A DEVASTATING report on the state of the spire at Erskine church in Langholm High Street has revealed the stonework and scaffolding are in such a poor condition they could fall and injure or kill someone below.
The survey engineers, contracted to inspect it, are refusing to go up into the scaffolding for fear of an accident.
The report was written by Pendrich Height Services of Edinburgh which said serious safety implications had become apparent to the external structure.
It said: “Our survey engineers have refused to survey this structure in the future because of the structural condition of the scaffold and stonework which is currently a safety risk because of gradual deterioration over the years.”
It added: “After 19 years of the scaffolding being in position, its integrity is now unsafe with regards to the boards which have rotted and no longer afford appropriate protection to the structure or public directly below.
“The stonework, around which the scaffolding was encapsulated for the reasons of being dangerous, has degenerated to a degree that the stonework is now falling out of the structure and onto the scaffolding which is an immediate concern.
“We have a duty of care to protect the public and I can categorically say the scaffolding no longer affords adequate protection and the stonework to the structure is dangerous to a degree that it could cause personal injury or death.”
The company said it would not be responsible for any destruction caused by falling objects, whether the scaffolding or masonry, until they were made safe.
From what we have seen on site, the options available to the Council / Building Occupier are as follows:
It suggests upgrading the scaffolding and fit braces around it to give extra support to the structure.
The existing masonry, which is in jeopardy of falling, needs to be supported and it recommends vertical splints are placed over the spire and tower section and compressed with ratchets to form a temporary support.
The other option is to dismantle the spire and scaffolding and cap the tower with a flat roof to prevent any water getting inside.
It proposed lowering all stonework into the interior of the church and store it in there.
The third option is to repair the spire and tower by replacing the stonework to a degree of integrity to allow the scaffolding to be systematically removed.
A Dumfries and Galloway Council spokesperson said: “The primary responsibility for ensuring that buildings do not fall into a dangerous condition rests with the owner.
“The powers given to local authorities by the Building (Scotland) Act 2003 do not diminish this responsibility but are merely a ‘safety net’ to be used to protect the public when it appears to a local authority that, for whatever reason, a building owner has failed in their duty to fulfil this responsibility.
“The council has contacted the current owner to remind him of his responsibilities.
“It also regularly monitors the building’s condition to ensure there is no immediate danger to the public.
“The options for the retention or replacement of the scaffolding are under active consideration.
“The church is a Category B listed building in the Langholm Conservation Area and the spire is a prominent historic landmark.
“Its demolition would be considered only as a last resort if there was a clear and imminent danger to the public.”
Alison and Robert Aston, who live next to the church and regularly pick up pieces of scaffolding, asked a friend, who is a chartered surveyor, to look at the church.
He said it was “atrocious” that the council had not done anything since receiving the report in April.
While he was looking at the spire earlier this week, many people came up to him and told him not to stand there. The building was dangerous and they were very worried about it.
He said: “The council has a major problem on its hands. I’m concerned it’s had the report since April and done nothing about it.
“The council has a duty of care with dangerous structures. If a piece of stone fell onto an adjoining property, it would go right down to the ground floor.
“A scaffolding plank from that height could kill someone. The council could find itself facing a corporate manslaughter charge.”
He believes that if the council spent money on the church and sent the bill to the owner, he could liquidate the company which owned it.
It would go to the receiver and it would then be passed to the council and could be declared ownerless.
He said he could not get inside the building but he could smell the dry rot.
It might cost millions of pounds but he would not want to have a loss of life on his conscience.
He said the best advice he could give to Langholm residents was to ring the council to report a dangerous structure on 01387 260199 from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday or 030 3333 3000 out of hours.