Compiled by Anthony Wills
Fresh hope for ailing piers?
The new Culture Secretary James Purnell has announced that £15 million of government funds will be made available annually from 2008-11 to help regenerate rundown English seaside resorts. The grants, which will be administered by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), will be split between a few large-scale projects and several smaller schemes
The £45 million awards are intended to unlock further funding from private industry and public sources such as the Regional Development Authorities and the Big Lottery Fund. Detailed eligibility criteria are being developed by CABE but, given that the money is specifically intended to help restore decaying buildings with clear cultural and heritage merit (including places of entertainment), it is hoped that even privately-owned seaside piers will be eligible to apply. The Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) is leading a review of cross-Government work to identify what more may be done to address the specific issues facing run-down coastal towns. The announcement, made on 30 November, follows the publication in March of the Select Committee report on Coastal Towns, to which the National Piers Society gave evidence. In a more recent submission (July 2007) to English Heritage and CADW (Welsh Heritage) the Society identified the Top Ten piers which in its view are most seriously at risk of partial or total collapse or demolition: these are WESTON-SUPER-MARE BIRNBECK (Eugenius Birch, 1867), HASTINGS (Eugenius Birch, 1872), COLWYN BAY VICTORIA (Maynall & Littlewood, 1900), RAMSEY QUEENS (IOM, 1886), HERNE BAY (Mattheson, 1899), LOWESTOFT CLAREMONT (Fox, 1903), FELIXSTOWE (1905), BOGNOR REGIS (Fox & Wilson, 1865), SWANAGE (Moore,1896) and TOTLAND BAY, IOW (Yockney, 1880). In its reply English Heritage stated that only buildings listed as Grade II* or above were likely to be considered for assistance, hence the sole inclusion of BIRNBECK in their latest Buildings At Risk register, although six of the other piers are Grade II and thus partly protected (seven are currently partly or wholly closed to the public on safety grounds). It is important that the case for piers is made strongly and coherently.
All of the above was heartening news for beleagured BLACKPOOL, which, after losing the Super Casino bid, met with Culture Secretary Margaret Hodge to lobby for increased Government investment in the town. The resort recently received £2 million from the Big Lottery Fund for the provision of a new Central Library. And following discussions with the V & A the resort is likely to become the new home for the former Theatre Museum in London’s Covent Garden, which closed earlier this year. This would be housed either in a new building on the projected casino site or a refurbished Winter Gardens. BURA are meeting in Blackpool on 5/6 March to focus on the foundations of a new seaside economy and coastal future.
“£17.5 million needed to save Hastings pier”
Offshore owners of HASTINGS pier Ravenclaw Investments and their UK representatives Boss Management were each fined £40,000 plus costs at Hove Crown Court on 1 November 2007. The judge said they had “failed lamentably to meet their responsibilities under the Health & Safety at Work Act”. They had ignored an improvement notice issued by Hastings Borough Council ordering them to carry out a full structural assessment of the pier, and put public safety at serious risk (see PIERS passim). Neither company attended the hearing, but entered pleas of Not Guilty to the charges. The Friends of Hastings Pier, meanwhile, have been looking to transform themselves into a charitable body – The Hastings Pier & White Rock Trust – with a view to obtaining public funding for the ailing structure. The Society took a collection in the town during the week of 3 September and held a well-attended coffee morning in Bar Luxor on 16 October. A Winter Market is being held on Sundays at the pier entrance, which remains the only part of the structure open to the public. However, the enormity of the rescue operation required has recently been quantified. At its Cabinet meeting on 3 December Hastings Council considered a full structural report commissioned from Giffords (see www.hastings.gov.uk/meetings_docs/071203 for more detail). Inspections by boat and underwater diving have revealed that the pier is continuing to deteriorate; as most of the cross bracing and horizontal ties are missing the pier is in danger of progressive collapse, especially at times of storm or high tide, or if struck by a vessel. The estimated cost of safeguarding the pier and allowing all of the sections, including the pier head, to be reopened safely is £7,335,000 over the next two years, with ongoing maintenance over the next ten years amounting to a further £6,330,000. Allowing for inflation the total requirement would be approx. £17.5 million. The cost of demolition (for which listed building consent would be required from the Secretary of State) is estimated at £4 million. Doing nothing is not an option, as any interim partial collapse would have significant cost safety implications. The Council has resolved to send a copy of the report to the Panama-based owners and consult widely with English Heritage and other interested parties. Although it recognizes the cultural and heritage value of the pier, such sums are beyond the Council’s scope and it has already spent £80,000 on the survey and on protecting a structure it does not own.
