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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 February, 2005, 21:47 GMT
What now for Brighton's West Pier?
By James Clarke
BBC News, Brighton

The skeleton and wreckage of Brighton's West Pier
Fires and storm damage have left the pier nothing but a skeleton
A year after the scheme to rebuild Brighton's West Pier lost its lottery funding there are still people fighting to see the battered pier restored.

These vary from the long-suffering pier owners through to interested Brighton residents suggesting schemes of their own in letters to the local paper.

Many people would say two fires, storm damage and 30 years of closure suggest it is time to call it a day.

But Rachel Clark of the West Pier Trust is adamant something has to happen.

'Huge blow'

In 12 years working for the trust - the body which owns the pier - its general manager has seen many ups and downs.

The birth of the National Lottery - and the prospect of funding from it - gave fresh hope the pier could be restored to its 1920s heyday.

But Ms Clark has also faced the "huge blow" of the two fires of 2003 and the "incredible shock" of the withdrawal of lottery funding.

Rachel Clark of the West Pier Trust by a picture of the pier
Rachel Clark of the West Pier Trust is adamant the pier can re-open

She says the organisation cannot walk away, because it still owns the Grade I listed structure and the land it stands on.

After lottery funding was withdrawn last year the trust had to accept its long-held aim of restoring the pier was no longer viable.

It now wants to build a new pier combining 21st century architecture and replicas of the highlights of the old pier.

Ms Clark said: "It's in everyone's interests to make this new plan fly.

When you're doing this sort of work you really have to believe in what you are doing and assume it's going to work
Rachel Clark, general manager, The West Pier Trust

"No-one wants the pier demolished because they don't want to cover the cost.

"Removing the pier would cost millions and the trust hasn't got millions.

"If there was a demolition order the trust would have to be wound up - so who would take it on then?"

Ms Clark said she was shocked when the lottery funding went because English Heritage was the Heritage Lottery Fund's main advisor - and it had supported the scheme.

Water feature

Six months later English Heritage removed its backing - to Ms Clark's "utter amazement".

The trust went back to the drawing board and expects to have new plans in place by the autumn.

She said: "We have to be realistic.

The collapsed West Pier with the successful Palace Pier in the distance
The close proximity of the Palace Pier may have had an impact

"We don't have to restore it to the 1920s design, we have to preserve the land for public use.

"It's in our interests to incorporate elements of the old West Pier, whether it's artefacts, or reflected in the architecture.

"In the interests of beautiful architecture we don't want to get into the realms of pastiche - we are talking about very well known 21st century architects.

"Because there won't be any public funding the new West Pier will have to be larger than the old one, therefore it will cost more to build than the 35m for the original plans."

The trust will look for private finance to cover the huge cost once firm plans are in place.

Local residents have come up with their own ideas - actor and broadcaster Michael Bevis among them.

He wrote to the local paper, his MP and every city councillor suggesting a spectacular water feature with fountains spurting from the pier's skeleton, floodlit by night.

David Lockie, an expert in renewable energy who lives in Brighton, suggests turning the pier into a hydrogen refuelling station which could power an eco-friendly bus along the seafront.

Ms Clark listens to such ideas and says: "We don't see them as barmy, they are always interesting but if they haven't got funding they are not going to fly."

But while the trust remains solvent - as it is now - she says it will keep fighting to re-open a pier.

"When you're doing this sort of work you really have to believe in what you are doing and assume it's going to work.

"And we wouldn't be doing this if it couldn't work."

What do you think should happen to the West Pier?
This debate is now closed - thank you for your comments.


The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

The good old West Pier was always a venue for the working classes. It should therefore be built to support the following functions; Foot passenger ferry terminal for tinnie runs to the Continent. Nightclub and bingo hall. Jogging track. Skateboard Park. The very end of the pier should be earmarked to become the last place in England where it is permissible to smoke.
Pete Nightingale, Reading (Ex of Sussex), UK

For heaven's sake - look at it! It's beyond repair. Do the decent thing, turn off its life support and put the money somewhere else.
Carl J, Oxford

This piece of history needs to be restored! It's part of Brighton's history and culture. If the money can be raised then so should the pier. It would make an amazing venue!!
Stuart, Chichester, England

I'm fed up with the West Pier - structures fall down, it happens, move on. It's past repairing so use what's left of it to construct some kind of artwork memorial or something but really it's time to let it go.
Caroline, Robertsbridge, East Sussex

Since there is no public funding now why not build apartments on the pier? Just imagine sitting in your lounge... overlooking the sea... nice!
Franziska, Sevenoaks, UK

