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'Last chance to sell' for Birnbeck Pier owner

Photo: Historic England

Forcing the owners to sell Birnbeck Pier is the last chance to save the crumbling landmark from falling into the sea, councillors say. 

North Somerset Council is set to press on with a compulsory purchase of the grade II*-listed structure ahead of a transfer to the RNLI. 

But the authority will first give current owner CNM Estates one last chance to sell it voluntarily or carry out the repairs it was ordered to make last year to prevent a drawn-out legal process. 

Council leader Don Davies told the full council meeting on July 14: “This is an opportunity for the council to intervene, not only to safeguard the structure but return the RNLI’s operational base on the island and enable the public to access the pier and the island, something they haven’t been able to do since 1994. 

“Members have received a letter from the solicitors for CNM Estates asking us to delay our decision. It says CNM are better placed than the RNLI to effect the repairs to the pier. 

“Make a judgement on this based on the track record of both organisations – a walk to the pier would highlight my own thoughts on that.

“The compulsory purchase can be stopped at any time if CNM can demonstrate they are able and resourced to carry out the repairs, or sell it on to either the council or the RNLI.”

Cllr John Crockford-Hawley said: “The current owners have failed to convince us of their determination or their ability to breathe new life into Birnbeck Pier. 

“There’s only one course of action for CNM Estates and it’s to up anchor and seek new waters as far from North Somerset as humanly possible. 

“Ever since the pier stopped its commercial operations there have been many ideas for the future of Birnbeck, all of which have floundered. 

“I can see no other option than Birnbeck falling into the sea and Birnbeck Island returning to its original state as an island. This is our last opportunity to save Birnbeck. There will not be another one. The sooner we can kiss goodbye to CNM the better.” 

A report to the meeting said the firm had only agreed to address four of the 25 issues identified in a repairs notice served last year. 

Cllr Robert Payne said: “It’s been heartbreaking to see the neglect of Birnbeck, which has gone on for years now, decades. 
“It’s for this council to enforce the listed building status. Unfortunately, the council has neglected to do this for decades so I’m delighted we’re finally making progress.” 

Cllr Ash Cartman added: “It’s extremely sad it’s come to this. Property rights come with responsibilities. 

“Hopefully this sends a message to other people who own heritage assets that they have a responsibility to to the wider public to look after these and not just let them fall apart and degrade.” 

Following the council’s well-received announcement about the planned compulsory purchase, Cllr Catherine Gibbons said residents were keen to reopen the conversation on the Tropicana, another “symbolic” place for Weston. 

The compulsory purchase order for Birnbeck Pier will not be served until CNM Estates is given a time-limited opportunity to voluntarily sell the pier to the council for its market value, plus reasonable transaction costs. 

If it is not willing to sell the compulsory purchase will proceed. 

The pier was designed by Eugenius Birch, the noted Victorian engineer.

Construction took place between 1862 and 1867, with the foundation stone being laid in 1864 and opening to the public from 1866. The pier closed to the public for safety reasons in 1994.

By Stephen Sumner, local democracy reporting partnership
 

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