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Southport Pier

History

Southport Pier is one of Britain's longest standing pleasure piers and stretches more than 3,600ft out over the resort's iconic golden sands.

The second longest in the UK, Southport Pier is a unique product of engineering techniques from the 1800s and has undergone several huge refurbishment projects in the following 155 years.

The iconic structure was closed for safety reasons by the Council on explicit advice from structural engineers, after extreme weather in December 2022 accelerated the current issues in the Pier decking.

Frequently Asked Questions

In order to keep residents, visitors and businesses around the area safe, the Pier will remain closed throughout these works.

The Council is proactively engaging with various external stakeholders and potential funders in respect of the Pier and its future.

Update: September 2023

Sefton Council has now received and has published the two structural surveys relating to Southport Pier, along with a series of responses to questions put forward by the general public over its plan for the refurbishment of the Pier.

The below FAQs aim to address as many aspects as possible of the surveys.

The Council is proactively engaging with various external stakeholders and potential funders in respect of the Pier and its future. This includes the National Piers Society, who visited Southport again this week and reiterated that the challenges Southport Pier faces are shared by Council-owned Piers across the country.

Southport Pier Surveys

Both the decking and steelwork reports received by Sefton Council are available to view below:

Southport Pier Decking Report (pdf 859KB)
Southport Pier Steelwork Report (pdf 5.77MB)
Visual Pier Defects (pdf 275KB)
May 2024 Southport Pier Final Report For Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council (pdf 10.13MB)

Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of Frequently Asked Questions relating to Southport Pier, which will be updated accordingly as the project progresses.

The below FAQs are accurate and updated as of 15/09/2023


Sefton Council identified a need to carry out repairs along Southport Pier’s underfoot decking in mid-2022 and a £3 million repair project was approved. The aim of this project was to carry out works to more than 56 miles of decking while the Pier remained open to the public. Prior to this the Council completed  phase 1 of decking replacement at cost of £180,000. During these works the Pier remained open to the public. However, Southport Pier has a legacy of poor workmanship resulting from a refurbishment in 2000 and was furthermore subjected to sustained and substantial freezing conditions during a UK wide extreme cold weather snap at the end of 2022. The effects of this freezing caused further damage to the structural condition of the Pier.

Following an inspection by a team of independent Structural Engineers, Sefton Council was told to close the pier to protect the safety of anyone working on it or visiting the iconic tourist attraction.

A full and extensive independent structural survey was commissioned, the interim feedback from which has confirmed the need to keep the Pier closed until further extensive repair and replacement works are carried out. The final surveys state the same explicitly, and the Pier would no longer be insurable so had to be shut.

The Council has now received the final surveys, these surveys continue to reinforce the need for The Pier to remain closed until extensive repairs are carried out.

The expert investigative and exploratory works have now been completed by A E Yates Ltd. Their teams will now begin collating their findings and we expect to receive a draft report detailing these findings in around a months time, which will assist us in finalising the main works specification and costs.

These works carried out by A E Yates Ltd saw a significant section of the Pier’s damaged decking removed as well as further assessments of the integrity of both the Pier’s cast iron columns and steel structure.

Images released from exploratory works taking place on Southport Pier have once again reaffirmed the decision to temporarily close the structure.

This is one of the sobering images provided by contractor A E Yates which show significant holes and erosion in the Pier’s steelwork as well as the damage to the decking boards.

The exploratory works are taking place in stages and are progressing on schedule as Sefton Council continues to seek a long term funding solution for the capital works and ongoing maintenance required.

The used boards are not safe for thousands of people to walk on, which is why they are being removed.

Although they cannot be re-used for the Pier’s restoration, there are alternatives uses, which have financial and environmental benefits.

Sefton Council has not directly entered into an agreement with Lawson’s for the sale of these boards.

However, the recycling value of the rotted and unsafe decking was reflected in the low price the Council is paying for the boards’ removal.

Any savings like this that can be made at this stage of the work can be ploughed back into the Pier’s refurbishment in the long term.

The alternative would be for the used timber to go to landfill.

Owing to poor repairs carried out in 2000, work that should have lasted up to 30 years was sub-standard and we inherited a structure that was flawed.

The contractor in 2000 used the wrong screws, wrong wood and installed noggins incorrectly  as well as failing to renew the steelwork and fixings correctly. Shortly after reopening, failure of the coating system and corrosion of the underlying steelwork was identified. Following arbitration, it was agreed that the surface preparation for the recoating works had been inadequate.

Despite the Council winning its case against the contractor, the company went into liquidation.

