Wanted: a loving owner with deep pockets to buy pier

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The Independent Online

For anyone with £2.8m to spare and a yearning for uninterrupted views of the grey North Sea, it is the perfect investment - a 300ft pier, complete with ghost.

For anyone with £2.8m to spare and a yearning for uninterrupted views of the grey North Sea, it is the perfect investment - a 300ft pier, complete with ghost.

The owners of the Claremont Pier in Lowestoft, which has survived attacks by stormy seas and the British Army in its 102 years, announced yesterday that they were putting it up for sale to concentrate on less demanding projects.

The Claremont began life in 1903 as a landing stage for steamers bringing day-trippers from central London to resorts along the Essex and Suffolk coasts, from Southend to Great Yarmouth. But the glory days of the Edwardian era have long passed for the pier, one of Britain's 55 surviving seaside piers built to cater for the boom in holidaymakers at the turn of the 20th century.

The steamer service ended in 1939 when Army demolition experts were brought in to destroy its middle section to prevent Nazi forces invading via the amusement arcade.

Most of the Claremont is now closed because of safety concerns and it will take a further £1.5m on top of the £2.8m price tag to restore the pier to its original specifications. The structure achieves its current £1m annual turnover from a range of businesses at its shore end, including a nightclub, an amusement arcade and a fish restaurant.

David Scott, the Lowestoft architect whose family have owned the pier for 35 years after his grandfather bought it, said it was no longer possible for a small private owner to allow the business to thrive. He said: "It is sad to see it go - it has been in the family for three generations and we have seen three generations of people pass through.

"It has been a labour of love in many ways but now you need a large corporate body to take it into the 21st century. It is a great business opportunity because a pier remains an attraction for very many people."

Pier enthusiasts point out that despite a few high-profile disasters, in particular the continued failure of efforts to save Brighton's Grade I-listed West Pier, the industry remains popular.

Blackpool and Brighton's Palace piers are among the country's leading tourist attractions and £7m has been given in Lottery grants towards the restoration of other piers.

Anthony Wills, chairman of the National Piers Society, said: "Piers are something almost unique to this country - we have more than the rest of the world put together and they are something to celebrate.

"We should not consider them part of a nostalgic past. They are no more nostalgic than museums, art galleries or stately homes."

The Lowestoft pier, built by the Coast Development Company along with other structures at Southwold and Felixstowe to serve its steamboat fleet from London Bridge, is at the heart of a £14.5m scheme to regenerate the Suffolk resort.

It is hoped a new owner will extend the existing structure to its original 600ft length, complete with a T-shaped pier head to allows boats to dock.

Plans were put forward last year to run a ferry service to the pier at Southwold, the favoured Suffolk bolthole of the chattering classes. But the proposal has yet to come to fruition.

In the meantime, it seems that the pier's purchaser will have to make do with at least one permanent visitor. Mr Scott said: "We do have a ghost. She is a woman whose son was crushed to death when he slipped between one of the steam boats and the pier while boarding. She is seen dressed in her long fur coat."