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The BRT/CNM Estates public consultation exercise

Our original posting to introduce this exercise -

The following was posted on our Facebook pages on August 16th 2015:

PROJECT DEVELOPMENT PARTICIPATION – The Birnbeck Regeneration Trust/CNM Estates public consultation exercise:

The next stage of our project development planning involves further direct discussions with CNM Estates Ltd. Whilst the Trust is already engaged with CNM on a number of important matters, both parties now wish for this process to include greater input from the local North Somerset community. This exercise is intended to continue the progress achieved by our very recent open public meeting.

We would now like to ask everyone who has a concern about Birnbeck Pier and Birnbeck Island the following:

"If you wanted the answer to one question from CNM Estates what would that question be?"

When considering such a question, we need to make it clear that it needs to be one that you would be prepared to ask publicly and face-to-face if such an opportunity arose. In order to make this exercise manageable we would hope to achieve a final list of about 20 questions.

We will consider and collate all the replies and responses received, although we also need to make it clear that only the questions posted directly on the official Birnbeck Regeneration Trust Facebook page will be formally reviewed.

Please post your questions there.

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As a result of the above we received a number of questions for CNM. Unfortunately, few of the participants were available at the admittedly short notice that the opportunity to conduct this exercise presented us with. On their behalf, their questions were asked by Neil O'Donoghue, BRT's Business Manager.

The Question and Answer session:

The following is a transcript of the question and answer session that took place at Pier View on Thursday 20th August 2015:

(Opening introductions – From CNM Estates (Birnbeck) Ltd: Wahid Samady - Director; Michael Ross - Director; Lara Sampson - CNM Project Manager appointed to support BRT; Kevin Trudgeon - CNM Commercial Manager; and Mike Dolley - CNM PR. For BRT - Richard Griffin - Project Manager; and Neil O’Donoghue - Business Manager. For Weston Mercury: Grace Earl - Reporter)

Question from Sheila A (posted online) – Since I am very new to the area I would like to ask what the intention is for the future & what CNM estates have in mind?

Wahid Samady – What do we have in mind & why Weston? This may answer a number of questions. I came to Weston to view the Royal Pier Hotel in 2007. I loved the setting and over the months met many local people who had ambition and energy for the town. I love that it is close to London & Bristol – good for business. I loved that so many people had ambition for the town that was about to be realised. Easy for me to make a decision that (it is) a great place with great people & I wanted to be a part of that – an easy decision at the time to make. An opportunity to go back to the glory days – not going backwards but doing something to move forward whilst celebrating history.

My intentions now are to simply to find a way forward for a problem that is a generational problem. The Pier didn’t become unsafe overnight – there were twenty to thirty years of neglect. It was closed down because it was unsafe. I am not trying to buck any responsibility that I have & I don’t want to come across as trying to buck any responsibility but this is a fifty year problem not a twenty year problem. For whatever reason we can all look back and say why or how did it get to this state. My intentions are very simple that is to enable the pier to be refurbished & I have a vested interest in that we have the Royal Pier Hotel – hopefully we will get that going – and I know that there some questions about that – the bottom line is for that to be successful the Pier needs to be successful and so we are where we are.

We only intervened with the Pier (although I’ve been involved since 2007) when it came into our ownership last year. For all those years others have tried to do something about it and for whatever reason that hasn’t been successful, I have a vested interest and there is importantly a massive opportunity in this project to refurbish the Pier & do something good. That’s what our vision is – to work now with BRT completely & I am very happy that this group has been formed, as we now have a counterpart, without being negative about other parties – other stakeholders like the Council have some responsibility to create the vision for this and at the moment nobody knows what to do. We have attempted to put some ideas forward & they weren’t welcome but the debate is now ongoing. I can only commend BRT in the work that they have done already in mobilising and becoming a voice. All of us need to come to a consensus on the way forward. I have received some blame for things & I can only put my hands up and apologise for that. Let's look forward and see what we can make happen.

Neil O’Donoghue for BRT – Our simple vision is that we have a Pier we can walk on, that we can call on some history and we can build on that to produce a commercially viable venture that sees the Pier & the Island open to the people of Weston-super-Mare.

