End of the pier: historic structure 'cannot be saved'

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The Independent Online

English Heritage sounded the death knell for Brighton's decrepit West Pier yesterday when it recommended public money should not be wasted on restoring the structure.

English Heritage sounded the death knell for Brighton's decrepit West Pier yesterday when it recommended public money should not be wasted on restoring the structure.

While rebuilding of the Victorian pier might be technically possible, the heritage body said that a reconstructed pier would no longer possess "historic credibility"and it would be "irresponsible" to support any further bid for public money to restore the structure - one of only two Grade-I listed piers in Britain.

Simon Thurley, English Heritage's chief executive, said: "This is a terribly disappointing outcome, but common sense has to prevail when historic structures are so badly damaged that they cannot realistically be saved.

"The most important thing now is that the marvellous artefacts that have been salvaged from the pier over the years are made accessible and that [the architect] Eugenius Birch's masterpiece can be commemorated properly."

Campaigners have been working for years to redevelop the pier, which was once a famous backdrop to films such as Oh! What a Lovely War, but fell into decline after the Second World War and closed in the 1970s owing to safety worries.

After many unsuccessful schemes, the council gave permission for a restoration supported by English Heritage in 2003, only for the pier to suffer the first of two disastrous fires within days.

This did not stop restoration plans, but they were dealt a major blow in January when the Heritage Lottery Fund refused an application for £19m towards the £40m costs. When further damage was caused by the storms that rocked Britain in June, English Heritage called for a further report on the scheme's viability before reaching yesterday's conclusion.

Andrew Brown, English Heritage's South-east regional director, said that he had once had high hopes that the pier could have been restored to its original elegance.

But he said: "Tragically, the storm destroyed the section of the structure where the character of Birch's pier was most apparent - it was the lightest and most graceful part of the design.

"Although it remains technically possible to rebuild the pier accurately using the drawings and photographs that have been collected over the years it would not now be the real West Pier but largely a reproduction. It would be irresponsible for English Heritage to support any further bid for public money for the pier when the heritage merit of the project is no longer clear."

The decision was greeted with anger and dismay by the West Pier Trust, which has campaigned for the restoration. Rachel Clark, its general manager, said that English Heritage's decision not to back restoration meant that hopes of success were now very small. "We won't give up and we're certainly not going to bow out quietly. But there's much less hope than there was even a few days ago. It's extremely bad news," she said.

The trust was particularly shocked as its own engineer's report into the storm damage had concluded that it did not materially change the situation. "English Heritage are using the June damage as just an excuse," she said.

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