Compiled by Anthony Wills

Southwold changes hands

It was announced on 27 February that Gough Hotels had acquired SOUTHWOLD pier. The Society has been assured that the new owners will honour all the arrangements already made for the Annual General Meeting on Saturday 8 June. Managing Director Robert Gough has said he intends to build a 30 bedroom luxury hotel on the pier: planning permission for this was obtained in 2010. Southwold has been owned by Stephen Bournes and his wife Antonia since 2005. During this period the pier has gone from strength to strength and now attracts in excess of 750,000 visitors a year.

Cleethorpes finds a new owner

The sale of CLEETHORPES pier is due to be completed at the end of April. The purchasers, a consortium of London businessmen, have said they intend to invest more than £1 million in the structure, including possibly extending its length (originally 1,200 ft) The pier closed at the beginning of last October and had been unsuccessfully put up for auction in February.

Weymouth Pleasure pier on the rocks

Hot on the heels of the planned closure of the WEYMOUTH Pavilion Theatre comes news that the Commercial & Pleasure pier itself has major structural problems which will be very costly to repair. The pier dates from 1933 and was built by the Great Western Railway to serve the ferry terminal. In its heyday it was home to dances, concerts and swimming competitions but it has become sadly neglected in recent years: the popular pier head cafe has been closed for some time and fishermen have been the main users. Condor Ferries transferred its cross-channel services last year from Weymouth to Poole (where they are attracting better loadings). Pier owners Weymouth & Portland Council have agreed to carry out emergency repairs to the steel sheet pile walls, which are in a worse condition than the concrete ones, but the possibility remains that the pier will have to be closed to the public in due course on safety grounds. Unfortunately visitor numbers to the Sea Tower on the pier approach, which opened last July for the Sailing Olympics, have been disappointing.

Deadline looms for Southsea South Parade saviours

A COMMUNITY group seeking to save the privately owned SOUTHSEA SOUTH PARADE pier was given six weeks in early March to come up with a business plan and an indication of funding sources. English Heritage has awarded Portsmouth City Council £15,000 towards the estimated £80,000 needed for a detailed engineering survey. The Council said it would chip in a further £15,000, leaving the People’s Pier group to find the remainder. The group was considering offering shares to donors. However the current owners said they are not intending to give the pier away for nothing. It was put up for auction last December with a guide price of £200,000 but failed to sell.

New Pier Manager sought for Cromer

A search is on for a new General Manager at CROMER pier following the departure of Ian Hall at the beginning of March. This is a key appointment as it carries responsibility for the Seaside Special and Christmas Seaside Special productions in the Pavilion Theatre as well as the catering and souvenir shops, all of which are run by Openwide International on behalf of the pier’s owners North Norfolk District Council.

News from the world’s longest pier

A happy couple have made history by becoming the first people to get married at the end of SOUTHEND pier. Ian Barnes and Emma Hunter tied the knot on 23 February in the new Cultural Centre. Lynn Jones, Southend Council’s resort services manager, joked that the pier would offer the longest wedding aisle in the world, leaving people plenty of time to change their minds! However she said that the pier will in future be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays during the winter, as part of funding cuts the Council is having to make. On 28 March an exhibition called Trotters On Sea, featuring props and costumes from the highly successful and long running BBC television series Only Fools And Horses, was opened by actress Sue Holderness in the pier’s new Cultural Centre. The exhibition runs until 15 April. On the same day Jamie’s Cafe, which was specially created on the pier for Channel 4’s TV series Jamie And Jimmy’s Food Fight Club, featuring the chef Jamie Oliver and sidekick Jimmy Roberts, last year, re-opened as an ice cream parlour.

Other news

Bad weather in March caused serious damage to two piers.

