National Piers Society
History of Colwyn Bay Victoria Pier

Work began in 1899 to the design of Maynall and Littlewood of Manchester. The pier opened on 1st June 1900 to a length of 220 feet, including a 2500 seat pavilion. The Bijou Theatre, built in 1916, accommodated 600. In 1922, the main pavilion was burnt down. It was replaced the following year, by the pier's new owners, the local council. In 1933, the pavilion was once again destroyed by fire and, two months later, a separate blaze wrecked the Bijou Theatre. A replacement pavilion opened in 1934.

Repairs were made to the pier in 1954 and from 1964 onwards. Trust House Forte became owners in 1968, and the structure was refurbished. However, in 1976 THF applied to demolish the seaward end. A 4000 signature petition helped persuade Colwyn Borough Council to refuse permission. Parker Leisure Holdings bought the pier in 1979 and converted the 'Dixieland Showbar' into a disco with adjoining bars.

In 1986, it was estimated that repairs to the seaward end would cost £250,000 and, although grants were being sought, a further application for demolition was made in 1987. The pier was put up for sale in 1989 and again in July 1991. The pier was closed and seemed doomed.

Ownership transferred to Mr. and Mrs. Paxman in late 1994 and restoration work commenced. Visitors were admitted during the summer of 1995. The Paxmans lived on the pier but were unable to transform it into a major tourist attraction, and in December 2003 the pier was sold to Mr. Steve Hunt.

Mr Hunt began a programme of refurbishment of the pier but as a private owner, was ineligible for Heritage Lottery Fund or other grants. In 2008, in a highly charged dispute with Conwy Council, Steve Hunt was made bankrupt, something he fought vigorously to get overturned accusing the Council of corruption. In the meantime, management of the pier was vested in trustees, Royce Peeling Green (RPG) but the pier continued to deteriorate and demolition was beginning to be considered.

In 2010, a local support group, the Victoria Pier Pressure Group announced their plans to acquire the Victoria Pier from the trustees and outlined proposals for the pier which include a new cafe, bar, children’s entertainment, fishing facilities and a historic and environmental educational centre. However, with an estimate of £5.5 million pounds to restore the pier, this was clearly going to be a very challenging project.

With Mr Hunt effectively sidelined, but still asserting his rights to the pier, plans began for a submission to the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Council were supportive of the Pier Pressure Group's proposals and added support came from the Welsh Government Minister who visited the pier in February 2011.

However, not everyone felt that restoring the pier was the best option and in March 2011, the Chairman of the Colwyn Bay Civic Society called for the pier to be demolished. Neverthless, in May 2011 Conwy Council announced that they would try to buy the pier and would be seeking Welsh Government assistance.

Then in June 2011, Mr Hunt, the previous owner started a hunger strike in protest at what he claimed was "overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing" by the council. The local MP, David Jones, persuaded Mr Hunt to give up his hunger strike but said that he felt that Mr Hunt had been 'airbrushed out of the process' and that there had been 'insufficent engagement' with him.

Also in June 2011, the new not-for-profit company, 'Shore Thing', who had already been working closely with the Pier Pressure Group, announced plans to run the pier on a not-for-profit basis, reinvesting profits back into the business.

But the Trustees, RPG, who effectively still owned the pier were becoming increasingly concerned as the pier's condition became worse with each passing day and pieces began falling off it. Finally, in August 2011, they took the decision to disclaim interest in the pier pursuant to section 315 of the Insolvency Act 1986 and ownership automatically passed to the Crown Estate. Mr Hunt, having now been discharged from bankruptcy, reasserted his claim to ownership of the pier and said he wanted to restore it.

In November 2011, a public consultation was held and Shore Thing's plans for the restored pier were put on show. These received strong support and in March 2012, a bid went before the HLF Board for £4.9million towards the estimated total cost of £10 million. However, the question of the pier's ownership was still to be resolved.

Then at the end of March 2012, it was announced that Conwy County Council had bought the Victoria Pier from the Crown Estate with a £36,000 grant from the Welsh Government. This was not without its risks given that the HLF bid had not yet been decided, something that became even clearer when only a few days later the HLF bid was rejected. Nevertheless, Jennifer Stewart, head of HLF Wales, said that they were "impressed with the council's imaginative plans to transform Colwyn Bay Victoria pier and its art deco pavilion into a much-needed community and tourist centre". The Council said a new improved Lottery bid would be made and that at least now the council finally had control over the Grade II listed structure.

This statement seemed somewhat optimistic as a legal challenge to the ownership of Colwyn Bay’s Victoria pier was then made by its previous owner, Steve Hunt. The case was scheduled for a full day hearing. Work continued to make the pier safe and in August 2012 it was reported that a hearing at Cardiff Crown Court had ruled in the council's favour. In November 2012, the courts also ruled against a separate claim of a 'beneficial interest' by Mr Hunt's mother. But this was still not the end of the ownership dispute as in December 2012, an order was issued in the Royal Courts of Justice giving Mr Hunt permission to appeal against the earlier decision that it should not be handed back to him.

Meanwhile, the council and Shore Thing continued with their bid for HLF funds to restore the pier which it was announced would include plans for an arts centre and there was strong support for the remains of murals dating from the 1930s, by the artists Eric Ravilious and Mary Adshead, and which had been covered in both wallpaper and a thin layer of plaster, to be restored. The HLF bid for £5 million was submitted in March 2013.

April 2013 saw the continuation of the battle for ownership of the pier in an appeal at the High Court in London. The former owner, Steve Hunt, who had been made bankrupt in 2008 in a dispute over unpaid council tax and business rates, argued that the Victorian pier should have come to him three years after the bankruptcy. Mr Hunt's mother also claimed that she still had an interest in the pier since she had paid over part of the money towards its purchase in 2003. Conwy council disputed both claims and judgement was reserved. However, in May 2013, Sir William Blackburne subsequently ruled that Mr Hunt should get another chance to persuade a local judge that the pier, and the foreshore on which it stands, should be formally 'vested' in him. There would therefore need to be a re-hearing of the dispute at the County Court.

Despite the continuing saga of the pier's ownership, later in the month the Heritage Lottery Fund approved a grant of nearly £594,900 to be used by Conwy Council to develop plans for the full restoration of the pier.

***

  Pier Statistics
 
Length Opened Status Owner
750ft (229m) 1900 Grade II T.B.A.

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Pier News
Mar 2014 - Cabinet votes to back pier demolition
Mar 2014 - Final plea to save pier from demolition
Feb 2014 - Campaign group draws up fresh bid to save Pier
Jan 2014 - Pictures reveal the shocking state of pier
Jan 2014 - Councillors' anger at not being consulted over pier
Dec 2013 - Petition to save historic structure from demolition
Dec 2013 - Campaigners call for public's support over pier
Dec 2013 - Pier demolition will be fought against
Dec 2013 - Strong response to pier demolition possibility
Dec 2013 - Councillors to discuss demolition of pier
Dec 2013 - Report says pier will cost £15m to restore
Nov 2013 - Pier's condition 'distresses everybody'...
Oct 2013 - £65000 needed to preserve rare mural
Sep 2013 - Council approves £20000 grant for pier
Jul 2013 - Colwyn Bay pier campaign gets underway
See Pier Newslinks Archive for earlier stories
Pier Gallery
Flickr gallery of images of Colwyn Bay   Pier
Simplon Postcards of Colwyn Bay Victoria Pier
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Pier Movies  
BBC News item on pier's future - Jan 2010
Chris Foote Wood's Youtube video 2008
Pier Weblinks
Victoria Pier Pressure Group website
Victoria Pier website
BBC Wales page on the status of the Pier  
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