Pier-ing into the future: Seaside pier sustainability in the 21st century

Authors: Chapman, A. and Light, D.

Start date: 14 September 2016

Victorian seaside pleasure piers are unique to the British coast, but many are now over 150 years old. This important part of British heritage is under threat: in the early 20th century nearly 100 piers graced the UK coastline, but almost half have now gone. Piers face an uncertain future, with 20% of those surviving being deemed ‘at risk’. Moreover, Fothergill (cited in Steele 2013: 6) predicts that seaside piers are set to “lurch from crisis to successive crisis”.

Seaside piers are vital to coastal communities in terms of resort identity, heritage, employment, community pride, and tourism. Chapman (cited in Birch 2013) states that “piers have a wider social and economic benefit in attracting footfall and acting as an anchor on the seafront”. Whilst there has been an increasing focus on UK resort regeneration and recognition of the need to conserve resort heritage (Brodie and Whitfield, 2014; Barker et al, 2007) the importance of the seaside pier’s role in resort identity (and as heritage assets) has yet to be fully recognised. For every high-profile pier regeneration (such as Hastings Pier), funded through Government initiatives such as Heritage Lottery Funding, Coastal Community Funding, or Coastal Revival Funds, there are a significant number of piers that remain closed, derelict, or in need of repair (such as Colwyn Bay, Weston-Super-Mare Birnbeck, Ramsey Queens, Lowestoft Claremont, or Isle of Wight Totland Bay piers). Seaside piers are flagship attractions in their own right, and those towns that have lost their piers often struggle to maintain their tourist function and place identity as resorts.

Research into the sustainability of these iconic structures is a matter of urgency. This paper seeks to examine some of the UK's piers that are future focused: embracing and overcoming the challenges that the 21st century brings for them (a deteriorating infrastructure that is increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain; changes in tourism lifestyles, trends, and tastes; and environmental pressures such as coastal erosion and the increased risk of storms and flooding). We argue that 'future-proofing' piers can be enabled by identification of USPs and clear target markets; providing facilities and attractions appropriate for the 21st century tourist consumer; reconnecting piers with their local communities; and active participation and engagement with all stakeholders by pier owners. The paper will draw on three case studies of future focussed, sustainable piers: Southwold, Bournemouth, and Clevedon piers.

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