East Coast flood scare: it could have been worse
The biggest surge tide down the East coast in fifty years on the night of 8/9 November 2007, plus extreme low pressure, created weather conditions that threatened to flood towns along the Norfolk and Suffolk coastline. As a precaution thousands of Great Yarmouth residents were evacuated from their homes and spent the night in a school hall, but thankfully flooding was only sporadic, though road and rail links were temporarily disrupted. At CROMER the pier took a battering but stood up very well, however the Saturday evening show at the Pavilion was cancelled. The RNLI lifeboat museum on the seafront had its doors smashed and several beach huts were badly damaged. SOUTHWOLD pier also survived, though here again many beach huts were destroyed.
At a Thames Gateway Forum held in Docklands on 29 November SOUTHEND Council, which has held an extensive series of public consultations on which direction to take for its world-famous pier, failed to make its expected announcement of a comprehensive design blueprint. This apparently followed a last-minute partnership approach from Camberley-based developers Edmund Nuttall, whose track record in marine projects includes the award-winning RNLI station in Padstow. The Council’s head of tourism said they were looking for a long-term sustainable solution rather than a “quick fix” for the pier and that they would be consulting the Prince’s Regeneration Trust in the New Year for guidance and expertise. SOUTHEND is the current holder of the Society’s Pier of the Year award. The ravages caused by the disastrous fire of October 2005 have more or less been repaired. The final stage saw the 60-year old high voltage electricity cable replaced, necessitating closure of the railway for a week from 26 November. The pier was fully operational in time for the arrival of Father Christmas early December.
Friends of QUEENS pier RAMSEY (IOM) held their AGM in October in advance of a Working Group (on which they were represented by their Treasurer) which was due to present its findings to the Chief Minister by the end of November. The options facing the newly elected Tynwald range from complete demolition to full-scale restoration.
CLEETHORPES pier has been granted a 24-hour drinking licence with the backing of the police and other authorities. Owner Kash Pungi, who has spent over £1 million restoring the structure, said the licence would enable him to offer a greater range of entertainment including comedy nights, boxing and wrestling, and that a wider choice of food would be available once new kitchens had been installed.
Two information boards offering a brief illustrated history of SALTBURN pier have been installed on the shore building near the two entrances. They also contain information about the feature lighting installed under the pier in 2005.
Current owners of WESTON-SUPER-MARE BIRNBECK Urban Splash (South West) have been running an International Architecture Competition seeking ideas for the regeneration of the historic pier and the island to which it is linked. Some 95 entries were received. Meanwhile local developer Jim Scott and his partner Wahid Samady have bought the nearby Royal Pier Hotel (where the Beatles stayed in 1962) and the adjacent Captain’s Cabin pub, and engaged the distinguished if controversial Sir Norman Foster to revamp the entire site as a state-of-the-art complex.
Construction of the 550ft tall i360 observation tower in front of the derelict BRIGHTON WEST pier has been delayed while the main Brighton and Hove sewer underneath the site of the foundations is diverted. The tower is now projected to open early in 2010. Meanwhile, despite the presence of the excellent Spinnaker Tower in neighbouring Portsmouth, SOUTHSEA CLARENCE has applied, with BALPPA’s blessing, to Portsmouth City Council development control committee for permission to build a Wheel similar to, but smaller than, the London Eye. The project has the blessing of trade body BALPPA.
A £70 million project to redevelop the seafront at NEW BRIGHTON has received the go-ahead from the Secretary of State, without the need for a public inquiry. The scheme, which involves the construction of a new theatre and conference centre, a Morrisons supermarket, an open-air lido, 1,100 seat cinema and budget hotel, is being planned by Neptune Developments with financial assistance from the Merseyside Waterfront Initiative and the Objective 1 Programme. In addition, £210,000 has been set aside for a feasibility study into the construction of a new pier to replace the one one demolished in 1977.
Canterbury City Council has approved a start-up grant of £5,000 towards the costs of setting up an independent trust to raise funds for the restoration of HERNE BAY pier. Additional trustees including two councillors are being appointed and the trust is expected to become fully independent by February.
Plans to demolish the pier head shelters at the end of FALMOUTH PRINCE OF WALES and replace them with seating are being considered by the Harbour Commissioners, who have also engaged consulting engineers to examine a crack.
An inquest held in North Wales in November has been told that a retired car park attendant carried out his threat to his wife to kill himself by jumping off LLANDUDNO pier in July, despite having undergone recent successful heart surgery. Verdict: suicide.
The World Fireworks Championships were held on successive weekends throughout September on BLACKPOOL NORTH pier. Taking part were competitors from Austria, Canada, Portugal and the UK.
Dozens of people took part in the annual pier to pier C Stride charity walk in support of Breakthrough Breast Cancer on 22 September. The walk covers the 18 miles between EASTBOURNE and HASTINGS pier.
Sussex police have set up a dispersal order allowing them to remove troublemakers from the pier area at BRIGHTON PALACE for up to 48 hours. Anyone breaching the order and misbehaving under the influence of alcohol could be fined up to £2,500. The pier itself boasts a new Horror hotel, while its Glitter Ball bar is described as “Brighton’s top karaoke venue”.
