RECENT FAQs and our current answers
These FAQs and our associated answers have been updated in light of the June 2020 announcement that the RNLI are considering moving back to Birnbeck and becoming involved in the project to restore Birnbeck Pier.
1) What’s happening and what is the BRT's present plan?
As North Somerset Council moves towards issuing a Compulsory Purchase Order for Birnbeck Pier, the RNLI have confirmed that they now plan to re-establish a lifeboat station on Birnbeck Island. After the CPO has been successful and the ownership transferred, the RNLI will repair and restore the historic bridge to the island and re-establish a lifeboat station on the island with all the necessary facilities to enable them to be able to effectively launch and recover their crews at any stage of the tide. The BRT will continue to work with North Somerset Council, the RNLI, and Historic England to secure the best future for the pier which will positively benefit the local population and in turn help to regenerate this long-neglected part of Weston-super-Mare.
2) How does a CPO work?
In these situations a local authority has the power to consider and prepare for the compulsory purchase of a listed building or structure which has been neglected by the owner. The process currently being followed is that North Somerset Council has previously issued a Repairs Notice to the owner with a schedule of repairs works that are urgently needed. The owner was then required to demonstrate that they intend to carry out the works within 2 months. As the owner showed no sign of carrying out the work the Council then decided that it could move on to the next stages which are to prepare for and thereafter issue a formal Compulsory Purchase Order notice. Usually the owner will realise that it is better to agree a deal for the sale of the property. If he does not then the matter will be taken to an inquiry when the transfer of the property is considered. The value of the property, taking into account the estimated costs of repairs that are required, is decided and the final decision to allow and proceed with the CPO is then taken by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government.
3) How is the CPO process funded?
The CPO is carried out by the Council who appoint the necessary experts and solicitors. In this case the Council has received a grant from Historic England to cover the costs of the CPO through to completion, so there will be no net cost to the council with the exception of some officer time.
4) How long is the CPO likely to take?
The CPO could take up to 18 months with the Secretary of State undertaking the final sign off to complete the process.
5) Are you still working with CNM Estates?
Not to any great extent. The BRT for a long time tried the pragmatic approach of working with the owners to try to get the best outcome for the pier as well as for the local area and population. After many years of proposals with little following action it became apparent that the owner's plans for its associated Royal Pier Hotel site were economically unrealistic. We have wholeheartedly supported the concept of getting the ownership of Birnbeck Pier transferred to a not-for-profit organisation or a Local Authority who could invest in, restore and revitalise the pier for the benefit of the local community. Our last meeting with CNM was over two years ago when more suggestions were made and then not carried forward. Since then the BRT's relationship with the owners has become more remote and contact with them has become far more limited.
6) Surely there is too much deterioration for Birnbeck to be saved?
The present expert assessment is that the main supporting leg structures of the listed Birnbeck bridge can be salvaged and a new deck reinstated. The buildings will be subject to separate assessments to determine whether they can have a future in part or in whole.
7) Who will own Birnbeck?
Initially North Somerset Council, although it is presently expected that the RNLI will thereafter take ownership of Birnbeck Pier and Island.
8) What role will the BRT take?
These are early days of fresh discussions. There are proposals being made for the BRT to operate public access to the pier, managing visitors and any tolls collected. We hope to be involved in the planning to redevelop those elements of the pier infrastructure not associated with the operation of the lifeboat station in order to create a high-class tourist destination with facilities that would enable it to be financially self-sufficient whilst also generating sufficient surpluses to be able to keep the restored pier and infrastructure in prime condition.
9) What has happened to all the money raised so far including the money for planks?
It is all still there, safely banked. Some funds will be used to develop further planning, conduct studies and surveys and to seek grants and other funding opportunities aimed towards the reconstruction of the remaining elements of the pier infrastructure including the iconic Clock Tower, this part of the restoration project being a major objective for the Friends of the Old Pier Society.
10) How much money do the BRT need to raise?
