AN interactive family restaurant is on the way to Southend Pier as part of plans for a new £6.3million pavilion.

Southend Council is currently shortlisting architects to draw up plans for a second pier pavilion on the site of the former bowling alley.

It will house a visitor centre and a bar and restaurant, along with attractions for children.

The council says its vision is to create a new pavilion “that is respectful of the heritage of the Grade II-listed pier and is contemporary in its approach.”

The project, which is planned to be complete in 2020, comes five years after White Arkitekter built the cultural centre at the far end of the pier.

Ann Holland, councillor responsible for culture, tourism and the economy said: “It would be nice if it was something like a restaurant and with interactive activities for children. The pavilion at the other end is always packed, especially when the weather is good.

“People do like to be on the pier relaxing and having something to eat. We want it to be something for the community with interactive stuff to keep children amused.”

Mrs Holland added: “The tender has closed and the architects are being short listed. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes back from the tender.

“It would be fun to have something like an outdoor chess tournament as well. There is such a lot we can do.”

Yesterday, the council announced Southend Pier welcomed 156,494 visitors in the first half of 2017 – smashing visitor numbers for the same period of any year since before the pier was ravaged by fire in 2005.

The previous record for visitors in the first half of the year was in 2014, with 145,860 people turned up.

The council has put the increasing popularity of the pier down to a combination of improving visitor attractions, increasing visitors to the town overall and recent good weather.

Mrs Holland said: “The surge in visitor numbers is extremely promising and a ringing endorsement of the hard work that has gone into developing our visitor offer.

“Last year saw the introduction of ‘cultural beach huts’ on the pier, which have remained this year, with some now operating as concession stalls at the pier head and selling food, drinks and souvenirs. This was in addition the introduction of crazy golf and the refurbishment of the Royal Pavilion café under a new operator with a better menu.”

She added: “Other highlights this year will be an Only Fools and Horses exhibition opening at the western entrance of the pier later this week, paddle-steamer The Waverley taking visitors to and from the pier from various destinations in the South East and London and a passenger ferry trialling a new service from Sheppey to Southend Pier.”

Bigger and bolder plans are in place for the year ahead. Work on extending the pier entrance to create a bigger, better welcome for visitors commences after the summer season

The council is currently carrying out major work to strengthen damaged pier pilings. The empty Pier Hill unit is also being opened as a community gallery and cafe.