Is housing plan now Birnbeck Pier’s only hope?

Birnbeck Pier. Photo by Jeremy Long.

Birnbeck Pier. Photo by Jeremy Long. - Credit: Jeremy Long \ JCL Photography

The owners of Weston-super-Mare’s derelict Birnbeck Pier have confirmed fresh plans to develop the nearby area – and warned housing is the only way to secure enough money to rescue the pier.

CNM Estates owns the landmark, which is in a perilous state after years of neglect, but community group the Birnbeck Regeneration Trust has been fundraising to restore the pier and island as a tourist attraction.

However, CNM chairman Wahid Samady this week poured cold water on the Trust’s prospects of an independent rescue mission, saying he believes its ‘relatively modest’ fundraising will not be enough to save the pier – and his latest housing bid is essential to its survival.

His comments come in the wake of a meeting with Trust representatives on February 5, where a new architectural design brief was agreed. The latest plan involves developing land near to the pier, which Mr Samady says can help fund pier restoration and maintenance.

Mr Samady told the Mercury: “The point which came out of the meeting was that the costs which are necessary to preserve it (the pier) will be in the tens of millions.

“With that in mind – and with recent discussions between the Trust and their consultants, on top of what may be possible from public sources – there needs to be matched funding from other sources.

“There is the Trust raising money by itself – and I commend its supporters – but the monies are relatively modest. They are keeping the Birnbeck scheme running but these monies, on their own, will not be sufficient.

“We want to get it (the pier) repaired and put it to use, but development may be possible on the land side.”

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A series of Birnbeck owners have seen ambitious development ideas refused or abandoned in recent years.

However, North Somerset Council recently earmarked the pier as a site for 50 new homes in its recent ruling on the district’s housing allocation, which could open the door to a fresh application.

CNM’s new design brief has been issued to a London-based firm of architects, and its vision is expected to be fed back to CNM and the Trust later this month, before being shared with the council, Historic England and the public.

One of the ideas mooted is to develop car parking facilities near the pier and potentially change the layout of Birkett Road.

Mr Samady said: “If we had attractions on the pier we will have to sort out where people will park, so we have to take a holistic view.

“The architect has been briefed on what could generate revenue and allow for parking – we have given the architect a wide-ranging brief.”

A spokesman for the trust said that although its aim is to still ensure the historic heritage of Birnbeck is preserved, development of the landside area would provide an ‘essential maintenance fund’ to protect the pier in the future.

The spokesman said: “Some of the designs discussed encompassed not only the renovation of the pier complex as a landmark attraction, but also considered further developing the complete Birnbeck site.

“The reasoning for this is so that a considerable sum of money could be donated from the development towards the fundraising efforts for the project – and then onwards throughout its lifespan – to provide an essential future maintenance fund for the pier.”