We are now almost exactly six months on from the first claims made by the parties involved that South Parade Pier had been sold. It still hasn’t, if you check the Land Registry. The claims have been repeated at intervals, even sometimes supported by members of the shadowy consortium seeking to buy it, but nothing ever changes.
A key member of the consortium has lost patience with the fiasco and is about to pull out. He has told people he is “fed up” and “has had enough”. If he doesn’t change his mind, the sale of the Pier is in serious doubt. There are a couple of theories in the air about what the hold-up is.
We know that the-then leader of the council, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, promised the would-be owners £100,000 pounds from council funds. As I have argued since this was announced, subsidising the purchase of the Pier by a private consortium would not be a legitimate use of CIL funding. Then the Lib Dems lost power in the city and the scheme quite rightly came to a halt. Cllr Vernon-Jackson was hoping to get the sale done before the elections in May, claim the credit, and hope nobody questioned the legitimacy of his manoeuvres later on. In the absence of the £100k from the council, it may be the consortium has had to have a rethink about their finances.
Another possibility is that the current owners of the Pier are reluctant to sell it because of upcoming legal action. The company which owns it, People’s Pier (Southsea) Ltd, is in dispute with a third party, and the Pier is its only asset. As such, they could be in hot water later on if they lose the case having disposed of the Pier knowing action was coming. Certainly the electricity company EDF have been in dispute with the Pier’s owners for a long time over unpaid bills, although there is no sign of a court action taking place in their name yet. At some point though, they are going to want to recoup some of the tens of thousands of Pounds they are owed in unpaid bills.
Adding to the mystery is the apparent presence in the Pier of several gaming machines belonging to another company. It was the presence of these which led to the consortium demanding that About My Area editor Haley Storey remove photos from her website, even though they had given her permission to take them in the first place! Are the owners of these machines under the impression they are actually somewhere else?
The other development is that another of the current owners’ companies has just been liquidated – Demasios Limited, registered at South Parade Pier itself. This is one of several businesses under which the Pier has operated, and its disappearance may be a sign that “the end is nigh” for Fred Nash and Dawn Randall in Southsea.
We are now six months on from the initial claims of a sale, and we still don’t have many answers. There was a flurry of activity with some scaffolding going up and a quick stopgap repair to one part of the damaged structure. Some surveying has been carried out. Whether the consortium will be prepared to spend more money on the Pier while there is still uncertainty over their ability to buy it, we’ll have to see. It has been an absolute disaster for the Pier that we have had six months of largely glorious weather wasted while the uncertainty about ownership has persisted. We have never had a convincing explanation of what the hold-up is. It will now have to survive another winter’s battering without any of the major structural work it badly needs.
A side-effect of this dithering is that the City Council is in an impossible position when it comes to the calls from the South Parade Trust to take legal action against the owners. If the Pier had been sold, it would be reasonable to give the new owners time to prove their good faith before marching them into court. That’s the position Council Leader Donna Jones has taken, and it’s perfectly understandable. However, given the failure of the consortium to complete a purchase, it’s also understandable that people will continue to support the Trust in its efforts. Until the sale definitely falls through or is completed, we are stuck in a legal no-man’s-land.
The Trust is still in discussions with the Heritage Lottery Fund about an eventual purchase and restoration of the Pier. Their online petition now stands just short of 7,000 signatories, and the Trust gathered even more when they had a stall at the Victorious Festival recently. The South Parade Trust still look like the only prospective buyers who have any idea what is needed to save South Parade Pier, or the ability to do it.
If the Council had taken timely action while the Lib Dems were in charge, as I’ve argued constantly on this blog, then there might already have been a repair order in place before the current pass-the-parcel game got started between Fred Nash and Dawn Randall and the mysterious consortium. As things are, with the future ownership position getting less and less clear as the nights start to draw in, the City Council would be wise to keep the situation under review.