Southend's iconic pier could have to close in five years after a shock survey revealed structural concerns – and £2million is needed to save it.

The report has been produced for Southend Council by engineers Hemsley Orrell Partnership, which carried out a full survey of the milelong landmark earlier this year.

Although it concludes the pier is “in most part in fair to good condition”, it warns worn-out parts of the structure mean the railway could have to close in just two years.

And without significant investment, engineers says the whole pier would need to be shut to the public in five years time.

They say £500,000 is needed to immediately tackle high-priority repairs, while £2million is needed overall to replace beams and timber and tackle the pier’s general infrastucture.

The council has confirmed it will carry out the repairs – but plans to build an amphitheatre, with seating for 100 people on the pierhead, have been put on hold after the report bombshell.

Councillors have also not ruled out privatising parts of the landmark to help finance ongoing costs.

Peggy Dowie, who has worked at the pier museum for 25 years, said: “I hope the council can commit to getting the pier and the museum back in shape.

“It could go for lottery money to do this, for example.

“But I don’t think privatisation is the way forward. The pier belongs to the people and it should stay that way.

I wouldn’t want a landmark falling into private hands.”

Billy Ball, who took over the running of Clacton Pier five years ago, warned it could be difficult to privatise the Southend landmark as there is not that much space for attractions.

He said: “Southend is tricky because there’s very little space you can use to monetise it.

“I think there needs to be Government funding put in place for all piers in the country to protect their heritage.

“I don’t think a private operator would solve Southend Pier’s issues.”

The report highlighted the pier’s structure moves when trains roll up and down it, and has recommended checks are made on timber and looseness in the track.

Earlier this year, the Echo revealed the council was running the pier at a deficit of more than £1million a year due to the huge costs involved with maintenance.



Southend Council - we will carry out the repairs

Senior councillors have said they will work on bringing Southend Pier back to its former glory in the wake of a damning report into its condition.

The Independent, Lib Dem, and Labour administration has put in a planning application to carry out “high priority” works identified in the report by engineers Hemsley Orrell Partnership.

Those repairs are expected to cost in the region of £500,000, and it means the authority will have to hold fire on building a long-awaited amphitheatre on the pierhead while the repairs are carried out.

The authority has also said it won’t rule out privatising parts of the pier as maintenance costs build up, and revealed the muchneeded works will be done in 2015.

Graham Longley, deputy leader of the council and councillor responsible for tourism, said: “The council remains committed to maintaining the operations of the pier and works will be programmed so as not to impact upon public access. We have accepted the structural recommendations set out in the report.

“We have appointed Hemsley Orrell Partnership to obtain the relevant statutory consents, including listed building consent, needed to undertake the works, and we are preparing the full works specification for tendering early in 2015.”

The pier has flourished since it burned down in 2005, and this year it has posted its best ever visitor figures since that blaze.

That is despite the long-awaited amphitheatre – due to open up last summer – being delayed again because of the structural defects.

Lynne Jones, the pier’smanager for the past 20 years, said: “There’s no point building an amphitheatre if we’re just going to have to close it to carry out works anyway, so it’s best to do it this way.

“It’s something to look forward to.

“Southend Council has been exploring the idea of having a partner to either run the whole pier, or parts of it.

“I can’t comment on an option that isn’t in front of us, but change is inevitable and anything that is good for the pier, the town, and our customers should be considered.”

The pier management also did not rule out any admission fee increase, which could help with the pier’s ongoing maintenance costs.

The pier has been hit hard by severe weather since it was last surveyed in 2009.


Pier under community ownership - Hastings Pier

People power won the day in Hastings, in East Sussex, last year.

The town was thrust into the limelight when a charitable trust took ownership of the 140-year-old structure.

Previous owners Ravenclaw let the jetty slip into disrepair, and a battle for Hastings Pier took place between the council, public, and absentee owners for a number of years.

However, the local council finally managed to Compulsory Purchase Order the pier last October, and immediately handed it over to community group, the Hastings Pier Charity.

The group has £14milliion of grants to help restore the pier, and works are well under way to refurbish the pavilion and build a new visitor centre after the pier burned down in 2010.

It is one of few piers not run by private firms or local authorities.


Pier under private ownership - Clacton Pier



Clacton Pier has been privately owned for more than two decades and has been restored heavily in that time.

In 1994, a local businessman snapped up the pier and embarked on a huge restoration project to attract daytrippers, putting amusements and attractions at the end of the structure.

Then in 2009, the pier changed hands when it was taken over by the Clacton Pier Company Ltd, run by brothers Billy and Elliot Ball.

They installed a helter skelter – which blew down in a heavy storm in 2013 – as well as arcades, bowling, and bars.

They have also given the pier a new lick of paint.

The pier also had an Olympicsized pool at the end of the structure, and this area has been opened back up as a go-karting attraction. Billy Ball said: “We have tried to be as inventive as possible with our pier.

“We are a Jack of all trades and, master of none, and that is the secret to our success.

“We want it to be a 52-week a year attraction.

“But remember one glove does not fit all. We’ve got six-and-a-half acres of space to monetise. Southend doesn’t.”