THERE are renewed calls today for what’s left of Southampton’s Royal Pier to be demolished after part of it crashed into the sea yesterday.
The rotting wreck, which will be seen by one million cruise passengers visiting the city this year, was last night branded an “embarrassment”.
Pressure was today heaped on Southampton City Council and the pier’s owners, ABP, to pull down the derelict structure after 30 metres collapsed without warning.
Even the city’s heritage champions say it is beyond repair and have called time on the pier, which is now missing a large middle section.
But ABP, the port bosses, have refused to commit the estimated £3m needed to clear the 177-year-old former landmark.
They say it will only disappear when a developer signs up to transform the entire site into a luxury development.
Stunned onlookers watched the drama unfold shortly before 10am as they enjoyed the views from Mayflower Park.
“There were two enormous booms within just seconds of each other,” Christine Molyneux said.
“When I first heard it I thought someone must have detonated something.”
Two years ago, restaurateur Kuti Miah, left, spent £1.5m on renovating the pier’s abandoned old gatehouse into Kuti’s Royal Thai Pier,which was not affected by yesterday’s incident.
The curry magnate yesterday described the pier as an embarrassing blight on Southampton’s prime waterfront location.
“It’s horrible and depressing.
It’s an embarrassing way to welcome cruise passengers to the city,” he said.
“Every one of my customers makes a comment about it.
They ask me when something is going to be done and I don’t have a clue.”
He added: “We have a fantastic waterfront, but nothing there. I’d like to see something even better than Portsmouth’s Gunwharf Quays.”
Opened in 1833, the Royal Pier had its hey-day before the First World War when it hosted dancing and concerts. In the 1960s the pavilion was extended and converted into a ballroom.
The ballroom was closed down in 1979 and its fate was sealed by two huge fires, one in 1987 and the other five years later, which ripped through the pavilion and decking.
Alan Jones, chairman of the Southampton Heritage Federation, said: “It holds fond memories for almost anybody over the age of 60. It would be sad to see it go, but there would be no point trying to restore it.”
Senior Tory councillor John Hannides agreed that the sudden collapse was an opportunity for ABP to take another look at the future of the pier.
“It’s very disappointing and comes as a surprise, even though we knew that it was in a poor state of disrepair,” said the Cabinet member for culture and heritage.
“This is maybe an opportunity for ABP to revisit its plans to knock it down. The council recognises there is a significant cost involved and that is why we are happy to leave it with ABP to make their assessment and to decide what to do.”
In 2007, port director Doug Morrison pledged that he would look at ways of removing the remains and replacing them with new moorings.
However, an ABP spokeswoman yesterday said the company was continuing to work with the city council to attract a builder to redevelop the entire site.
She said the section that collapsed did not pose a safety risk and that any debris which might cause a navigation hazard would be removed.
“The Royal Pier is part of a redevelopment plan the council are trying to market. These plans will probably entail the removal of the majority of the structure above and below the water,” she said.
● The sudden collapse happened just weeks after Southampton City Council invited developers to express their interest in transforming the Royal Pier district.
The 60-acre site, which is owned by the city council, the Crown Estate and ABP, could feature offices, hotels, restaurants, shops, luxury flats, marina, indoor arena and casino.
The council and other land owners are seeking proposals to ensure a permanent and improved site for the International Boat Show and better public pedestrian access to the waterfront.
It comes two-and-a-half years after the last plans collapsed due to the £20m cost of reclaiming the seabed to extend the site.