How do we preserve our history? That’s the question that’ll be taxing quite a few Pembrokeshire minds over the coming months as they wrestle with the future of one of Milford Haven’s historic landmarks.
Hubberston Fort which overlooks Gelliswick bay was one of a number of coastal defences built in the nineteenth century to protect us from the French navy.
The trouble was that by the time they were finished (at great expense) they were outdated and the threat (if there ever had been one) had passed.
No shots were ever fired from the Hubberston Fort cannons and it became known as one of the Palmerston Follies, named after the Prime Minister who commissioned them.
There’s now a sizeable campaign calling for the Fort to be preserved and restored to its former glory. The building is currently closed to the public to try to deter vandalism – though judging by the fresh graffiti I spotted when I was given a rare tour inside the Fort, the vandals are still managing to breach the defences.
There’s no shortage of rumours about what might happen to Hubberston.
The current owners, the Milford Haven Port Authority, have asked for it to be included in Pembrokeshire County Council’s Local Development Plan.
It’s a listed building so demolition seems pretty unlikely but there have been suggestions it could be developed for housing or in other ways commercially.
The MPHA insist they are open to all ideas which is one of the reasons the Fort’s been included in the LDP, to see what proposals come up.
Eavesdropping as I did in a rather nosey way to some of the very early discussions that were taking place, you can see why it’s going to take some pretty radical and inspired thinking to give the Fort a future.
There are so many hurdles to overcome. To my untrained eye, the Fort seemed in a pretty sorry state inside and will take a lot of work and money to do anything with it.
The Fort was also designed to keep people out and the only way into it is a small doorway – not great if you’re looking to get big machinery like diggers inside. I’m sure there’s a way round that problem it but it will almost certainly cost money and it’s the financial side of the equation that’s crucial.
The sort of figures I heard being bandied about were quite simply scary. Admittedly, they had been plucked out of the air for the sake of theoretical discussion but they were in the millions…and then some.
These days it’s not just a question of paying for a restoration. Expenditure has to be justified and whatever the Fort becomes, it’ll have to go some way at least to paying for itself and we all know these aren’t the easiest of times to try to attract investors.
One of the biggest issues is the location.
Pembrokeshire is a beautiful county and it’s also remote (in fact that relative quietness is one of the lures of Pembrokeshire for many people) and although it does attract tourists, they are not in massive numbers.
So if, for instance, the Fort was destined to become a stand alone tourist attraction it would either have to be so stunning that the visitors would flock in their thousands – with all the added complications that has on the local infrastructure – or the limited visitors who do come would have to be charged pretty hefty entrance prices.
So perhaps the answer is a multiple use for the Fort – say, a theatre, or some kind of creative hub – although that assumes there would be a demand for such things. You see what I mean? It’s complicated. Very complicated.
The easy part is calling for somewhere like Hubberston Fort to be saved.
The difficult bit comes when you try to work out how.