Ambitious plans to widen Southend Pier and install an extra railway line have been approved by a planning committee panel at Southend Council by a majority of seven to three – it has been estimated that the improvement works will total around £70m.
An announcement was made on Tuesday after a brief ten-minute meeting in the municipal planning chamber at Civic Centre, and the town’s tourism chief made it clear that the huge investment will be justified by a large increase in the number of visitors and a new system of 24-hour opening.
Samuel Zhetée is also head of the newly-formed Pier Widening Scheme, and he spoke EXCLUSIVELY to Southend News Network about the biggest renovation of the town’s iconic landmark in over 100 years.
He said: ‘The plan is a simple one in principle. From the shore station to the pier head, the pier’s decking will be widened and an extra railway line will be built – the new track will sit next to the existing walkway so essentially pedestrians are shielded from the sea by a railway line on either side.’
‘This will also help us to fulfil our public safety obligations as pier walkers will not be able to fall into the sea, as has happened on a number of occasions in the last five years.’
‘We can appreciate that anglers will find this frustrating, but we intend to set up a number of premium fishing areas under a supplementary permit scheme – these will be located at the pier head.’
‘Members of the public will be able to use both railway lines for around 90% of the year. When filming is taking place on the pier, one of the two lines will be closed for general use so that camera crews and others involved can have fast and convenient access to both ends.’
We asked Mr Zhetée how the enormous cost could be justified.
He said: ‘The opening of the new seafront lagoon has led to a 140% increase in daily visitors based upon head counts that we carry out – people may have already seen our civil enforcement officers armed with click counters who are doing a fantastic job.’
‘If the lagoon continues to draw this huge number of extra visitors, it’s clear that the capacity of other local attractions will have to increase to cope with demand.’
‘The majority of the £70m construction costs will be covered by the development of luxury apartments at the pier head. The existing cultural centre will be expanded for this purpose, and investors will have a unique opportunity to purchase a property more than a mile out to sea.’
‘It will only be a matter of time before a number of retailers move into the same site to service the new residents.’
We spoke to a representative from John Haslehurst Architects, the company that has won the contract to design the widened pier structure.
Chief architectural deployment officer Hazel Haslehurst said: ‘Having two railway lines next to each other and then a walkway simply doesn’t fit in with modern symmetrical architectural thinking – our chosen design is far more pleasing on the eye.’
‘As you will see from our artist’s impression, the new widened and symmetrical pier layout will look stunning, and as an added bonus it will look identical no matter what direction visitors are walking in.’
‘When we conducted a focus group with 50 Southend residents ahead of the planning process, it was clear that our town’s icon was about more than just length. There was a strong passion for width as well, and this factor has been at the very heart of our plans that have now been approved.’