All is confusion. One Pier owner says “it’s sold”, one still won’t comment on whether it has or not. Nothing will happen unless they both agree. Portsmouth City Council are going with the “it’s been sold” line, though they don’t know who the purchaser is. I do find it a bit strange that someone would buy the Pier without wanting to talk to PCC about it in terms of planning, potential future use, and especially the legal situation arising out of PCC’s recent actions. It could be the purchaser is someone who is already intimately familiar with those things, of course, but I am sure they will get in touch with PCC as soon as they’ve completed in order to resolve some of those issues.
This business of major sites changing hands while PCC are in the dark is becoming a habit, since the Leader of the Council had to admit on Wednesday that St James’ Hospital has been sold for redevelopment, but he didn’t know who to, or that it was being done (though that claim doesn’t quite stack up, as I shall show in a future blog). Whenever I talk to residents in Milton they are concerned at the impact of further development on traffic and amenities, particularly as recent changes made by the Council have proven so disastrous.
The News have a report that PCC are writing to Fred Nash and Dawn Randall to order them to make the Pier safe and carry out work – the Building Act gives PCC that power, as it did to close the Pier completely recently.
We’ll have to wait and see what the exact terms of the letter are – the Act gives councils a few options for dealing with dangerous buildings with varying timescales and methods of enforcing an order. It’s not clear from The News’ story exactly what PCC are trying to do.
I have been concerned by the proposals to put up barriers along the beach as a means of preventing access to the under-side of the Pier. Of course something should be done about it, but at the same time we do not want the area further disfigured by unsightly constructions, and done as a last-minute realisation on PCC’s part that it should be taking action.
It is proposed by PCC that a fence be constructed either side of the Pier, spaced 15 metres each side of it, built from timber and extending from the top of the beach to below the Spring low-tide mark. That’s a total length of around 90 metres. The email mentioning this structure was sent some time ago, and it suggested that work would begin in the last week of February; however there is no sign of that happening yet. I suspect the reason for the delay is that in fact a fence of the kind suggested is not an easy thing to construct, and that reality has imposed itself on the Planning Department again.
I contacted an engineer who has experience of working in marine environments, to sense-check my assumptions. He has emailed me back:
“Without having a look at the site in person, I can’t say for sure if the figure you mention [£300k] is totally reliable but you are in the right ballpark for the structures in the email you forwarded me. If the intention is to erect this as an emergency measure, your council should be aware that sourcing suitable marine-grade timber in the required volume will not be an off-the-shelf purchase, there will be an import lead time. Time required to construct the barrier is partly at the mercy of the weather and tide, and again without inspecting the site I wouldn’t want to speculate on that. Be in no doubt that it is a major engineering project and will require specialist contractors to do it properly, and to remove it when the need for it has passed.
If an emergency and temporary measure is required it would make much more sense to go for a lighter construction in steel and mesh. This is a much cheaper option and could be erected immediately as well since all the materials required will be in-stock. It will be subject to much less wind and wave loading, present less visual impact, and will be easier to repair when something happens if the recent storms recur.
Good luck to the pier trust, from the photos I’ve seen on your site it needs a lot of work but if they are able to get cracking and the weather gives them a break it can be done for a realistic amount of money. I’m impressed at the scale of it, the basic form of the construction is in principle very robust but there is major repair work required and a commitment to ongoing maintenance cycles. There is plenty of expertise available in that field after Weston and Hastings for them to draw on.”
In between getting in touch with that engineer and his reply arriving, I spoke very briefly to an engineer who deals with coastal defence work and is familiar with Southsea, and he too was of the opinion that if this is a temporary solution it makes little sense to over-engineer it. His suggestion was that the simplest method would be to fix fencing directly to the Pier in such a way that it screens off the overhanging sections – or simply to remove dangerous overhangs since that will need to be done at some point so they can be replaced. Despite being in poor condition, he felt that the structure is secure enough that it could bear the load of such fencing without any threat.
The Pier itself is not in imminent danger of collapse, although every storm does bring that eventual point a little nearer. There seems little doubt that PCC is now proposing to spend more on a mere fence than it would cost to buy the Pier itself.
So despite all the flurry of media activity around the “sale”, we are no nearer knowing what exactly is going on, or even if a sale is actually in process at the moment.
Across the road from the Pier, I gather the land owned by Harry Redknapp is being bought from him for a much smaller sum than he paid for it a few years ago. If someone has the money to commit to developing the Redknapp land, buying the Pier and getting restoration under way would actually not be that large an additional commitment, and it would add value to any development on the Redknapp land. That’s pure speculation of course, but there are a few people familiar with the situation indulging in it.