December 18 2013 Latest news:
By Sam Russell
Thursday, October 17, 2013
An £800,000 legal threat has prompted the council to give away Wellington Pier, averting a battle in the courts.
The council-owned pier had been leased by private company Family Amusements, which also leased the historic Winter Gardens from the council.
But trouble began to brew in 2008, when the Winter Gardens was forced to close amid fears falling debris could injure pedestrians.
Trevor Wainwright, leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, said: “What Family Amusements then said was because it was standing empty, they were losing money - loss of profits.
“They were telling us - and these figures were verified by outside accountants - it was £800,000 they had lost. So a deal has been done that we are taking back ownership of the Winter Gardens and will then give them the freehold of the pier and we will keep the Winter Gardens.
“The freehold of the pier was valued at £750,000 so it’s a nil cost solution. One cancels the other one out. This is something that occurred previous to us coming in [to power].”
The glass and metal Winter Gardens was built in 1904, and the Yarmouth Corporation bought it from Torquay for £1,300.
But finding a use for the structure - which is proving costly to maintain - has been a thorn in the council’s side in recent years.
It has previously been used as a concert venue and as a roller-skating rink.
And Mr Wainwright defended the move to gift a private company with a £750,000 pier, arguing it is the best option for taxpayers in the long term.
“Obviously Family Amusements had a long lease on it anyway, and by surrendering that to us [then acquiring the freehold] it took away any future large maintenance bill on the pier,” he said. “They’re very expensive to keep up.
“It’s an asset that’s gone, but potentially it could have cost us money in the future.
“It was a deal done or it would have ended up in the courts.”
He added of the Winter Gardens: “We still need to find an end user for that.”
He said he was confident the search for a new use could progress further since the St George’s Theatre project has completed, increasing the likelihood of securing grant money.
Council officers have already ruled out demolishing the Grade II star listed structure.
Previous ideas have included taking the Winter Gardens down like a giant flat-pack and storing it in a field, and securing grant cash to develop it as a “mini Eden Project”.
A complete rebuild was estimated to cost £6m, with repair work £2m and dismantling work “hundreds of thousands of pounds”.
Do you think the council was right to give away Wellington Pier? Write to Great Yarmouth Mercury, 169 King Street, Yarmouth, NR30 2PA or email email@example.com