International law firm Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) has advised North Somerset Council on its acquisition of the Grade II* Listed Birnbeck Pier in Weston-super-Mare.
The Council is working with the Royal National Lifeboats Institution (RNLI) and Historic England to secure the preservation of the Pier. This will allow RNLI to resume operations from Birnbeck, which had to be suspended when the condition of the pier made it unsafe to access the lifeboat station. The Council aims to re-open the Pier to the public, which closed in 1994, when the required works are finished.
Built in the 1860s, Birnbeck Pier is unique in the UK in actually being a bridge between the mainland and Birnbeck Island which lies just offshore in the Severn Estuary. Having been a famous attraction for Weston-super-Mare prior to World War II, the Pier attracted many visits from South Wales via Bristol Channel steamers. The Pier also played a vital role as "HMS Birnbeck" during World War II, when it was used for research and experimental purposes, including for the famous "Bouncing Bomb" used by the Dambusters raid.
WBD was instructed by North Somerset Council to promote a compulsory purchase order (CPO) under listed buildings legislation and this was made in 2020. After Covid, an application by the previous owner to the Magistrates Court for a stay to order confirmation led to a substantial delay, and extensive negotiations, before agreement was finally concluded on 13 July.
Partner Richard Guyatt and Associate Nicola Cotton from WBD's planning team in Bristol led on compulsory purchase issues, assisted by Apprentice Solicitor Amela Kasemi. Partner Jon Cooper, Legal Director Ashley Borthwick and Solicitor Andrew Westbrook advised the Council in regard to the several Magistrates Court hearings on the stay in the order process.
The transactional instruction was led by partner Jo Beattie-Edwards in Southampton, together with Managing Associate Gareth Miles, Solicitor Ash Kaur and Legal Director Anna Larbi. In-house Senior Property Counsel Christopher Elliott advised RNLI.
Richard Banwell and Brendon Moorhouse of 6 Pump Court Chambers were instructed as Counsel for the CPO and Magistrates Court respectively.
Following completion of the purchase, Richard Guyatt said:
"This has been a most interesting and unusual CPO, dealing with a unique property that still holds many cherished memories for those who grew up in the Bristol and North Somerset areas. The desire for the Pier to be restored, and access to the Island made possible has bolstered the Council's determination to secure the title to this unique property. It is a privilege to work with the Council, together with RNLI and Historic England to enable the Pier's preservation and especially to allow RNLI's vital life-saving activities from Birnbeck Island to be resumed. The CPO has also showcased WBD's wide ranging skills across the number of disciplines required. We look forward to supporting the parties in their exciting proposals to bring Birnbeck Pier back to life."