This matter is subject to future negotiations and will also depend upon how much involvement the Trust will have in the redevelopment of the remaining elements of Birnbeck when the RNLI has completed the first stage of the works and reopened the lifeboat station. The cost of the entire reconstruction is likely to be in the range of millions, from previous experience we know that the process of applying for grants is extremely time consuming and in itself costs a certain amount of money, particularly for professional expert advice.
11) How can I help?
In the not-too-distant future we will be looking for additional trustees with specific development and financial skills to support scheme feasibility studies and oversee grant/fundraising opportunities. We will also be seeking more volunteers to staff a proposed new information and refreshment point as a temporary alternative to the existing Pier View, which is now in a seriously sorry state of repair. We also need more people to become involved with greater public engagement, assisting with giving talks and lectures about both the past history and the future development of the pier during and after the CPO and the initial reconstruction phase.
N.B. Please click on any question to go directly to our answer further below:
1. When is work going to start - we were initially told that the bridge would be open in 2016 - when can we go on it?
2. Why are you using the buildings on the mainland when you don’t have a lease yet?
3. Why is the Trust saying a lease is preferable - why are they are not going for ownership?
4. Why was a 25 year lease initially proposed - can it be longer?
5. How much do CNM fund the Trust?
6. Why is the Trust not pushing North Somerset Council to deliver a compulsory works order to CNM Estates?
7. Why did CNM Estates buy the pier if they don’t have the money to restore her?
8. Why have the owners done nothing since they bought the pier?
9. When will CNM pay NSC for the demolition of the Royal Pier Hotel and start the new construction there?
10. Why are the RNLI not operating from Birnbeck Island?
11. Does the Trust use the bridge to cross to the island?
12. I want to go on the island and take photos - can I do this?
13. How do I volunteer and what can I do?
14. Why should I give money to the Trust to save the pier whilst it is privately owned?
15. How much is it going to cost to restore the Birnbeck complex?
16. Why has the pier not been registered as a 'Asset of Community Value'?
17. What happened to my money when I bought a plank years ago?
18. Why do the Friends of the Old Pier Society and the Birnbeck Regeneration Trust exist as separate entities?
19. Can I read the Trust's accounts?
Q1. When is work going to start - we were initially told that the bridge would be open in 2016 - when can we go on it?
A. Heritage projects on this scale cannot be completed overnight; this would be wishful thinking. The project is estimated to take a minimum of 5 years to complete with work starting in year 2 from confirmation of significant funding. This is dependent on the Trust's ability to gain the required funding to restore the pier and also make sure that stake holders including Historic England, North Somerset Council and any grant or award bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund are satisfied that the regeneration can thereafter be self-sustaining for a future period of at least ten years.
Q2. Why are you using the buildings on the mainland when you don’t have a lease yet?
A. Whilst the matter of a lease on the Birnbeck site has been discussed with the pier's owners and previously agreed in principle, the buildings on the mainland are being used by the Trust as a base for its operations. CNM Estates have been supportive of our efforts and allow the Trust free use of the buildings on a key-holding basis. This ongoing site presence helps to keep the public aware of the pier's plight and the Trust's activities.
Pier Master's Cottage – We would like to open this as a Heritage Centre to display the history of this and other piers that were designed by Eugenius Birch. The work of renowned local architect Hans Price at Birnbeck is also very important. The upper floor of the cottage could be turned into office space so that the Trust can manage the project directly from the pier site.
Courtyard Shop – We have obtained a lease on the old shop from the North Somerset Council, the present owners, for a peppercorn rent. This arrangement allows the Trust to become a stakeholder at the Birnbeck site in its own right.
Pier View – We share these premises with the Friends of the Old Pier Society and use them as our Information Centre.
If all the above three buildings were open and used as a Heritage Complex there would be far more for the general public to engage with and more space for the Trust to better explain the work being proposed for the future of the Birnbeck site and surrounding conservation area. (30-1-2018)
Q3. Why is the Trust saying a lease is preferable - why are they are not going for ownership?
