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This Britain

End of the piers? Seaside structures plagued by high costs and neglect


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 by the trade association Co-operatives UK.

She believes that 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 that 57 seaside piers are under threat, not only from corrosive sea water but also from the owners who fail to make provisions for the high maintenance costs and insurance bills.

These are estimated to reach 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.

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.”