COUNCILLORS have approved enforcement plans to protect one of Newport’s most important historical buildings from decay and vandalism.
The Westgate Hotel was at the centre of the 1839 Newport Rising, when soldiers clashed with Chartist protesters marching for more voting rights.
The privately-owned hotel has since fallen into disuse, but from 2019 until a few months ago a group of volunteers and conservationists worked to preserve the building and hold arts events there.
Since they were ejected from the premises last autumn, the Westgate has been targeted by trespassers and vandals, and council officers have uncovered evidence of damage to important features, as well as fires being started there.
The hotel structure, too, is in disrepair. At a meeting of the city council’s planning committee on Wednesday January 10, senior planning enforcement officer Neil Gunther said gutters on the building were “solid with vegetation”, causing “water ingress”.
There has also been a “substantial collapse” of the ceiling in one part of the hotel.
If plants like buddleia were “allowed to grow” in the stonework it would lead to more damage, Mr Gunther warned.
Council officers visited the Westgate with the building’s owner last week, and Mr Gunther said there was evidence of vandalism and graffiti inside.
He said the owner had been asked to carry out urgent repairs to make the building safe and watertight.
The planning committee agreed unanimously that if those works are not carried out, the council should be granted enforcement powers to do the repairs itself, and then recover the costs from the owner.
Committee member John Reynolds called the Westgate a “UK site of significance for our democracy” and said there was “a need to protect it”.
His colleague Stephen Cocks said it was a “tragedy” to see the “deterioration” of the historic hotel, and committee chairman Mark Spencer said it was “important that we look after this building as best we can”.
The future of the “water-damaged and deteriorating” Westgate remains unclear, however.
Mr Gunther told councillors any enforcement action was “not a way of getting the building back into use”.
Asked by committee member Ray Mogford whether the owner had signalled any plans for the future of the building, Mr Gunther said:
“The owner had what looked like a pre-application… for a hotel” but there was also the “potential for flats for the upstairs floors as well”