This article was written by Charlie Williams and published in The Weston Mercury
MILLIONS of pounds will be used to help save Birnbeck Pier, it has been announced.
The 155-year-old grade-II listed building will now benefit from government funding in a bid to stop it ‘crumbling into the sea’.
Today, October 20, the National Heritage Memorial Fund – a non-departmental public body set up to save British heritage – has presented £3.55million to help restore the pier to its former glory and reinstate the RNLI back onto its spiritual home.
In November, North Somerset Council and the RNLI formally agreed to work together to renovate the pier after its private owners CNM Estates accepted a sale.
The council also made a compulsory purchase order (CPO) notice after the owners failed to sign legal transfer documents to fully commit to the trade. A court date has been set for November 11.
In the plans, which are yet to be finalised, the boardwalk’s original piles and girders could be restored and the boathouse might be used as a museum.
Though there are fears the pier’s 117-year-old north jetty may be too damaged to be saved.
The funding was announced at an event outside Pier View, on Birnbeck Road, where council officials, Historic England, Weston RNLI, Birnbeck Regeneration Trust and Friends of the Old Pier Society met to discuss its future.
Also at the event was Weston MP John Penrose and minister for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Stuart Andrew MP.
He said: “There are so many other benefits to restoring Birnbeck such as extra visitors to Weston and the RNLI being able to save lives really quickly.
“This is a really good example of excellent partnership working between local organisations, volunteers, the council and government to try and restore what is an important landmark which currently looks very sad.”
Ten other key heritage sites across the country will benefit from a £20million funding package too.
Birnbeck is the only pier in the UK to link an island with the mainland and was opened in 1867.
During the Second World War it was commissioned by the Admiralty as HMS Birnbeck for secret weapons testing and trials on the Barnes Wallis bouncing bomb.
The pier was also used as a backdrop for the famous Beatles picture on a tour in 1963.
Weston’s RNLI was first stationed on the island in 1882 and moved into its boathouse 20 years later. After the pier closed to the public in 1994, the RNLI remained on site until it was forced to vacate and install a temporary lifeboat station on Knightstone in 2013.
“I’m thrilled to announce our funding for the future of Birnbeck Pier which will support the RNLI and North Somerset Council in their mission to bring this hugely important heritage site back into beneficial use,” Dr Simon Thurley, chair of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said.
“Over the last six to eight months we have been working out the most pressing problems facing heritage in the UK, and Birnbeck came right to the top of our list.”
The pier was placed on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register in 1999 following significant dilapidation.
The council has been working for some time to secure a future for the pier and announced in June 2020 that the RNLI was looking to move its life-saving operations back to the island, significantly improving its access to the water.
Birnbeck Pier is one of only six grade-II piers surviving in the country. There are four further grade-II structures and buildings located on the island and the landward end of the site.
The council’s executive member for placemaking and economy, Cllr Mark Canniford, said: “This money is vital in our efforts to save the pier and start regenerating this treasured site.
“We are working tirelessly to secure a sale with the private owner, whilst continuing in parallel with the CPO.
“It will take millions to restore the pier but this funding, along with money from the RNLI and Historic England, will go a long way in helping to bring this much-loved asset back into public hands.”