A. The Trust has looked into 3 options for the Birnbeck Pier site:
1. Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) – This can only be instigated by local government, North Somerset Council (NSC) do not have the available funds due to other funding cuts to carry out a CPO on such a high-risk asset. They could lose the necessary court case (which would be appealable) and end up with a huge financial bill which would have to be paid for by the tax payer.
(N.B. This situation has now changed (June 2020). North Somerset Coucil are now seriously considering a CPO against the pier's owners.) (27-6-2020)
2. Direct Purchase – CNM do not wish to sell the site. If they did, we as a charity could only pay the market value. It is estimated that the site is not presently worth the £500,000 paid for it, which would be the minimum amount necessary to offset the owners' current outstanding liabilities relating to the site.
3. Lease – This is our chosen option acting on the advice of the Heritage Lottery Fund for the current situation. It would be reckless to take ownership and liability for the pier, island & all associated buildings at a time when no funding is secured. It would not demonstrate on any level good practice nor would it demonstrate sound rational thinking or action on the part of Trust to place themselves & the pier at such a risk. The Trust has no capital or other assets and is dependent on its fundraising efforts to generate funds. Our present appeal is to support the development of the necessary structural surveys and feasibility studies in order to advance HLF award applications. We also have other operating costs, such as maintaining this website and producing publicity materials (leaflets and banners etc), as well as supporting the Trust's volunteers involvement in day-to-day matters (provision of PPE etc) and month-to-month matters, mainly event organisation. The advantages of this route are seen to be that all the risk for the site remains with the owners, the Trust do not have to pay out the huge sums in insurances or be ultimately responsible for the structures long-term preservation. Once we have adequate funding and planning in place CNM Estates have agreed to lease the site to the Trust with a minimum of a 25 year rolling lease. CNM Estates have indicated that they have no current plans to do anything with the island and have no intention to persue anything they had previously proposed there. They would be happy for the BRT to operate the Birnbeck complex indefinitely if a successful Trust-based business operation is formed. The BRT understands that CNM Estates currently have a mortgage on the property - this is not a barrier to the creation of a lease but would require the lender to give prior written consent for the granting of the lease. Please see this page for further details of this. (12-1-2017)
Q4. Why was a 25 year lease initially proposed - can it be longer?
A. Following a meeting with the Heritage Lottery Fund the Trust was informed that this was their minimum requirement for consideration of a significant award to the Trust. CNM Estates have advised that if a term of 99 years was required they would accommodate as necessary if suitable funding becomes available. (30-1-2018)
Q5. How much do CNM fund the Trust?
A. To date CNM have funded the following:
1/. Restoration of electrical power to Pier View so that the Information Centre could open;
2/. Purchased access equipment for the Trust to be able work on the building roofs and walls;
3/. Hired skips so we can dispose of the rubble and rubbish;
4/. Hire of the shipping container so we have a safe store;
5/. Re-glazed the broken windows in Pier View;
6/. Had new fencing outside Pier View manufactured;
7/. Agreed a sum of money to scaffold the clock tower;
8/. Agreed a sum of money to repair rotting frames in Pier View;
9/. Paid for the kick-start of the surveys to the main bridge and clock tower;
10/. Agreed a sum of money for legal advice as and when required.
Q6. Why is the Trust not pushing NSC to deliver a compulsory works order to CNM Estates?
A. During our early discussions with NSC this was discussed and again it comes down to money. If NSC pressed ahead and delivered a compulsory works order (for urgent/safety work) there is nothing saying the site owner would do the work. In this event NSC would have to pay for the works and this again would have to be paid for by the tax payer. This could be in the region of £1,000,000.
Q7. Why did CNM Estates buy the pier if they don’t have the money to restore her?
A. Unfortunately, this is not a question the Trust can directly answer. We understand that had the fires at the Royal Hotel not happened CNM Estates might not have bought the pier. (30-1-18)
Q8. Why have the owners done nothing since they bought the pier?
