South Parade Trust Launch Party 21/11/13

UPDATE 23/11/13: I had a wander down to the Pier earlier, it’s a gorgeous morning in Pompey and I had to ask myself “how much would the Pier take today if it was open and it had a cafe or a bar on it?”  It would be a licence to print money (which is just what the Pier needs if it is ever to be repaired and maintained).

There was no sign though of any notice carrying the enforcement notice ordering closure of the Pier – just some new portable fencing up outside the entrances, and a token effort down the side of the Pier on the beach:

South Parade Pier fencing

South Parade Pier fencing

You can click on any of these images for a full-size version.  This fencing isn’t going to stop anyone going under the Pier at anything except the highest spring tide, and the loose bits of concrete overhanging the beach are well out of shot further along the Pier (to the left as you look at this).

Under the Pier, you could see what passes for “repair work”, but in fact spraying concrete over the beams does no good.  It doesn’t protect them from corrosion, and it doesn’t have any structural value.  If anything, it puts more load on a structure that doesn’t need it:

Sprayed concrete

Sprayed concrete

More randomly-sprayed concrete

More randomly-sprayed concrete

Final photo in this update is another one of a leaking waste pipe.  This is a “new” leak, so it’s an example of why the Pier needs constant, almost loving, maintenance:

Leak!

Leak!

I didn’t expect PCC would be obliged to put up a copy of the enforcement notice anywhere near the Pier, so we’ll have to wait for the precise reasons given, and action required.  Blog as posted last night resumes below:

I wrote this blog at lunchtime today, to post tonight, reviewing the South Parade Trust launch party at the Royal Beach Hotel.  Then, at about 5.30, the news broke on the “About My Area” site that the City Council has finally served an enforcement notice on the Pier’s owners, ordering them to close the Pier under the provisions of the Building Act.  I haven’t seen a copy of the notice yet (but would love to) and it seems to have caught everyone by surprise.

Why PCC put out a release late on a Friday before disappearing for the weekend is beyond me.  It’s a bit like knocking someone’s front door, then legging it round the corner to hide. Even when PCC does something many of us have been urging them to do for a long time, they manage to do it in such a way that they get little credit for it.  Claire Upton-Brown of PCC seems to have been unaware that the Pier had reopened for boxing nights last month.  It is hardly a case of “stopping it reopening”.

It should never have taken this much urging by the South Parade Trust, or moaning by people like me, to get PCC to take this sort of action.  I’ll leave the rest of the blog as it stood before the news of the enforcement notice broke.

On Thursday night, the South Parade Trust held a gala evening to promote their efforts to buy and refurbish South Parade Pier.  Held at the Royal Beach Hotel, it was a great chance to hear more about the progress the Trust is making in its business plans and funding efforts.  Over the course of this year, the plight of the Pier has grown considerably in the public’s consciousness, and this was a great celebration of the effort so far.

Scott McLachlan was an adroit master of ceremonies for the evening, and he introduced Leon Reis.  Leon gave a speech comparing the potential for our Pier to the rebuilt Grand Pier at Weston Super Mare and Hastings Pier, both of which have suffered catastrophic fires in recent years but are now re-establishing themselves; Weston Pier has had great success since reopening.  South Parade Trust is able to call on the advice and expertise of all the people involved in restoring these two Piers, and there is every reason to expect that a restored South Parade Pier could surpass both in terms of visitor numbers and financial performance.  There is huge potential for a family entertainment venue at the Pier, and the rejuvenation of the Pier itself would be a powerful driver of regeneration elsewhere along our beleaguered seafront.

