The proposed demolition of the North Jetty walkway
Birnbeck Pier's North Jetty has been in extremely poor condition for an extended period of time. It was further damaged, particularly at the end closest to Birnbeck Island, by Storm Frank on 30 December 2015.
The presently-existing jetty is not the first to be constructed at this location. The first and original wooden-built northern docking pier was assembled using timber beams that had previously formed another jetty, which had extended westwards towards Wales during the very early years of Birnbeck's development. This first North Jetty was badly damaged by a storm (described contemporarily as a ‘perfect hurricane’) during its construction on 23 October 1870, when it was almost complete. The then-necessary rebuild was completed and it came into use in 1872. It was later practically destroyed by another major storm on 10 September 1903, which this time became known as the 'Great Gale'. The central section was completely washed away, and its timbers were scattered widely.
The North Jetty was then rebuilt in 1904/5, constructed this time of ordinary mild steel, which does not have the same corrosion-resisting properties as the cast and wrought iron used to build Birnbeck's earlier (1864-7) main pier.
© Somerset Record Office
The newly-constructed steel North Jetty as photographed in 1905.
© Somerset Record Office
2/. Recent images
The following images record the present condition of the structure of the North Jetty:
All recent images by Mike Davies Photography - © 2016
As can be seen above, the North Jetty is in extremely poor condition. The latticework 'XXX' structure which previously supported the upper walkway has for all practical purposes disintegrated and completely disappeared because of the effects of advanced corrosion - simple rust - due to the age of the jetty and the lack of maintenance over recent decades.
3/. North Somerset Council's position
North Somerset Council served a Section 77 Dangerous Building notice under the 1984 Building Act on the site's owners, CNM Estates (Birnbeck) Ltd, following the partial collapse of the North Jetty during storms in late 2015 which made the structure a danger to the public.
CNM Estates then engaged in a consultation exercise intended to determine the best way forward to resolve this matter. Bodies and organisations involved in this discussion included the Birnbeck Regeneration Trust, Indigo Planning Limited, J.D. Marine and Sons Ltd and A.D.E.L. Construction Ltd.
As a result of the consultation CNM Estates then elected to apply for planning permission to remove the damaged walkway and the five sets of associated supporting trestle legs. (It should be noted that this application does not envisage removal of the main off-island landing stage.)
This application was made by CNM's agents, Indigo Planning Limited, on 3 June 2016.
The application was considered by the North Somerset Council's Planning and Regulatory Committee on 14 September 2016.
It was recommended that the application be APPROVED subject to conditions and the submission of a satisfactory Habitats Regulations Assessment and no further objection from Natural England.
The most important conditions imposed were as follows:
a) Prior to and during demolition a photographic, written and drawn record of the structure shall be carried out in accordance with Historic England’s Building Recording level 4 and submitted to the Local Planning Authority within 2 months of the commencement of demolition works.
b) Prior to the commencement of demolition details of how the pockets (i.e. the island attachment points) are to be retained following the removal of the jetty deck from the island shall be submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority.
c) Prior to the commencement of demolition a method statement providing details of how the remaining posts of the original wooden jetty and the remains of the original splash pool are to be protected shall be submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority.
With regards to a timeframe for the removal of the walkway and the legs, the permitted demolition is to be commenced before the expiry of three years from the date of the permission.
4/. Engineering considerations
The North Jetty walkway is approximately 65 metres long and 6 metres wide. It stands on five pairs of 520mm x 200mm x 25 mm 'I' beam legs. These are historically believed to be morticed into the bedrock to a depth of several feet. The upper supporting structure is of dual lattice girder/truss construction. These trusses support 'I' beam cross-beams which act as deck supports - this deck in turn is constructed of concrete slabs on the western side and utilises timber planking to the east. There is additional cross bracing between individual pairs of legs, and gusset plating and 'knee' bracing elements stiffen the overall structure at various points.
The proposed method of demolition involves the use of a 44t excavator (a Doosan 360) equipped with hydraulic metal cutting shears.
The presently agreed scope of works envisages the removal of all subsequent waste/scrap material and debris from the island.
5/. The Birnbeck Regeneration Trust's position
The Birnbeck Regeneration Trust wrote to NSC to pass a comment on planning application 16/P/1593/LB Birnbeck Pier Grade II North Jetty prior to the application being brought to main council for review.
On review of the Historic England approach that the removal of the North Jetty is approved by North Somerset Council on the proviso that there are plans for the future replacement of the walkway to the landing stage, we as a Trust working to restore the Pier in the near future would agree that this is a pragmatic way forward.
It would not be cost effective to attempt to structurally support the existing walkway for future refurbishment as most of the existing structure is extremely corroded and has the added factor of been overloaded with concrete surfacing slabs which are further weakening the structure. On the Trust's fortnightly inspections of the site more debris which has fallen from the structure during that period can be regularly found.
Whilst it is disappointing to see part of the metalwork removed and a change made to the vista that we are used to seeing every day concerning a structure that has been a part of Birnbeck Island in several incarnations over the past 146 years, it is encouraging to read Cllr Mark Canniford comments that this is not a position the council wants to be in.
He said he is 'reluctantly' forced to side with the officers' recommendation - but adds this type of discussion 'must never happen' with regards to the main pier:
"We cannot ever allow any discussions like this for the main pier".
"In my view, that is sacrosanct and this cannot happen."
The Birnbeck Regeneration Trust is doing everything we can to seek the solution that many of the residents of Weston-super-Mare desire - to see the Old Pier restored. We will leave no stone unturned to achieve this. We are currently working with the North Somerset Council to re-open the coastal path to the public, ideally before Christmas & we aim to open the Pier & Island fully to the public within five years.
To make this a reality we need more public support to complete the current phase of activity, which involves preparing for an application for a Heritage Lottery Grant. Around £19,000 has been raised to date and the Trust needs a further £21,000 to complete the Structural Surveys and Feasibility Studies needed to underpin the bid. The Trust would urge anyone with a love for the pier and who wishes for it to be saved for the community to contact the Trust and become part of Team Birnbeck.
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