We should all support the case for retaining it and restoring it, else it will be another great part of British culture and heritage lost like so many others. It is well within our capabilities and I would certainly support the rebuilding of it and be willing to donate time and money like so many others would if it was more publicised.
James Isaac, London

It is ludicrous to suggest that the 'West Pier' (in reality now little more than a few iron girders) can still be saved. Surely it's time to admit defeat and either remove it altogether or replace it with something completely new. This project hit its expiry date about ten years ago.
Malcolm Crawley, Lewes, East Sussex

It is terribly sad to see the West Pier in such a state - no one wants to see it gradually disintegrate into the sea any more than it has done already, but many people are (understandably) of the opinion that any money would be better spent on something that can benefit the whole of the community. Having said that what other country would allow a national landmark to vanish without putting up a fight to save it?
Mrs G, Hove

It is a dangerous eye-sore and it should be demolished as soon as possible.
Tracey, Surrey

Surely money would be better spent on solving homelessness and the drug problems in Brighton rather than restoring an old and structurally unsound pier to it's 1920's heyday. It's 2005 now after all!
Barry, Brighton, UK

A small explosion would soon dismantle it and the sea would do the rest. One pier in Brighton is enough!!
Steve , Billingshurst

Knock down the Palace Pier and rebuild the West Pier.
Mike B, (ex Brighton)

I loved the piers in England, and look back with nostalgia. But 'saving' this one really means 'rebuilding' it, the money would be better spent preserving other intact landmarks in Brighton or elsewhere.
Tracy Pace, USA

Although I am not in Britain at the moment, I think that it would be a disgrace not to attempt a restoration of the West Pier. Similar schemes have worked in the region already - look at Highcliffe Castle. That shell was restored and now serves as a great tourist attraction. Also, Cam's Hall in Fareham was gutted and now has been restored and has a function. What hope for the future if we carry on demolishing our national heritage?
Nathan Fry, Kent, USA

Take a small percentage of what this country wastes and do the right thing. Rebuild that pier.
Dennis Smith, Northants UK

Remove the shore end rusted iron-mongery. Make the old Theatre end (the big bit) safe and clad it with aluminium or fibre-glass to look like the old pier - lights and all. Keep the inside empty apart from thousands of perches for the starlings to roost. The show we get each night as they return is fantastic. This inexpensive option would improve the view, preserve the structure in case anybody in the future came up with the money, and provide the birds with a more sheltered home than they've got at the moment.
Brian Snow, Brighton, UK

Enough is enough. When I was a child and it was still working then would have been the time to stump up the money and fix it. But not now. It should be pulled down, blown up, whatever is cheapest to do. It's an eyesore. When people come to visit Brighton they are shocked that we allow such a pile of junk to exist. Get rid and let's get on with something else.
Diane Fazackarley, Brighton.

Pull it down, it is an eyesore and has been for as long as I can remember. Brighton has already got one pier so it doesn't need another especially in this day and age...Give all the money to a good cause, schools, NHS or even Brighton & Hove Albion, now that is something Brightonians can be proud of!!!
Susie, Worthing, West Sussex

I was in England on holidays when the Southend-on-Sea pier burned. They rebuilt and yes please do so as it is a great memory reminder to us of the good old days.
Roy T Clarke, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

As scrap merchants, with the current high price of scrap metal, we are willing to come in and pull it out.
Southfield Scrappers, Southfield, UK

The pier failed, and fell into disrepair, because it was not profitable, demand was not there for such a facility and it became unsustainable. I see no reason why that may have changed now, and therefore to rebuild it is utterly pointless. Anything that comes now will not be The West Pier, rendering the exercise a waste of time.
Mark, Norfolk, UK (formerly of Hove, Sussex).

The West Pier must be saved. It may well be in a terrible state, but it needs to be repaired. By rebuilding the West Pier, it would send a clear message to the arsonists that destroyed the West Pier that their actions will not be tolerated.
Matthew Burdet, Maidenhead, UK

What many comments seem to fail to grasp is the fact that money will need to be spent to remove the remains of the pier. It also was never a case of just repairing the old West Pier, for a long time any repairs involved large levels of reconstruction. Brighton and Hove is famous for the two piers, and we should be given their second pier back.
Donna, Hove

I still own property in Brighton and hope to return one day. I think the existing pier has reached its sell by date and should be demolished to make way for a new 21st century structure, something to reflect the way we live now, something for the new millennium so in generations people can look back and remember. How about putting the Seagulls' new stadium at the end of the pier, plenty of room and they don't have to spoil or congest the Falmer area:-)
Andy Barnes, Irving, Texas, USA

