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Tuesday 5 November 2013

Response to Ben Locker

Dear Ben

Thank you for taking the trouble to reply to my comments about recent developments with Jumbo.

Just to clear things up, I used this blog to speak for myself in my role with but not for BWTAS. Some of our members have bought and converted towers for themselves and most of them did it for romantic, creative reasons and I expect many would vow never again. Owning a water tower seems to be a short cut to madness and financial ruin.

I examined the evidence for Braithwaite's assertion it was a political decision (BBC Look East) along with all the Torys voting for and other parties against. I don't assert (nor actually agree) it was a political decision. The Gazette's live blog mentioned Bob Russell's interjection and that it was overruled. To think every one of them voted because being pro to his development is a Tory position and any objection is anti-Tory is absurd.

But I am saying the question of politics was brought into the debate by Braithwaite's assertion the decision was merely political combined with his permitting political banners on Jumbo - and to some extent Darius Laws identifying himself as a 'political activist'. I would draw the conclusion regardless of what party's banner hung there and certainly I don't assert Tories are evil. Some of my best friends are. IF it wasn't a political decison, Braithwaite didn't create it. IF it was, then look at what might have made it so.

I am not ascribing party political actions to your and Law's campaign, I was asking if you were or not. Appearances matching a certain stereotype indicated you were. I know you appreciate I want this debate to be friendly. If I went too far I was riffing on a theme.

You and Darius have since cleared up by twitter that your passion for Jumbo is independent of the owner. How did the banner get on Jumbo? Darius takes credit for that. Just for full disclosure; Brian Light is a member of BWTAS. George Braithwaite was offered honorary BWTAS membership. If I recall an invitation to join and to meet and discuss access to Jumbo was sent in 2006 to him without response.

You skirted the questions if whether the museum proposal was merely a sop to the objectors. A desperate or deeply Machiavellian move? Or genuine generous altruism? You tell me what you think.

I don't see how the BTT's past or recent finances have any relevance. They or anyone else obviously cannot raise anything until they have possession or agreement on a means to obtain it. I am not privy to any inside information but at the 2006 auction (which I covered as a reporter) they dropped out of the bidding when it got to six figures. When the auction was announced at very short notice, Brian Light (I think his charity was formed later) raised a very considerable amount of money. I recall one supporter turning up and pledging him another £50,000 on the day but it wasn't enough. If I recall the BTT arose out of deep frustration for a prior developer not doing anything with Jumbo but letting it decay, much the same motivation you have. The BTT didn't exist when Jumbo first came on the market but if it had then, it could have bought it with what it raised later. By now we could be asking how do we refresh a tired museum everyone's been to. I feel sorry for Colchester and people who have spent 27 years trying to put Jumbo to good use. Jumbo is unique and its potential benefit is not constrained to Colchester but a much wider area.

You and Laws keep asserting the delays as justification for action. I assert that's not a valid reason as the cause of the delay is the developer's choice not to entertain sensible feasible offers.

You could demolish Jumbo and get £500,000 for the reclaimed bricks, they are 90p each on eBay. Then millions for the land? It's the varying weather vane of its potential returns that causes the value of Jumbo to rise and fall. The wind that blows that weather vane is the political makeup of the planning committee, confidence of banks and developers and the quality of the development proposals before it. Without planning permission its value as a security was rated at zero.

If you bought shares in a fast rising company expecting them to rise further but they in fact fell in value and then someone offered to take them off your hands for a rock bottom price, planning to salvage it as a downscaled but viable company with some further investment; you say that's unacceptable and deeply unfair. If you bet the wrong way on the market, are you entitled to a refund? Are you a capitalist or not? What options does BTT have? I would love know of some mechanism which would conjure up the £330,000 the owner needs to walk away without saddling the operator with unserviceable debt but we've missed the window for packaging up some mortgage backed securities.

You pick over the plans BTT proposed a long time ago when the nanosecond of opportunity to buy Jumbo was before them. I myself would present some different plans for Jumbo and I can see - from examples all around the world - there are many ways to exploit a property like Jumbo and yet be a good neighbour and maintain its heritage and cultural value, which I consider is utterly dependent on it remaining more intact than Braithwaite's current plan. But to offer them for discussion now would be commercially unwise. Would you publish your 'restaurant in the sky' recipes and wine list before you've hired your chef? Would show your client's competitor your pitch?

You sincerely don’t believe it’s possible to rescue Jumbo intact - I sincerely believe it is as I've seen it done. Somewhere there is common ground. Let's keep everyone working towards it.

I think it will be wearisome for our members if we continue to ping-pong point and counterpoint via our respective blogs but I am happy to respond to further developments as this story becomes part of the rich culture and history of water towers. 

I look forward to hearing if the council will promote an alternative approach. The BTT have invited round-table discussions. Let's hope some movement happens and when it does, we can be on hand to present our analysis. Our differences of opinion serves people to make up their own minds.