DEAL suffered its worst damage for “at least 15 years”, according to the pier attendant. The lower deck lost 111 boards and two metal grids. Dean Curry, owner of the Pleasure Angling tackle shop nearby, said the north-east gale winds – recorded at 42mph – had had a greater impact because of last year’s decision to bolster the coast with a mixture of sand and shingle rather than pure shingle. The Environment Agency has admitted that mistakes had been made and would be corrected in the autumn. Meanwhile the pier, cafe and toilets remain open to visitors and anglers.

At SWANAGE an emergency appeal has been launched to raise £50,000 to repair the Grade II listed pier after it was damaged in a storm. Strong winds and rough seas on 11 March damaged its mid-section so badly it was near to collapse. The section has been made safe but is closed to the public with pleasure craft and fishing vessels unable to use it. The Swanage Pier Trust said the damage “could not have come at a worse time” as restoration work was about to start on the southern landing stage. The first part of the pier remains open to the public and the Trust is encouraging people to continue to use it. Swanage was voted Pier Of The Year in 2012. Donations to the appeal can be sent by PayPal via the Trust’s website

Work to rebuild the 155-year-old MUMBLES pier is on schedule for completion by the end of this year. It is the largest heritage project in Wales ever to be privately funded: this has been achieved through the sale by pier owners Ameco of adjacent land for waterfront development allied with contributions from the RNLI, who will benefit from a new boathouse capable of housing a new Tamar class lifeboat.

The new floating pontoon on BEAUMARIS pier has had to be repaired following bad weather last December. Engineers had to remove part of the pontoon to facilitate access to the damaged section. Work was due to be completed by the end of last month.

PENARTH’s Washington Arts Gallery ceased trading at the end of March. The gallery is owned by the Penarth Arts & Crafts Arts Trust Ltd which is the driving force behind the restoration of the Penarth Pier Pavilion. It is understood that the closure will not affect the project, which is due for completion in October.

Members of the HASTINGS Pier & White Rock Trust voted at a meeting held on 9 March to transfer its assets to a new body, the Hastings Pier Charity: a dedicated organisation that will take ownership of the pier, receive the £14 million funding already in place and undertake the restoration, redevelopment and ongoing management of the project. The Trust’s remaining directors will actively explore new projects and merger opportunities within the designated hinterland of the pier (including St Leonards) which has already been identified as in need of regeneration. Hastings Council will shortly hand possession of the pier to the Hastings Pier Charity and work on clearing the debris caused by the October 2010 fire is scheduled to commence in May. Six new jobs will be created. It is hoped to complete the first stage of the restoration by late 2014: by the time Stage 3 – replacing the former landing stage by a floating pontoon – is accomplished the pier could become the second biggest employer in the town. A fundraising show at the White Rock Theatre on 30 March featuring Jo Brand and other comedy performers was a sell-out.

Lincolnshire County Council have applied to the European Regional Development Fund for a £1.2 million grant towards the cost of erecting a giant covered canopy linking SKEGNESS pier to Botton’s Pleasure Beach. The canopy’s shape would evoke the resort’s famous Jolly Fisherman mascot and allow light to pass through it while offering protection against bad weather. The area beneath it would be transformed into an attractive covered space with landscaping, water features (including dancing fountains) and a performance area. The costs of preparing the application have been shared between the pier and Pleasure Beach owners as well as Skegness and East Lindsey Councils.

Plans to install a zip wire and other attractions on BOURNEMOUTH pier have been rejected by the Council, who own the structure. Openwide International, who lease the pier, wanted to install a nautically-themed high ropes course, zip line and standing surf wave ride, which would have created 30 new jobs. Council officers claimed the plans would impact negatively on the pierscape. Openwide had argued that the facilities would persuade those who are currently put off by the pier toll to visit the pier. Meanwhile the demolition of the ugly IMAX cinema building on the seafront has opened up new vistas of the pier from the Bath Road.