(Feedback from the floor – a member of the public shares memories – we need a mix of the old & new.)

WS – You have hit the nail on the head, we are all saying the same thing, we do not want to wipe away history, but we can’t go back 100 years – we need to create something that will see the next 100 years – times have changed. We need to celebrate history with something fit for the 21st century. The BRT guys are on the same page. We need to restore it and ensure that there is a sinking fund (i.e. a future maintenance fund) available so that we don’t kick problems down the road for the next generation. This is not what has happened over the last 50 years. Various owners over the last 50 years... – I have to stress it’s a problem.

(Interruption from the floor – it’s not your doing..)

WS – It is my problem as much as anybody else’s and it's my problem because of the neglect from the last 50 years. When it closed 20 years ago it was as a result of neglect from the 30 years before that. So a 50 year problem. Whatever we do we can’t allow that to happen again.

Question from Janice Spray (posted online) - I'm afraid I can't make it in person either Neil but I would like Wahid Samady to answer about the £100k CNM Estates apparently still owe NSC for the hotel site clearance and if the work undertaken by Towens, with regards to that, complied with the contract between Towens & NSC, which I assume CNM Estates were aware of?

WS – I know that there has been a lot of discussion about this. I have not (previously) made any comment; I am pleased to make a comment now – we have reached a settlement with NSC. When my hotel got burned down twice I am the victim of that, nobody got charged for it, I didn’t burn it. My property was stolen – my hotel that I paid £1 million for was burned twice and had to be raised to the ground. I am the victim and what I’m really upset about is that nobody has been charged for it – not even a reprimand. After the first time it was burned I have played cat and mouse & spent hundreds of thousands on security & locking & blocking it up – it really worried me. The second time it got burned I saw it on TV – my wife told me it was on TV. The Council phoned me up and told me that the building had become unsafe and it needs to be destroyed – come down, about three hours notice to ring the demolition contractor from London & of course during construction we do this all the time – demolish buildings properly. I asked the Council in an email – if it is unsafe do they have anyone to do this? Since then we have had a complete disagreement on the scope of works. I am aggrieved, what they have done is crushed the building and infilled it and that is what you can see now and that is not what we have agreed. For me now to remove all that stuff is going to cost a few hundred thousand pounds more. That’s not what we agreed they should do and now I have this problem. They say they did it because of reasons – while they were pulling stuff down they couldn’t do this and couldn’t do that and find a way for this and that.

We have now reached an agreement with NSC that they will be paid as they have accepted that I have a case – there is a case to answer. If you want to build something and somebody says they are going to do X – they haven’t taken away the rubble – they have infilled it – the site is on a slope & it doesn’t look like a slope now. I am the aggrieved party I am the one who has had my goods stolen & my property burned down twice, I’m the one who has to play this cat & mouse game with the people breaking into it. I was upset about it, I’m still upset talking about it. I paid good money to buy something – it’s burned down twice and it's now rubble and then the work that has been done has been done wrongly – it's created more problems. I wish I’d sent my own team to deal with it. It’s now all water under the bridge. I’m not the type to walk away from things like this – I don’t want to do that. As far as I’m concerned we have now reached agreement with the Council and it will now be resolved in the next few weeks. It’s taken a while for the Council to see I’m not talking crap. There is a way forward. We haven’t had a counterpart, I’ve spent a lot of money on this project, we have always wanted to speak to people and ask them what they wanted – the public / the Council, we asked the Council what do you want, you are the local authority you must have some responsibility. I keep asking the Council what is your answer? It’s on your watch that the last 50 years has come to this? A costly project – what is your vision – you tell us it’s a costly project – how do you think we should do it? For the first time we have a structure we can discuss, I’m not saying that I agree with everything BRT are doing & the guys know that, however, I am incredibly supportive & we have an organisation that I hope the people of Weston-super-Mare get behind – a forum to feed in ideas and get the discussion going. The volunteers are amazing. Let’s all get behind BRT whether they agree with me or not, with or without me it’s a great thing for Birnbeck. I hope as we move forward that I can demonstrate that I want to work with BRT.