Nat Bocking

Saturday 2 November 2013

Jumbo's conversion plans rejected and that's good for Colchester

George Braithwaite speaking to BBC Look East
The Colchester Gazette live-blog of the Colchester Borough Council planning meeting reports the proposal by the owner of Colchester's iconic 'Jumbo' water tower to convert it into flats and offices was rejected after a passionate debate. The BBC website also carried the story with quotes from both sides. The owner George Braithwaite and other commentators said afterwards the decision was a political one.

While BWTAS itself takes no position for or against water tower conversion per se, it exists to ensure the discussion of such proposals are fully informed about the heritage and cultural value of water towers, therefore I am exerting my privilege to comment on the latest developments in Jumbo's long and complex history.

The vote went along political lines with the three Conservative councillors on the planning committee all voting in support of the plan and the seven Lib-Dem, Independent and Labour councillors against. According to the Gazette, Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell contacted the council's chief executive Adrian Pritchard suggesting the Conservative councillors should have declared an interest because of a donation made by George Braithwaite to the North Essex Conservative Association. BWTAS noticed a 'Vote Conservative' banner was hung from Jumbo in 2010. 

That is a useful example of the enormous value of water towers for their owners and their potential to impact their surroundings. If politics played any part in the decision, then perhaps Braitwaite only brought that on himself.  

I have found two videos produced by a local 'political activist' Darius Laws and his associate Ben Locker. According to the Gazette, Darius is a Conservative and Ben says he is one too, though one can tell from his wearing of red trousers

Darius said if Braithwaite’s plans are opposed it would lead to “decades more neglect and decay and a lost opportunity to provide economic growth and enhancement for our town centre.” 

In their YouTube video posted on Oct 27, 2013 (though the date of production is not known) Darius and Ben took to the streets of Colchester to drum up support for Braithwaite's plans saying it would bring "a restaurant in the sky" and also a museum while the flats and offices are the necessary commercial exploitation of Jumbo in order to preserve it. 

Though I am not a heritage expert, as the author of a successful guide to water towers and the editor of this blog and as I have corresponded with hundreds of water tower enthusiasts, owners and developers over the years, I have the evidence that water towers have enormous power as attractions and there is great national and international interest in their heritage value.

The argument Ben and Darius posited on the streets has logic similar to US policy in the Vietnam War: "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it" said an unattributed US commander after bombing and shelling the town of Bến Tre into oblivion to rout the Vietcong.

It's very doubtful whether Colchester needs another restaurant near to Jumbo and whether the benefit is worth vandalism of a Grade II* listed structure. Restaurants are extremely risky financially and there are no guarantees that a museum or the restaurant would be viable enough to create a net growth in jobs. If a restaurant at the top of Jumbo was hugely successful, that itself might cause another local restaurant to close because of the mechanism of competitive capitalism that Conservative dogma expounds as beneficial.

Local residents who have replied to the proposals on the planning website object to the additional traffic, noise and light pollution this kind of conversion would cause. The planning policy for Colchester said Jumbo was in an area reserved for cultural facilities long before Braithwaite plunked down £330,000 to buy it.

This policy is described as ‘a key tool’ in the determination of planning applications.'Save Jumbo' campaigner Brian Light of the Balkerne Tower Trust pointed out at the planning meeting; "flats and offices are not cultural facilities and would transform the present cultural oasis into a busy and noisy commercial area. At night, four huge glowing panels would be seen, unconnected to each other or to the shape of the original building."

Ben has claimed on his blog there is "no other funded, viable plan on the table."

Ahem, nothing of Braithwaite's proposals were in the public domain until 24 hours before the planning meeting. Were Ben and Darius were privy to them, though they claim to be working entirely independently of Braithwaite? Long before Braithwaite bought Jumbo there were other proposals and studies done. The most developed proposal came from the Balkerne Tower Trust who were an unsuccessful bidder when Jumbo was sold at a snap auction in February 2006. It is not the fault of the council or anybody else but Jumbo's succession of owners that Jumbo has been neglected while they played pass the parcel with a very speculative investment.

It is perhaps the fault of government policy (incidentally a Conservative one then) that ratepayers' assets can be sold on the open market to people with no plans to use them except the hope they can find some way to make a profit. 

None of Jumbo's owners have been prepared to entertain offers to put Jumbo to a use that would protect and preserve it for generations to come while their Jumbo property bubble grew. Darius and Ben's assertion that Jumbo has lain unused is untrue. It was utilised as a 'prayer tower' by an evangelical church from 1988 to 1995 who purchased it from Anglian Water. They then sold it at a loss to a property developer. Perhaps a portent of the danger ahead.

Several members of BWTAS recognised Braithwaite’s last minute museum proposal as an empty promise with no guarantees that it could be delivered if the plans were approved. It distinctly smells of the oft-used ruse of public use to satisfy objectors which could be rescinded for any number of reasons later on. Were it a serious proposal, the last six years should have been spent developing a consortium of heritage partners to put together a solid proposal to the planning committee rather than offering up a few figures plucked from the air by the architect.

