26 Aug 2013

Seaside piers ‘at risk’ from neglect

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside – but without a change in the way seaside piers are maintained, rising costs put them at risk of being damaged, says a new report.

Seaside piers are as popular as ever, attracting six million people a year. But rising maintenance costs and rocketing insurance bills are making it difficult for owners to preserve them properly, says the trade association Co-operatives UK, which is recommending the introduction of community ownership schemes to save the seaside structures.

Too many piers are “trapped in a cycle of neglectful ownership with only periodic attempts at conservation”, said Jess Steele, author of the People’s Piers report.

The report claims that 57 seaside piers are under threat, not only from corrosive sea water but from owners who fail to make provisions for the high maintenance costs and insurance bills, which are estimated at around £33m over the next five years.

The study recommends taking piers into community ownership, which is being pioneered for Hastings Pier (pictured above), saying that this could be the solution.

Hastings People’s Pier

The East Sussex pier was ravaged by fire in October 2010 but was returned to local ownership ahead of a £14m project to revive it.

Ravenclaw, the Panama-registered owner of the pier, failed to do anything to the structure and when they could not be contacted, Hastings Borough Council sought a compulsory purchase order, allowing the pier to be handed over to a specially set up trust: the Hastings Pier Charity.

Now it is in their hands, work will begin to renovate the substructure, refurbish the only pavilion still standing and to build a new visitor centre, a spokesman for the trust said.

More people live by the seaside than live in Wales and 10 per cent of our national heritage assets are within a mile of the sea Jess Steele, author

Work will start this month on the Grade II-listed pier and will be completed by spring 2015, turning it into the “People’s Pier”, officials said. Most of the money has been raised by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), with help from the Coastal Communities Fund, the Community Assets Fund, Hastings Borough Council and East Sussex County Council.

At present 56 per cent of piers are privately owned, with 39 per cent in local authority hands and 5 per cent in community ownership, the report said.

Ms Steele said: “More people live by the seaside than live in Wales and 10 per cent of our national heritage assets are within a mile of the sea.

“We believe that there is a new option, now being pioneered for Hastings Pier, which is to take piers into local community ownership.”

Minister for tourism and heritage until 2012, John Penrose, said: “For piers across the country, exposed at all times to sea and weather, there is a real challenge in meeting the high financial costs of upkeep and insurance. I applaud the search for new solutions.”