Mention the Trop to anyone in Weston and the chances are they’ll roll their eyes (or worse!). But we’ve got another much-loved and rather battered local landmark too – Birnbeck Pier.
Historically it’s probably the more important of the two sites. It’s a fine piece of Victorian architecture and its Grade two-star listed status puts it in the top tenth of Britain’s best heritage buildings. So it’s something to be proud of and, even if it isn’t quite as important to Weston’s economy as the work that’s underway to rebuild Dolphin Square, or the newly-completed promenade and Pier Square, just imagine how it could transform the far end of our seafront if it got the same treatment as them.
But it’s a very difficult site. Technically, it’s always more complicated and expensive to build something on sea than on land, and the Heritage Minister in me knows the extra constraints of dealing with a listed landmark too. To put it plainly, it will take a lot of cold, hard cash to turn it into an attractive location for either tourists, or local residents, or both.
That’s why all the previous owners have found it too much and thrown in the towel. And it’s why most local people are, frankly, a bit cynical about any shiny new plans too. We’ve been disappointed too often in the past, so nowadays we want to see the colour of any new owner’s money before we start getting excited.
So, as I told the new owner – Wahid Samady, who also owns the Royal Pier Hotel site next to the pier as well – he’s got a pretty tough job on his hands. To his credit, he understands the problem and has taken on the project with a pretty clear-eyed view of the challenges he’ll face. And I’m delighted that, like Kerry and Michel Michaels did for the Grand Pier and Richard Nightingale did for the Trop, he’s promised to consult Westonians about his plans before the first bricks are laid.
So, so far, so good. If he can bring the old pier back to life I think it would be wonderful for our town. We should get right behind him and give him the freedom of Weston if he pulls it off. But, equally, I suspect no-one will dare to get very excited until we’ve all seen the plans – and the money – to make it work. We’ve been here before, as every Westonian knows. So fingers crossed, and the next few months will tell.