So I’m just back from a full Conwy Council meeting. I got summoned by my conscience after talking with a group of Colwyn Bay Pier supporters. They’d just heard that, despite their hard efforts over the last three years in gaining backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund to pay £% million and having sources for other funding, their partner in the project, the county council, had called a meeting to discuss the demolition of the pier. This was tuesday and the meeting today, two days later.
I’ve followed this story for the past five years and fully support the restoration of this iconic landmark. For its own sake and for the future of the town. Of course the town will survive the pier’s absence, its removal, but I feel convinced that the restoration of the town’s prosperity, its very soul, is dependent on bringing the pier back to life. All the efforts at rejuvenation to date , and a lot of money has been spent, show no reward at all – the contrary, in fact. Mostly the town is deserted and frequently looks both derelict and desolate. Many shops are closed down and boarded up, other projects have been slowed or shelved.
On the beach, almost without notice, though, the council achieved the construction of a new centre, 200 metres east of the pier, to be cafe, a jetty for light pleasure boats (Jet-ski’s mostly), extension of the promenade up a 50 metre ramp to a viewing quadrangle and down again and a few meeting and storage rooms. It cost 5-7 million pounds and was hidden in expenditure on “coastal defences”. It is a hideous construct – was entered into the carbuncle of the year competition – so is functional and never artistic or attractive.
As they drew construction to completion money was also found to pipe 600 000 tonnes of sand ashore and so raise the height of the beach, leaving significant sand available 24/7/365. Another few million found in “coastal defence”, and so national coffers. Now, nine months later, the cafe is still not running and none of the other rooms are used, save the toilets. “The most expensive loos in the whole UK”, as has been noted.
So I made up a placard – “PIER INTO THE FUTURE” – to attempt to make councillors look beyond this year’s balance sheets, and not be intimidated by threats of the council footing unending liabilities stretching out into the future. There were about twenty of us and mine the only placard, although they had their official banner “Save our Pier”. Most of the councillors seemed to have gone in through a side door, but cameras and film crews were there. Will watch the local news this evening!
They let us in to the meeting – but we had to be quiet – and we watched the full council deal with the issue. Two council officers spent half an hour spelling out the wholly financial case to demolish the pier and the pro-pier group representative given 5 minutes to reply. Even then the Council Officer was able to stand up and negate his comments – in fact she well nigh ran the discussion.
There was a discussion and it was revealing of cross council rivalries. So reps from Llandudno, the town with an operational pier, and Conwy, with a working port and marina were very hostile to restoring the Colwyn Bay attraction. Well, hell, it would be a significant rival for future revenues. Others however could see the advantages for the whole region as well as just Colwyn Bay and spoke strongly in its favour. However it was clear from the out that “The Council”, behind the scenes, had decided the outcome already and, in due course, they voted about three to two in favour of demolition.
Not yet a fait accompli, of course. For a start it is a listed building and so has protection. Secondly the council don’t own it and the owner will fight them all the way. Thirdly the people of Colwyn Bay, and especially the pressure group, will not give up either. Indeed this will probably spark off a new surge of determination AND enable all to take ownership or any other influence away from the council.
Yes, the council THINK that they own the structure but even they agree that Steve Hunt, the other party, is taking them to court over what he insists is his continued ownership. And I have little doubt that he has the tenacity – and the right – to win. After this, next summer or even later than that, then the pier, which at present looks awful but is structurally very sound, can be restored as a community venture.
I have little doubt that this will happen but, in the interim, so much time is wasted, and, certainly at council meetings, so much bitterness is being exuded into the atmosphere.