We first visited Brighton in 1995 and fell in love with the place. We've been back three times since (twice for extended visits) and, from day one, we've been intrigued by the old West Pier. This is strictly an outsider's view of course. But we would favour soliciting private investors to build a new pier, incorporating some of the features of the old structure where possible. In a world where personal fitness has taken on such meaning, perhaps the idea of a running track around the pier offers some possibilities? Charge admission to the pier and to the track itself of course, along with whatever other features are favoured by the majority of investors and the general public.
Jeffrey and Kathleen Maguire, Carleton Place, Ontario, Canada

So much money is spent restoring old and useless buildings. The West Pier is something very very special ... as a kid during the war years I can recall seeing both piers surrounded by barbed wire, neglected and in ruin. When the war was over and repairs carried out to both piers what a joy it was and everybody travelled to Brighton to enjoy its many delights. Brighton without its piers is a much sadder place!
John A. Blackmore, Udonthani, Thailand

I would like The West Pier to be saved. However, after I read this article, made me to think it should be removed. One of the most reason is that if the part of the pier dropped in the sea, it would cause of some accident... so instead of just removing it I would be so pleased if it be rebuilt, and I can come and visit again!
Hiromi Yoshimura, Japan (Ex Brighton)

By all means, rebuild! Take a leaf from the book of Las Vegas or Atlantic City and make it a place where one can "sin" in safety! Few of us remember what the piers were like in their day, but if some enterprising company can be persuaded to invest in a project that evokes the old atmosphere or style, but with current entertainment and facilities, the pier would be both profitable and a source of jobs and income to the community.
Chris, Pennsylvania, USA

The pier should be saved but it should be nothing like the other pier which gets more tacky every year, and to say it's still an eyesore is mad whenever I go to Brighton I think it's still amazing even in its burnt out state.
Ean, Warlingham, England

I strongly suggest to leave the pier as it is and let everybody continue discussing what to do about it for another 30 years. Or, do something that would promote more 'ooh' 'ah', such as sell it to a hotel chain or turn it into a large shower room for Michael Bevis to live his dream.
Otis (former ticket collector on West Pier), Chichester, Sussex

The Victorians had the money for this sort of venture, today we don't. Pull it down it's an eyesore, it's had its time.
Roger Kirby, Wokingham, UK

I am amazed at the attitude of officialdom in the rundown of British seaside resorts. Not only is there the West Pier but also the saga of Dreamland at Margate and likewise the saga of the "Medway Queen" paddle steamer. Why is officialdom encouraging procrastination on these matters?
John Humphrey, Sevenoaks, UK

The pier cannot be re-built without removing the existing dilapidated structure. If someone will pay for demolition, then there is hope for a new pier. We need a clean slate to build on.
Ben, Storrington, West Sussex

I've lived in Brighton most of my life and seen all that has happened to the pier, I saw the fires and tried to do my bit by donating my pictures of the second fire to The West Pier Trust, which are on the web site. A lot of people are interested in keeping something there, the seafront has been regenerated up to that point, it would be such a waste if nothing was done to both the seafront area and the pier.
Steve Cummings, Brighton

We just have to accept that piers don't last forever.
Rachel, Brighton, UK

I am utterly amazed most of the comments from local people describing it as an eyesore and in favour of demolition. Get real, the pier has a romantic charm even as a redundant wreck and you should feel privileged to have such a view on your doorstep. I went on the pier with hard hat and life aid whilst on my honeymoon and what an experience, maybe some of you should have done the same, your loss and regrettably probably the nations
James Isaac, London, England

The French have just set an enviable example of what can be done through private financing: The Millau bridge over the River Tarn in the Massif Central was built without any public money - perhaps the Trust should follow this example. Good luck to them, I think it would be a travesty to consign the West Pier to the history books.
Octavia, London

It's a blot on the landscape! If you're walking towards Brighton/Palace Pier you have the wonderful view that thousands of people have photographed of Brighton, turn around towards Hove and have an ugly rusting bulk of scrap. The only thing the West Pier Trust should be doing is hoping another big storm comes along and washes the rest of the mess away!
Tom Oliver, Sussex

Don't be greedy - there's already one perfectly good pier in Brighton. There are other piers round the country far more saveable so spend the money on them. Blow up the West Pier and make some money by selling tickets to watch it (can I press the button please?)
David Levett, Letchworth Garden City UK

For goodness sake - please pull it down... actually no leave it. The starlings won't have anywhere to sit.
Sanchia, Hove

Despite the comments from locals on here, when I visit Brighton I don't think of the West Pier as an eyesore! I am disgusted with the local people for allowing Brighton's best feature to be in that sad state! It should be restored to it's former glory so Brighton could have something to be proud of again!
Vince Williams, Herts

It's a monstrous carbuncle on the Brighton landscape and should be demolished so the beach can be returned to the people.
David Ford, London

