Group keen to buy Birnbeck
PUBLISHED: 09:39 27 January 2015 | UPDATED: 11:09 27 January 2015
CAMPAIGNERS want to buy Weston's Birnbeck Pier and island and restore it to ensure it is open to the public - and the council's deputy leader says he will ask the authority to consider forcing through the sale, if the group can provide a viable business case.
The Let’s Save Birnbeck Pier group has set up a new committee and secured support from the Friends Of The Old Pier Society (FOPS), North Somerset Council, National Piers Society, MP John Penrose and businessman Richard Nightingale, among others.
Chairman Ron Lock said: “We aren’t so keen to work with (current owner) Wahid Samady because the cost of the apartments he has in mind (for the island) are about £1-4million, so they are not going to want the public on there.
“We want it to be a pier for Weston, its tourists and the next generation, not the select few who can afford it.
“We’re all guilty of doing nothing over the past 20 years. I think the last few stormy nights have made people realise it may not last.”
Let’s Save Birnbeck Pier society has met with FOPS’ chairman Charles McCann and provisionally agreed to merge the two groups under the name Birnbeck Regeneration Trust. Then it would seek charitable status for its mammoth fundraising drive.
CNM Estates owns the pier and its chairman Mr Samady told the Mercury in September he was committed to restoring the site although conceded he would be ‘willing to step aside’, if a ‘credible alternative’ was found.
Should the society’s planned offer be refused, then it has asked North Somerset Council to issue a compulsory purchase order (CPO) to put the site in public ownership. A similar strategy was successfully carried out in Hastings in 2012 because its owners did not do enough to repair its pier after a fire.
Deputy council leader Elfan Ap Rees met the group on Friday night and said the authority will do all it can to help.
He added: “I have personally offered to use my own fundraising and Heritage Lottery Funding know-how to help – just as I recently offered support to the (Tropicana redevelopment group) Trop Trust. In both cases a sensible and viable business case is needed.
“In the case of the pier, even after restoration, annual maintenance costs are likely to run at £100,000 per annum and volunteers will be essential to reduce overheads, as it seems unlikely you could produce enough income to pay employees to run the pier. Obtaining a CPO is a long and difficult road as there are a number of legal and procedural hurdles you have to clear, which take months to get past and at considerable expense to the taxpayer.
“However, if there was a substantial trust in place, with a sensible business plan and kick-start money in the bank that the pier could immediately be transferred to, then I’d certainly recommend to the council we investigate a CPO closely. It would be much better though if a suitable arrangement could be agreed between the trust and the pier owner.
“I believe the pier is salvageable – maybe not the now collapsing jetty – but the main trusses need urgent temporary repairs pending longer term restoration.
“Whether the new owner is prepared to invest in this is a matter for him.”
Mr Lock said the society is working on a business plan to formalise its approach to CNM Estates and funding groups.
He said: “We have been told we would need to raise about £4million and lottery funding would cover the rest.
“We think it will take at least two to three years to get the funding.”
Mr Nightingale, who has agreed to help put a business plan together, said: “Birnbeck Pier is a very important part of the town’s heritage.
“These issues though become very complicated especially when the property involved is in the hands of a private developer.
“I have been so impressed with the enthusiasm and dedication of the group and I firmly believe that residents sticking together can place this important issue at the top of the agenda.”