South Parade Pier Planning Enforcement Notice

Update 11/9/13

It was confirmed at today’s meeting of the City Council Planning Committee that an enforcement notice would now be served on the Pier’s owners.  They had held off serving one, and Mr Nash wanted to see if he could reach an agreement with planning officers on the nature of replacement deck-edging he had in mind.  Having shown them a sample of what he was proposing, and being told it was unacceptable (not being a close enough match to the existing decoration), things have reached something of an impasse.

The News yesterday published this article in which Mr Nash seems to be daring PCC to “do their worst”.  The enforcement notice is limited to the very narrow matter (considering the overall condition of the Pier) of replacing the deck edging, and so gives no cause to imagine that anything else will change or improve, but for the first time it does threaten the Pier’s owners with the force of legal proceedings for a clear breach of planning regulations.

I think most of us who have followed this story would have preferred it if PCC had served the enforcement notice immediately after the July planning meeting, but it may be PCC felt they had to give Mr Nash an opportunity to carry out the work.  We’ll have to wait a while longer to see the exact wording of the notice, but it should be served on the owners in the very near future.  I hope if any follow-up action is required after the notice is served it will be prompt and decisive.

The original blog continues below.

I was having lunch at the beach earlier in the week because I wanted to have a proper look at what’s been happening with South Parade Pier since the City Council Planning Committee meeting I blogged about in preview in mid-July.

I’ll review that meeting in a second, but the reason for coming back to the topic now is that Portsmouth City Council’s Planning Department has confirmed to me this week it is going to serve an enforcement notice on the Pier’s owners for their failure to carry out their obligations under planning law.

I haven’t written an account of the July planning meeting yet, so let’s review it now.  The meeting itself took much the sort of course I expected it to. Leon Reis from the People’s Pier group spoke in favour of forcing the Pier’s owners to replace the decorative “bull nose” edging to the deck. Cllr Luke Stubbs made a deputation in a personal capacity to point out that the work that had been done had not been carried out to a high standard, and that Listed Building Consent should have been obtained, but hadn’t been. Having declared his interest as a resident and spoken in that capacity, he left the room for the remainder of the discussion.

The Pier’s owners promised that they were going to replace the “bull nose” concrete profile anyway and that there was no need for a planning enforcement notice. Fred Nash himself said when making a deputation to the meeting:

“We have never been in conflict with Portsmouth City Council, and don’t want to be…We will comply but there is no need for orders [meaning a planning enforcement notice]

Mr Nash said that in his view, about 40′ of concrete still needed to be removed and replaced, as well as the portion already wrongly left with a flat profile.  I think the real problem is a bit bigger than that, but if he’s going to replace all the damaged concrete, that is perhaps by-the-by.

Some discussion followed between the committee members and Claire Upton-Brown of the Planning Department on the timing of any enforcement notice, and the appropriateness of serving one. The Planning Dept had made the owners aware that they would need listed building consent for alterations before work had started, and were available on the phone to give advice if asked.  In her view the Pier’s owners would have been aware of their legal obligations.

There was some questioning from Cllr Windebank on the necessity of serving an enforcement notice if the owners were prepared to do the work anyway. Ms Upton-Brown was, it turned out, leading a delegation to meet the owners at the Pier the following day.  If the committee decided to go for an enforcement notice at the meeting, there was still some discretion open as to the timing of serving it in the light of the Planning Dept site visit planned for the next day.

In the end the decision to agree to a planning enforcement notice was made unanimously, with a timescale of three months to complete the work.

All that happened nearly two months ago, and since then nothing much has happened. There have been a few people working on the Pier, but apparently doing painting and decorating rather than replacing the concrete. Not a single foot of it has been replaced since the Planning Committee meeting, in fact.  For whatever reason, the Council are only just now at the point of preparing the enforcement notice (and the date of issue will be the point at which the three month period begins to elapse).

Since then, the “Boat Deck” fish and chip shop has reopened, but the original management have been kicked out entirely by the Pier owners, which is a great shame.  The quality of food has declined markedly; I visited a while ago and the chips might as well have been fried in seawater they were so awful.   Anglers can again access the end of the Pier.  There has been a rather pathetic little “Saturday market” in operation in the corridor leading towards the closed function halls and bars.  Whenever I’ve been around, there has never been more than half-a-dozen stalls there selling a variety of tat.

Mr Nash was very vocal at the Planning Committee meeting that summer is a vital time for the Pier, as it makes hardly any money in the winter. I’d say summer is also vital if you are going to undertake work like replacing the damaged concrete, as once the autumn comes in with the possibility of gales and choppy seas life gets much more difficult.  Mr Nash himself said at a meeting of East Southsea Neighbourhood Forum in June (discussed in the course of this blog) that he hoped to complete repairs “late this year”.  Well, it certainly will be late this year if he needs to be given a three-month deadline by an enforcement notice.

It’s a great shame that the summer is coming towards an end without the future of the Pier, or the security of its structure, looking any firmer.  When I visited it the other day the bit of concrete I photographed two months ago was still hanging on grimly by a bit of rusty rebar, but whether it survives a blustery winter remains to be seen.  The flat-profile concrete put up incorrectly has not been replaced, and the badly-damaged original concrete hasn’t been touched either.

The South Parade Trust/People’s Pier group has been active over that time, and it remains the best hope for rescuing the Pier from steady decline and engaging the community in reviving it.  They have a great website and I am sure speak for all the community in Portsmouth.  We’re lucky to have an organisation like this agitating for change, as beyond the specifics of planning control the City Council has got no workable strategy at all for the seafront.

Last week came the final climb-down by the Lib Dem administration over the proposal to build huge beach-huts along the beach at Eastney.  In a sense, the madness continues as Cllr Vernon-Jackson imagines that he can dig out the beach to lower the huts into it without Mother Nature eventually shovelling it all back.  As he has great faith in his own power to work miracles, I look forward to him parting the Solent so he and his dwindling band of disciples can walk across to Ryde one day.

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