Further defects identified include:

  • Improvised site-fabricated packers with mating surfaces that were never painted at the time and cannot ‘retrospectively be painted’
  • Square edges / lack of radius edges to main truss top and bottom flanges causes problems with paint adhesion despite attempts at stripe coating in 2017
  • Back-to-back mating surfaces and hard to reach areas like obscured top flanges where it is impossible or difficult to apply paint
  • Poor steelwork details with numerous water traps causing pooling of salt laden water.
  • Steelwork delamination (flaking at edges causing structural loss) due to edges not being chamfered correctly

Please see an animated photo in the documents above for further details.

Southport Pier is a 1,1km (3600ft) long structure comprised of a number of different materials, most notably wood and steel.

The survey, commissioned by Sefton Council and carried out by independent third party structural engineering experts, looked at the Pier’s structure including a detailed analysis of materials both on the surface and within.

As the survey progressed it became apparent more inspections of the timber support and connected steelwork would be required. Due to the need for close inspection access had to be provided for engineers to inspect elements under the deck boards. Weather conditions and tides have impacted when these could take place.

The Council received interim results from the structural engineers who, again, reiterated that The Pier must remain closed until substantial works and repairs are completed to the Pier decking and supporting structure. Sefton Council have received both the steel and timber structure reports and these are available above.

Page 2 of each survey shows the dates of issue to the Council for comment – this has included review to provide historic information and context where required to the survey to enable completeness of the review. The final structural steelwork survey was only received on 25th August 2023, and the final structural timber survey was received on 11th September 2023. These “FAQs” were then produced on 12th September, and were published along with the surveys themselves on 13th September.

The Council are engaged in several conversations with regards to external funding, having completed phase 1 of the decking replacement. The Council also agreed to allocated £3m to the Pier project.

Sefton Council have also made several appointments in order to specify the works that will required to refurbish the Pier and we are preparing for appointing a contractor for the works, again reaffirms Sefton’s commitment to the project.

Further updates for the procurement of a main contractor will be given in due course.

The Council continues to work to ensure that the required capital works are “ready to start” as quickly as possible after the required funding is secured.

Sefton Council appointed industry leaders Thomasons Consulting Civil and Structural Engineers to carry out the in depth survey on Southport Pier.

Thomasons is an award-winning independent construction consultancy who have been utilised by numerous private and public sector organisations for a number of different projects around the UK.

They are especially well-known for their expertise in complex civil & structural engineering, building facades, defect diagnosis and historic buildings.

The vast majority of serious defects discovered by the independent report have been found deep within the materials which make up Southport Pier.

While it may not look any different on the surface, there is severe decay within more than 25% of decking boards on the Pier.  A lot of this decay is within the centre of the board meaning it is not visible from a normal perspective. There are also several legacy defects from the refurbishment of The Pier in early 2000s that have become apparent which need to be corrected.

The severe decay impacts more than 14 miles of decking.

Sefton Council’s first priority is the ongoing health and safety of those who visit and work around the Pier and we are not prepared to put anyone at risk of potential harm by allowing them to walk on the structure in its current condition.

As shared previously based on earlier but incomplete drafts, the survey is explicit in stating that the Pier should not be reopened to the public until the required remediation works are completed.

Sefton Council has carried out regular annual maintenance programmes on Southport Pier and this continued up until the temporary closure was put in place.

Below is a list of the maintenance and improvement costs and spend made by Sefton Council since 2016 on Southport Pier at total of over £3million averaging approximately £462,000

Maintenance (revenue)

2016/17 - £31,285.07
2017/18 - £21,138.18
2018/19 - £48,987.59
2019/20 - £28,263.69
2020/21 - £24,008.22
2021/22 - £14,962.72
2022/23 - £144,894.52

Maintenance/Improvements (Capital)

2016/17 - £0
2017/18 - £1,462,388
2018/19 - £1,122,589
2019/20 - £102,283
2020/21 - £49,034
2021/22 - £15,117
2022/23 - £173,555

It is vital not only that capital funding is provided for the immediate works to enable reopening, but that adequate funding for future maintenance is also secured.

In the same time period (7 Years) the Council has received £560,000 of income related to the Pier, a stark difference between the maintenance and capital costs the Council has spent.  It is also envisaged the Councils maintenance costs will increase, while the income it receives will stay fixed.

Works which have taken place on Southport Pier since 2016 have sought to address known issues with the structure, including matters relating to underfoot decking and steelwork. These works were instrumental in ensuring Southport Pier remained Operational.  Particularly after Covid The Pier underwent daily maintenance with temporary replacement of boards to support the towns economy.

