PM to announce £2m boost for Eastbourne Pier after devastating fire

Cameron and Osborne will make the funding announcement today

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The Independent Online

Eastbourne is set to get a £2 million boost following a fire that left a building on the town's pier a charred shell, Downing Street has said.

Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne will make the funding announcement today, two days after up to 80 firefighters tackled the blaze on the 144-year-old, Grade-II listed structure.

No-one was left trapped in the burning dome-shaped arcade section as the pier was evacuated quickly at around 3pm on Wednesday, and Sussex Police have said the fire is not believed to be suspicious.

Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne are also announcing an extra £3 million for the Government's Coastal Communities Fund to encourage growth and create jobs in coastal towns.

The Prime Minister said he knows the fire at Eastbourne Pier will have "hit the town hard", and pledged his support for local businesses.

"The Government is absolutely committed to supporting coastal towns, and through our long-term economic plan we are creating jobs and boosting tourism. Schemes like our Coastal Communities Fund are helping them to reach their full potential.

Video: Eastbourne Pier was devastated by a fire earlier this week

"I know that the loss of one of Eastbourne's most prominent and well-loved landmarks will have hit the town hard and I am determined to do all I can to help local businesses recover," he said.

The fire has come at a particularly bad time for Eastbourne - at the height of its all-important summer tourist season.

In the next fortnight, the resort hosts its biggest summer tourist event, the annual Airbourne air show, which draws tens of thousands of visitors.

In a statement Downing Street said: "Up to £2million to help Eastbourne's tourism industry recover from the loss of their pier earlier this week will be announced today by the Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne."

Mr Osborne said: "Eastbourne Pier is a much-loved local attraction and this fire is devastating news. I am therefore delighted to be able to provide financial support so we can minimise the effect on business and tourism.

"We will work with Eastbourne as a matter of urgency to ensure that the funding is provided without delay so people can start enjoying the pier again."

The announcement of extra funding comes as Coastal Communities Minister Penny Mordaunt named 10 coastal towns which will receive £8.5 million from the fund in the latest round of applications.

The money will be used to boost tourism, regenerate historic sites and provide new flood defences, Downing Street said.

Meanwhile, hope emerged that the fire-hit pier could reopen again next year as two-thirds of it was untouched by flames, the local MP said.

After talks with East Sussex's chief fire officer, Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd said two-thirds of it remained untouched by fire and the structure appeared "pretty sound".

The Liberal Democrat MP called on the community to rally round the pier's stricken traders amid fears that some had no insurance.

Speaking outside the fire-ravaged attraction, Mr Lloyd said: "There is real damage but I'm confident that it can be repaired.

"It's still very much still standing, and I'm very hopeful and confident that it will be reopening next year and be back in business."

The extent of the damage could not be compared with neighbouring piers in Brighton or Hastings, which both suffered more significant blazes in recent times, he said.

As firefighters scaled down operations, East Sussex Fire and Rescue said the cause was "unexplained" and the investigation was due to take "a number of days".

David Tutt, Eastbourne Borough Council's leader, said he understood that the fire could have been started by an electrical fault.

"Our understanding is the fire appears to have started in wall panelling, which would lead you to believe it was electrical," he said.

"Obviously when the fire investigators can complete their work we'll know for sure.

"We are offering whatever help we can to the owners if there are weddings booked and so on to find new locations so nobody is disappointed."

Helen Brook and Stuart Pearce, who were due to get married on the pier in three weeks' time, have seen their dream dashed.

The couple were to have wed on a section of the Victorian structure which escaped the flames. Ms Brook told ITV Meridian: "Once we heard that people were safe and had been evacuated, it then hit home what it meant for us.

"Since yesterday, it has been a very emotional couple of days. We are just shell-shocked really."

Sussex Police asked people to submit pictures or video footage that they shot of the pier going up in flames as investigators pieced together the cause of the blaze.

East Sussex has been cursed by the devastation of some of its beloved piers in recent times.

In 2003 the 148-year-old West Pier in Brighton was reduced to a mangled mass of metal by two major blazes within two months.

In Hastings, the Grade II-listed pier was almost destroyed in a fire in 2010 following years of neglect by its then-Panama-registered owner.

Efforts are now well under way to restore Hastings Pier after more than £13 million was secured mainly though the Heritage Lottery Fund.