A major fire swept through Brighton's West Pier today, just a month after the council approved a £30 million salvage package.
The blaze on the derelict pier broke out at 9.48am and about a dozen police officers cordoned off the scene for the safety of bystanders gathering on the beach.
Despite fierce opposition, Brighton and Hove City Council voted in favour of the plans to restore the pier and build modern cafes and bars at the promenade end.
It was hoped the money would end a troubled period for the pier.
In January, the ballroom plunged into the sea and in December last year, a walkway and other parts of the structure also collapsed.
Ken Bodfish, leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, said: "It's hard to believe. We are obviously anxiously trying to find out how it will affect the restoration.
"There was always going to be a substantial element of rebuilding rather than restoration.
"This will clearly mean far more rebuilding than envisaged. We're certainly not giving up and are remaining optimistic until we have reason not to be."
Chris Ellis, 43, bar cellarman at The Regency pub, said: "I walked past the pier three times this morning and saw the theatre right at the end of the pier on fire.
"The theatre is now completely gutted, you can see the framework and right inside the old theatre itself.
"There looked to be about 20ft of pier adjoining the theatre but the fire can't spread because then it hits the part which has already collapsed into the sea.
The owners of the West Pier suspect the cause of the fire could be arson, it later emerged.
However, the destruction of the pavilion at the end of the pier will not hamper the authentic restoration project, said Chief Executive of the West Pier Trust, Geoff Lockwood.
Speaking from Tenerife, where he is on holiday, Dr Lockwood said: "There must be a suspicion it is deliberate. The fire brigade and police will both carry out thorough investigations but at this stage I'm puzzled as to what else has started it."
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