** The leaning tower of St Peter's, Farnborough, which sways visibly when the bells are rung. Picture by Jeff Trolley.

URGENT repairs are needed to an historic Farnborough landmark which is starting to lean like the tower of Pisa.

A conservation architect who examined the wooden tower at St Peter's Church has warned it may collapse if remedial work isn't done soon.

He says there are severe problems with the 17th century tower which is reputed to have been built from ships' timbers.

"When the bells are rung the tower visibly sways, as it also does in high winds," says the architect in a report to Rushmoor Council.

"There is also a permanent and noticeable lean away from the main body of the church building."

This has been partly caused by a design fault in the wooden frame which has caused many joints to slacken, and some timbers to fail completely.

These problems have been exacerbated by the weight and movement of the bells at the top of the tower, adds the architect, who was appointed by the diocesan authorities.

He believes the bells will have to be positioned lower down the tower to prevent them again "shaking the tower to pieces" after the repairs have been completed.

Because of the tower's historic importance, the council's cabinet agreed to contribute £8,000 towards the total reinforcement bill of about £150,000.

John Edwards, council environmental services director, said: "We are only too pleased to help preserve this lovely wooden tower.

"The church is believed to be the oldest building in Farnborough and it is well used by the community."

Another £25,000 has still to be raised to reach the final target. Parish treasurer Peter Johnston said: "I'm certain we will get the money…in fact it is a must.

"We don't want to reach the point where the tower is declared unsafe, therefore the work must be done this summer."

The Rev Nick Williams, St Peter's curate, said this week: "There is no danger of the tower collapsing at present, but it is important that the structure is repaired soon."

Mr Williams is holding the fort while a replacement is sought for the Rev Alan Boddington who retires on Sunday after being rector for just over 16 years.

Mr Boddington and his wife are moving to Stratford-on-Avon after what he described as a "fascinating time" in Farnborough.