Step too far for heavenly stairway

The Butterley Spillway at Marsden Reservoir
The Butterley Spillway at Marsden Reservoir
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IT resembles an immense stone staircase and is probably one of the most unusual listed structures in the country.

Dubbed the ‘stairway in the hills’, Butterley Reservoir’s spillway is a marvel of Victorian engineering and a much-admired landmark in Marsden, a Pennine village near Huddersfield.

But now the Grade II listed structure has been placed on the Victorian Society’s list of the 10 most endangered Victorian and Edwardian structures in England and Wales.

Owner Yorkshire Water has plans to repair and make safe the spillway to ensure flood water does not erode or even destroy the embankment.

But the work will involve the removal of stone steps and the use of smooth concrete which will be “made to look like natural stone”, according to the water company.

A group of locals, backed by councillors and MP Jason McCartney, are now fighting the proposals, and their campaign has the official backing of the Victorian Society, which said the spillway was the only Grade II listed structure of its kind in the UK.

“Butterley spillway was built in the 1890s and 1900s to allow the reservoir to cope with overflows during periods of heavy rain,” said a spokesman. “Instead of valuing the legacy left by Victorian engineers, Yorkshire Water proposes to replace it with concrete, coloured to look like stone. The steps will vanish.”

Director of the society, Chris Costelloe, said: “The Victorians were superb builders of infrastructure. They made structures that would last. Now Yorkshire Water are using a purely theoretical assessment of water flow to justify the destruction of a perfectly functional – and spectacular – example of Victorian engineering.”

Conservative MP Mr McCartney also wants to see the spillway preserved.

“This spillway really is beautiful and iconic.

“I don’t agree with Yorkshire Water; they need to find a way to preserve this unique site. It should be strengthened and repaired.”

A band of Marsden residents are preparing for the plans to be submitted to Kirklees Council.

Diane Ellis, a resident whose professional background is in planning, is a member of Save Butterley Spillway.

“We are passionate about the spillway; it is the only one of its kind that is listed,” she said. “It fulfils the Victorian passion for beauty over purpose. For the Victorian Society to put it on the risk list is fantastic news.”

A Yorkshire Water spokesman said the spillway walls needed to be raised so that flood waters could pass safely downstream. The steep sections of the spillway needed to be replaced with a straight slope to ensure flood water remained within the channel.

The company said the force and speed of flood waters during “extreme events” would be enough to pull up masonry blocks from the channel.

“For this reason... we will need to build the new spillway in reinforced concrete.”

He added: “We understand that the spillway is an iconic landmark, which is why we’ve been working hard since January to understand residents’ and stakeholders’ opinions.

“As a result of this consultation, we’re investing an additional £1.2m to ensure the spillway remains something the community can be proud of.”

He said steps would be put in every 30cms to replicate the existing ones and the spillway would be ‘stained’ to look like natural stone.

“A huge amount of planning and consultation has taken place to ensure we have a solution which will deliver the necessary improvements whilst still maintaining as much as possible the look and feel of this much loved structure.

“This is not the cheapest or simplest solution. But we’re absolutely sure it’s the right solution; one that will ensure the spillway is fit for purpose, safe and legally compliant, whilst at the same time retaining its iconic appearance.”

The at-risk list also includes Wingfield Station, in Derbyshire, a rare, early railway station which despite being Grade II listed has been badly neglected.