Question from Rose Barnett – As a volunteer at Pier View & as a fund raiser I also speak to the general public a lot. We get told that they do not trust you & this whole lease business is a ploy to get planning permission from the Council & you have no intention of actually leasing the Pier to the Trust.

WS – I’m not proposing any planning application, I am working with the Trust and the lease is a necessity. I have said to BRT we need to get to a point of a package of information that HLF can properly assess. The dialogue that has happened to date & thanks to BRT that has been positive. The HLF has a rigorous process and require a thorough package with cost, feasibility studies etc. & do you have the agreement from the owner of a 25 year lease, I have said I will support BRT to get this I have said that if HLF provide the money then I will give the necessary lease. There is no benefit other than making sure BRT are successful.

(Question from the floor) – What is the value (of the Pier and Island) to CNM?

WS – It is tremendous, it is a unique site & we want to be a part of the process for getting it restored and secondly we have our own investment on the site next door, imagine me building that up and people looking out onto it (the Pier) - it’s not rocket science. Many people have tried, but I don’t give up, I’m not giving up. I’ve taken a lot of criticism and I put my hands up and apologise for what I may have done wrong. My heart is in the right place, I like this team, I like BRT and that there are so many volunteers, let’s have one voice I have a lot of affection for this island – let’s get on and do something about it together.

Question from Shane Burney – You have millions to invest and have invested since the purchase of Birnbeck. Why have you done nothing to save her?

WS – It’s a good question, we have done a lot to try and understand what the problems are. The Pier is like a giant meccano set and if you start tampering with it there is a massive risk you may accelerate its demise. We have now agreed with BRT that there some remedial works to be done. At the moment it's not fully agreed what they are but we have agreed under the auspices of BRT and a structural engineer to decide what remedial works need to be done until we know where we are with the lottery funding. It's not an insignificant exercise, possibly £3.5 million for the bridge. The advice is that small works to the bridge would be damaging. Behind the scenes lots of work on surveys and discussion with various parties and now time for BRT.

Question from Rachael Hadley (posted online) – Thank you for accepting my request to join the group. I have a question please. After all the hard work and effort that the volunteers put in to trying to save Birnbeck and their constant fundraising, why is it taking so long to give them the lease so that they can then go ahead and try and get lottery funding?

WS – (Question answered previously) – we are working with them to give them (BRT) the lease.

Question from Jacky Summers – Having been an active volunteer for the past 8 months, I have spoken with a lot of local people and the main concern from the people of Weston is the 25 year lease. Do we have your assurance that it will be a rolling, capped lease?

WS – The terms of the lease have not been fully discussed but the HLF have strict guidelines to any lease & I want to do everything that the HLF require to give the lease.

Question from Roger Pursey (posted online) – How is it that a grade two listed structure has been left to rust away, the old & new owners should be made responsible for ALL COSTS INCURRED DURING THE RE-BUILD?

WS – One of the lessons learnt from the last 50 years is that there hasn’t been sufficient thought put into the sinking fund (see above). The cost of keeping it standing hasn’t been thought of, a common problem that English Heritage / HLF have now addressed. We just need to fix it going forward.

Question from Marjorie Belcher (posted online) – My question would have been almost the same as Simon Kerrigan. Since buying Birnbeck Pier why have you not done anything to it, you have just let it continue to rot so that it is now unsafe for the R.N.L.I. to use? You knew what condition it was in before you purchased.

WS – Already covered in previous Q’s & RNLI have attended meetings & wanted to find a solution, but now the pier is unsafe they have moved on. Open to continued talks with the RNLI & they are only one piece of the cog.

Question from Simon Hill (posted online) – I would ask CNM "are you in this project for the long haul and have you got the finances and will to stay the distance?"

