This isn’t going to be a long post, because it still isn’t clear exactly what the facts are. I’ll post updates at the top as with past blogs if new facts emerge. As usual, the Civic Offices are a rather leaky establishment, but not everything has got out yet. I am sure the picture will become clearer soon enough.
It seems that South Parade Pier has been sold, or is about to be. The Council was aware a few weeks ago that there was another bid in the offing for the Pier, besides the interest from the South Parade Trust, but for some reason PCC was desperate that the SPT should not find this out. I don’t know whether they ever did, but since the security guards at the Pier were cheerfully telling me about it a couple of weeks ago, I guess they may have had the same conversations with them.
There were concerns last night that the security guards themselves might need some security guards after it emerged that someone tried to steal the generator they source their power from! The element of farce to that is in keeping with the conduct of PCC policy in recent times.
I don’t know yet who the new owner is, but it would be good if they were able to give the public some clarity on who they are and what their intentions are. Time is of the essence.
This raises the question of “what happens to the plans for a barrier on the beach?” PCC have been planning to build a large, unsightly fence down the beach 15 metres away from either side of the Pier and out into the water. This is likely to be a very expensive operation, requiring piles to be driven into the beach. Estimates of cost I’ve heard vary, but the top-end figure is near £300k with a not-insignificant cost when it is eventually removed. The plans have been shrouded in mystery – PCC was originally saying that work would begin in mid-February, but nothing has happened so far. It may be that the change of plans from a wooden groyne-like barrier to something in steel mesh fencing has caused that delay. Certainly so far there has been no sign of consultation with the public on this, or warning of the implications of it, which is a concern given the unsightly mess it will make of the beach.
If PCC want to argue that they cannot consult the public because “the situation is urgent”, then they have to explain why they waited a whole year between deciding the Pier was a danger and doing anything about it. They dragged their feet both in doing anything about the Pier and in responding to my FoI request to find out what the problem was. The entire PCC response to the Pier problem has been indecision and delay.
If PCC want to argue that there is no option but to have a particular kind of barrier, so there is nothing to consult on, they have another question to answer. Why is it better value now to spend large amounts of money on ugly fences than it would have been to progress towards a CPO for a similar amount of money, and at least own something worthwhile at the end of it?
I hope that the Pier’s new owners, whoever they are, can demonstrate to PCC that there is no point having a “Great Wall of Southsea” across the beach because they can get on with repairs. I am still not at all sure why a barrier could not be fixed to the Pier itself which would prevent access to the underside. If the bull-nose concrete overhanging the side is a worry to PCC, then the question is why the hell did they take so long to do anything about that, as well?
Since the storms, the underside of the Pier has been checked down to the Spring low-tide mark. Replacement of the dislodged steels under the main superstructure of the Pier is loosely estimated to cost around £100k. Work further out towards the seaward end hasn’t been costed yet, but it isn’t known if the damage is actually as bad as at the landward end. As long as that part of the Pier which can be reached or got under from above the low-tide mark is made safe, that should suffice to start with.
Many people have had the suspicion that South Parade Trust and the general public have not been told the full story by PCC, either in terms of reasons for delay, or what PCC would be prepared to do to secure the future preservation of the Pier. It’s no secret that the Council had little or no confidence in SPT’s ability to buy the Pier, but then anyone familiar with the story of the supporters’ takeover of Portsmouth FC is also familiar with the same dismissive attitude of some parts of the Establishment.
It may well be the new owners are the “miracle” PCC were hoping for that would bail out their earlier incompetence. If that leads to a restored and commercially-successful South Parade Pier, everyone wins. If this turns out to be another dead end, or a stalling exercise by the existing owners, then the charge-sheet against Cllr Vernon-Jackson & Co will continue to lengthen.