A visit to PENARTH pier in late October found the Council-owned structure in good order and open for business daily from 0900-1700 throughout the winter. The Pavilion has been repainted and the fishing areas on either side of the pier end were being redecked. There is a Juice & Coffee Bar serving a limited selection of hot rolls and pasties and Decks Café is open at weekends, offering the local Joe’s Ice Cream. It is still possible to have a plaque inscribed on the pier, the price for 20 characters (100mm.) being £25, or for £60 you can have 60 characters.
Stage designs by Ian Westbrook for the famous Seaside Special summer show at CROMER form part of a year-long exhibition Collaborations: UK design for performance currently on view at the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington, London.
The annual Heritage Link Networking lunch and conference on 11 December, was held at Brixton’s Ritzy cinema. The speaker was Culture Minister Margaret Hodge.
BURA’s Annual Conference takes place in Liverpool on 30/31 January and the Seaside Network will field a strong presence to keep the issue of coastal town regeneration of coastal towns at the forefront of discussions.
Compiled by ANTHONY WILLS
The Sunday Times magazine of 16 September published the results of its Take A View photographic competition, which included among the winners a remarkable shot (taken on a mobile phone) of a young boy silhouetted against the wreck of the WEST pier on BRIGHTON beach.
NPS Chairman Tim Phillips was interviewed in September on Radio 4’s You & Yours about the BURA competition for new pier design. The judges at the Association’s conference in Rhyl included former NPS Chairman David Bateman. The competition was won by Atomikarchitecture (The Atomic Pier) – professional category – and Ian Hughes (The Beachcomber) in the non-professional group.
The Times of 3 October took BLACKPOOL and the Tate Modern in London as classic examples of “low art” and “high culture” respectively. Writer Rachel Campbell-Johnston said the northern capital of the entertainment industry was as much a cultural destination as any.
Rosemary Behan in the Times comment column of 15 October railed against the planned i360 observation tower due to be constructed in front of the WEST pier remains at BRIGHTON. She called the scheme “a travesty (whose) oppressive presence will ruin the unique feeling of freedom one gets from being beside the sea”.
The Times of 20 October contains a favourable review of Allan Brodie and Gary Winter’s new history of seaside architecture, England’s Seaside Resorts, published by English Heritage, rrp £24.99. And the Daily Mail of 23 October carried a two-page spread on a new photographic compilation Pictures From The World in 1900, published by Thames & Hudson at £24.95. Among the comparisons are photos of CLACTON pier in its heyday alongside the pier as it looks today.
According to the November issue of Sussex Life an area in front of WORTHING pier is to be renamed Olonnes Parade in honour of the resort’s twin town in France.
Radio 4’s drama offering on 9 November was Sarah Daniels’ Birdwoman of Bognor, a three-hander set in the South Coast resort over the famous weekend rally. The Stage’s reviewer Moira Petty called it “a jewel with exquisite performances from Marcia Warren, Emma Fielding and Philip Jackson”.
Executive Committee member Anthony Wills attended the unveiling on 12 November of a statue of former NPS President John Betjeman on the concourse of the new St Pancras Eurostar terminus in London. Betjeman played a key role in saving the terminus when it was threatened with demolition in the late 1960s. The figurative bronze sculpture, which is 7ft high and somewhat dwarfed by the controversial work showing a couple embracing nearby, stands directly on the platform by the Eurostar arrival point. It was designed by Martin Jennings and was unveiled by Sir John’s daughter (and NPS member) Candida Lycett-Green, who described it as “inspired”. Also present at the ceremony was actor Julian Glover, who played Betjeman in a newly-commissioned play All Our Hellos & Goodbyes, staged before invited audiences in the German Gymnasium opposite St Pancras station in late June.
The Channel 4 play on 26 November was an adaptation of Jonathan Trigell’s disturbing novel Boy A and told the story of two young men who kill a girl their own age, spend time in a young offenders’ institution (where one of them is killed by other inmates) before emerging with a new identity. Some of the play’s scenes were shot on BLACKPOOL NORTH pier.
Some of the BBC1 Christmas logos featured animated scenes of BLACKPOOL’s Golden Mile including the piers.
The Christmas edition of The Economist magazine featured an article by Ann Wroe entitled The Poignancy of Piers.
Three Men in Another Boat, shown on BBC2 on New Year’s Day, saw Rory McGrath and Dara O’Brian join Griff Rhys Jones in his 1950s wooden yacht to sail from Tower Bridge to Cowes (IOW), stopping off on the way at BRIGHTON Marina, where they enjoyed a visit to PALACE pier, sampling the rides and attractions.
Amanda Holden presented a potted history of TV talent shows, When Britain First Had Talent, from a windswept BLACKPOOL NORTH pier on ITV1 on 5 January.
(Thanks to Michael Bevis, David Cheshire, Daphne Lewis, Tim Mickleburgh, Nick Skinner and Ken Wisdom for their contributions)