It's impossible to say if any cultural or heritage bodies would support the Balkerne Tower Trust in taking on Jumbo because no one has ever been offered possession of Jumbo on anything like viable and reasonable terms. In his three minutes at the microphone at the planning meeting Brian Light pointed out the idiocy of the trust being invited to set up the museum and have their volunteers to staff it and pay over £3000 pounds a month rent for the mere three months it would be open a year. "Meanwhile the applicant will collect the admission charges and £500 a time for frequent ‘corporate events’. As a charity we don’t wish – and could not – subsidise a privately owned museum over which we have no control, and which could close at any time" he said.

Councillor Nick Barlow who opposed the plan has also stated on his twitter feed that this "public access (was) an afterthought and not guaranteed permanently."

Andrew Erskine, a cultural and creative economy consultant to the public and private sector also said on his twitter feed; "Personally feel this should be a public asset first. Not suitable to turn into flats etc."

The business plan, like any, is full of suppositions. It imagines an observatory and display above an office block and flats can draw the same visitor numbers as the Colchester Natural History museum year on year. It should be noted that the museum is free to enter while the proposed average entry for Jumbo is £3, so it would be higher for some and less for others. I would think £30,000 for exhibits is woefully insufficient and there is no mention of the costs of the observatory. Brian Light noted that Braithwaite's agent claimed "there is no public interest in the history, only in the views". That history is what the Balkerne Tower Trust and BWTAS exist to celebrate.

Braithwaite’s conversion plan offers nothing innovative or creative that exploits the assets of Jumbo to make it a truly outstanding and UNIQUE attraction. His plans would just make Jumbo just another converted water tower. His business plan should consider the number of visitors to the Atlas Works or the Foredown tower in Sussex for a better comparison. I don't think even I would pay £5 to go into Jumbo more than once just to gawp at the rooftops of Colchester and see some old photographs and visit yet another overpriced museum gift shop and sandwich bar. Would having a look through a telescope be yet another £1 for 3 minutes? I can imagine the annoyance of parents at such Barnum antics. Were it not the need for Braithwaite to salvage his reckless investment, there would no need to set the bar so high.

Darius (and Ben presumably) said Jumbo could be Colchester's Eiffel Tower but the economic benefits offered is Colchester gets its own Canary Wharf without any public money required. Does Colchester really need that? If I recall the developer of Canary Wharf went bust spectacularly. It then got bailed out by billions in public investment for the transport infrastructure it lacked.

I sincerely wish that the Eiffel Tower concept proves to be the case but that can only happen if Jumbo is kept intact and visitors encounter knowledgeable guides along with displays inside the tank that bring the history of civil engineering and water supply to life, with the added attraction of viewing Colchester from a spectacular viewpoint. 

With income from the occasional charity fundraising abseil or corporate event, a heritage operator would could cover the cost of maintenance. As an office building with an observatory it will be an awful compromise and a much duller attraction. The need to recoup the exponentially higher costs of redevelopment will put pressure on the owner to maximise their revenue, so slowly squeezing out the 'heritage' uses. Braithwaite's cobbled together museum is set to fail and some might speculate that it is deliberate.

While the restoration of Jumbo would initially be expensive because of the years of neglect it is not completely a lost cause to find funding for that, perhaps meeting a corporate social responsibility remit, and once Jumbo is brought back to health, ongoing maintenance could be within the means of a charitable trust offering tours of the intact tower. Without planning permission the value of Jumbo was assessed at £0.00 so a heritage operator could never secure a mortgage for £330,000 to buy out Braithwaite AND cover the cost of restoration against the value of Jumbo.

The uses that the Balkerne trust have proposed for Jumbo make it a very good neighbour for local residents, businesses and nearby cultural attractions and they will improve foot-fall and 'dwell' time of visitors to Colchester's cultural and heritage quarter whereas Mr Braithwaite's plans bring conflict and nuisance with increased noise, traffic, light pollution and commercial competition for nearby cafes, of which there are plenty enough. The difference in the carbon impact of wholly heritage use and Mr Braithwaite’s are significant as well especially in the conversion stage.

It is to the credit of Colchester's planning committee that they refused to acquiesce to a developer whose supporters cite the deliberate dilapidation as a just cause to allow further vandalism of Jumbo. Had they gone on the web, any developer who wanted to take on Jumbo would know full well it was a complex and difficult proposition offering very few options for adaptive reuse EXCEPT for the long standing ambition of the Balkerne Tower Trust. Interviewed shortly after his purchase, Braithwaite said he did not know anything about Jumbo or its history - he just liked it. Colchester should not be held hostage to a developer's folly. 

Nat Bocking
Gen. Sec. BWTAS

p.s. I would be happy to link to or post a response or make corrections required.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Yew Tree Hill, Droitwich, Worcestershire (1962)

© Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

This post is in response to a query left on the About BWTAS posting, back in May 2011. Back then, all I knew about this tower was that it was a square reinforced concrete tower and it's location: SO 90306 61602. We now know that this 150,000 gallon water tower was constructed in 1962, at a cost of £35,000, for the East Worcestershire Waterworks Co. The tower is 110 feet high and comprises a square tank supported by 12 slender square sectioned columns, of 81 feet, around the perimeter and a square service shaft that passes up through the tank, forming a penthouse to give access to the top of the tank. Construction was by Messrs. Currall, Lewis & Martin Ltd., but we don't know who designed this stunning water tower. If you have any further details, please leave a comment.