Some fencing has again been erected around the sides of the Pier, and there has apparently been a further visit by Planning Department staff concerned at the safety of some of the concrete work.  I lodged a Freedom of Information request some time ago to try to draw out the answers; on the last day before it became overdue I was surprised to get an email from PCC asking me to clarify some aspects of the request.  I’m not sure, given that they were fairly basic queries, why it took 19 working days to deliver this response, but having given the required clarification I hope things will now proceed with a bit more pace.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson gave a speech reaffirming the Council’s commitment to contribute £15k towards the £80k needed to complete a full structural survey, and praising the Trust for its efforts.  There is a limited amount PCC can do financially; it faces financial challenges over the next few years and cannot simply push money into buying or helping redevelop the Pier.  There are legal constraints on what PCC can do to intervene to help SPT take the Pier over.  What PCC can and should do, and some of us doubt it is doing, is ensuring that the laws relating to protection of a listed building and basic safety of the building when in use are adhered to.  It is that doubt that motivated me to make an FoI request in the first place and when I have the results I expect to have a fairly meaty blog to write in analysis of the documents.

Mark Catlin, the Chief Executive of Portsmouth FC, was a welcome guest, and he highlighted the similarities between the SPT bid for the Pier and the Pompey Supporters Trust bid for the football club.  Plenty of people doubted that the community would raise the funds to achieve a takeover and said it wouldn’t happen.  Anybody expressing similar doubts about the SPT bid is being over-sceptical.  Mark’s main point was that everyone has to stand together and present a united front.

Apart from the main speakers, it was good to see a strong turnout of various local politicians.  While it wasn’t a political event, it would be remiss of me not to comment on a couple of things I picked up in discussion with the delegation of Lib Dem councillors accompanying GVJ.  Cllr Sanders hopes to be reselected as Lib Dem candidate for Portsmouth North in 2015 (and with all due respect to my fellow Old Johannian and quiz team colleague, his opponents are hoping he’s reselected too).

There is as yet no news on the selection process for Portsmouth South, where things are still shrouded in mystery.  I did wonder if the basic criterion these days was the ability to pass a criminal records check, but it seems there may be more to it than I realised.

After the event, I joined in a Twitter discussion regarding the fate of Cllr Mike Hancock, who moonlights as part-time MP for Portsmouth South.  Hancock resigned the Lib Dem whip at Westminster some time ago to avoid dragging the party into the row over allegations of improper conduct against him.  However, he continues to take the Lib Dem whip at council level, which is ridiculous.  Either one is a Lib Dem, or one is not.  The Lib Dem President Tim Farron is normally a very garrulous tweeter, but on this he is hiding behind a kind of mock legalism.

It is not a matter for the courts whether Mike Hancock is a Lib Dem or not; it is a matter for Farron and Nick Clegg.  At local level, Cllr Vernon-Jackson continues to treat Cllr Hancock in a way that would arouse concern were an employee of the council to be left in post while these allegations are inquired into.

But back to the Pier.  The Trust had a great response when it took a stall at the revived Southsea Show and it was great last night to see pictures featuring the Pier that had been drawn by school children at the show and afterwards.  It’s a real shame that today’s kids don’t have the chance to enjoy the Pier and all the attractions in the way that I did when I was a kid in the 70s and 80s.  If the present owners can do what they always say they would like to do, and bring all of the Pier back into use, it would be a start.  At the moment they seem to be going backwards.

The bid to bring the Pier into the ownership of the South Parade Trust appeals to the sense of renaissance in Portsmouth that continues to swell despite the recent cretinous decision by Whitehall on shipbuilding.  There may be more repercussions of that decision in the future if the Coalition continues to slump into what looks like being a disastrous defence review in 2015.  It does look as if there is a future for shipbuilding in Portsmouth outside the dismal clutches of BAe and the MoD in the shape of Portsmouth Shipbuilding, and I wish them every success.  But the fundamental stupidity of our defence policy is not going to go away even if jobs are saved in the Dockyard.  There was a certain amount of “Portsmouth First” talk around the edges of the event last night.

The formalities ended with an excellent raffle before The Targets played out the evening and everyone left feeling it had been a real success.  Certainly the bitter cold hadn’t deterred people from venturing out to support saving the Pier.  Thanks again to the South Parade Trust!

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