FEATURE: What are the next steps for Weston’s Birnbeck Pier?

PUBLISHED: 15:55 18 February 2020 | UPDATED: 16:09 18 February 2020

Views of the buildings on Birnbeck Pier.    

Picture: ELEANOR YOUNG

Views of the buildings on Birnbeck Pier. Picture: ELEANOR YOUNG

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Weston’s Birnbeck Pier could have a new owner.

Views of the buildings on Birnbeck Pier.    

Picture: ELEANOR YOUNGViews of the buildings on Birnbeck Pier. Picture: ELEANOR YOUNG

North Somerset Council could buy Birnbeck Pier after its executive agreed to explore the potential of a compulsory purchase order at its meeting on February 5.

Officers will prepare for making the order for 'the pier and the associated land holding' to its private owner, CNM Estates, but the purchase could take up to two years.

The authority will take steps with interested parties 'to seek to acquire the necessary interests in land by agreement, including negotiation of headline terms, undertakings, transfers and any new rights required'.

Views of the buildings on Birnbeck Pier.    

Picture: ELEANOR YOUNGViews of the buildings on Birnbeck Pier. Picture: ELEANOR YOUNG

What did councillors say?

Speaking at the meeting, councillor Mark Canniford said: "This can has been kicked down the road for 30 years plus.

"We're leaving no doubt to the owner that something is now going to happen.

"It will take up to two years to do a compulsory purchase. We have time to get this right,we've campaigned for long enough to get something done. It's time this moved forward."

Views of the buildings on Birnbeck Pier.    

Picture: ELEANOR YOUNGViews of the buildings on Birnbeck Pier. Picture: ELEANOR YOUNG

Cllr John Ley-Morgan had a different view about the pier, which has been closed to the public since 1994 for safety reasons.

He said: "It's dangerous. A notable builder told me the supports are rusty beyond repair.

"The only solution is its total demolition. Perhaps a company would do it for its scrap value.

"The pier has always been in private ownership; white knights come in to save it but on the premise they will repair it in exchange for planning permission to build on the shore. The council has always refused to consider such a thing."

Views of the buildings on Birnbeck Pier.    

Picture: ELEANOR YOUNGViews of the buildings on Birnbeck Pier. Picture: ELEANOR YOUNG

What did CNM Estates do?

A formal repairs notice was submitted by the council to CNM on September 9, advising the proprietor that repair work must take place.

Since then, no substantive proposal for repairs or any evidence of action being taken was received by the council.

North Somerset Council ssued CNM Estates with a repairs notice to improve Birnbeck Pier in September. Picture: Henry WoodsfordNorth Somerset Council ssued CNM Estates with a repairs notice to improve Birnbeck Pier in September. Picture: Henry Woodsford

The Mercury submitted a freedom of information request to the council in January asking for copies of correspondence between the authority, Historic England and CNM Estates about the pier from August to November.

In August, the council emailed Mr Samady saying it and Historic England were 'increasingly concerned about the deteriorating condition of the pier and its associated structures'.

After trying to contact CNM by post and email, the council had no reply and issued a second letter informing the company of the repairs order.

Mr Samady was told in November, two months after he had been served a repairs notice, that, as the council had 'not received any firm proposals', it would proceed with legal action.

The derelict main building at Birnbeck Island. Picture: Henry WoodsfordThe derelict main building at Birnbeck Island. Picture: Henry Woodsford

Mr Samady told the Mercury he had known about the possibility of a compulsory purchase order for 'several months'.

He said: "North Somerset Council informed CNM Estates some months ago regarding the possibility of a compulsory purchase of the Birnbeck Pier.

"CNM responded through our lawyer, and dialogue is continuing with key stakeholders to find a workable solution for Birnbeck Pier and the north end of the town."

Mercury chief reporter Henry Woodsford and historian John Crockford-Hawley on Birnbeck Pier.      Picture: ELEANOR YOUNGMercury chief reporter Henry Woodsford and historian John Crockford-Hawley on Birnbeck Pier. Picture: ELEANOR YOUNG

What does the future hold?

The Birnbeck Regeneration Trust has worked closely with the council in setting up the purchase order.

Historic England has allocated a grant to the council of £127,000 to investigate options and seek potential partners.

Birnbeck Pier.    

Picture: MARK ATHERTONBirnbeck Pier. Picture: MARK ATHERTON

The council wants partners to come forward and work towards a long-term solution.

It also agreed to engage with any party with an interest in Birnbeck Pier with a view to securing agreement for its preservation.

A trust spokesman said: "We are encouraged by the council's statement and look forward to a better future for our beloved pier.

"It is very positive, and we are all encouraged this is moving in the right direction to ensure a sustainable future.

The derelict main building at Birnbeck Island. Picture: Henry WoodsfordThe derelict main building at Birnbeck Island. Picture: Henry Woodsford

"We would like thank the councillors who took the time to understand the complexities in saving this iconic part of Weston's heritage."

The compulsory purchase order will be submitted to the Secretary of State for confirmation.

The Secretary of State will have to be satisfied there is a compelling case in the public interest generally for the compulsory purchase to proceed.

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