The photograph of the construction of this tower is published with the kind permission of The Concrete Society.


Jumbo plans recommended for approval by council officers

By Caroline Tilley

CONTROVERSIAL plans to transform Colchester’s water tower should be given the thumbs up, according to planning officers.

Colchester Council officers have said the proposals for Jumbo should be approved despite fierce opposition.

They say the plans would revamp Jumbo, bring in shoppers and give the building a viable use.

But the final decision will be down to the council’s planning committee when it meets next Thursday.

Owner George Braithwaite wants to create three apartments, a restaurant and a museum and observatory with a cafe in the Grade II listed building.

English Heritage has opposed the plans, as have a number of others, saying it would “radically change” the water tower.

Colchester Council’s planning committee at will meet at 6pm on Thursday, October 31, at Colchester Town Hall.

Response by Nat Bocking, General Secretary of BWTAS.

Amongst BWTAS members there is likely to be found a wide variety of opinion on the merits of redevelopment of water towers, therefore BWTAS does not endorse nor either protest at these proposals. 

However, it is plain in this report that only one aspect of this plan is by any means 'concrete', in that the developer will convert Jumbo into three apartments. The occupancy and usage of any remaining space is not assured. There is no guarantee any allocated space will be suitable or the rent required will be affordable for a restaurant (which are notoriously unstable tenants) or a museum and observatory  (which are even less financially viable) to occupy the water tower.

While we do not in any way suggest that it would happen here, there have been numerous cases of redevelopment by stealth. Appeasement of planners by providing a community space in a development has been wriggled out of by imposing restrictive conditions until the users rights are eventually relinquished.

Were this application from a consortium of partners made of the developer and heritage bodies, more people in BWTAS could be enthusiastic rather than pessimistic.

To our knowledge there have been no proposals from any heritage groups to create a museum inside Jumbo except one which wants to keep Jumbo intact, as the intact and restored Jumbo itself would be their most prized exhibit. This group's business plan is long standing and judged viable, were it not for the burden of the asking price of a series of owners trying to recover their reckless speculative investment. The first one picked up the redundant property for £100,000 and apparently sold it on at a loss for £86,000 but Jumbo has been a growing investment bubble ever since.

Jumbo is without question the finest example of its type and it represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to preserve an example from a golden age of civil engineering. Kept intact Jumbo can be a resource for a great number of useful purposes which accord with its neighbours and community stakeholders at a serviceable cost. Its usefulness and accordance with every aspect of its surroundings would be greatly diminished by an unsympathetic and excessive conversion.

The business model of a developer is of no concern to a planner except when development grants are concerned but on a project of this scale it cannot be ignored. This latest proposal for conversion has no guarantees that Jumbo will be put into sustainable use and so benefit Colchester. Allowing conversion to that extent closes the door forever on another use originally proposed which could sustain Jumbo intact. If that plan failed, it would still allow many alternatives to be considered.

Friday 18 October 2013

Jumbo water tower on most endangered list



Colchester's famous Jumbo water tower, which dominates the town's skyline has been included on the Victorian Society’s list of the ten most endangered Victorian and Edwardian buildings in England and Wales.


The list was drawn up from nominations from members of the public following a nationwide appeal to find the country’s best and most threatened buildings.

To be eligible a building has to be at risk, whether from redundancy, neglect, demolition or, as in the case of the Jumbo Water Tower, the danger of insensitive redevelopment.


The Colchester Jumbo Water Tower Credit: ITV Anglia

Norwich: exhibition

Photographs Now on Display

A collection of photographs, including many of water towers, have gone on display in Norwich. But its only open Friday 18th to Sunday 20th October 2013 (Friday: 4-8 pm, Saturday 12-6 pm & Sunday 12-4 pm). It's at Yallops, 59 St. Augustine's Street, Norwich, NR3 3BG and also a little further down the street at Nunn's Yard. For further information, please see the earlier posting here.


Tuesday 8 October 2013

Progress in Balkan politics

On our asking, the Balkerne Tower Trust (BTT) has provided BWTAS a update on the status of Jumbo; Colchester's iconic water tower.

In August 2012 BTT was contacted by Simon Plater, the current owner's agent and architect, inviting them to meet with him and Robert Pomery, the owners planning consultant regarding a possible new planning application and to "explore common ground".

BTT were shown two drawings showing two floors of offices at the base, more offices in the tank and a floor under the tank, and ‘museum’ space allocated to a floor under that and also in the roof space. The tank walls were to be replaced by glass on the north and south sides, and a new dog-leg staircase would be inserted between the legs. The BTT was invited to be a "working partner" in the scheme to run the museum space.

The BTT responded by asking the owner George Braithwaite to consider selling Jumbo to the BTT. In September 2012 a reply was received offering Jumbo for sale for £333,000 plus various costs. The BTT then approached Colchester & Ipswich Museums to seek their opinion of both the potential and the problems of utilising the proposed space as a museum. After meeting in October 2012, the BTT decided to refuse cooperation with the latest scheme on the grounds of excessive alteration to the structure of the building and it made a counter offer that Jumbo should be sold at a more realistic price.

