Sefton Council’s leaders were grilled over the future of Southport Pier – with councillors demanding to know what efforts are being made to get it repaired and reopen it.
Questions asked included whether new concessionaires were being sought; whether discussions have taken place with any contractors to repair the pier; whether Southport Pier is an isolated case; whether the closure was recommended by structural engineers; and who Sefton Council has spoken to about securing funding for repairs.
Last week, the local authority published two structural surveys into the condition of the landmark structure.
Officers also published a series of responses to important questions put forward by local people.
Over 160 years old and more than 1.1km long, the iconic structure was closed for safety reasons by the council on explicit advice from structural engineers, after extreme weather in December 2022 accelerated the current issues within the Pier’s decking.
Sefton Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Skills Cllr Marion Atkinson reiterated Sefton Council’s determination to reopen Southport Pier, saying: “Looking forward, we have a clear plan for the more than £13 million of work that’s expected to be needed to take place, ready to start once funding is secured.”
At the full Sefton Council meeting at Southport Town Hall, councillors put forward five questions about the state of the pier and what happens next.
On contracts and tenders for Southport Pier, Sefton Conservative Leader Cllr Mike Prendergast asked:
“Can the Cabinet Member confirm that there have been no formal or informal discussions/correspondence with any prospective companies/contractors regarding any potential contract/tender for the works that may ultimately be required to repair Southport Pier?”
Cllr Atkinson replied: “The Council undertook a procurement process in relation to the phase 2 deck replacement, and as part of this process formal discussions/correspondence took place. The Council will undertake similar procurement exercises over the course of the year where formal correspondence will also take place.”
On Southport Pier concessions, Sefton Conservative Leader Cllr Mike Prendergast asked:
“Can the Cabinet Member confirm that there have been no discussions of any kind, within the council or with the company itself, about the possibility of Sefton Hospitality Operations Limited taking on any of the current concessions on Southport Pier should the current leaseholder cease trading as a result of the ongoing Pier closure?”
Cllr Atkinson replied: “There have been no discussions with Sefton Hospitality Operations Limited or any other similar organisation with regards to Southport Pier”.
Labour Cabinet Member – Children’s Social Care Cllr Mhairi Doyle MBE asked:
“Is Southport Pier an isolated case?”
Cllr Atkinson replied: “Many Piers have been demolished due to rising repair costs, dangerously decayed structures and damage from vandalism. Southport Pier is one of the few Piers which continues to receive investment and support from its custodians, Sefton Council. Many Piers are also not operated by local authorities, but by private sector operators. The Council is not in a position to compare the condition of Southport Pier to others, but the Council has been consistent in its prioritisation of the highest standards of health and safety and will continue to do so. The Council has this month hosted a recent visit of the National Piers Society to Southport, as part of ongoing engagement with them (as per the Special Cabinet Report of June 2023). It is clear from engagement that there are many Piers across the UK with issues similar to, and greater than, Southport, and as above we continue to propose that the preservation of nationally significant heritage assets such as these require a national funding solution for repair and for ongoing maintenance”.
Cllr Doyle asked:
“Can the Cabinet member confirm the closure of the pier was recommended by qualified structural engineers because it is not safe?”
Cllr Atkinson replied: “Sefton Council appointed industry leaders Thomasons Consulting Civil and Structural Engineers to carry out the in-depth survey on Southport Pier after they informed the Council to close the Pier due to health and safety reasons. Thomasons is an award-winning independent construction consultancy who have been utilised by numerous private and public sector organisations for a number of different projects around the UK. They are especially well-known for their expertise in complex civil and structural engineering, building facades, defect diagnosis and historic buildings. This recommendation is explicitly stated in the final versions of the structural surveys”.
Labour Ainsdale councillor Janet Harrison asked:
“Who have the Council spoken to about potential funding and support?”
Cllr Atkinson replied: “The Council has and continues to have dialogue with The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and The Cities and Local Growth Unit in Central Government, and The National Pier Society, with meetings arranged with Historic England and National Lottery Heritage Fund. The Council are willing to engage with any partners or organisations with regards to funding and the future of Southport Pier”.
Sefton Council had already begun a widely welcomed decking replacement programme, completing Phase One of the works and undertaking a large procurement process relating to the remaining decking replacement, to which the council has committed £3 million.
More than £3 million has been spent maintaining and fixing issues with Southport Pier since 2016 but it now needs sufficient funding for major work to make it safe to re-open, and for ongoing maintenance thereafter.
A digital hub has been created at www.sefton.gov.uk/SouthportPier where a set of frequently asked questions address some of the enquiries from residents, visitors and businesses.