Could English Heritage Lifeline Save Brighton's West Pier?

By Richard Gurner | 03 February 2004
Shows the West Pier from the air, in better days.

Photo: Eugenius Birch's West Pier as it looked during its glory days of the early 20th century. © The Brighton West Pier Trust.

Hope still remains for the restoration of Brighton’s West Pier despite the announcement last week by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) not to grant the project £14 million.

The HLF board decided to u-turn on their earlier promise to award the grant after the West Pier Trust asked for an extra £7 million following two fires and a major structural collapse.

Liz Forgan, Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund said last week that, "there is no guarantee that costs won’t continue to escalate and the Trust has made it clear that they have no other funding options but the HLF. This means that the risks and costs involved in this project are now just too big for us to bear."

English Heritage in response has stated that they are still in full support of the West Pier Trust to secure and finalise an alternative financial package by September 1.

It is currently in talks with the Trust and Brighton and Hove City Council as to how the project can progress.

Shows a photograph of a contemporary print depicting the West Pier when it first opened in 1866.

Photo: how the famous pier looked when Eugenius Birch first unveiled it in 1866.

"We cannot turn our backs on this internationally famous Grade I listed building," said Chief Executive of English Heritage, Dr Simon Thurley.

"The West Pier is more than just a tourist attraction. It is an enduring symbol of Brighton and an intrinsic part of the nation’s mental image of the seafront there."

"We all know it," he added, "whether as the spectacular backdrop to broadcasts from innumerable party conferences, or as the setting for a first seaside holiday or even a first kiss. Purely in design and engineering terms, we believe it is the most important pleasure pier ever built."

English Heritage has suggested that an alternative scaled down restoration could still be financially viable. The original proposal by the Trust and its private sector partner St Modwen properties was to restore the pier as it would have looked during its 1920s heyday.

Shows a colour photo of the West Pier on fire in March 2003.

Photo: back in March 2003, an arson attack gutted the vast pavilion at the end of the pier. Photo: David Prudames. © 24 Hour Museum.

English Heritage are now said to be in favour of restoring the pier as it appeared when it first opened in 1866 without the concert hall or the pavilion.

Rachel Clark, general manager of the Trust said: "We’re pursuing all avenues, and particularly with English Heritage support it makes us more optimistic of the outcome."

"There’s a lot of talking to do to try and hammer out a new acceptable scheme. We feel very confident that something will happen in a positive nature."

It is believed that a consortium involving former boxing world champion Chris Eubank and local businessman John Reagan has also expressed an interest in rejoining the project.

The Eugenius consortium was first involved in the restoration back in 1999 before St Modwen, but a failure to secure private funding at the time led to its withdrawal.

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