West Pier Update

“On the 19th March 1998, the Trustees of the Heritage Lottery Fund agreed, on certain conditions, to accept our application. Thus, on that date, the funding for the restoration of the West Pier, public and private, was secured. Now we can get down to the real work.”

That was back in 1998 just after a promise of £14.2 million had been made. Fred Gray was, indeed, right when he wrote the above in his book Walking on Water. But the work that he had in mind certainly wouldn’t have included fighting a legal challenge from the owners of the Palace pier and then dealing with the collapse of the famous concert hall (not to mention the two arson attacks which destroyed, well, pretty much everything but the iron frame). Years and years of hard work just went up in smoke.

The fires seem so long ago now and only remind me how much I wish that I’d taken one of those tours which allowed visitors a view of the derelict pavilion and concert hall up close. Perhaps the pier in its complete form seems such a distant memory because of the now iconic status of the bare skeletal frame which is said to be the most photographed building in Brighton.

I recently met up with Rachel Clark, the West Pier Trust’s Chief Executive, to find out what ‘real work’ is taking place at the moment. After all, the Brighton i360 viewing tower received planning permission back in 2006 so it’s reasonable to ask why construction has not yet commenced. To be fair, the task of removing the surrounding wreckage, which included the wrecked concert hall, has now been carried out. And this was highlighted (literally) in February when the pavilion was illuminated in a dramatic laser show organized by Tiger Beer to celebrate the Chinese New Year of the Tiger.

The i360 is indeed still set to be built and it’s just a question of a bank ticking a box. Bearing in mind that sections of the structure have already been fabricated, it shouldn’t be too long a job either.

Looking at the dates, 2016 will be the 150th anniversary of the opening of the West Pier. If the i360 can be up in two years, I see no real reason why a whole new pier cannot be in place for the big day – whatever form it takes.

See www.westpier.co.uk.