James Edwards from Colliers International in Bristol is widely regarded as one of the West’s foremost commentators on planning and heritage issues. Here he argues that the success of Weston’s refurbished Grand pier proves North Somerset’s treasured tourist attractions can still play a key role – given the right level of support from the general public and local councillors
Weston Grand Pier’s remarkable transformation from smoke-blackened pile of scrap metal into a gleaming 21st century entertainment complex creates an achievable template for the future of Britain’s seaside monuments.
That’s the view of heritage specialist James Edwards from Colliers International, who has lent his support to a campaign to save neighbouring Clevedon pier – the last remaining Grade I listed pier in the UK.
The pier is in urgent need of repairs estimated at £800,000 – but James Edwards, widely regarded as one of the West’s foremost commentators on planning and heritage issues, argued the project deserved serious support – and urged the public to take a greater hand in helping in its preservation.
He said: “Few people would have imagined Britain’s many seaside piers would have been capable of surviving – let alone thriving – in the 21st century.
“The transformation of the Grand Pier following the devastating fire in 2008 shows our rich seaside traditions still have some mileage in them yet – and this should be borne in mind when future funding is being discussed.”
Clevedon’s Victorian pier needs to have its legs repainted and managers hope a substantial grant from North Somerset Council would help cover the costs.
A bid for almost £660,000 from the Clevedon Pier Trust is presently being discussed by council executives.
North Somerset Council – which is seeking to shave some £47m from its budget over the next four years – said councillors would need to look carefully at the cost of the repairs required given competing pressures on resources.
James Edwards, who has championed England’s industrial and maritime heritage throughout his career at Colliers International, said positive action regarding future usage – such as the ambitious plans put forward for the neighbouring Grand Pier – were vital in preserving Clevedon pier’s long-term future.
“There is a growing awareness that many buildings often considered outside the realm of conventional and successful re-use will be lost if they are not rescued and re-used in a way that retains their significance – in this case as part of North Somerset’s rich seaside tradition. We have a similar dilemma with Weston-super-Mare’s Birnbeck Pier which has, save for a lifeboat station, been in a ruinous state for many years.
“We have some superb historical structures with many unique architectural features but they will cost significant amounts to maintain and to utilise in such a way as to retain their significance but remain relevant in the present day.
“With public funding for schemes becoming increasingly rare we are seeing voluntary efforts and private funding and philanthropy as the major hopes for saving these buildings for future generations.”
James Edwards said North Somerset’s iconic piers deserved special consideration from both the public at large and the council for the massive role in shaping the area’s unique and distinctive character.
“ We are blessed to have three pleasure piers in North Somerset, and a fourth at Burnham-on-Sea in neighbouring Sedgemoor and these piers have made a massive contribution to a vibrant and diverse waterfront and helped bring the investment and visitors our towns thrived upon. The successful re-launch of Weston’s Grand Pier surely proves these structures can continue to play a key role in a resort’s appeal.
“We would urge policy makers to give proper consideration to the area’s heritage. In the meantime the public can show their support by getting behind the fund-raising campaign to build a £1.6m visitor centre.
“If this scheme proves a success it could help generate the money needed in future to help maintain the pier without having to go cap in hand to the council for further help in the future.
“A stitch in time really does save nine. All properties need maintenance but the pier by virtue of its age and acute exposure to the elements will naturally need a more sustained approach to keep it in top condition.”
To find out more about Colliers please visit: http://www.colliers.com/