However, as has been well publicised, poor workmanship which occurred in the year 2000 of which are detailed in the independent reports and the effects of extreme weather exposure has exacerbated the deterioration of the Pier’s condition much quicker than regular repair schedules could address.

As a result of this Southport Pier now needs extensive refurbishment prior to it being reopened to the public. As above there has been significant investment in maintenance and repair to the Pier over many years, but the issue is not the effectiveness of those works, but the sufficiency of funding for more of those works to protect this important heritage asset.

Southport Pier Trust have overall responsibility for the plaques which have been placed on the decking along Southport Pier. 

We are pleased to confirm that all 2000 plus plaques on Southport Pier have been carefully removed and placed into secure storage, awaiting their replacement at a later date.

Peter Hampson, Chairman of Southport Pier Trust, said: "This precautionary measure removes any potential for accidental loss or damage to the plaques while the pier remains closed to the public and the decking and structure undergoes intrusive assessment, including the complete removal of a number of large sections of decking. It is hoped a full programme of refurbishment works will take place in due course.

“Securing all the plaques now was the best option, rather than leaving it to chance that all the plaques could and would be safely recovered over a period of time potentially by a number of different contractors.

"We would like to thank the current contractors, A E Yates who have produced a detailed condition report and record of the location and layout of all the plaques before diligently removing and securing them for the Trust. This work has been undertaken as part of their local social value programme, at no cost to either the charitable Trust or the Council. The record will be invaluable as an essential starting point for our future discussions and planning for the replacement of the plaques on the structure once fully repaired.

"The plaques were originally installed in the early 2000s to mark charitable donations made by over 2000 members of the public. The funds raised were used to pay for the manufacture and laying of the plaques themselves, and as match funding for a number projects not covered by the original Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant." The number of donations made was thought to be instrumental in demonstrating the level of public support for the proposed rebuild and thus, in helping to secure the original HLF grant to undertake it.

"The Trust remain determined to see that the plaques are appropriately displayed, at the earliest possible opportunity, on a fully refurbished and reopened pier. The local volunteer Trustees and the Trust as a body, continue to work with Sefton Council to progress this shared ambition"

The Government’s Town Deal Fund is a scheme which awards  Councils with money for specific projects that would “drive sustainable economic regeneration and productivity” such as the creation of a multi-purpose events centre.

The Southport Town Deal Bid was submitted in 2020, more than a year prior to the exacerbated deterioration of Southport Pier becoming apparent. The bid was based on extensive consultation and engagement with more than 2,000 residents and stakeholders, so was intended to reflect the views and priorities identified within that feedback, which prioritised the replacement of Southport Theatre and Convention Centre with (MLEC). The structure and criteria of the Government’s Towns Fund do not allow for reallocation of funds to the refurbishment of Southport Pier or any other project – these funds are for deliver of the commitments made in the bid, and identified through this widespread consultation and engagement.

It is estimated that the full refurbishment works required to ensure the Pier can open safely again could exceed £13 million, more than £10 million in excess of the £3m that the Council have already agreed to borrow to fund decking replacement. However, this will not be finalised until construction tender prices are received, and as above this does not include adequate funding for maintenance thereafter.

As custodians of this iconic structure, Sefton Council has reiterated its complete support towards the full refurbishment of Southport Pier.

However the Council  simply does not have the budgets required to fulfil these works without help, and we strongly believe that a nationally significant heritage asset such as this should have national funding allocated for both the project and the ongoing maintenance thereafter.

In order to address this significant funding gap, the Council is now progressing engagement as quickly as possible with potential funders and stakeholders.

Not many people are aware that of the 100+ piers which have been built around the UK since the Victorian era, only a handful still remain operational.

Many have since been demolished due to rising repair costs, dangerously decayed structures and damage from vandalism.

Southport Pier is one of the few Piers which continues to receive investment and support from its custodians, Sefton Council.

Many Piers are also not operated by local authorities, but by private sector operators. The Council is not in a position to compare the condition of Southport Pier to others, but the Council has been consistent in its prioritisation of the highest standards of health and safety, and will continue to do so.  

The Council has hosted a recent visit of the National Piers Society to Southport, as part of ongoing engagement with them (as per the Special Cabinet Report of June 2023). It is clear from engagement that there are many Piers across the UK with issues similar to, and greater than, Southport, and as above we continue to propose that the preservation of nationally significant heritage assets such as these require a national funding solution for repair and for ongoing maintenance.

We understand how difficult it is for the Pier Concessionaire and other affected businesses during this time. Sefton Council has suspended all rent requirements with the Pier concessionaire since the closure of the Pier, with the Road train rent already suspended prior to this.