Meawhile the BTT continued fundraising and consultation to produce an interpretative information panel about Jumbo to be sited at its base. In August 2012 the Colchester and N E Essex Building Preservation Trust pledged up to £600 towards this along with £500 from a BTT Trustee and £100 from the Civic Society. 

The BTT also had a series of meetings with Colchester Borough Council officers about the continued dilapidation and appearence of Jumbo and its surroundings and to effect the removal of the unsightly hoarding around its base which had been permitted temporarily for works subsequently never carried out. Permission for them had expired in 2007. With the support from Cllr Jo Hayes (Heritage Champion) and Cllr Lynn Barton (Cabinet Portfolio holder for Regeneration), a letter to the owner requiring the removal of the hoarding was promised. 

In early December Colchester Borough Council informed BTT that removal of the hoarding around Jumbo could not be legally enforced and it proposed the decoration of the hoarding instead. Just before Christmas, Jumbo's owner repainted the hoarding.

The BTT submitted a Freedom of Information request for all communication to and from CBC about the hoarding. The resulting documents and letters were shared with local councillors including Cllr Jo Hayes. Her research concluded that CBC was mistaken and the removal of the hoarding could be enforced. After representations to them by BTT, several councillors then strongly communicated their wish for the removal of the hoarding to be enforced. Beverly Jones (Head of Environmental Services) then engaged a barrister for CBC with specialist planning expertise to settle the issue of enforcement.

In early February 2013 the barrister reported that removal could be enforced and by mid-March this had been carried out. For the first time since 2004, passers-by could appreciate a complete view of Jumbo. However the owner did not prevent vehicles subsequently parking untidily on the site.

Planning permission for the interpretative panel was granted and permission to erect the panel on CBC owned land to the south of Jumbo. Cllr Bill Frame also allocated £500 of his grant for local projects. The final design was agreed with the Friends of the Colchester Roman Wall and the Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service and installed. The unveiling ceremony with Sir Bob Russell MP doing the honours took place on April 6, 2013 and was attended by about fifty people including local councillors and others involved in local heritage.

On May 22, 2013 new planning applications were registered with CBC to convert Jumbo to flats and restaurant and office space on new floors between the legs but retaining the tank intact in which a ‘museum’ was proposed. The new scheme received a great deal of sympathetic local press coverage. In June BTT held a meeting to consider their response and it was decided that on the grounds that the proposals were for filling-in the legs, the removal of the original pipes and valves and the cutting of holes in the tank to provide views, that it be opposed. A detailed response was then submitted. BTT also objected that it had not been formally consulted as it should have been.

Letters were subsequently received from the owner's planning consultant, suggesting that BTT take on the museum space in advance of the planning committee hearing, so implying support for the applications. Replies were sent making clear the opposition to the applications and proposed that the owner donate Jumbo, which has no commercial value, to BTT.

Enquiries have subsequently been recieved by BTT from bodies with heritage responsibility asking for financial information, its capacity to fundraise and whether BTT has a business plan for Jumbo to which appropriate responses have been supplied.

Letters expressing opinions for and against the applications have since appeared in the local press. The date of the planning committee hearing is not yet known.

Ely good news

From  the Ely Standard

Hundreds of thousands to be spent on water tower upgrades

Ely Water Tower
Daniel Mansfield Sunday, October 6, 2013
11:43 AM
The water towers in Ely and Haddenham are to undergo a £750,000 refurbishment to sure up the water supply in the area for the next decade.

Anglian Water will carry out essential maintenance and upgrades over the next three months, with the towers planned to be back in service in December.

The towers, which jointly hold more than five million litres of water and serve nearly 10,000 homes and businesses in Ely and Haddenham, will be renovated using a number of innovative technologies including a new lining which moulds to the inside of the building. This means the water tank itself does not need to be replaced.

Anglian Water said superficial work to the outsides of the tanks would also be carried out if required.

Paul Naylor, regional supply manager for Anglian Water, said: “It’s vital the treated water stored in these towers continues to be protected for decades to come. We’ve already started the necessary preparation work and the use of new innovations, like the liner, will help us to complete the work efficiently.”

The two projects are part of Anglian Water’s overall investment programme. This year the company has announced it will spend £466 million on maintaining and improving its equipment and services.

Monday 7 October 2013

Water tower plans lead to Poole hot water

From the Bournemouth Echo:

Ashley Road traders' anger over car park plans leads to further scrutiny
12:00pm Monday 7th October 2013 in News By Diana Henderson
Richard Wilson, far left, with other traders
RESIDENTS and traders’ fears that they may lose a crucial car park in Poole will be scrutinised by a council committee.

A massive petition signed by 1,136 people was presented by Richard Wilson, chairman of Ashley Road Traders Association, to Borough of Poole, opposing proposals by Wessex Water over the Mansfield Road car park.

The water company owns the decommissioned Grade II listed Victorian water tower and car park and is working on plans to convert the tower into two flats and build eight new homes with parking on the surrounding car park.

