Multiple businesses invited to operate Southend Pier

The future of Southend Pier could see it operated by multiple private operators all adding their own level of expertise, a leading councillor has said.

In October it was revealed the landmark pier would be put up for grabs to a private operator under fresh cost-cutting measures.

The pier makes an annual £190,000 loss for the council

Initially, businessman Philip Miller was touted to bring the pier under his Stockvale empire, which includes Adventure Island, but he has remained silent on the prospect of a deal ever since.

Now, Derek Jarvis, councillor for arts, culture and heritage, has revealed the future of the pier could see multiple businesses “sub-letting bits and pieces”.

Southend’s cabinet was due to rubber-stamp a process to attract private enterprises at a special meeting last night.

He said: “The idea is to make the pier pay for itself by doing things ourselves and employing professionals to help us do that. It doesn’t involve selling off the pier or offering it to someone else to run for us. It involves using our own skills to get the right people to do things on there.

“One thing we will be introducing is online ticketing because people would like to book and not have to queue. We might find somebody to do something really exciting at the beginning of the pier. We’re procuring people to do those things, sub-letting bits and pieces.”

Ron Woodley, Residents First councillor for Thorpe Ward, said: “I think it should be a local authority trading company, as we’ve got with South Essex Homes. We need to fully understand the true costs of the pier. What we’re charging to the pier is probably nowhere near what we need to to make sure it pays its way.

“We should be looking at things to encourage people to the pier, they could have a talking history, simulators, restaurants, a Southend dungeon. Let’s put a ship at the foreshore and let people go on and see what it’s like on a battleship. All those things we need to do.”

Matt Dent, Labour councillor for Kursaal ward, admitted he is sceptical of the idea. He said: “The cost of the pier comes from the maintenance costs, and I think it’s unlikely a private company will want to take that on. Which leaves the prospect of the council retaining the expense, whilst a private company gets income from a public asset – and one where attendance has been growing year on year. At a time when council finances are under strain, giving away a revenue income does not seem a wise course of action.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter