Despite it being months since the road above Brighton pub The Fortune of War collapsed, closing the eastbound carriageway of the A259 Kings Road, the council only started repair work last week.
Only days ago the rubble from the pub was finally cleared and the gaping hole left in the ceiling at the back of the pub was finally plugged with a piece of foam.
The rear of the pub has been closed to customers since the morning of April 25, when workers pulled wooden panelling off of the walls, only for mounds of rubble to collapse.
Now the work has begun – which is estimated will cost more than £40,000.
Senior engineer at Brighton and Hove City Council Leon Bellis said the collapse was originally caused by the failure of a steel beam installed before the existence of Brighton and Hove City Council – some 30 or 40 years ago.
He said: “They had put a steel support in there – but it would not be a support we would use now as it is not adequate for taking some of the above loadings.
“The support had been hidden. It had been plastered over and it then had timber cladding applied to it.
“Over the years it corroded and eventually it just failed and collapsed.
“The backing material above the arch, above that opening, came into the Fortune of War.”
He said the removal of the cladding by workmen was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.
Mr Bellis said that for the past four months the council has been assessing the extent of the damage.
He said the arches are “heavily interconnected”, structurally resembling a bridge and a failure at one point of the arches can have a knock on effect on all of the other arches along the seafront.
As a result, the council has discovered other weaknesses in the structure since the initial collapse.
Mr Bellis said: “The more we looked it, the more we found – when the collapse happened in The Fortune of War it would have been remiss of us not to check all of the structures to see if there were any other areas also at risk.”
He admitted that the complexity of the situation made a deadline for the work to be finished difficult to forecast. It has been moved back three times. It was initially supposed to be completed at the end of June, then July and September.
But Mr Bellis said yesterday that the current completion date of November is still on track, but is not set in stone.
He said: “We anticipate it will be the case, but the problem is that until you actually start the work you do not know for sure what you will come across.
“In The Fortune of War, for instance, there is a gas main.
“We will have to hand dig near the gas main which will take a bit longer.
“We will try and keep to the programme but at the end of the day I have to ensure the guys on site go home – and if it means that will take another week then that is what we will do.”
Additional assessments ascertained how much repair work was needed and the safest way it could be done, which was then independently verified before workmen could move in.
The council investigation discovered “badly corroded” steel beams inside Life Bar – which is currently undergoing refurbishment.
Mr Bellis said: “All these arches are interdependent on the stability of the adjacent arch.
“So what you do in one area can affect several arches either side of it and if we have a collapse of the actual structural fabric it can lead to what we call a progressive collapse.
“One single arch in the middle gets its strength from all the adjacent arches.
“When we had the initial collapse we did not just look at that area in isolation, we looked at the whole area to see if there were any other areas of concern.
“There were four areas of concern in Life Bar, two minor, two major. The two minor ones have already been filled and they were done fairly quickly.
“Then at the front of the arch we had some quite badly corroded beams that support the upper promenade.
“There is another larger area with two quite large steel beams that are quite badly corroded and they support the actual masonry arch and then we have the additional third area in The Fortune of War itself.
“So we have to look at the four areas in Life Bar and one in The Fortune of War as a whole so what we do in one area does not have a detrimental effect in another area.
“If it was just one, isolated area it would be very easy.”
He said the assessment of the arches – including identifying the problems, surveying the arches and road, designing the site it could be accessed temporarily and again so it could be repaired – took time but was necessary.
He said: “Although they take time, you need to go through the processes.
“If something happens within this structure it could cause major collapse problems and cause us a much bigger headache.”
Chippy finds collapse
Still working in Life Bar carrying out the refurbishment work is the carpenter who found the collapse.
Simon Pierce was working for construction firm Barracuda when he first noticed a bowing of the arches in Life Bar.
He was one of the men who pulled back the panelling at The Fortune of War and revealed the earthwork which fell into the top deck of the pub.
Moments before the collapse his stuck his head into the gap they had created to assess the ceiling.
Mr Pierce ran up to the seafront with his colleagues and stopped the traffic from passing over the sagging roadway.
Long wait before work to clear debris began
The top deck of The Fortune of War has been closed since workman unearthed the collapse.
Work was only carried out last Monday to clear the debris which had poured in and to plug the six foot deep hole.
Surveyors have carried out work in the pub over the past four months.
Assistant manager Arron Kemp said they appreciate the complexity of the job.
He said: “I think it is a complicated procedure, when you start taking more of the arch away you make it weaker and weaker so they wanted to make sure what they were doing was not going to damage it further.
“Even though it has taken a few months and even though it is a small hole, it is a big job.
“Our financial director said it is really hard to tell, because we have had quite a good summer, if we have had a loss of earnings or not.
“But when the weather has been really bad we have only had a finite amount of space inside and there is a chance over that time that we have probably lost a bit of trade.
“But it is hard to tell because we have also had a profitable year because of the really good weather.”
Inspections carried out regularly
The council regularly and thoroughly inspects the integrity of the arches.
Mr Bellis said the three different types of rolling inspections are used to examine the arches, one yearly, one every six years and one every twelve years.
The yearly inspection is visual, the six-yearly one is a “close visual, intrusive investigation” and every 12 years there is a “structural assessment” which helps the council build up a mathematical model of the arches.
This model allows engineers to test the arches’ integrity and load bearing strength.
Mr Bellis said: “It is a rolling programme of checking and surveying and inspections – this just happened, but you cannot catch everything.
“We do our best, most of the time we are pretty good, we identify areas but now and again these things happen and they are just unforeseen.
“No one can be 100% and I would say we are around 99%, which is pretty good.
“The problem is with a lot of these buildings is many have had coatings and coverings and you cannot get to all of them.
“It is very expensive to shut down a club, strip it all out, back to the bare fabric to do a proper survey so we try to work it in with refurbishment.”
He said the council looks after more than 1,000 buildings and some are “some are more difficult than others” to assess.
Traffic chaos ensues as crater opens
Bollards, barriers and a contra-flow have been in place on the seafront for the past four months since a section of the King’s Road collapsed.
The six foot deep crater, which left a sewer pipe exposed, was opened up after workman carrying out repairs in the Fortune of War pulled back wooden panelling which sent earth and rubble pouring into the pub on April 25.
Since then the top deck of the pub has been closed and the eastbound lane of the A259 has remained shut – causing havoc for motorists and squeezing the pockets of local business owners.
At the end of August it was exclusively revealed by The Argus that the repair work was facing yet another delay – being put back to a finish date of November despite two previous setbacks.
Previous delays extended the completion date for the work until the end of July and then until the end of September.
The works were originally estimated to be completed within eight weeks of the collapse but council bosses admitted work was “more complex” than they originally realised.
The council has assured people that once repairs are complete “these locations will stay standing and be able to operate as business premises and seafront attractions for another 120 years”.