SOUTHEND Pier welcomed 156,494 visitors in the first half of 2017 – smashing visitor number records since before it was ravaged by fire in 2005.

The previous record for first-half-year visitor numbers was in 2014, with 145,860 visitors.

Southend Council is putting the increasing popularity of the pier down to a combination of improved activities, increasing visitors to the town overall and recent good weather.

Ann Holland, councillor for culture, tourism and the economy, 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 cafe under a new operator with a better menu.

“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.”

More schemes are in store for the year ahead.

Work on extending the pier entrance to create a better welcome for visitors will start after the summer season and an architect is soon to be appointed to develop plans for a visitor centre on the former bowling deck.