Blackpool Pier, picture by Elisa Artesero

Blackpool Pier, picture by Elisa Artesero

Seaside piers should be taken into community ownership to stop them from disappearing from our coastlines, according to the People’s Piers report published by the trade association, Co-operatives UK. 

The author of the report, Jess Steele, believes that too many of the privately owned piers are trapped in a cycle of neglectful ownership with only periodic attempts at conservation. Owners who do not make provisions for high maintenance costs and insurance bills are just as much of a threat to the pier as the corrosive seawater. The report suggests 57 piers are under threat and the saviour should come in the form of co-operatively owned assets for the benefit of the community.

Piers are proving popular as ever, with six million people a year visiting them. However, they have endured some unfortunate press in recent years as several of the UK’s most loved piers have been damaged or destroyed by fires. Hastings Pier was nearly destroyed by an arson attack in October 2010, leaving 95% of the structure left burn-out. It has since been returned to local ownership by a compulsory purchase order from the registered owners who failed to do anything to the structure after the fire.

The pier is now owned by the Hastings Pier Charity ahead of a £14 million project to revive the Victorian structure. The majority of the money has been raised by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), with help from Hastings Borough and East Sussex County Councils, the Coastal Communities Fund, and the Community Assets Fund. Restoration on the Grade II-listed pier will start this month to be completed in spring 2015, transforming it into the “People’s Pier”, according to officials.

Presently, 56% of piers are privately owned, 39% by the local authority and 5% in community ownership. The report calls for a fast-track compulsory transfer process in order to save these important community and heritage assets. It suggests local communities to take ownership.

“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,” said Ms. Steele.

“Seaside piers make us smile. But too many piers are trapped in a cycle of neglectful ownership with only periodic attempts at conservation. We believe that there is a new option, now being pioneered for Hastings Pier, which is to take piers into local community ownership.”

John Penrose, Coalition Minister for Tourism and Heritage until 2012, said: “For piers across the country, exposed at all 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.”