By Rebecca Hannant
The future of Withernsea’s Pier Towers remains uncertain after the organisation set up to lead an ambitious rebuild of the structure announced it was being wound up after an “endless battle” over planning and funding.
Several residents have called for questions to be answered after the Withernsea Pier and Promenade Association, which was founded in 2016, said the project was “no longer a viable option” after seven years of volunteers “putting their hearts and souls” into the plans.
In a statement, the WPPA said: “In March 2021, after five years of work, we were so close to building the first stage of the pier. At that time the first stage was fully funded, and we had contractors ready to start the work.”
However, the WPPA said, only three weeks before construction was due to start, East Riding Council produced a list of further questions and queries about the plans that delayed the construction start by a year.
According to the WPPA this cost an extra £7,000 in architects’ fees to make what it called “largely insignificant changes” to the design, and another £7,000 to complete a detailed piling design despite the WPPA telling the council this was priced into the piling contract.
The WPPA later confirmed that it was once again ready to start construction in May 2022. “The construction steel was ready, the contractors were ready, and we had the plant on site to start removing the rock armour.
“As the planning approval ran out on May 10, we had to make a start by removing some of the rock armour. Again, East Riding Council stopped us as they would not give us landlord consent to start the construction.
“Over the winter we looked for more funding and ways to reduce the ever-increasing construction costs. Although there has been no new funding, we found a way to simplify the design without affecting the overall appearance or safety of the structure.
“When we recently submitted an amendment to the plans, East Riding planning department informed us that despite us starting to remove the rock armour last year, that was not a start, and consequently the planning permission has now expired. As the project no longer has planning permission, we no longer fulfil the terms of the funding, and our two main funders will no longer fund the project.
“We have been working on this for seven years, put our hearts and souls into the project, and are now back to square one. We no longer have the funds to proceed, and the board and steering group members are fatigued by the endless battle with the council.
“It is therefore with great sadness that we must admit that rebuilding the Withernsea pier is no longer a viable option.”
East Riding Council later issued a response to the WPPA’s claims, saying that its officers had worked hard to support the WPPA over the years.
A spokesman said: “We are very disappointed to hear that the WPPA is unable to proceed with the pier development at Withernsea and would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the significant efforts and dedication of the parties involved in the project.
“The council has had a number of responsibilities in connection with the project, including as landowner, shoreline environment manager, planning authority as well as economic development promoter and in all of these areas we have worked hard to advise and support the WPPA with their project.”
Members of the community have been divided over the news, with some questioning the use of the funds already donated, but others praised WPPA members for their continued seven-year efforts to try to get the project going.
Supporter Lynn Massey-Davis said: “The pier project was a community initiative from the bottom up and, like all community initiatives, it needs organisations with experience and fundraising capabilities to support. It’s difficult for local people who are inexperienced, with families and their own jobs, to be able to project-plan and gain large funding packages to be able to do everything for themselves.
“Personally, I found it disappointing that East Riding Council didn’t support the project in the way it should, not doing things for them but oiling their wheels and facilitating. This block wasn’t just in the problems with planning but that they didn’t fully help with capacity building, expecting a group of enthusiastic hard-working people with families and jobs to be able to undertake such a huge project.
“If the project had been successful it would have been a magnificent feather in Withernsea’s cap. It would’ve improved tourism. It would’ve made Withernsea a destination, and it would’ve done something which is relatively uncommon on the North Sea coast of England, which is having a fully fledged pier. It would have had an environmental centre and a venue at the end.”
The WPPA said that all the funds from bucket collections, membership fees and money raised at events had already been spent on the planning resources needed to get the project going and would be unable to be refunded. However, funders such as Withernsea Big Local will receive their money back through the sale of the steel. The WPPA said it would also be able to pay back all grants, donations and gifts made to the construction phase.
The WPPA added: “We would like to thank the businesses, shops and residents of Withernsea that have supported us and helped us get as far as we did. We would also like to thank Withernsea Big Local, East Coast Communities Fund, Yorkshire Coast BID, HERCT, Withernsea Town Council and the other funders who believed that this was a worthwhile project to invest in. Thank you to Ruby Reds and all the other entertainers and musicians that have performed at our events, often completely free of charge.
“Finally, thank you to all the people who have given their time to support and promote the project and those who have served as steering group members and directors over the past seven years.”
Questions have now arisen over the future of the Pier Towers, which are owned by East Riding Council, including the floodlights system that illuminates the towers in the evening. It is currently unknown whether anyone will take on the towers, and if the illuminations will continue.
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