I live within 50 metres of the West Pier, and even in its battered state it is a remarkable and beautiful structure - far more attractive than the commercialised and tacky Palace Pier next to it. We often chat about what should be done with it down at the pub, and everyone has a lot of original suggestions. But there's one thing we all agree on: don't turn it into another Palace Pier!!
Tristan, Brighton

The West Pier is beautiful even in its current state, and the amazing flying/dancing display that millions of starlings perform every evening at sunset would be really missed. We have our own natural phenomenon, thanks to the West Pier - the BEST pier in Brighton
Nick, Hove

Hundreds of thousands of pounds (possibly millions) have been raised for the West Pier restoration over the years and not one penny of it seems to have actually been spent on the thing itself, hence its continual decline until the time the fires finally put an end to it as a viable restoration project. Investing money in providing housing for the thousands of residents who can no longer afford to live in Brighton would be better than throwing it away on more "fund raising" events for Z list celebrities.
Michael, Brighton, England

Whilst it is sad that the pier has fallen and is beyond repair why are people saying it should be restored? There is nothing left of it to restore. It's gone, look at it! Fine, perhaps four or five years ago it was worth restoring, but now it's a case of a total rebuild, but you're looking at 5million plus, and really, honestly, whilst its nice to have another pier, could the money not be better spend or renovation and improving other parts of Brighton and Hove?
Pier Pistocchi, Haywards Heath, Sussex

I had the pleasure to be walking my dog on a very windy, wet early summers day last year along the Brighton Prom. As we approached the west pier a huge wave struck it and knocked the walkway into the sea. I think restoring it would be impossible - there is nothing left of the old one that could possibly be restored. Tidy the place up and get rid!
Andrew Pattison, Brighton, East Sussex

It's beautiful as it is. Leave it alone.
Rob, Brighton, UK

It is a shame that lottery funding was withdrawn. It would not cost very much in the great scheme of things. It is particularly galling when they seem happy to waste money on the most ridiculous and unnecessary politically correct projects. But then, Brighton council could have dealt with this many years ago, before the cost escalated. Typical local council, if you ask me.
Mark Anthony Walkling, London

The damn thing's been rotting for as long as I can remember. Money would be better spent on the drug and affordable housing problems in the town. Or how about using the cash to build a new stadium? That's one public building the area could really do with, instead of yet more luxury apartments built for migrating Londoners.
Nic, Brighton, E Sussex

Rip the thing out and build a modern one in its place. An interesting piece of modern architecture on the site would look magnificent next to the "old" pier.
Mark, Worthing, England

The West Pier was the most beautiful of the two. I'm saddened at its current state. It would be great to rebuild the pier 'as it was' and have it act as a comunity venue (bars nightclub - plenty of those in Brighton!) or something more worthwhile.. (to cater for homeless or local charities)! This being the 21st Century I'd like to see a new pier (something akin to London's Millennium Wobbly Bridge) catering to local comunities and of course tourism. But not cheap and tacky as the Palace Pier is! This was my favourite view and place in England when I lived there!
Tim Noakes, Leicester, England (Ex Brightonian)

The time has past. The two fires sealed the piers fate. A few rusty bits of corroded iron don't make a Grade I structure. I can't see how it would cost "millions" to remove a few tons of old iron. The patient has not only stopped breathing, they've rotted down to a skeleton - it's time to bury the remains.
John, Eastbourne, E.Sussex

I think that the West Pier is beyond restoration. Then again, we might have thought the same of Windsor Castle after the fire. Brighton is lucky that it already has an attractive pier and perhaps the money should be better spent on other aspects of the town?
Paul Hirst, Halifax Yorkshire

If the concern is the cost of demolition, don't worry - a few more storms like the last one will take care of it for good.
Neil Burling, Oxford, UK

The poor old West Pier, another victim of planning in Brighton. The procrastination over fixing the pier up may well do for it in the end, in a similar way that the procrastination over giving the local football permission to build their new stadium may do for them too. The main culprit in both cases is a minority of people who don't want anything built or re-built anywhere near them, even if it is for the greater good. They should be ashamed.
Andrew, Guildford




SEE ALSO:
Outlook for West Pier looks bleak
29 Jul 04 |  Southern Counties
Eubank wants to rebuild West Pier
29 Jun 04 |  Southern Counties
Vow to restore battered West Pier
24 Jun 04 |  Southern Counties
Derelict pier loses lottery money
28 Jan 04 |  Southern Counties
West Pier 'most important in world'
04 Nov 03 |  Southern Counties
West Pier destroyed by fire
28 Mar 03 |  England
Brighton's West Pier collapses
29 Dec 02 |  England


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