Is £4.5m spend on 'iconic' pier value for money?
PUBLISHED: 06:30 20 October 2019 | UPDATED: 11:57 20 October 2019
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Cromer Pier was once sold for £40 at auction and has become one of the most iconic structures on the north Norfolk coast.
Now new figures show how North Norfolk District Council has spent more than £4.5m of public money over the last 14 years to ensure the pier continues to be an integral part of life for residents and visitors to the popular town.
ABIGAIL NICHOLSON reports.
There has been a pier or jetty in Cromer since 1391 and letters granting the right for repairs suggest that attempts at maintenance went on until 1580.
The award-winning pier has been the location of choice for marriage proposals, fashion shoots and film sets over the years with everyone from Alan Partridge to Bradley Walsh stepping foot on the monument.
North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) has now released figures showing that, since 2005, a grand total of £4,563,603 of public money has been spent on the Cromer Pier for maintenance and upgrades.
Money from both capital expenditure, which is made from the selling of fixed assets such as council land and property, and revenue expenditure, which comes from day-to-day taxes and parking fees, were used to pay for the work.
But, in these cash deprived times, does that represent good value for money?
Sir Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, said: "I think Cromer Pier is iconic. It is a symbol of north Norfolk.
"The pier is of fundamental importance and it is a stunning piece of history. It is so important to tourism and visitors.
"I think it is a vital investment that is absolutely justified. It would be a tragic loss if we were to lose it."
Over the last six years there have been two main storm surges which battered the pier, in 2013 and 2017.
Repairs from the 2013 floods saw the council spend a total £637,475.27 in 2014 on the landmark.
A spokesperson from North Norfolk District Council said: "Capital expenditure has increased in recent years following the damage from the 2013 and 2017 storm surges, and there has been a proactive maintenance programme in place since the last surge."
The latest repairs on the pier were announced in September 2018, when the district council recommended that £400,000 was spent.
The work saw the underneath of the pier strengthened and was completed alongside a £275,000 roof project.
Those living the town also agreed the money was well spent.
Rose Ely, 73, who was born in Cromer, said: "I think the pier is a very vital part of Cromer. If we did not have the pier then I don't think there would be the appeal for as much tourism. When it is a sunny day it is a magnet."
Cromer was rated Pier of the Year in 2000 and 2015 by the National Pier Society and is still home to the only all-season end of pier show in the world.
The infamous end of pier show sees thousands of people coming to the town for a night of traditional and contemporary variety in a magical theatre experience.
Spencer Gray, director of No1 fish and chip restaurant in Cromer, which is a stone's throw from the pier, said: "Cromer Pier has been an iconic landmark for hundreds of years bringing visitors from all over the country and housing our RNLI lifeboat.
"The numerous pier shows create jobs for local people and increase trade for local businesses. With piers declining in numbers around our coastlines we feel that any investment is worthwhile to protect our heritage for our future generations."
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A stormy history
The last wooden jetty on Cromer Pier was built in 1846 and was just 70 yards long. This lasted until 1890 when it was destroyed by heavy seas.
The damage was so severe that it had to be dismantled and Cromer was left without a pier. The remains were sold at auction for £40.
A 500-foot iron pier opened on June 8, 1901, and cost £17,000 to build. It was built with a bandstand which was extended in 1905 to form a pavilion.
The pier was sectioned during the war so that enemy aircraft could not land on it and invade the seaside town. This gap was bridged with planks to allow the lifeboat station to be reached.
The pier was damaged by multiple storms throughout the 1900s and on November 14, 1993, a 100-ton rig crashed into the pier, isolating the theatre and lifeboat station. Repairs were made in time for the 1994 season.
The pier pavilion was reopened by Stephen Fry in June 2004, but was damaged by another storm the following year.
In February 2012, it was announced that £8m of work was set to begin on revamping Cromer pier and the town's Victorian sea defences.
Then a storm surge in December, 2013 smashed the pier's decking and broke inspection hatches.
In September 2019 NNDC finally received a total of £468,954 worth of insurance money from the 2013 storm surge. The money has been earmarked for future pier work.
Kayla Dunne, brand manager for Visit North Norfolk said: "Cromer Pier is such a fine piece of Victorian architecture much loved by visitors and residents.
"It provides a place to wander and see the coastline, eat, go crabbing and attend festivals.
"Its iconic appeal has meant it's appeared as a backdrop for films and television productions with its unique and grand presence. More recently it starred in a BBC Christmas advert and the Antiques Roadshow.
"The Pier is one of the main visitor attractions in north Norfolk, drawing people to the town, economically benefiting the whole area for tourism, economic growth and employment."
One of the final piers left standing
Piers around the coast of Britain stand as a reminder of the achievements of Victorian engineers and entrepreneurs.
Almost 100 piers existed, now only 61 are left standing in the UK, with three of them being in Norfolk.
Over the years, the elements, the sea and a lack of investment took their toll on the UK's piers.
The future over some of the UK's best known seaside landmarks such as Brighton's West Pier or Weston-Super-Mare's Birnbeck Pier, have fallen into a state of disrepair.
Sue Gilder who lives in Lowestoft said: "Cromer Pier is a place of drama and fun, and not only in the theatre. I Remember watching the fisherman running along the prom and pier to the lifeboat shed.
"Back in the early 60s I was watching some local lads climbing up underneath the pier to jump into the sea!
"So many people enjoy our pier now, the pier to me as I wander around it, reminds of happy days and happy memories. Cromer is so lucky to have the pier."
Whilst Chris Foster, who is from Nottingham, said: "It will be a sad day when it (Cromer Pier) is moved to Brighton to replace their damaged pier."