Under the lease Borough of Poole would be given 12 months notice to vacate the site and this has not been served – however the nearby surgery, whose patients use the car park, and residents are fearful for the future.

“It will also have a severe effect on the traders who rely on the car park – if you start taking that away you start to lose trade,” said Mr Wilson.

“It’s totally unacceptable they want to take it away after it’s been there so many years.”

The car park has 52 spaces and in a report Julian McLaughlin, head of transportation services, said existing budgets would not enable the council to buy the site.

Cllr Brian Clements, chairman of the economy overview and scrutiny committee put forward an amendment which was agreed, for his committee to look at the potential impact of any closure and to consider any possible mitigation.

He said the work the traders association was doing to support and regenerate the area was very important and he understood their dismay. They are also objecting to the possible loss of parking spaces outside shops in Ashley Road.

“The western section of the shopping area is more reliant on passing trade from motorists than other areas and there is great concern amongst traders and their customers alike as evidenced by the extraordinary level of support for the petition,” he said.

A spokesman for Wessex Water has said they are in the early stages of investigating how to restore and re-use the water tower. “We will be listening to the views of local people and discussing any concerns about local parking provision with the council.


A flickr collection of images can be found here


The 1995 Grade II listing says:

"Water tower. Late C19. For Dorset Water Board. Red brick with white brick dressings, some limestone and terracotta dressings, with cast-iron tank and other ironwork. Square plan. 3-stage tower with 2-bay sides, carrying a cast-iron tank. Tower has battered plinth of red brick in English bond with 2 recessed bands of paler red brick and limestone roll moulding to top of plinth; broken by round-headed doorway to rear (regarding street elevation as front). Sides are divided into 2 bays by giant white brick pilaster strips to angles and centre of each side. Pilaster strips have tall, thin sunk panels of red brick with round-arched heads, and bands of red brick above, defining "capitals". Round arches of white brick join pilaster strips and frame 3 tiers of tall iron-framed windows with round-arched heads of white brick, except to rear which is windowless; dentilled brick string courses at stage levels within giant arches. Large terracotta paterae to spandrels of arches joining pilaster strips and round-arched corbel frieze. Cast-iron brackets between arches of corbel frieze support iron railing and timber deck of walkway round base of tank, directly below corbel frieze. Tank has pattern of 7 square panels in 3 tiers, framing circle joined to courses by diagonals. Central circle to street side frames medallion lettered round rim JOHN ABBOT & CO GREENHEAD-ON-TYNE and in centre LIMITED 1884. INTERIOR not inspected."

An article about the near-identical twin Broadstone Water Tower at says:

"In 1859, Board of Trade records show approval of a scheme to satisfy the immediate needs of Poole and Parkstone. Poole Water Co. were granted permission to construct a scheme which collected surface water from gathering grounds in the Lilliput area, lifting the water to a new water tower in Mansfield Road, Parkstone, via a steam pumping plant. Today Parkstone Water Tower is not used as part of the modem distribution infrastructure but is preserved as a Grade II listed building. Poole's demands were further supplemented by similar gathering grounds to the south west of the Shah of Persia public house, with the water distributed via mains laid in Longfleet Road and North Road, linking with the gathering grounds established at Alderney Brickworks via Old Wareham Road. ... 

Consisting of a mass concrete foundation, mass brickwork base and column surmounted by a cast iron sectional tank, the tower stands 50 ft tall from ground level to the base of the cast iron tank and typifies Victorian engineering - functional, efficient and decorative. ... Although no records of the tower's construction have been found to date by this author, a conservative calculation estimates the number of bricks in the structure to be around 400,000, most probably of local manufacture. The tower is served by an internal timber stairway giving access to an external gantry at tank level with all rising and falling mains contained within a central structural shaft. The cast iron storage tank has a capacity of 270,000 litres or 60,000 gallons, sufficient for the average daily supply of approximately 2,000 people at present day consumption rates. At the time of their construction both the tank and ground level reservoir were open topped, a feature which inevitably degraded water quality and necessitated frequent skimming and cleaning to remove debris."

Nigel Martin, Distribution Manager, Wessex Water.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Museums about water supply in the UK

By Brian Light

Hereford Waterworks © Brian Light
Ever since my first interest in Jumbo I have also been interested in museums which declare that at least part of their remit is to tell the historical development and/or current technology of water supply. 

One of the very few such examples is the Sutton Poyntz water museum in Dorset, which is run by Wessex Water. Years ago I corresponded with the man who for all I know still runs it, John Willows. However it is open only for group educational visits. 

Several restored pumping stations do this as a minor by-product of their main appeal, which is usually the main pumping engine(s), sometimes in steam, and the building in which it is housed. Such museums tend to diversify into related displays of vintage technology, a classic local example being the Museum of Power at Langford, with its massive Littleshall triple expansion engine. This was the pumping station that until 1960 supplied Southend with 8 million gallons of water daily from the River Blackwater.

On a recent camper trip I was therefore determined to visit the Hereford Waterworks Museum, which declares itself to be 'The working museum which makes the story of drinking water spring to life'.

