Pier trust is launched on a wave of goodwill

PICTURE BY MAKAELA PAPWORTH
PICTURE BY MAKAELA PAPWORTH

SUPPORTERS of Bognor Regis Pier have formally launched their bid to create a bright future for the landmark.

About 200 people attended Sunday’s launch of the new trust (September 1), which will lead attempts to get funding for the historic structure.

The trust hopes to own the pier, with the support of current owner John Ayers, if it can work with the town council and others to secure the funding needed for the extensive and ongoing maintenance.

Trust chairman and town mayor Paul Wells said: “Sunday’s Caribbean party to launch the trust was a fantastic success. It was better than I expected.

“It was our first event and it was good to see so many people supporting what we want to do.”

The four-and-a-half-hour event on the pier’s top deck featured a steel band, limbo dancer and a hog roast.

The trust has resulted from the Friends of Bognor Regis Pier which was formed earlier this year to galvanise the general wish to see the pier improved.

The first step of the trust will be to meet with Bognor Regis Town Council next Tuesday (September 10) to discuss setting up a board of representatives to compile an expression of interest to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

This will state the desire to seek up to £5m for work on the pier and the Picturedrome cinema, which is owned by the council.

If the fund backs the idea, it will appoint an officer to oversee the board’s efforts and give a small grant to enable initial proposals to be produced.

Approval of these plans will need to be followed by a more detailed bid for cash before any grant is awarded.

Cllr Wells said: “I would hope the expression of interest will be submitted by the end of this month.

“It will outline what we intend to achieve with the pier.

“If that is successful, we will submit a detailed set of proposals later on.

“It is early days at the moment, and it will take several years to achieve our goals. We don’t want people thinking this is going to be quick but we have to start somewhere.

“Our initial goal is to secure the pier in its current length and build a small end to it. Our second phase will be to extend the pier.”

The trust and friends have coincidentally caught the national mood in favour of communities taking control of their piers.

Co-operatives UK has said Britain’s 57 piers are in crisis because of the soaring costs of running them.

Its recent report highlights the situation and offers a blueprint for their future revival as co-operatively-owned assets for the benefit of their local areas.

The example of Hastings is used, and Bognor’s pier fans have already met those involved with that campaign.

Anthony Wills, of the National Piers Society, was at the trust’s launch.

The Prince’s Foundation could also get involved in the work to restore the pier.

Backing for new trust

WIDESPREAD backing has been given to the new trust for Bognor Regis Pier.

Its vice-chairman Nick Stuart-Nicolson said: “We had nothing but good wishes from people at the launch.

“We’re grateful to all the sponsors, both large and small companies, who helped to make the event such a success. It’s all very encouraging and bodes well for the future.

“This shows the amount of support there is surrounding the pier. We can only benefit from this backing and we hope it will continue as we go through the process to secure the future of the pier for our town.”

Bognor Regis Town Council’s Glenna Frost said: “The council wants to set up a board and work with the pier trust.

“We want to move forward and put in this expression of interest. It’s all looking very positive.”

Mr Ayers has owned the pier, a grade II-listed building from 1865, since 1996 and has maintained the seaward structure. He has agreed to sell it to the trust for a nominal sum.

He is the latest in a series of private owners of the pier, which was built by the private Bognor Promenade Company for £5,000.

It has only been in public hands for 32 years – between 1876 and 1908 – when the Urban Board took it on.

The structure has suffered badly from the effects of the sea. Storm damage in 1964 and 1965 caused the pavilion, which had been opened in 1900, to fall into the sea.

A further 60 feet of decking was also removed from the seaward end in 2008 because of safety concerns.

The pier had been weakened in the second world war when it was chopped in two to hamper an invasion from the Germans. The pier was taken over the Royal Navy and became the observation station, HMS St Barbara.

A plaque which commemorates this role has been installed on the front of the pier.

It is remembered each Armed Forces Day in June with a ceremony attended by a naval representative.

Co-operative model seen as way forward

CO-OPERATIVES UK has called for a fast-track compulsory transfer process to rescue important community and heritage assets such as Bognor Regis Pier.

It also wants to see a presumption in favour of local communities taking ownership of them.

A report from the organisation states Britain’s 57 piers are under threat from the corrosive sea water and the need for costly maintenance.

John Penrose MP, the coalition minister for tourism and heritage, said: “For piers across the country, exposed at times to sea and weather, there is a real challenge in meeting the high financial costs of upkeep and insurance.

“I applaud the search for new solutions to our national assets that can harness the passion and commitment that comes with co-operative and community models.”

The report says co-operative ownership of piers offers a blueprint for their future.