A. CNM Estates became the owners of the pier in October 2014. They previously presented a plan to restore the pier and build commercial dwellings on the mainland and island, but this project was not taken forward to the formal planning application stage. The Trust understands that CNM have no current intention to develop the island, even though some conceptual drawings were commissioned for the mainland site(s) in 2012, 2013 and 2016. This work was undertaked sometime prior to the Royal Pier Hotel site being placed into receivership. (30-1-2018)
The Trust now leading this conservation and heritage-based restoration and regeneration project working in conjunction with the owners. We are working to find a practical solution which will save the pier and its heritage. An associated commercial development would provide a valuable source of income which would 'match-fund' any grant the Trust can secure. It would also ensure longevity of the project by injecting sums of money to ensure the pier has a fund for lifetime maintenance and repairs (this is also known as a 'sinking fund'). (30-1-2018)
Q9. When will CNM pay NSC for the demolition of the Royal Pier Hotel and start the new construction there?
A. The Trust has no involvement with this project. Contrary to popular belief, the Royal Pier Hotel site was never owned by CNM Estates. Instead it was owned by a closely-related company, Birnbeck Investments Ltd. This company remains in consultation with NSC, and we understand that matters remain to be resolved. This site was placed in the hands of receivers CBRE in September 2017. (12-1-2018)
Q10. Why are the RNLI not operating from Birnbeck Island?
A. The RNLI carried out their own surveys of the pier and were advised that the main bridge should not be used to cross to the island. This meant that the island and the lifeboat station(s) there were normally inaccessible other than by boat.
We were delighted to recently meet with a representative from the RNLI estates team to discuss getting the RNLI back where they belong – on Birnbeck Island. The best place for the RNLI to operate from is Birnbeck as it has the quickest and nearest access to the water regardless of the tides. We look forward to a future with the RNLI & would welcome the Coast Guard to base themselves at Birnbeck too. (12-1-2017)
(N.B. This situation has now changed (June 2020). North Somerset Coucil are actively considering a CPO against the pier's owners and the RNLI are considering moving back to Birnbeck Island.) (27-6-2020)
Q11. Does the Trust use the bridge to cross to the island?
A. The Trust have not used the bridge to cross to the island since the RNLI informed us of the findings of their own surveys. Since then we have also had our own surveys carried out which look further in depth than those previously carried out. Access onto and across the bridge is now forbidden to all, with the exception of specialist engineers who have intimate knowledge of the condition of the structure.
Q12. I want to go on the island and take photos - can I do this?
A. All the Trust can do is to advise you not to venture out to the island. Not only are the tides treacherous, whereby you can be cut off from returning within minutes, but there is a gate to the island which has a barbed wire wrap. Once on the island, there are holes in the surface where you could fall through, and buildings which are extremely unstable in multiple places.
If you take the decision to trespass on the island (particularly whilst alone) please consider that if you were to sustain a serious injury and no-one knows you are there, you could potentially die on the island, having not be found for some time. In the event you that could raise help, please think of those who would have to come and put their own lives at risk to rescue you. It’s simply not worth it.
If you want a photo of the site please ask - we have plenty - it’s not a playground out there.
Q13. How do I volunteer and what can I do?
A. There are many ways to volunteer, you don’t necessarily have to come to the site - some activities can be carried out from anywhere in the world providing that internet access is available.
Pier View Information Centre – Come and help pass on the vision for the site to the general public whilst they are here enjoying a hot or cold drink.
Mainland Buildings – come and help the Trust maintain the site and turn them into a heritage and visitor centre, all levels of skill are welcome - we can usually offer some training if this is required.
Fundraising – Join our fundraising team and help organise our great year-round events, or if you have a particular talent please speak to our lead organiser email@example.com and then organise your own event!
Awards and Grants – Help the team draft letters or fill in the paperwork to apply for various grant and awards.
