Small Considered Investment, Not Grand Follies

Over the weekend I managed to get myself engaged in a small disagreement about a proposed redevelopment of the local seaside town Redcar with Steven Goldswain, Joe Anderson and by extension put myself somewhat in the middle of an argument they are having with the local Liberal Democrat MP Ian Swales.

A Little Background

For those of you who are not locals, Redcar is a once proud Seaside resort that is now in a slow, steady decline; despite it having one of the best beaches in the North East, a beach that stretches some 12 miles, all the way to my current home in Salburn-by-the-Sea. Over the past decade that my father has lived in Saltburn and I have been a regular visitor, then resident, we have watched its decline with dismay.

The sandy beaches of Redcar.

Acting like a feudal overlord the local council, Redcar & Cleveland, has made decisions time and time again for the town without real consideration and regard for the residents, public opinion or the long term impacts of these decisions. All of them have been grand in scope, few, if any, have succeeded and those that have, have actually hastened the town’s decline (see here).

The latest of these grand follies is the so-called “vertical” pier:

Redcar Vertical Pier
A view of the

which is intended to replace the two piers original piers:

Coatham Pier was problem struck from day one and after a devastating boat strike in 1891 the pier itself was abandoned and replaced at the Pier head by a glass house for concerts, which in 1928 became the New Pavillion Theatre and in the 1960s was converted in the locally popular Regents Cinema.

Redcar Pier
The Original Redcar Pier

Redcar Pier fared much better, though was not without problems suffering boat strikes in the 1880s and 90s, it survived WW2 despite being weakened by a mine explosion and being sectioned. In the 1970s and 80s it suffered for a lack of maintenance after storm damage and was pulled down in 1981.

So now the very same council that demolished the pier now wants to undo the harm it did to Redcar nearly thirty years ago, for want of spending £155,000 then by spending upwards of £30m now or even as much as £50 million by the construction of this newly proposed “vertical” pier.

This was the same council that also pulled down Saltburn’s famous Ha’penny bridge for want of the cost of the maintenance:

Demolition of Penny Bridge
Saltburn's famous Ha'penny bridge being demolished.

And Now…

It seems to me that the “vertical” pier itself is a grand, egotistical statement by the Council that I believe is a reaction to the shaming humiliation the Council experienced at the hands of local protesters who fought them all the way to the Supreme Court of England to stop earlier plans to renovate Redcar by selling off part of the town’s seafront to Persimmion Homes for a controversial development. (See here).

And from the tone of Steven Goldswain’s tweets it seems that the council is having somewhat of a struggle putting together the funding for their folly and Mr. Goldswain has launched (or is promoting a site and a facebook fan page) that is petitioning the local MP Ian Swales to ask Mr. Cameron for the money to complete their folly. It was the content of this website that provoked my ire. And this is why:

The site starts by saying:

Whilst Ian Swales’ Liberal Democrats claim they want Redcar to have a pier, they are unwilling to find the money to build one.

and goes on to say:

This group has done some independent research of its own. The Lib Dems have been misleading people on the cost of a ‘traditional pier’. Cllr Chris Abbott claims a pier would only cost £3.1 million; yet, in reality, a pier with facilities comparable to those of the proposed ‘Vertical Pier’ would cost an amount close to £50,000,000. Weston-super-Mare’s replacement pier, recently built, cost over £51,000,000. Perhaps the figure of £3.1 million cited by the Lib Dems is little more than a political ploy?

“We can’t afford a pier unless MP Swales can get £50,000,000 for Redcar from his government”, said deputy council leader Sheelagh Clarke.

Thought they say they’ve done “independent” research of their own, they don’t provide any of this “independent” research on the site, instead prefering to rely on their own assertions and a statement from the deputy council leader; nor do they permit comments on the site or on the facebook fan page wall, both of which I found suspicious. So what of their claims?

The dismissal of of Cllr Chris Abbot’s assertion that a new traditional pier would only cost £3.1 million to build, this actually seems reasonable if you’re a local and recall that the Saltburn Pier was entirely dismantled and restored in 2000 at a cost of £1.2 million  (see here). They go on to justify this assertion by comparing the new “vertical” pier to the rebuilt Western-Super-Mare Pier, which they say costs some £51 millions to restore.

At this point they justify their assertion by saying that the “vertical” pier will have “facilities comparable” to that of Western-Super-Mare, though I didn’t see any details of a theme park being planned for the “vertical” pier, which cost £8-9 millions at Western-Super-Mare, within the council’s press release. The Guardian also reported the cost of the rebuild as £30 millions (see here), not £51 millions, and they had to deal with restoring a grade II listed pier.

There does indeed seem to be a lot of political smoke going about, however, it seems to be coming from this group and the Labour cabinet member; perhaps still smarting from the last election result where Mr. Swales was swept into power in one of the most significant swings in recent years against Labour in a traditional stronghold.

So what would I do?

Well I think if we have to have a pier, why can’t local residents have a traditional or rather a true pier (by definition) back? Personally I can say that it’d look quite handsome from my balcony’s sea view of Redcar, even though it might provide some competition for Saltburn. Even if it cost £3.1 millions, or even £5 millions, which I doubt, that’s a tenth of the cost of this project.

A birds eye view of the original Redcar pier.

Some of the money saved from the original budget could then be spent on improving the cohesion of Redcar overall by tying the town and the high street back into the sea front, something perhaps akin to the re-development proposed by local architects DKS during the competition. The council could also actively work with owners of derelict and closed properties along the front to help bring them back to life through generous loans and grants.

What I think Redcar needs is a helping hand, over a long period of time that would help businesses to get themselves back on their feet and make the seafront an attractive place to visit again. Such small, considered investments would not only be affordable but they would be infinitely more likely to succeed than a grand folly to this council’s arrogance.