Anthony Wills, media relations office at the National Piers Society, provides a potent overview of Britain’s quintessential seaside attraction, from success on Southsea South Parade, to heartbreak down in Hastings.
The past twelve months have seen many positive developments for our seaside piers, including several privately owned ones that are not eligible for Heritage Lottery or other public funding. Southsea South Parade and Felixstowe have both undergone major restoration, and it was heartening that, as a result, they secured first and second places in the National Piers Society’s Pier of the Year competition, voted for by its members. When you consider that both are family owned this is a remarkable achievement. And there’s more to come: Bobby Ball, owner of Clacton pier, has secured nearly half a million pounds to carry out major repairs and improvements. The new owners of Brighton pier have gone with the local popular vote and agreed to reinstate the word “Palace” and commission appropriate new signage for the entrance. They have also invested significantly in new rides and attractions, which has already paid off handsomely. And the owner of Walton-on- the-Naze pier has announced £1.5 million of investment to bring it up to 21st century standards.
In the public arena Bangor (one of the most attractive Welsh piers) has finally secured grant money to match the local Council’s own contribution towards essential repairs, the first since 1987. Southport pier has received a handsome £2 million award from the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund. Structural repairs to the charming Ha’penny pier at Harwich were completed just in time for its traditional New Year’s Day firework display. Yarmouth (IOW), one of the few remaining wooden piers, received an HLF award of £778,400 to secure its future, while Torbay Council committed £1.7 million to carry out major substructure work on the Princess pier at Torquay. Swanage (owned by a Trust) has had its future safeguarded thanks to a £500,000 grant also from the Coastal Communities Fund. And Southend (the longest pier in the world) is to benefit from £300,000 of local authority funding to enlarge its reception area and provide better disabled facilities.
Not everything was positive, of course. Hastings, Pier of the Year in 2017, went into administration. The problem has been that it is basically an open deck, with insufficient money-earning attractions. It has been put up for sale and it was reported that the owners of Brighton Palace and Eastbourne had expressed interest. A local group was formed to attempt to keep the pier in public hands, but faced an uphill task in raising close on £1 million within a short period of time.
Elsewhere, Council-owned Colwyn Bay’s Victoria pier was dismantled and put into storage pending funding being made available. And Weston-super- Mare’s Birnbeck pier remained the most threatened of all, though strenuous efforts continue to be made by its supporters to rescue it, a formidable task. Sadly the MV Balmoral will not be sailing around our coast until it secures sufficient money to meet stringent safety regulations.
Piers are continuing to change hands. Burnham-on-Sea (the UK’s shortest), which had been owned by the same family for 49 years, has been sold to an established entertainment and gaming company. Lowestoft Claremont (also family run for half a century) is, at the time of writing, on the market for £2.5 million. It boasts a wide range of amenities including the only roller-skating rink on a pier, but the deck beyond the building complex needs restoring.
2018 is a landmark year as it marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of engineer Eugenius Birch, responsible for 14 piers. To celebrate the occasion the National Piers Society will hold its AGM in Blackpool, where the Grade II listed North pier is one of his finest achievements. All three of the resort’s piers have recently been granted recognition by the World Monuments Fund.