SOUTHEND Council is set to go it alone in its £20million regeneration of the pier after failing to find private investors willing to develop it.

The council has ambitious plans to transform the landmark with a restaurant, entertainment, pop-up business and a new train but is no longer pursuing private investors.

Council leader Ron Woodley said although investors had shown interest in going into partnership with the authority to bring back the pier’s glory days, they had since backed out.

Now the council will set up a trading company called Southend Pier Ltd, which would take funds from the council’s reserves in the short-term every year for at least five years. Profits from the business will then be reinvested into the company.

The council aims to spend £20million on the project with £150,000 earmarked for designs and feasibility studies next year.

Mr Woodley said: “The initial investment of £150,000 will come through the council next year to come up with designs and ideas for what we want on the pier in terms of entertainment value.

“There was initial interest from investors, but they dropped out at the final hurdle so we decided the council will do it through Southend Pier Ltd, which will be a separate company but will still be wholly owned by the council.

“The £20million will also give a return, meaning our pier will begin to pay for itself.”

Mr Woodley had spoken of his intention to see a restaurant, entertainment centre and other attractions in the Royal Pavilion at the pierhead, as well as the former bowling alley at the shore end of the jetty refurbished, but said it would not stop there.

He said: “We need a new transport model because the pier train is coming to the end of its life, and we are already working on changing the cafe into a more purposeful structure, as well as investing £4.65million into the structure of the pier.

“We’ll also be looking at some short-term changes to the end of the pier such as having beach hutstyle units for pop-up businesses.

“I’ve also told officers I want them to talk to Metal about the smartphone app they have for Chalkwell Park and how they can apply that to the pier – the idea being you can point your smartphone at something on the pier and it tells you its history.”

Trevor Bell, 70, of Holland Road, Southend, has campaigned for money to be spent on the pier and said he approved of the plan.

He said: “I want the pier to stay in the hands of the people, so I think it’s a good idea. It sounds quite sensible. By all means have private companies operating there, because they desperately need stuff on the pier, but it should stay in public hands.”

RUNNING the pier through a private company is in line with a restructuring of the council along business lines, leader Ron Woodley said.

With Government grants drying up in every area except adult social care by 2020, the council has no choice but to operate as a business wherever it can, Mr Woodley said, as its only other income will be council tax and business rates.

The council has had to make £56million of savings due to government cuts since 2011, and will have to cut a further £33million between April and 2019.

But Mr Woodley said the £20million will be made up of borrowing and reinvested revenue from increased visitor numbers, which stand at 325,000 a year.

He said: “Southend Pier Ltd will be run in the same way as our care home company, adult social care company, investment company, property company, and grounds maintenance company, which will be wholly-owned by the council but operate as businesses. This will happen wherever there is an opportunity for us to move into that market to replenish the income we are losing from government grants.”