Developer reveals plans for Birnbeck Pier
PUBLISHED: 10:04 04 November 2013 | UPDATED: 17:48 04 November 2013
LUXURY villas on Birnbeck Island and stunning seafront flats overlooking the Severn Estuary could stop 'the old lady falling into the sea', according to its would-be developer.
Wahid Samady, chairman of CNM Estates, has revealed his grand plan to save the derelict pier involving new homes, the RNLI station, a heritage centre together with seaside kiosks.
His vision includes up to 20 villas on Birnbeck Island, the Mercury can exclusively reveal.
About 170 flats would be built across three projecting blocks, called the Fingers, lifted above the shoreline on pillars.
The blocks extend from the mainland with four to six floors of apartments and car parking underneath.
The development would generate the estimated £10million needed to refurbish the pier, but could be scaled down if lottery funding is granted.
An application for Heritage Lottery funding could take about 18 months to complete, but following constructive talks in the summer Mr Samady believes around £3million may be granted.
However, the rest of the funding must be in place, including a future maintenance fund providing around £150,000 per year.
Mr Samady said: “The pier has been sadly neglected for over 20 years and I am not sure how many more winters it can survive.
“We felt it was essential to make plans for a development which could cover all the costs, with or without lottery funds.
“Given the current state of the pier, the complexity of the process and the timescale involved I don’t think we can afford to lose any more time.”
Concerns over the impact on views from the Prince Consort Gardens were carefully taken into consideration by the architects as one of six design criteria.
Mr Samady said: “Most of the roofline will be below road and cliff level to the north of the gardens, or project only slightly above it.
“It will still be possible to look straight out over the Fingers and the key westerly views from Prince Consort Gardens will be unaffected.”
Other design criteria include providing ‘a unique island experience which everyone can enjoy’ plus creating an economically viable and deliverable scheme.
Mr Samady bought the former Royal Pier Hotel five years ago and plans to build an elegant art deco style hotel on the site, which would now be incorporated to complete his seafront project.
He said: “I am not one of those people who just give up. I am committed to working with local people and the council to find a solution that can save the pier and enhance both the shoreline and the town.
“This is certainly a complex project but I want to make every effort to find a solution.
“I am sure it can be done, but there is a minimum financial requirement to save the pier and this would drive the development proposal.
“I can’t believe that anybody really would want to see the old lady fall into the sea.”
The future of the RNLI in Weston has also been considered.
Mr Samady told the Mercury the charity receives its site rent free and recently re-signed its lease fully aware it would need some emergency repairs to the pier walkway.
He added: “Although the island is its best location operationally, the RNLI has indicated that it is making alternative plans.
“It, like us, wants to find a solution that keeps it on the pier, but if it deteriorates further then the RNLI may not be able to access it.”
The plans have been shared with a small group of North Somerset councillors and officers.
However, CNM Estates has been told by planning officers its scheme is not acceptable at present.
Since the proposals were first presented in August 2012, no suggestions have been forthcoming from the council as to what would be acceptable and financially deliverable.
Mr Samady said: “It’s easy to say what may be wrong with our proposal, but we want to hear what the deliverable alternative is.
“It’s simply not acceptable to suggest the scheme should be substantially reduced and yet provide the £10million needed to refurbish the pier.”
The current plan features 80 per cent of the quantity of the previous Urban Splash proposal, which was worked up in conjunction with the council, and requires less vehicle and servicing access to the island by building the villas rather than a hotel.
Mr Samady said: “We want to create something fantastic and preserve the majority of the heritage features, including the clock tower and the pier master’s cottage.
“We may not yet have found the perfect solution, but that is where local people, the council and other agencies come in.
“We want to hear a wide range of comments and alternative ideas and work with local people to get this right.
“If it were easy, someone would have done it years ago. We don’t want to give up on finding a solution and I am sure the town, the RNLI and the council don’t want that either.”
He said if people want a smaller development then he will welcome ideas on how to plug the financial gap.
A heritage and environment centre is also planned for the island and Mr Samady said Natural England backs the idea.
It has been designed to enable scientific monitoring to be carried out and school parties to visit and learn about the environment, climate and marine life.
The Environment Agency has been consulted and has given a positive initial reaction. Mr Samady believes the pier’s refurbishment will extend the seaside to the north of the town, by offering areas for fishing, exploring rock pools and afternoon tea around the esplanade area and former Royal Pier Hotel site.
He added: “Historically piers have been for amusement parks and fish and chips but we already have that in Weston.
“We are using imagination and looking to provide a wow factor. I really believe this would substantially improve Weston and bring back more of its former glory.”
A copy of the presentation to the council is available via www.cnmestates.com/birnbeck - any alternative suggestions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org