What next for Birnbeck Pier? Council ‘route map’ shows possible steps for restoring derelict structure
PUBLISHED: 12:30 22 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:58 29 September 2017
New steps which could potentially help to restore Weston-super-Mare’s Birnbeck Pier can be exclusively revealed this week, after the future of the derelict structure was plunged into fresh uncertainty.
‘Time is running out’ for the pier, which has been in a state of decay for decades, but as it has remained in private ownership attempts to restore it have remained a dream.
Last week, the Mercury revealed how pier owner, CNM Estates, has spent £4million on the nearby Royal Pier Hotel site, and its bank is now trying to recoup loans of £2million.
That has seen property firm CPRE called in as receivers for the hotel site, but Birnbeck Pier is owned under a separate firm under the CNM Estates banner.
CNM chairman Wahid Samady told the Mercury CPRE could look at both sites when it makes a decision about the hotel land – be that to sell it or apply for planning permission for development.
The Mercury has obtained a document through a freedom of information request which shows how North Somerset Council and interested heritage bodies could yet find a way forward for the pier.
The council paper is described as a ‘possible route map’ for Birnbeck and options include ordering CNM to carry out urgent repair works.
But there are fears if CNM did not carry out the work, the council would be forced to step in and would be left footing the bill.
This has already happened with the Royal Pier Hotel, which the council demolished for £103,000 after a fire – but CNM Estates is yet to pay the money back. The council is now in talks with CPRE about recouping this money.
The possibility of a compulsory purchase order (CPO) for Birnbeck has long been cited as one way for the council to take control, but the document says: “The council need not and should not move forward with the serving of a CPO until there is certainty that a viable and stable solution for Birnbeck Pier.
“Given the significant role [a] third party would play in arriving at an end solution there may well be a cost in terms of officer time when developing its capacity.”
The council says the Birnbeck Regeneration Trust (BRT), which wants to restore the pier, could be this viable third party.
Ward councillor John Crockford-Hawley said: “Though believing compulsory purchase may well be the only realistic way to move forward, I have been reluctant to press the issue in public because it could raise the current owner’s valuation hopes.
“I would like to see the RNLI become a major player in the pier’s future (they still own parts), but given the huge financial commitment which would be necessary to save Birnbeck there’s an urgent need for much greater hard-headed professionalism than has been seen thus far.”
Cllr Crockford-Hawley said the pier’s buildings are ‘beyond redemption’ but it is important to save the bridge and find ways to generate money from Birnbeck.
He added: “Time is running out for what is bound to be a multi-million pound project. Now is the time for serious discussion with serious players. But nothing will change until CNM is little more than a distant memory.”
The BRT is applying for heritage funding to help it to take the huge project forward. It has also met RNLI representatives to try to involve the charity in its plans.
The RNLI left Birnbeck in 2013 due to safety concerns, and is yet to build a new Weston lifeboat station.
Weston RNLI spokesman Glyn Hayes said: “We believe it will take a long time to repair the pier. We cannot wait until that should happen because it’s many years off, even if everything went according to plan.”