Britain's 57 seaside piers are under threat – not only from corrosive sea water but from owners who fail to make provision for the high maintenance costs and a rocketing insurance bill, estimated at around £33m over the next five years.
As seaside piers enjoy their busiest month of the year, new research data out today from trade association Co-operatives UK examines the ownership, usage and future of Britain’s piers.
The good news is that seaside piers remain as popular as ever, with 6 million people a year visiting them.
The research report also shows that:
- The combined length of all the UK’s piers is 11 miles
- 69% of the UK population have visited a pier within the last 5 years, and 70% want to visit in the future.
- Just 3% of people would stay away from a pier despite the fact that 3 in 4 people say that seaside towns are shabby and run down.
- In Wales 72% of people want to visit a pier but only 52% do in Scotland, where fewer piers survive.
- Far from being a retired person’s pursuit, visiting a pier this summer has been more attractive to people under-35 than to those who are older.
“More people live by the seaside than live in Wales and 10% of our national heritage assets are within a mile of the sea. Seaside piers make us smile. But too many piers are trapped in a cycle of neglectful ownership with only periodic attempts at conservation”, says report author Jess Steele. “We believe that there is a new option, now being pioneered for Hastings Pier, which is to take piers into local community ownership.”
The report highlights the crisis facing Britain’s seaside piers and offers a blueprint for their future revival as co-operatively owned assets for the benefit of the community. At present 56% of piers are privately owned, with 39% in local authority hands and 5% in community ownership.
The report calls for a fast-track compulsory transfer process to rescue important community and heritage assets and a presumption in favour of local communities taking ownership of such assets.
John Penrose MP, Coalition Minister for Tourism and Heritage until 2012, with two piers in his home constituency, comments:
“For piers across the country, exposed at all times to sea and weather, there is a real challenge in meeting the high financial costs of upkeep and insurance. I applaud the search for new solutions to our national assets that can harness the passion and commitment that comes with co-operative and community models.”
The report sets out the inspiring example of Hastings Pier, which was rotting away under private foreign ownership (registered in Panama) until it was closed on safety grounds. The pier which was opened on the first ever August Bank Holiday, in 1872, transferred this month to community ownership. Alongside heritage grant funding, a 'community share' issue is expected to be launched in September so that local people will own the pier.
Brian Smith, Chief Executive of Britain’s leading leisure co-operative HF Holidays and Chairman designate of the new Britain on Foot campaign, added: “Many of Britain’s piers are in disrepair. The co-operative model offers a new option, working in partnership with the local community to renew and maintain our seaside piers”.
Notes for editors
- Jess Steele is Director of Jericho Road Solutions and Associate Director for Community Organising for national charity Locality. Jess lives in Hastings and has been directly involved since 2006 in the community efforts and activism around the rebirth of Hastings Pier.
- Survey research for this report was carried out by Survation - National Opinion Poll for Co-operatives UK, 1,006 adults, Great Britain, research conducted 11th - 12th July 2013.