Here begins the Seaside Tour…
Started in Hastings (ie home), by hosting a 24-hour field trip by the Asset Transfer Unit Stakeholder Forum, including visits to the pier (closed), the White Rock Baths (closed) and the Pier Shop (open!), with dinner at the Azur (former Marina Pavilion). Next day a presentation at the House of Hastings by Eddie, Emily & Jessica of Meanwhile Space, before the ATU meeting explored the scale of potential transfers as assets are squeezed out of the public sector over the coming months and considered how to implement the Coalition’s commitment on Community Right to Buy.
Today DH, Daughter, Scuffle the terrier and Lesley from the Hastings Pier & White Rock Trust piled into the car with me and we high-tailed it to Southend to meet up with Renaissance Southend, catching up with Giles Tofield who reminds me that we’ve know each other since around 2002 when he was at Rocket Science (regeneration consultancy) and I was at Magpie (active citizen charity in Deptford). So we talked about seaside assets, including Southend Pier, and the potential for a development trust for Clifftown. Giles is particularly interested in digital assets which will go down well with our Assets Programmes Manager, Annemarie Naylor who is offering a special prize for her 1,000th Twitter follower today (#asset_transfer).
DH, Daughter and Scuffle the terrier had gone on a wander while Lesley and I met with Giles. Caught up with DH & dog at the entrance to Adventure Island. He’d bought Daughter a twenty-two quid wrist-band (platinum plated?!) and off she’d gone with no preconditions whatsoever. So we spend the next half-hour searching the queues and trying to catch sight of those fluorescent pink trousers on the screaming hordes spinning upside down in the rollercoaster. Amazingly I saw a flash of pink on the Green Scream and was able to catch her at the exit. Lesley and I then buy tickets for the pier train (£3.50 each, it’s only 50p cheaper to walk!).
At over 2km, Southend’s is the longest pier in the world. It has to be that long to go beyond the mud of the tidal Thames estuary. Owned by the local authority, who seem to have used the insurance payout from the 2005 fire wisely, there is something slightly municipal about the information desk though it is housed in a glass and steel structure that works well. A real contrast to the cheap and cheerful pier café where staff friendliness more than makes up for over-sweet coffee and over-salty sandwiches.
I liked the big, open space at the pier head with its stylish RNLI station. Best of all, though sadly inaccessible, are the lower decks, the ramps and the landing stage – all in massive timber piles that reminded me of an adventure playground. The Waverley and the Balmoral sail from the pier head in the summer months. The council have apparently set aside further capital for a scheme worked up by White Architects. Along with the excellent state of Southend’s cross-bracing, this makes me envious. But I know that the extreme challenges of Hastings Pier mean we are more likely to pioneer new answers that might change the way all piers are governed and protected for the long term. There’s plenty of local interest in the pier at Southend but as is so often true, too much of it seems to be about complaining rather than working together to make things happen. The trick will be to harness that energy positively to live up to Sir John Betjeman’s comment that “Southend is the pier and the pier is Southend”.
Now on our way to Southwold for a contrasting experience…