- Mr. P.N. Nageshwaran
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Seaside piers across Britain are under threat from rising maintenance costs and rocketing insurance bills, new research has claimed.
Too many piers are trapped in a cycle of neglectful ownership with only periodic attempts at conservation, said Jess Steele, the author of the People's Piers report published today by the trade association Co-operatives UK.
She believes that a new option of taking piers into community ownership, which is being pioneered for Hastings Pier, could be the answer to the problem.
The report claims that 57 seaside piers are under threat, not only from corrosive sea water but from owners who fail to make provisions for the high maintenance costs and insurance bills, estimated at around £33m over the next five years.
The study examines the ownership, usage and future of Britain's piers and highlights the crisis, offering a blueprint for their future revival as co-operatively owned assets for the benefit of the community.
Seaside piers remain as popular as ever, with six million people a year visiting them, according to the research.
Hastings Pier, which was nearly destroyed by fire in October 2010, has been returned to local ownership ahead of a £14 million project to revive the battered Victorian structure.
Most of the money has been raised by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), with help from the Coastal Communities Fund, the Community Assets Fund, Hastings Borough Council and East Sussex County Council.
Work will start this month on the Grade II-listed pier in East Sussex and will be completed by spring 2015, turning it into the "People's Pier", officials said.
Up to 95 per cent of the pier was left a burnt-out eyesore when it was almost destroyed in an arson attack three years ago following years of neglect.
Two men, then aged 18 and 19, were arrested shortly afterwards but the Crown Prosecution Service later said there was not enough evidence to bring charges.
Ravenclaw, the Panama-registered owners, failed to do anything to the structure and when they could not be contacted Hastings Borough Council sought a compulsory purchase order so the pier could be handed over to specially set up trust called the Hastings Pier Charity.
Now it is in their hands, work will begin to renovate the substructure, refurbish the only pavilion still standing and to build a new visitor centre, a spokesman for the trust said.
At present 56 per cent of piers are privately owned, with 39 per cent in local authority hands and five per cent in community ownership, the report said.
It is calling for a fast-track compulsory transfer process to rescue important community and heritage assets and a presumption in favour of local communities taking ownership.
Ms Steele said: "More people live by the seaside than live in Wales and 10 per cent of our national heritage assets are within a mile of the sea.
"Seaside piers make us smile. But too many piers are trapped in a cycle of neglectful ownership with only periodic attempts at conservation.
"We believe that there is a new option, now being pioneered for Hastings Pier, which is to take piers into local community ownership."
John Penrose, Coalition Minister for Tourism and Heritage until 2012, said: "For piers across the country, exposed at all times to sea and weather, there is a real challenge in meeting the high financial costs of upkeep and insurance.
"I applaud the search for new solutions to our national assets that can harness the passion and commitment that comes with co-operative and community models."
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