The snooker club on BOGNOR REGIS pier closed on 23 March due to lack of patronage. Theoretically the club had 850 members but many were temporary visitors to the resort. The club was housed on the first floor above the pier entrance in what until the early 1960s was the Roof Garden Repertory Theatre: prior to this it had been a cinema. Pier owner John Ayres is planning to remove the false ceiling to reveal the original (1912) above it and, importantly, to unblock the historic windows, letting daylight into the room and opening up views over Waterloo Square. The future use of the space has not yet been decided.

Canterbury City councillors have given approval for a mini-golf course costing £259,000 to be built by a leisure company on HERNE BAY pier. The pier deck has been bare since the demolition of the Sports Centre last winter.

BLACKPOOL NORTH, which celebrates its 150th birthday this year, has announced its line-up of shows in the Pier Theatre for the period from 25 July to 3 September. The Rat Pack featuring Kenny Lynch among others will appear on Mondays. Jukebox & Bobbysox on Tuesdays will feature a cast of 13 celebrating the pop music of the 1950s and 60s. Having been a sell-out over Easter the family attraction The Wizard Of Oz will play on Wednesdays (matinee and evening performances). Further shows will be announced in due course.

An eight year old girl has persuaded the developers of a new sheltered living centre to name it after the designer of her local pier. Lydia Read won a competition to name the site after a significant local connection. She discovered that SOUTHPORT pier, the oldest iron pier and second longest in the UK, which opened in 1860, had been designed by James Brunlees. Accordingly the new block is to be called Brunlees Court.

Piers Mediawatch

BLACKPOOL came under the spotlight in BBC2’s Boxing Day documentary Big Night Out, featuring interviews with Ken Dodd, Cannon & Ball and Tommy Cooper among many others together with marvellous archive footage and clips from the golden age of summer shows. Several contributors told stories of the dangers of working at the NORTH pier theatre in bad weather. On 3 January a follow-up programme on BBC1 told the story of Blackpool in Summer, including interviews with landladies and theatrical impresarios and plenty of archive and current shots of the resort’s three piers.

Two piers have been used as locations for forthcoming movies.

CROMER pier was closed between 24-26 February for the filming of scenes for the first Alan Partridge movie. Local residents were employed as extras in the filming, which involved gunfire and actors dressed as police. Alan Partridge is a fictional character portrayed as Norfolk’s worst radio presenter. The movie is scheduled for release in August.

And scenes for a new British thriller Still Waters, starring John Hannah, were shot on CLACTON pier on 11-13 March.

COLWYN BAY VICTORIA was featured on BBC1’s Breakfast Show on 4 March as part of a report on hidden art. Cameras were allowed inside the derelict pier ballroom where murals by artist and designer Eric Ravilious (1903-42) are hidden behind layers of wallpaper and a thin layer of plaster. Pressure group Sure Thing has included the murals in its latest bid for £5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund: a decision is expected in May. However the dispute between Conwy Council and Steve Hunt over ownership of the structure rumbles on: it was due to be heard in the High Court in London in April.

Piers were featured on the BBC1 quiz show Pointless during the week of 10 March, with contestants being given five to identify: BANGOR, BLACKPOOL CENTRAL, SOUTHEND, WESTON-SUPER-MARE GRAND and LOWESTOFT CLAREMONT. They had to try and guess the answer with the least responses from a panel of 100 randomly selected people. CLAREMONT was the most pointless answer!

A poster campaign on London Underground trains jointly funded by and VisitEngland shows a picture of BRIGHTON PALACE pier as… “Brighton Palace”! Which is not how the owners have wished it to be known (since 2000). They prefer “Brighton Pier”

And finally: The owners of a beach hut in FELIXSTOWE have decided to take drastic action in protest against a 12% rent rise – by sawing off the back of it! Alan Sarfas said that this would result in him paying £616 a year instead of £787, as the rents are based on hut size.

(With thanks to Margaret Burgoine, Suzie Hart, Tim Mickleburgh, Tim Wardley, Daphne Wilkinson, Guurtje Wink and Chris Wyatt for their contributions.)