There is a meeting of Portsmouth City Council’s Planning Committee on Wednesday July 17th, 2pm at the Guildhall, and Item 6 on the agenda is South Parade Pier. Work to make the Pier safe has been proceeding at a very slow pace, and yet some of that work carried out may have to be re-done to ensure that the appearance of this poor old listed building is maintained. The full report for the meeting is here, but I’ll attempt to illustrate the problem below.
Apologies for the blurry nature of these, I must get round to buying a proper camera. You can click on any of the pictures to see a full-sized version. Any comments I make below are based purely on aesthetic concerns; I am not an engineer and do not claim any expertise in assessing the structure except for those chunks of concrete which are hanging on precariously over the heads of beach users.
So this dear old thing is South Parade Pier:
The structure below the deck dates back to 1907, that above it is what was left after the 1974 fire and what was rebuilt. There is some more history on this site, which is I think maintained by the Pier’s owners.
The point at issue from a listed building consent perspective is the nature of the repair to the concrete “bullnose” edging of the Pier deck, which is breaking up and poses a real threat to anyone below it should it fall away. This chunk is hanging on by its steel reinforcement over a portion of the seashore not protected by any fencing – I run under it on my run along the beach a couple of times a week:
There are a few signs on the Pier warning people of the danger, but that is about it. If the condition of the Pier deteriorates, it will become ever more dangerous to the public:
There are also a few temporary fence panels put up beneath the Pier to prevent people getting underneath it, although they do not keep the public away from the hazards overhead:
The fence panels can’t extend too far down the Pier, for want of a means of securing them when the tide is in, and consequently they are useless most of the time.
Rather than replacing the damaged “bullnose” concrete like-for-like, PCC are concerned that the repair takes the form of flat-sided concrete, for which no listed building consent has been obtained. The new is on the angled part of deck on the right of the picture, the original on the straight part to the left:
The new edging is definitely much less attractive than the original “bullnose” profile when it is in good repair. The join between old and new concrete is jarring. Seen close up, some of the new concrete looks really quite shabby:
Some of the older concrete seems to my untrained eye to be in fairly good repair, and I don’t know whether the owners intend to replace all of it or not:
What the PCC Planning Committee will determine tomorrow is whether or not an enforcement notice should be served on the Pier’s owners, requiring them to reinstate the bullnose profile on the work already carried out within a three-month period. The report states that the Pier’s owners were present at a site visit on May 24th this year, that they agreed to replace the bullnose profile, but that as yet nothing has happened. That is why the City Development Manager now recommends that an enforcement be served, with a time-limit set. The work carried out was of a sort that should have been accompanied by a listed building consent (LBC), but none was obtained before the work was started. The view of PCC officials (and I fully agree) is that the bullnose profile is “a significant feature of the Pier that needs to be reinstated”, and that retrospective application for LBC for the work carried out so far should not be granted.
Fred Nash himself pledged at a meeting of East Southsea Neighbourhood Forum on June 13th that repairs to the landward end of the deck of the Pier would be complete by “late this summer” and the seaward end “late this year”. I touched on this as part of my blog on that meeting. The recommendation in the report is that PCC impose a listed building enforcement notice, with a deadline for completion of October 17th. Note that the deadline is solely for the replacement of the bullnose profile on that section already replaced with flat concrete.
We will watch with interest how Mr Nash responds, and I’ll report on the decision of the Planning Committee after tomorrow’s meeting. Many people would like “something to be done” about the Pier by PCC, but in fact they do not have a magic wand to wave at it. I am as fierce a critic of the Council as anyone, but in this case (as it was with the football club), their hands are to some extent tied by law and finance. I try to be fair about that in my blogging, and I hope the media don’t lose sight of it when they get involved. As with the football club, the community are going to have to do a lot of the hard work themselves if they want to see change.
I took a few more pictures while I was at the Pier, it is potentially a fantastic tourist attraction and amenity for residents, but it will need a lot of work to restore it to its former glory.
Not all of the support structure of the Pier dates all the way back to Edwardian times; some of it required replacement after the 1974 fire, as you can see from this picture:
Some of the old ironwork has clearly suffered over time, this iron tie-bar has been weathered and worn to look like a piece of old driftwood:
My father used to drive a string of rustbucket cars and was always wary of brushing rust off, not so much out of fear that the rust was what was holding the car together (an orange Mk3 Cortina was the stand-out example of this), but because doing so would actually accelerate the deterioration of any good metal underneath it. Rust isn’t always a sign of imminent structural failure (I may not be an engineer, but my dad is). So don’t read too much into the appearance of this pillar, but bear in mind how tatty the Pier looks overall.
However, a proper (and expensive, sadly) structural survey of the Pier is needed before anybody would be interested in buying the Pier from its present owners. They were saying at the Forum meeting I mentioned above that it is not now for sale. If that’s the case, I hope they are able to restore it to public use throughout its length, and that they will engage with the community to explain their plans.
Hopefully one day the facilities on the Pier will be properly rebuilt; the pavilion built after the 1974 fire is a horrible, squat thing which leaves the Pier looking unfinished:
With the football club we’ve seen a great example of what the community can achieve if it is determined, and keeps shouting about the neglect of community institutions by their owners. If South Parade Pier needs our support in that way, I am sure it will get it once people get organised. There is a good deal of “community activist” energy sloshing around Pompey these days, and it would be good to harness some of that now in the interest of saving South Parade Pier.
The appearance of the concrete on the western side of the Pier is different, much coarser (the picture doesn’t show it that well). I don’t know if this is because it was replaced at some other point in the Pier’s life, or because the prevailing westerly wind has weathered it more severely:
The porte-cochere and signage on the front of the Pier look tatty but that could easily be spruced up:
Call me pedantic but I was almost as upset at this stray apostrophe as anything else I saw this morning:
I had a lovely early-morning walk along the seafront. This fishing boat was having a nose around the Pier at the bottom of the tide, with Horse Sand Fort in the distance:
Less lovely, across the road from the Pier, is Harry Redknapp’s black hole/white elephant where the nightclubs used to be before they burnt down/were burnt down. This is another site, which does look appalling, which people would like PCC to “do something” about, but the council is again limited in terms of what it can do about it. It has no power to compel Redknapp to build on it if he doesn’t want to or can’t afford it. I don’t know what the current asking price for the site is; last time I made enquiries it was around £4m. Redknapp’s company spent about twice that on it I believe, and are keen to recoup as much of the loss as they can.
I passed the bus-lane that PCC intend to rename in honour of Pompey-born author Neil Gaiman. Yes, a bus lane:
And that’s all for now. As long as time permits me to get to the Planning Committee meeting tomorrow, I’ll report on what happens in the next couple of days. You may have seen on the agenda there are a couple of other interesting tit-bits, such as the application to build an 18-story hotel on the site of the Post Office building in Surrey St, and two applications to convert or build privately-run university halls of residence.