Publicity – Help spread the word, either by designing posters for events, ensuring social media platforms are current and up-to-date, or by writing updates for our website and other paper-based media.
Heritage Team – Help collect the history of the pier, the existing team are only scratching the surface here, there are various quantities of old papers and photographs in the local archives - all of these need to be reviewed and where useful recorded and added to our archives and to our web-based pier history section.
Direct Fundraising – if you own public premises and are willing to take a donation tin please let us know - we can drop one off to you. If you have spare time and would like to do outside collecting please speak to firstname.lastname@example.org - we can organise the licences for street collecting wherever necessary.
To volunteer either visit Pier View Information Centre and speak to one of the team or email email@example.com and one of our volunteer coordinators will get back in touch. (12-1-2018)
Q14. Why should I give money to the Trust to save the pier whilst it is privately owned?
A. In 2016 CNM Estates agreed in principle a lease on the Birnbeck complex with the Trust, which would be granted after the funding and planning for the restoration of Birnbeck Pier were in place. Our first goal is to complete the necessary independent structural surveys and feasibility studies, these are essential so that we completely understand the whole scope and risk of the project and what we need to do to ensure that the restored structure can thereafter provide an income for the Trust for ongoing costs i.e. for wages, services and repairs.
Your donations currently go directly towards the cost of these studies as well as assisting the Trust to meet its operating costs - without these donations we cannot progress this project.
No funds raised by the Trust go directly to CNM in any regard.
The Trust is also working to save the mainland buildings, so that we would have more distinctive areas to operate from. We would like to be able to better demonstrate our vision to the general public and explain the historic importance of the heritage we are trying to save. If you wish to donate to any particular aspect of the project please ensure that you tell us where you would like your donation to go.
Once we have the results of the studies in place and we know what it is possible to save, all regeneration donations will go towards 'matched funding' for larger and wider grants and awards.
Q15. How much is it going to cost to restore the pier complex?
A. The Trust have produced an estimate based on surveys and feasibility studies carried out in 2004. The scale of the project has been down-sized since then, but we estimate the present cost to be in the region of £15-£20 million. As the surveys are conducted these figures will be updated with new estimates based on the latest information. Once completed, we will have a better idea of where the costs stand at that time. These figures will be made public as soon as this work is complete and all interested stake holders have been advised accordingly.
Q16. Why has the pier not been registered as a 'Asset of Community Value'?
A. The criteria on which each nomination is assessed is clear that any property/building has to currently, or within the recent past (12 months), be used to further to social well-being and social interest of the community. Therefore, and unfortunately, Birnbeck Pier does not meet this criteria.
Q17. What happened to my money when I bought a plank years ago?
A. Your donation for the plank bought prior to 2012 has been ring-fenced in a bank account held by the Friends of the Old Pier Society. Only when the project moves forward to the reconstruction phase will this money be released to aid the procurement of new planks and the plaque to go on them.
Q18. Why do the Friends of the Old Pier Society and the Birnbeck Regeneration Trust exist as separate entities?
A. The Friends of the Old Pier Society have been operating Pier View to bring awareness of the pier's plight to the general public and to raise funds through membership subscriptions and donations to go towards saving the Birnbeck Island's Clock Tower. It also gives regular donations to the Birnbeck Regeneration Trust. It is a subscribable membership-based organisation and sends out regular newsletters.
The Birnbeck Regeneration Trust (Registered Charity 1103012) are dedicated to not only working to save the pier but also to assist with the regeneration of the whole of the Birnbeck area in Weston-Super-Mare. The main aim of the Trust is to save Birnbeck Pier and renovate it for the future use, but this is not an exclusive ambition. It is also studying the entire area around the pier site and looking at what else could be developed locally to help fund the pier regeneration with external commercial backing.
Enquiries were made to the Charities Commission about merging the two organisations, and this resulted in advice been given that this was not possible for legal reasons.
Q19. Can I read the Trust's accounts?
A. Yes. The Trust's accounts are published on the following page at the Companies House website.
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