Derelict Victorian pier near Bristol bought by council and work to start ‘within weeks’

The Victorian pier is the only one in the country to connect to an island
Birnbeck Pier at Weston-super-Mare is the only British pier which links the mainland to an islandBirnbeck Pier at Weston-super-Mare is the only British pier which links the mainland to an island
Birnbeck Pier at Weston-super-Mare is the only British pier which links the mainland to an island

The historic Birnbeck Pier in Weston-super-Mare has been bought by North Somerset Council.

The £400k purchase was funded by the RNLI who plan to build a new life boat station on the island.

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The council plans to strengthen the “legs” of the pier, restore the buildings, and bring them back into use. The Victorian pier was designed by Eugenius Birch and is the only pier in the country to connect to an island, but has been sat dilapidated and deteriorating since the 1990s.

Owning the pier has been a long-held ambition for North Somerset Council, who were preparing for a public inquiry in August to use compulsory purchase powers to force owners Birnbeck Holdings Ltd to sell them the pier.

But on Thursday July 13, the company agreed to sell, avoiding the need for the legal process.

Council leader Mike Bell said: “It’s taken years of planning, negotiation and sheer determination but we’re thrilled to announce Birnbeck Pier’s future is firmly in our hands and it’s once again looking bright.

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“Thanks to our partners’ unwavering support along with millions in funding, we will now be working as quickly as possible to get on site, prevent any further collapse and renovate the pier and its buildings for future generations to enjoy. We look forward to returning Birnbeck Pier to the people, present and future, of Weston-super-Mare as soon as possible.”

John Crockford-Hawley, North Somerset councillor and heritage champion said: “Today is a key date in Weston-super-Mare’s history – a day when we can finally start work on renovating Birnbeck Pier so residents and visitors alike will be able to enjoy it once again.”

He added: “We are very grateful to our partners and funders, RNLI, Historic England, Birnbeck Regeneration Trust, National Lottery Heritage Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Levelling Up Fund for supporting us reach this momentous day.”

RNLI principal estates manager Duncan Macpherson said: “Securing ownership of the island is a culmination of years of hard work and has been incredibly challenging. The RNLI is grateful for the support and commitment of North Somerset Council in its determination to secure a long-term base for the RNLI’s lifesaving in Weston-super-Mare.

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“This is an exciting and crucial step for the charity and our dedicated team of volunteers at Weston RNLI. 

“After many years of investigation of over 20 alternative sites in and around Weston, Birnbeck Island offers the charity the safest and most effective place for our volunteer crew to launch and recover their lifeboats. It is the only place that our volunteers can safely provide a lifesaving service for the town at all states of tide.”

North Somerset Council was awarded emergency funding of £3.55m by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in October to strengthen the pier’s “legs” and build a new walkway out to the island. A first payment of £234,760 to develop proposals for the reuse and restoration of the pier’s buildings has also been received from the fund.

The council will also use £4.4m of the £20m they received from the government’s Levelling Up Fund to restore the pier.

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Historic England chief executive Duncan Wilson CBE said: “This is wonderful news for Birnbeck Pier. We applaud the Council, the RNLI and many other partners for their hard work in securing its future. It’s great to know that the repair of this beautiful historic structure, one of the most important Victorian piers in the country, can now get under way.”

The council has agreed to lease Birnbeck Holdings Ltd an area on the pier approach for parking, and parking permits in the Madeira if a development on the Royal Pier Hotel site be completed before July 2033.

Mr Bell said: “We agreed to these terms in the interest of Birnbeck Pier which now means the compulsory purchase order public inquiry will not take place. Although our case was very strong, there was always a risk that Birnbeck Holdings Ltd could have challenged the decision in the High Court.

“Time which the pier and the other buildings don’t have.”

The council stated that the first work to tidy the car park and erect fencing will begin within weeks.

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