Agenda item

Sheerness Clock Tower Restoration

The Cabinet Member for Economy and Property, the Head of Property Services, the Head of Housing, Economy and Community Services and the  Capital Projects Manager have been invited to attend for this item.


Presentation added 19 March 2021


The Chairman explained that a report on the Sheerness Clock Tower Restoration project was considered at the Cabinet meeting on 17 March 2021 and he read-out the agreed recommendation.  He acknowledged that the Clock Tower was in urgent need of repair and said that the Cabinet Member for Economy and Property, and officers, had been invited to attend the meeting to explain how the Council had reached the position of the urgent works and how community assets could be protected in the future.


The Cabinet Member for Economy and Property gave a short explanation and the Head of Property Services gave a presentation which outlined a 20-year  inspection and maintenance history of the clock tower including:


·         A 2007 condition survey which assessed the structure in good condition with slight deterioration of paintwork;

·         a 2012 condition survey which highlighted small isolated areas down to bare metal and recommended a specialist survey to assess condition;

·         works carried out to repaint the clock tower and replacement lamps to the clockface in 2002;

·         new door lock and tower panels painted in 2004;

·         six visits to reset the clock from November 2016 to March 2017;

·         removal of asbestos in September 2007; and

·         nine visits to reset the chiming mechanism between 2008 and 2013.


The Head of Property Services explained that the Sheerness Enhancement Association for Leisure (SEAL) carried out works in 2012 and records showed there was evidence of previous repairs, a structural engineer/professional fabricators appointed and limited repairs were carried out to allow repainting to proceed.  She said that other adhoc repairs carried out since 2012 included rectifying the time and chiming mechanism, repairs to damaged lock, repairs to a hole in the floor inside and a fixed wire electrical test as well as remedial works.


The Head of Property Services said that a condition survey carried out in December 2018 recommended that a specialist survey be carried out to assess the condition but that repairs to the clock were considered urgent within two years (priority 2).  It was intended that works be carried out as part of a planned maintenance programme in 2019/20 but this did not go ahead due to long-term sickness followed by the Covid-19 pandemic.


In the debate that followed Members asked questions and raised points including:


·         What initial lessons had been learned and how would Swale Borough Council (SBC) ensure this did not happen again?;

·         was the tower insured?;

·         sought clarification on repairs carried out;

·         had wind and stress calculations been carried out when wires for bunting and Christmas lights were tethered to the top of the tower?’

·         stressed the importance of Swales Heritage;

·         sought clarification on priorities of work and when a priority 2 became a priority 1;

·         there needed to be better resilience for long-term staff absence to ensure that work was not overlooked;

·         the Sheerness Town Team could advise on the testing capabilities of the wires which had annual testing;

·         gave examples of specialist repairers that had carried out other work in the Borough;

·         sought information on possible costs of repairs and whether specialist repairers worked on individual parts of the Clock Tower;

·         sought clarification on the Contract Standing Orders;

·         how would assets be preserved in the future?; and

·         suggested a maintenance contract going forward.


The Cabinet Member for Economy and Property said the Clock Tower was one of many assets owned by the Council. She said that there was little detailed historical documentation and whilst a number of surveys had been carried out work was not followed up.  She said that assets needed to be invested in and she shared the concern of tethering lights and bunting to a Grade II Listed Building and said that alternatives needed to be considered.  


The Cabinet Member for Economy explained that if SEAL had not carried out work, the damage may have been worse.  She said there needed to be a consistent approach in managing the Council’s assets.


The Head of Property Services said that priority 1 work should be carried out within 12 months and priority 2 up to 2 years.  In response to a Member’s question on how much SEAL were paid, she agreed to find out.


The Chief Financial Officer said that it was not possible to insure against maintaining an asset.


The Head of Housing, Economy and Community Services said that the project, including all works and permits were expected to be in excess of £200k but because of the specialist nature of the work, 3 tenders might not be received.


In response to a Member’s suggestion of using printed hoardings with photographs of the old clock once the clock tower was taken away, the Cabinet Member for Economy and Property explained that this was already being considered, along with information and photographs on the website as the restoration project progressed.  She made a request for any photographs and history of the clock.


In response to a Member’s question on how to ensure that SBC were resilient, the Chief Executive outlined the challenges faced in different situations of staff absence.  She explained that Business Continuity Plans were reviewed regularly but SBC were a small organisation with many specialist roles.  The Chief Executive said that the organisation could focus on what the tipping point was to bring in additional assistance and it needed to build in resilience.  She said this was already being looked at, at senior level.


The Chairman proposed the following recommendation to Cabinet which was seconded by Councillor Ken Pugh:


That Business Continuity Plans be reviewed to ensure areas of work are able to be progressed regardless of staff’s ability.


On being put to the vote, Members agreed the recommendation.


Recommendation to Cabinet:


(1)  That Business Continuity Plans be reviewed to ensure areas of work are able to be progressed regardless of staff’s ability.

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