Birnbeck Pier, a Victorian structure built between 1862 and 1867, is unique due to its connection to Birnbeck Island – the only pier in the country to connect the mainland to an island. The privately-owned pier has continued to deteriorate over many years, moving onto Historic England’s national at-risk register in 1999.
North Somerset Council’s concern about the deterioration of the pier resulted in the serving of a repairs notice to the private owner in September 2019. In late 2019, the RNLI began initial conversations with the council and Historic England on the possibility of the charity moving back to the Island, which would include a transfer of ownership.
At a meeting on Tuesday 14 July, the council will receive a report to authorise the issuing of a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) for Birnbeck Pier. This process could take up to 18 months until confirmation is received from the Secretary of State.
Leader of the Council, Don Davies, said: “We are delighted that an organisation as professional as the RNLI has decided to step in and potentially take ownership of Birnbeck Pier. We have given the owner many opportunities over the years to undertake the necessary repairs needed to preserve the pier, without success, even starting legal action to CPO the site as a last resort. This is a fantastic result following a great deal of work from council officers, Historic England and the RNLI.
“Clearly there is a lot of work to do to restore the pier and re-establish the lifeboat station back to its original home. We would like to thank Historic England for their ongoing support in securing a future for Birnbeck Pier and look forward to seeing this historic structure reopened to the public, as well as providing vital lifesaving to North Somerset.”
Duncan Macpherson, RNLI Principal Estate Manager says: “The RNLI are really encouraged by the positive steps being taken by North Somerset Council to initiate a CPO process in order to take ownership of Birnbeck Island. The charity has been working alongside North Somerset Council and Historic England on the feasibility of re-establishing a lifeboat station on Birnbeck Island and this is a significant step towards that goal.
“Weston-super-Mare is a very important search and rescue base for the RNLI but is also a very complex area in which to build a lifeboat station. Birnbeck Island offers the best solution for the safe and most effective launch and recovery for the volunteer lifeboat crew at all states of the tide. The move will be a significant investment for the charity and the future of lifesaving in Weston-super-Mare. Of course, the pier also has huge historical significance to the community of Weston-super-Mare and, although there are a number of challenges to overcome still, the RNLI are delighted to be part of the journey to bring it back to its former glory.”
Rebecca Barrett, Regional Director for Historic England in the South West, said: “This is wonderful news. Birnbeck Pier is one of England’s finest Victorian piers, but it has been on our Heritage at Risk Register for over 20 years. We are delighted that such a promising solution has now come forward. We will continue to work closely with the RNLI, North Somerset Council and other partners to rescue this outstanding and much-loved structure.”
Notes to editors
- Birnbeck Pier is Grade II* listed with five further Grade II structures and buildings located on the island and the landward end of the site.
- The pier was designed by Eugenius Birch, the noted Victorian engineer
- Construction took place between 1862 and 1867, with the foundation stone being laid in 1864 and opening to the public from 1867. The pier closed to the public for safety reasons in 1994.
- WSM is one of busiest RNLI lifeboat stations in the country. Between 2014 and 2019 the volunteer crew launched 242 times, assisted 72 people; and saved 26 lives.
- The RNLI have had a presence on Birnbeck Island since 1882 but were forced to leave the island in 2014 due to the deterioration of the pier, which had become unsafe. The gradual decline of the pier and the sustainability of the situation at Weston has been a known risk for many years and attempts to find a long-term solution have been ongoing, with 13 sites over almost 8 km of coastline being reviewed and assessed for suitability as a base for the RNLI.
- Bristol Channel has an extreme tidal range. At low tide the large mudflats that surround Weston are exposed making the launch and recovery of a lifeboat difficult
- Birnbeck Island is surrounded by access to water at lower states of tide which significantly opens the operational window for the safe and most effective launch and recovery of lifeboats and is the preferred option for the location of the lifeboat station.