Weston reacts to ‘exciting’ rescue plan for much-loved pier

John Crockford-Hawley.

John Crockford-Hawley. - Credit: Archant

Birnbeck Pier could be restored to its former glory and opened to the public, thanks to a new deal with the RNLI to secure the landmark’s future.

Pier View. Birnbeck Regeneration Trust opening part of coastal path due to £12k grant. Picture: M

Pier View. Birnbeck Regeneration Trust opening part of coastal path due to £12k grant. Picture: MARK ATHERTON - Credit: Archant

The RNLI has agreed to purchase the pier from CNM Estates, subject to North Somerset Council agreeing to pass a compulsory purchase order (CPO) – which enables public bodies to obtain land or property without the consent of the owner.

The authority served a repairs notice to CNM in September after it had ‘exhausted all other options’ to encourage the owner to improve the condition of the crumbling pier.

MORE: RNLI could moved back onto pier.

CNM failed to produce any evidence of intention to conduct work at the site, which allowed a CPO to be explored.

North Somerset councillor, Robert Payne, who is a Birnbeck Regeneration Trust member, said: “This is fantastic news for Weston.

“Birnbeck is probably the number one heritage asset of the town, and of huge importance to many local people. It has been extremely frustrating that for decades the council did nothing while a series of private owners failed to maintain the structures, allowing it to fall into disrepair and dereliction.

“The new council elected last year is committed to protecting heritage and bringing about improvements to our area, and I have been delighted with the proactive approach and hard work over the past year, in association with serious partners such as the RNLI and Historic England, to reach a solution for this site.

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“It is clear that the pier has no commercial viability, and so as long as it was in private hands, it had no future. So for a well-respected national charity to take charge of it is an ideal solution.

“This not only secures a real future for Birnbeck, including bringing back public access to the pier, but it also provides a commitment to life-saving at sea, essential for our coastal community. And all this can be done at no cost to the council or to local council tax payers, which is a real result for local people.”

The RNLI says Birnbeck Island offers ‘the best solution’ for the safe and most effective launch and recovery for the volunteer lifeboat crew.

The charity was based on Birnbeck Island until 2014, when crews had to leave due to concerns over the safety of the structure.

Lifeboat operations manager Mike Buckland said: “We’re very excited. There’s clearly a lot of work still to do and a long way to go but it’s the best opportunity we’ve had in decades.

“It will be open to the public as well. The public are the people who support everything we do and without them we simply couldn’t operate.”

The Birnbeck Regeneration Trust, which has long campaigned for a revival of the area, is ‘extremely excited’ the RNLI has stepped in to save the pier.

Its spokesman said: “All have been working hard to ensure there is a viable future for the grade-II structure which would allow all to enjoy the beauty of the site and this is the best outcome anyone could have imagined.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the RNLI, Historic England and North Somerset Council to develop an essential lifesaving operations centre and what will become a go to heritage destination for the South West and beyond once the CPO action is completed.

“Please keep watching as the CPO progresses. While the RNLI will raise the necessary funds to rebuild the bridge structure and re-establish the lifeboat station.

“The hard work now starts to raise the money required to regenerate and start the rebirth of the remainder of the island and landward end of the pier, which will aid the economic recovery of Weston and the surrounding areas.

“Thank you for all your support please keep with us, without the amazing community support we could have never got to this point.”

Weston Civic Society has also welcomed the news of the RNLI’s rescue plan for the landmark.

The civic society and Weston Trust were involved over a number of years, along with the RNLI, the council and others, with the 2004 regeneration partnership in trying to find a way forward for the pier.

David Agassiz, civic society chairman, said: “It is especially pleasing the RNLI are the ones hoping to bring the pier back into use as a permanent base for their most-important work.”

“We were pleased at first to learn that North Somerset Council had the courage to consider a CPO.”

Weston’s MP John Penrose thanked the Birnbeck Regeneration Trust, local historians and community groups for their ‘huge efforts’ to restore the pier.

He said: “This is a big, community victory and I’d like to thank everybody who has contributed over many years. The future finally looks bright, Birnbeck Pier should be a local landmark and a jewel in Weston’s crown, not a rotting ruin.”