go up and have a look.
“Thankfully English Heritage were onsite and had it all fenced off anyway. I understand that cracks had been appearing and they knew that something was not right. We just attended and confirmed that nobody was present and nobody had been hurt.”