These displays are the most complete and coherent attempt I have seen to relate the story of water supply, and yet they occupy only a minor proportion of the total space, most of which is taken up with working examples of various types of engines. I wondered about this and got talking to several of the volunteers. The tendency is with these kind of museums is that people offer old engines which have been mouldering away in their sheds and garages, and the volunteer engineers, to whom such things appeal, duly restore them and add them to the displays, effectively diluting the original aims of the museum.

Old machinery in operation has an obvious appeal to the technically minded, but also more generally a kind of hypnotic attraction. Most of us have probably been to those steam rallies at which rows of old pumping engines splutter away amid clouds of steam. One can see how the declared aim of the Hereford museum has been somewhat overtaken by the display of various types and make of internal and external combustion engine.

As a result of this incomplete research, my broad conclusion us that no museum as yet exists in the UK which attempts to portray and combine the following:

The technical development of modern water supply in Britain (and more briefly, globally)
The social history of this development – obtaining water in everyday life; the effects of poor sanitation; the epidemics of waterborne diseases etc

The book King Cholera describes the horror of that disease - it would be difficult to imagine a worse way to die, yet scores of thousands in Britain alone did, until modern water supply stepped in to banish it.

Scores of huge restored mansions can be visited which relate the wealth, influence and power of individual families, but little of a huge Victorian development that transformed the lives of virtually the entire population. There are of course books on the subject, especially Persian, Greek and Roman developments in water supply (and the political power that went with controlling it). There are a good scattering of restored pumping stations, all of which probably say something about water supply in their local area. But none of this remotely gives justice to the big story.

This is leaving aside the growing global challenge of the world's future water supply and the increasing likelihood of conflict over water resources. Popular interest in the subject of water supply in the future as well as the past is likely to grow.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

The £64,000 question...

From The York Press of 25th September 2013
A water tower next to the A64 in York has been sold at auction for £64,000 – more than double the highest amount it was expected to fetch.

The Yorkshire Water structure at Askham Bryan went under the hammer at Leeds United FC’s Elland Road ground (on 18th September) at a sale handled by auctioneers Eddisons. Its guide price was between £20,000 and £25,000.

The water tower, in Mill Lane, is currently let to Vodafone and TV York, which pay combined annual rent of almost £12,500 for the use of buildings at the site, and the firms must give six and three months’ notice respectively if they want to leave.

According to a post on the urban exploration site 28 Days Later, the now disused tower had about 1 million litres capacity and is 30 metres high. It was photographed inside with permission. It appears to be a ferro-concrete open legged type of the Mouchel pattern.

The question is naturally, what will the owner do with it now? The sale was only the tower and no surrounding buildings or land so making redevelopment unlikely. Should we Askham Bryan?

Sunday 15 September 2013

Lots to see at Tiptree...

The few BWTAS members that made the effort to visit the Tiptree water tower last month, were well rewarded. While the tower is well on it's way to becoming a dwelling, this is not going to be yet another home that has just had a previous use. This is a water tower, and the conversion to a dwelling is a celebration of this, with much being done to preserve as much as possible. Obviously the vertical ladders have had to be replaced with a staircase, but this is a steel staircase, in keeping with the industrial nature of the building. In fact, much of the conversion is dictated by current building regulations for a dwelling - for example the brick walls cannot be left exposed but have to be insulated and plastered. The large water pipes either side of the door, together with their huge valve gear by BLAKEBOROUGH, are being retained. As we ascended the tower we came upon more retained pipework - the overflow and washout pipes. The tank was unusual in that rather than having two equal compartments of 50% capacity, only the lower portion of the tank was partitioned - hence the single overflow. It must have meant that drain down was done during periods of low consumption, if supply was to be maintained. Girders showing the makers name, Frodingham Iron & Steel Co. Ltd. added to the history of this building, as we head up towards the tank. On the floor beneath the tank are portions of the riveted steel access shaft, that once past through the centre of the tank. This has the Scottish steel company, Colville's mark on it.

When we reached the tank, we learnt that in the late 1950's or early 1960's the tank began to leak and the remedial action was to weld a wire mesh to the tank, to enable gunite to be sprayed on, to form a waterproof coating. Up here in the "loft" where regulations are not so harsh, a feature has been made by removing some of the concrete to expose the mesh and the original tank wall. This was not the only time there was a loss of water - in April 2003, telemetry failure caused the tank to overflow and water pooled just yards from an electricity sub-station! Fire crew had to pump the water away.

A very interesting visit, a big thank you to Jim Underwood for allowing BWTAS to visit his tower and to Graham Brewer for taking time out to show us around.


Wednesday 14 August 2013

Stunning Water Tower Photographs - to go on display in Norwich

© Copyright Carys O'Brien

As part of the Festival of Architecture in Norwich & Norfolk (FANN13), three photographers will be exhibiting new work, exploring architecture in the Norfolk landscape. Carys O'Brien's contribution will be on Water Towers - judging by the photograph above, of the 500,000 gallon tower at Horstead, it should be well worth a look. The exhibition runs from Thursday 17th to Sunday 20th October 2013 at Nunn's Yard, 31 St. Augustines Street, Norwich, NR3 3BY and Yallops, 59 St. Augustine's Street, Norwich, NR3 3BG. More information on this display and the background of the three photographers may be found here.


