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Monday, February 26, 2024

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Southport Pier Refurbishment update by Sefton Council

Sefton Council has reiterated its support for the complete renovation of Southport Pier.

Although the final survey report is still pending, the Council has received enough interim feedback to inform the recommended next steps, which will be presented to an emergency Cabinet meeting on Thursday, June 29, 2023.

The independent survey is expected to identify that more than 25% of the Pier’s decking is majorly damaged or in need of immediate replacement, reaffirming the regrettable decision to close the Pier for health and safety reasons and meaning the Pier will remain closed until full refurbishment is completed.

This equates to over 14 miles of severely decayed decking.

Cllr Ian Maher, Leader of Sefton Council said Sefton Council gives its full support to recommending the full refurbishment project, recognising the huge importance of Southport’s Pier, the second longest in the country.

However, while the final survey report is awaited, and without construction tender feedback for a full refurbishment project, the capital cost of these works are uncertain.

It is estimated that the full refurbishment works required to ensure The Pier can open safely again could exceed £13 million, more than £10 million in excess of the £3m that the Council agreed to borrow to fund decking replacement.

In addition to the full decking replacement, this would include additional work to the Pier’s sub-structure and steelwork, but the likely costs of this full refurbishment project are beyond the affordability of the Council.

In order to address this significant funding gap, the Council proposes to progress engagement as quickly as possible with potential funders and stakeholders, given the importance of this heritage asset to the town and to local businesses.

Cllr Maher said: 

“This Cabinet Report makes sobering reading. It is going to be a huge and costly scheme, but the Cabinet is supportive of the proposal for a full refurbishment project.

“We recognise the Pier’s importance in Southport’s, in Sefton’s and in the country’s seaside heritage as well as its popularity with the many millions who visit Southport’s wide range of attractions each year.

“The Cabinet report also leaves me in no doubt that the decision to close the Pier after last December’s extreme weather to ensure the safety of people visiting and working on the pier, although not taken lightly, was the right one.”

Cllr Maher continued: 

“Last year, before the Pier was hit by the extreme weather in December 2022, which significantly worsened some of the wear already identified, the Council had already earmarked £3 million to replace all the decking.

“The actual refurbishment figure could exceed that by more than £10 million, such is the amount of deterioration inflicted by the elements on our much-loved Pier.

“We have to consider all options available to us, but the Council is not supportive of any suggestion of closing the Pier permanently, and it has been disappointing to see some casting doubt on it’s future and talking down the Council’s commitment to it – particularly as some of those doing so claim to represent the town’s best interests.

“What we need now is support and we are certainly not too proud to ask for help on behalf of this important asset, on behalf of the town and on behalf of our borough.

“Given the scale of investment needed and the unprecedented financial pressures the Council is under, there is a clear need to engage with other funding agencies and specialist heritage and pier related organisations to identify opportunities to provide financial support and ensure this project will deal fully with all current known maintenance, refurbishment, repair and replacement requirements.”

Southport Pier must remain closed until the full refurbishment project is completed and Sefton Council has committed to engaging with all businesses and stakeholders affected by the ongoing closure.

Cllr Marion Atkinson, Sefton Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration & Skills, said: 

“I fully sympathise with all the business who have been affected by the closure and understand their frustrations while waiting for this independent report. But Sefton Council will always put the safety of the public and those companies’ employees first.

“We will continue to work with affected businesses owners, including the current Pier concessionaire. The halfway concessionary store, which can be found attached to the side of Southport Pier remains open.

“Despite unwarranted speculation about the need for the closure, independent health and safety experts will confirm that the Pier must remain closed until the full refurbishment project been carried out.

“This is an iconic but complex Grade II Listed structure that is hundreds of years old and is a thousand metres long. We have 56 miles of underfoot decking which needs replacing.

“It is also the case that the number and condition of piers nationally is diminishing, and the cultural and social significance of those remaining is increasing.

“Given the age, location and scale of historic structures of this nature, it is unsustainable for these to remain the sole financial responsibility of any Local Authority, as this report demonstrates in the case of Southport Pier.

“To me there is clearly a case to lobby Government for a national fund to address this pressure, and to ensure Piers receive an ongoing, ringfenced, realistic and proactive maintenance budget allocation rather than having to reactively respond as seems to be commonplace nationally.

“Everyone, not just the Local Authority, has to be totally realistic and accept that this is not a task which will be finished in a matter of weeks or even months. Once a funding solution is identified, we will ensure the works are undertaken diligently and effectively in order to restore and protect Southport Pier for many years to come, but we cannot provide any firm timescales at present, until a solution to the funding gap is secured.”

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