Micheal Ross (CNM) – This goes beyond what WS was saying earlier, I grew up in Brighton a town with two piers, I have a personal motivation to get this Pier to not do what Brighton did. (For reference please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Pier)

WS – No single company could come up with all the money to do this entire project on their own. There are two or three ways to look at how to do it – HLF keep it as a lowly developed Island & Pier and would you give us the money. John Penrose very helpfully arranged a meeting between us, the Council, English Heritage, RNLI, Senior director of HLF and we had a discussion on how the HLF could help. There is a lot of demand for HLF money, critically the HLF were clear that without a sinking fund they couldn’t progress the funding, and they don’t fund 100%. We should support and always will support BRT and see how much we can get from HLF and cut our cloth accordingly & then look at how we get the rest of the funding, development, private sector funding etc. We need to be clearly thinking and working together.

(Question from the floor) – Why are you not paying for the feasibility study personally as the owner when we need to get this done quickly?

WS – Following the discussions with BRT today I’m not opposed to doing that. As you know we have already provided some funds for electrical work & in discussion with BRT we have agreed some funds for safety and security work so going forward three tracts of work to be confirmed by BRT, this is hot off the press from our discussions today, we spent a good few hours looking at a detailed robust plan produced by BRT with my team from London & Colliers International in Bristol today. We have concluded three streams of work.

Firstly to identify the immediate works that need to be done, Pier View, the Pier Master's cottage and the clock tower & others so we are holding the status quo at least for the next few months. Second – defining what works need to be done & costed to get us to Stage 1 of the Heritage Lottery Funding process– I can’t commit to any work until I know what needs to be done and how much it will cost but I have given a commitment as mentioned earlier as I really want this to work. Thirdly, we must engage the public further whilst BRT have done an excellent job so far there are other stakeholders whose opinions matter. The wider public & the Council – they are a major stakeholders – what do they think? I have certainly taken on board that once we determine what is required – surveys, reports to get to Stage 1 HLF funding I’ll be speaking to BRT with a view to capitalising that and if not covering all the costs then certainly a portion. The Weston Mercury should publicise that anyone going near the Island is taking a huge risk by trespassing onto the site and taking their own lives in their hands – these people are doing Weston, BRT or CNM no favours.

Neil O'Donoghue (BRT) – People need to understand the risk that they are taking in doing so. A joint plea please do not go on the island. We are speaking as one voice.

Richard Griffin (BRT) – When we go out it we go out under a risk assessment approval and it is all controlled – others going out are taking their lives in their hands – please don’t.

Question from Simon Kerrigan (posted online) – You say you want to work together with the Trust on the regeneration of the Pier? How is it then that at no stage since you bought the Pier have you attempted any immediate remedial repairs to try and keep her standing, so that her future would not be in jeopardy, bearing in mind as a Business man you would know how long these projects take?

(Please see previous answers.)

Question from Richard Greenland (posted online) – My personal view for the pier is that I would love to see it returned to its 1950s use. I know that this is financially unviable. However, would CNN be able to guarantee public access to a development that maintains a sympathetic profile to the present one and not include additions like has happened on Knightstone.

WS – My view there should be public access. The schemes we presented before had public access built into them. I don’t know what the outcome will be – we now have BRT working through some options and I will support whatever they do, I quite like what BRT are suggesting with the education facility, because this is quite unique. We have our town with university status soon and so many great schools, there is so much to learn here, it’s a site of Ramsar interest (formally, the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance) and a Site of Special Scientific Interest – all of these designations are very important for the children.

We have the second highest tidal reach in the world, we have sun, wind we have the beaches & a huge opportunity to incorporate education. I’m sold on the idea that everyone would like to see this regenerated – the question is how much can we get from the lottery fund and is that enough? We now have a momentum going and we need to keep that going in good faith to do something amazing for Weston-super-Mare. The first objective is to get the Pier restored so that people can walk on to the Island and then do something amazing with the Island. Something amazing for the 21st Century.

Question from Robin Burridge – What are your timescales for rebuilding the hotel?

WS – Watch this space. With any construction project the soil investigations & foundations are important, and understanding what is going on with all the muck that has been put in there, the first thing we need to do is get that out so we can investigate the rock surface etc so this will take some time. We want to get going in the near future.

(Session concluded with thanks to the CNM team for their participation)

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