Saturday 27 July 2013

Tiptree, Essex (1933)

A chance for BWTAS members to visit...

The 1933 octagonal brick tower at Tiptree, is one of the later brick water towers. Located to the North of Tiptree at TL 88643 17147, it housed a cylindrical riveted steel tank with a central access shaft. However, the tower no longer required by Anglian Water, is now being converted to a dwelling. With conversion 80% complete, there is an opportunity for BWTAS members to take a look inside this tower. The owner has kindly arranged access for 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, 17th August. Places are limited, and places must be booked, by contacting

Following the visit, it is proposed that we then adjourn to the Wilkin & Sons Ltd. Tea Room, just over a mile away, to catch up and chat water towers etc. There is also a museum and visitor centre there.

Note: The tower conversion is a work-in-progress and you visit entirely at your own risk. The owner or BWTAS cannot be held responsible for any accidents on this building site.

Tiptree water tower is on the B1023, Kelvedon Road, just north of Tiptree - a map may be found here. For those with Sat-Nav, the post code is: CO5 0LX. Parking may be found on the industrial area by the tower, as you head out of Tiptree, take the road just past the tower on the same side.


Note to members:

You should have received an e-mail notification of this visit. If you did not, it's either in your Spam, or we do not hold a current e-mail address for you. If the latter, please e-mail us at regardless of whether you intend to come on this visit, so we can update our list and keep you informed.

Saturday 6 April 2013

Jumbo Information Panel Unveiled...

About 50 people congregated by Jumbo, to see Colchester's MP, Sir Bob Russell unveil the interpretation panel that the Balkerne Tower Trust had erected, on the Council landscaped area next to the tower. For the first time ever, the thousands of people who pass by will now be able to read about this magnificent building.

Below is a YouTube video of the event, further images and details of the support for this panel may be found here.

Monday 1 April 2013

Jumbo shows his feet again!

When Nat Bocking was interviewed by Chris Wilson, for BBC Radio 4's programme, "Saturday Live" outside Jumbo in Colchester, the tower was masked by horrible hoardings. This eyesore not only masked the view of Jumbo, but the vandalism taking place behind. After a long legal battle, the hoardings that should have been removed by August 2007, finally came down a few days ago. Click on the pictures for a larger view of these Grade II* feet.

Images © Brian Light.             South elevation                                             Front, West elevation

Sunday 31 March 2013

BBC News Water Week

In July 2002 the BBC News broadcast a series of programmes about water and its importance to society. It included several short films of which two featured water towers.

BBC Water Week, it said, was the biggest examination of the water industry ever done by a broadcaster. It looked at how water and sewerage companies in the UK have been measuring up and in what way consumers and the environment have benefited or suffered as a result.

Some of the films were very critical, rightly so, of several aspects of the water supply. 
The film 'The Profits Pump' examined the tricks of the trade used by some water companies to boost returns to shareholders at customers' expense. 

Others examined the rich architectural and engineering heritage of water supply, waste treatment and water towers. Historian Richard Gill of the Victorian Society took viewers around Luton's magnificent but derelict Bailey Hill Water Tower which has since been converted into a luxurious home.

The films are archived in Real Player format, they're very lo-fi but watchable. BWTAS suggests watching them as they're very good but also, if they get enough traffic, the BBC will be encouraged to maintain access to them.

Sunday 24 February 2013

A Right to Be Clean: Sanitation and the Rise of New York City’s Water Towers

30th Street, between 7th and 8th, 2012.
During the morning rush hour in New York City, tourists stand out as being the ones looking up. It’s possible that they see more clearly what most New Yorkers take for granted: water towers. Those archaic looking wooden structures that grace the rooftops of almost every New York City building play an integral, though often overlooked, part of watering this urban center.

Read More

Monday 18 February 2013

Raydon gets a new Roof !

The water tower at Raydon, Suffolk, recently received a new 2.7 tonne, aluminium roof, as part of an £800,000 refurbishment. The refreshing aspect of this refurbishment, is that on completion, it will return to use as elevated storage for potable water!

The 1954 reinforced concrete water tower, built by the then Samford District Council, had a steel roof that was no longer watertight. It is vital that the treated water stored inside the tower is protected from any possible contamination. It was decided that the best way to ensure this, was to replace the roof entirely and refurbish the whole tower at the same time. The 300,000 gallon steel tank within the concrete structure, also required its inside coating stripping off by shot-blasting and re-coating, prior to the new roof being fitted last Thursday.

The 50 foot diameter roof arrived as a kit – like a giant flat pack. Anglian Water’s contractors, @one Alliance, put it together in the carpark of the nearby golf course before hoisting it into position with a crane.

The tower, which serves 17,000 people in and around Raydon and Alton, has been out of use for about a year since it was found the old roof was deteriorating. The tower at O.S. Grid Ref. TM 04745 38111 provides storage to balance flows from the treatment works and security in the event of a failure as well as maintaining constant pressure.

Images and information kindly supplied by Anglian Water.