Sefton Council’s lease agreement with the Concessionaire allows the Council to close the Pier for health and safety concerns or works required.

We have allowed the Concessionaire to continue to trade from the ‘Half Way House’ while it is safe to do so. Sefton Council have also offered several alternative trading locations close to the Pier, in the Town Centre and on Sefton Coast but we have been informed by the Concessionaire that they do not believe these to be viable spaces for them.

Sefton Council is not involved in the recent Go Fund me Campaign. Any funds raised through that campaign will not go towards the repair costs of the Pier.

Significant repairs to Southport Pier date back to as early as 1890 and during its long history it has fallen victim to incredibly powerful storm damage, boat crashes and numerous fires in the 19th and 20th century.

In its 163 years Southport Pier has also faced continuous exposure to the elements which, over time, naturally take their toll on the wood and steel which make up the vast majority of the Pier’s structure.

During 2022 the Council worked proactively to keep the Pier open by having daily inspections of the condition of the decking, with a contractor on site delivering proactive repairs to identified boards that required immediate replacement. This was only ever intended to be temporary for the period up until the replacement of the decking across the whole Pier, for which the Council agreed to commit £3m of investment, but wider issues of course superseded those proposed works.

The Council recognises the importance of the train to the concessionaire’s business, and will work to identify solutions that enable the safe return of the train to the Pier. This is of course important to ensure continued accessibility for visitors to the full length of the Pier. However, as above this will require adequate funding for maintenance to enable sustained mitigation of any issues that the train brings for the structure, as identified in both surveys.

Noggins were used in the 2000-2002 refurbishment, and their purpose was to give rigidity to the structure due to the design of the Pier. Unfortunately, due to the poor installation methods of the noggins this has caused the deck boards to sink and come lose over time accelerating the build of moss, timber decay and trip hazards.

The Delamination of the steelwork is a result of incorrect edging and install methods in 2000. This has caused the steelwork to fracture into separate layers on the exposed edges resulting in structural loss in certain areas of the Pier.

The Council has been consistent in focusing not only on capital funding for repair and replacement works, but on adequate funding for maintenance. Spend of circa £0.5m per annum over recent years has been insufficient. It is therefore apparent that the Council will need further support to provide extensive maintenance to The Pier once the works are complete.

These funding requirements for maintenance come against a backdrop of significant pressures on local government funding, limited income from the Pier itself, and cost inflation in all areas, hence the pursuit of external funding to ensure long-term preservation of the asset beyond the immediate capital works.

The Council undertook a procurement process in relation to the phase 2 deck
replacement, and as part of this process formal discussions/correspondence took
place.

The Council will undertake similar procurement exercises over the course of
the year where formal correspondence will also take place.

No. There have been no discussions with any organisation with regards to the Southport Pier concession.

The National Piers Society was founded in 1979 under Sir John Betjeman, at a time when some of the finest piers were threatened with demolition. Over the years the Society has grown steadily and has become well established as the leading authority on piers. Through its efforts, several piers that would otherwise have vanished, remain for the enjoyment of everyone.

 

Our focus is on identifying and securing the funding necessary to refurbish Southport Pier.

Both surveys together explain in great detail the necessary works required and the need for continued safety for all. These FAQs are intended to provide clarity and context on these surveys.

We will continue to add and update these FAQs as and when further information is available or requested.

It is the shared view of experts, insurers and of Sefton Council that the Pier should remain closed until essential repairs to the decking and steel work are carried out. However, as above, our focus remains on pursuit of the necessary funding to deliver the required works at the earliest opportunity.

It was important to consider both the decking / timber report and the steel report together before publishing them. The final decking / timber report was received on the 11/09/23, both reports and FAQs were then released to the public on the 14/09/23.

A E Yates, who have recently completed detailed exploratory and investigation works on Southport Pier, are the latest addition to the project team. They have been chosen as the contractor to support the next phase of design and planning works required.

The selection of A E Yates, who have a successful C.V. and track record of working on large scale refurbishment projects, follows on from their detailed explorations of the Pier’s steel structure.

This helped to set out the scale of challenge faced by Sefton Council as it continues to seek additional funding to restore the Pier to its former glory.

An A E Yates spokesperson said: “We are delighted to be selected by Sefton Council under a pre-construction services agreement to be part of this important and prestigious project in the centre of Southport. 

“The Pier is such a well-known attraction in the North-West and we are excited to be an integral part of the team helping to bring it back to life for locals and visitors alike.”

 

 


Last Updated on Thursday, December 21, 2023

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