HERITAGE experts are to be asked to back Bognor Regis Pier with millions of pounds.
The pier’s trust is set to submit a bid for up to £5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund this summer.
Its members, whose campaign is backed by the Observer, will know the result by December.
Pier consultant Jess Steele, who is helping the trust, said: “It’s a case of rescue or ruin for the pier. I don’t mean the pier is going to become ruined overnight.
“But there comes a point when every private owner finds it difficult to keep up the maintenance.
“This is the perfect chance for us to take action now to ensure a bright future for Bognor pier.
“It’s such a terrible experience for a seaside town to watch its pier fall into disrepair.”
The bid will be made to the lottery fund’s Heritage Enterprise scheme. This is capped at £5m. Successful bidders will be expected to provide at least ten per cent of the funding for their chosen project.
The grant, if it is awarded, will be used by the trust to repair the Victorian pier’s sub-structure, decking and railings. A new building for community use would also be built.
The trust will be seeking the additional funding from other sources such as Coastal Communities Fund.
A second, more ambitious, phase would follow to restore the pier to some of its former length. But that would be subject to further funding.
The enterprise scheme is aimed at helping privately owned buildings which are important to their areas and for which community support exists.
The trust has been working with pier owner John Ayers to take over the pier from him, if its funding succeeds, and lease back to him the buildings he currently uses.
Ms Steele said: “This is an excellent example of the type of project the enterprise scheme is for. I’ve worked with schemes without any of this good partnership developing.
“Since I was last in Bognor last summer, things have shifted and developed far more positively. We have agreed to aim for August 6 to submit the bid.”
But the support of Bognor residents and businesses was crucial to gaining the lottery fund’s support.
“That backing is the most important element for the fund. Without it, they won’t support the project,” she said.
Paul Wells, the trust’s chairman, said: “Taking the pier back into community ownership will be the most significant community effort in Bognor’s history.
“We are really going to move forward in the next few months. This year is going to be the most significant turning point in the pier’s history.”
PIER PICTURES n Page 46