Two structural surveys into the condition of Southport Pier have been published today by Sefton Council.
The local authority has also published a series of responses to important questions put forward by the general public.
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.
Prior to this 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 £3m.
More than £3m 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.
Cllr Marion Atkinson, Sefton Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Skills said:
“A steel and wooden structure stretching out into the sea at the mercy of the elements requires constant maintenance and we have spent on average around half a million pounds a year in the six years leading up to this point.
“Our FAQs aim to address as many aspects as possible of the surveys, including the point of adequate maintenance, but having spent circa half a million pounds a year on average over recent years, despite seeing our funding cut by more than 50% since 2010, we need adequate funding not only for the capital works, but for ongoing maintenance as well.
“Adequate funding for maintenance will form an important part of our ongoing dialogue with government departments and other key stakeholders.
“Sadly, owing to poor workmanship commissioned in 2000, work that should have lasted up to 30 years for timber and longer for the steel work was sub-standard and we inherited a structure that was flawed.
“As we all know you can patch up a car or a house with temporary repairs and fixes, but if the structure you’re maintaining is flawed, you are going to need some major work and that’s the point we have reached.
“The contractor in 2000 used the wrong screws and wrong wood as well as failing to renew the steelwork and fixings correctly resulting in the failure of the coating system and corrosion of the underlying steelwork shortly after reopening.”
Despite the Council winning its case against the contractor, the company went into liquidation.
Cllr Atkinson continued: “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.
“Having been forced to find savings of approaching £250 million in the past decade or so as a result of Government funding cuts, we simply don’t have that kind of money.
“We have therefore been focused on proactive discussions with various Government departments and other public sector agencies about securing funding to re-open Southport Pier.
“We have not secured a solution at this time but we are working hard to champion our Pier, and to ensure that the project is ready to start once funding is secured.
“We are of course concerned about the effect on businesses affected by the Pier’s closure and have taken a number of measures to support those traders.
“Since the Pier closed those businesses affected have had their rents fully suspended.
“Additionally, we have offered multiple alternative sites as a temporary second home to allow for continued trading alongside their other ongoing business operations. We have been informed by those concerned however that this is not of interest to them.”
She added: “During its 163 year history, Southport Pier has been closed on a number of occasions, due to damage from fires, storms, boat crashes and more. It is one of the last surviving piers in the country, with most of them now long since demolished and lost to history.
“As the Pier’s custodians, we have repeatedly gone on record to say we are not prepared to consider the loss of the Pier and that we are committed to its future.
“We are making concerted efforts to achieve that, and I hope others will join us and start to work with us in a serious manner to help us achieve that goal.”
The Council is proactively engaging with various external stakeholders and potential funders in respect of the Pier and its future.
This includes the National Piers Society, who visited Southport again this week and reiterated that the challenges Southport Pier faces are shared by Council-owned Piers across the country.
Dr Anya Chapman, Honorary Secretary of the National Pier Society and Principal Academic in Tourism Management at Bournemouth University , said: “We recognise the challenges with Southport Pier and the unsustainable financial pressure this places on the Council, a theme we are seeing elsewhere nationally.
“We are committed to supporting those custodians with the responsibilities of managing the past, present and futures of our Piers, and have committed to work closely with Sefton Council to help them find an immediate and long term solution to its reopening and long term maintenance”.
For more information visit www.sefton.gov.uk/SouthportPier