Demolition of Swanage WW2 defences possible as public consultation ordered

The future of the Second World War gun battery at Peveril Point hangs in the balance as the structure is decaying and it will cost thousands of pounds to extend its life.

Swanage Town Council that owns the reinforced concrete structure and the land that it stands on, decided at the full council meeting on Monday 14th December 2020 to launch a public consultation to decide its fate.

The Swanage Coastal Battery is an emergency battery built during the Second World War as part of Southern Command’s coastal defences to defend Poole Harbour from invasion.

Swanage battery at Peveril Point

One of only a few that still survive today

It was commissioned in July 1940 and was armed until at least May 1945 and manned by 386 Coast Battery of the Royal Artillery. It is a totally unique design and one of only a few of this type of military defence that still survive today.

In a report to the council it stated:

“In late August 2020 the operations team was alerted that large pieces of concrete debris had fallen from the ceilings and edges of this structure. Upon inspection it was apparent that in several areas the metal reinforcements had corroded and was causing large areas of plaster and in some cases concrete to fall away from the structure.”

In September 2020, a surveyor and an expert in the field of concrete construction undertook an inspection to see what could be done.

Debris falling from the roof of Swanage battery at Peveril Point
Iron rods corroding at Swanage Battery

The iron reinforcing rods are corroding and the concrete is cracking away

“Corroding from the inside”

The report continued:

“In summary they identified that the cause of the corrosion was not just due to external factors such as salty air, wind and rain but rather was intrinsic to the structure, i.e. these structures were often built quickly and used whatever materials were close to hand, in this case materials from the shoreline which themselves contained high levels of salt and therefore the structure was also corroding from the inside.

“Due to this, remediation becomes more challenging.

“Advice to repair the concrete structure recommends the use of specialist coatings to increase the durability of the structure and extend the lifespan, however it is likely that even with this, the predicted lifespan is only likely to be five to12 years and would cost in the region of £45,000 to £50,000.”

Cracks appearing at Swanage battery
Rust showing at Swanage battery

Rust can visibly be seen

Demolition would cost £30,000 to £40,000

The report also said that demolishing the battery and removing the structure would cost £30,000 to £40,000.

The problem is that the iron bars used to reinforce the concrete are corroding and to replace them would necessitate the removal of the concrete and this would in effect result in the demolition of the structure.

According to the report the battery can’t be saved as such, just for its life to be extended.

Swanage battery at Peveril Point

The battery at Peveril Point is next to the National Coastwatch building, which is also built on the foundations of former military defences

A significant monument of national importance

Three members of the public spoke at the beginning of the meeting in favour of protecting the Second World War heritage of Swanage including Steve Lacey who pointed out that it was a significant monument of national importance.

Chris Joyce raised the question of whether the council would consider a partnership with a trust or an external body to preserve and maintain this part of the town’s history.

“This is part of Swanage’s heritage”

In the subsequent debate over the building’s future, councillor Gary Suttle said:

“The report suggests this is far more than something cosmetic – it’s an internal structural problem…This is part of Swanage’s heritage… I’d like to see this somehow retained but it’s whether we can afford to.

“If I had my way I’d probably agree to the expenditure to make it safe for five to 12 years, giving a group of supporters the time to raise sufficient money to either keep it or if we can’t keep it I very much like the idea of a digital record.”

Gun placement at Swanage Battery

Remains of a gun placement looking over to Old Harry Rocks

Learn about Swanage in the war

Councillor Tina Foster suggested consulting with the National Trust who had worked hard to preserve Fort Henry, a Grade II listed World War Two observation bunker overlooking Studland Bay. She also added that it was important to make the battery available to children who want to learn about Swanage in the war.

“Possibly there are limits to its life”

Councillor Avril Harris said:

“I am in full agreement with trying to keep historic features which tell us a lot about our own history and the town – what troubles me is that even with this work projected to cost 45 to 50 thousand pounds, that’s only to last between five to 12 years, so if there is no long term future for this structure what are we going to do with it?

“Possibly there are limits to its life and it’s been suggested that we could keep a digital record – perhaps we should be doing that as well as looking to preserve it. Whatever way it’s going to cost a lot of money.”

The council also refuted earlier claims by a member of public that the survey of the building had damaged the structure. Operations manager, Gail Percival said:

“The survey was non-intrusive – we haven’t removed any concrete – it’s falling off on its own accord.”

In conclusion, the councillors voted to spend £5,000 to make the site safe for the public and to launch a public consultation in the near future to hear the views of other organisations, residents and visitors.

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