Community ownership call to turn tide for neglected seaside piers

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Seaside piers across Britain are under threat from rising maintenance costs and rocketing insurance bills, according to new research.

Too many piers are trapped in a cycle of neglectful ownership with only periodic attempts at conservation, said Jess Steele, the author of the People’s Piers report published by the trade association Co-operatives UK.

She believes a new option of taking piers into community ownership, which is being pioneered for Hastings Pier, could be the answer to the problem.

The report claims seaside piers are under threat, not only from corrosive sea water but from owners who fail to make provisions for the high maintenance costs and insurance bills, estimated at around £33m over the next five years.

The study examines the ownership, usage and future of Britain’s piers and highlights the crisis, offering a blueprint for their future revival as co-operatively owned assets for the benefit of the community.

Seaside piers remain as popular as ever, with six million people a year visiting them, according to the research.

Hastings Pier, which was ravaged by fire in October 2010, has been returned to local ownership ahead of a £14m project to revive the battered Victorian structure.

Most of the money has been raised by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), with help from the Coastal Communities Fund, the Community Assets Fund, Hastings Borough Council and East Sussex County Council.

Work will start this month on the Grade II-listed pier, which was almost destroyed in an arson attack three years ago following years of neglect. It will be completed by spring 2015, turning it into the “People’s Pier”, officials said.

At present 56 per cent of piers are privately owned, with 39 per cent in local authority hands and 5 per cent in community ownership, the report said.

It urges a fast-track compulsory transfer process to rescue important community and heritage assets and a presumption in favour of local communities taking ownership.

Ms Steele said: “More people live by the seaside than live in Wales and 10 per cent of our national heritage assets are within a mile of the sea.”