Originally installed in 1885, the lift carries passengers between the seafront and the promenade and is one of the oldest water lifts in the UK. Crofton was appointed to undertake the work by Lord Radnor.
The Leas Lift is a remarkable piece of engineering that operates by alternately filling and emptying water tanks that are fixed beneath the two lift cars. It can carry fifteen passengers up and down the cliff which separates Folkstone town centre from the beach.
Before Crofton began its work, the lift was in serious need of refurbishment and restoration. It had been closed in June 2009 after Shepway District Council’s lease ran out. The council had decided that the historic lift was too expensive to continue running, a decision which caused widespread local upset.
Mark Taylor of Crofton, who was in charge of the project, commented: “Closure of the lift was very unpopular with the local community - we saw overwhelming public support for it. People were seriously campaigning and protesting to ensure that the lift was kept open.
“The Radnor Estate soon agreed that they would take back control of the lift and instigate restoration, which is where we got involved. In the spring of 2009 we were appointed to undertake a full dilapidation survey to the two buildings or “stations” at the top and bottom of the cliff, and to the track and two cars. This produced a schedule of condition which enabled the and the council to agree the terms of settlement of the lease.”
Crofton’s appointment was subsequently extended to fully restore the lift and resolve the problems it had identified in its survey. It prepared designs and a programme of work that set out exactly how the site would be completely renovated.
This involved replacing the mechanical and electrical wiring and ensuring that all necessary safety standards in the two cars, the control systems and stations, were met. Crofton also focused on restoring the associated power pumps that control the lift at the top and bottom stations.
“We appointed a specialist sub-consultant who normally advises on fairground rides to help us ensure that we were meeting all the necessary safety standards. With its steep track and cars, the lift is similar to a theme park ride in many ways which means that the same safety rules and regulations apply.
“However, I am sure the adrenaline rush one gets from being a passenger on the Leas Lift is very different to the rush one gets from a rollercoaster. Nevertheless, I think I can safely say that it was the first time that any of us had worked with a fair ground consultant,” said Taylor.
The consulting engineer appointed the main contractor G A Harper to carry out the necessary construction work but maintained a project management role in the process through to completion.
The Leas Lift was recently reopened in a low key ceremony following the restoration work. Local residents have formed the Folkstone Leas Lift Community Interest Company – a non profit organisation that will manage the attraction as a “living museum” of Victorian engineering, offering an educational transport link between the town centre and the sea front.