An early morning train drops me in Southport where Mike Swift, Director of Southport Pier Trust and Angela, my fellow-trustee from the Hastings Pier & White Rock Trust are waiting. Angela has hot-footed it from Hastings, leaving at 4am and arriving just after 8am.
When their pier was in a sorry state back in the early 1990s Mike used to work for the Chamber of Commerce and over the years he liaised closely with the council’s chief executive to achieve its rescue and redevelopment using a combination of heritage lottery (HLF), private redevelopment contributing Section 106, as well as European Objective 1 and Single Regeneration Budget. It’s an amazing scheme that involved the reclamation of a previously flooded wasteland area. Stretching over a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the pier is long – with this tidal reach it needs to be. It is still owned by the local authority, with the trust acting as the public face, the funding applicant and now the watchdog or public scrutiny to ensure its long life. The funding agreement with HLF includes a contribution of £50k pa from the local authority towards maintenance in perpetuity. The pier is run on a day-to-day basis by a couple of caretakers who work to the council’s Seafront Manager, in turn responsible to the head of tourism.
Southport pier starts way back and crosses first to some land which used to flood on 60 days of the year but is now protected by coastal defences, creating a whole new area called Ocean Plaza. Alongside the pier, the skate park below nestles in with every kind of 1990s private development – car parks, a McDonalds, cinema, bowling, various pasta chains, etc (but also the very good independent Italian where we had lunch). The ‘shediness’ of the buildings doesn’t suit my idea of a seafront but it certainly enabled the pier rescue.
The first HLF grant paid to look into the state of the columns on which the pier rests. Quite different from the Hastings version introduced by Eugenius Birch that screwed into the seabed, these hollow columns were rammed downwards into the sand and gripped tight as they filled with sand. They found the columns generally sound but the box sections above in need of repair.
Regular #seasider blog readers will know my interest in sponsored planks. The Southport ones are great. Long before they got the pier, HLF asked ‘how do you know local people want this?’. The Trust went to the local newspaper and asked local people to donate a minimum of £50 in exchange for some future recognition on the pier. Here’s a few of the 2,103 people that donated, commemorated in bronze cast plaques.
A modern tram runs the length, along with a more old-fashioned land-train run by the same operator. At the seaward end a design competition resulted in a building with a sloping glass viewing wall. The building combines various concessions (bar, café, penny arcade) with information about the pier’s history.
We’re very grateful to Mike for his time – no doubt we’ll be asking him for more advice as our own pier experience develops.
One more point about Southport – the tide comes in really quick so the people-watching has an added edge. We watched the family below wander out happily across nearly-dry mud, and then worried about them as the tide swept in around them. They were ok but you really do need to be careful…