As a child growing up in Old Colwyn, the village next to Colwyn Bay, the imaginary borders of my home town were an imposing white hotel perched on the cliff overlooking it, and a pier that stabbed out into the sea. Everything after the pier was Rhos on sea to me then, the next village along the coast, and that reasoning has stuck in my head ever since. To me, these two objects were boundary markers set in stone, never to be moved or demolished, and I couldn’t imagine Colwyn Bay without either of them.
The, “Hotel 70 Degrees”, (or, “The 70’s” as we called it, even when it changed its name to the Colwyn Bay Hotel), was built in 1972 and became a noted piece of the local scenery fairly quickly. Eye catching and smart, it was visible for miles due to its position on top of Penmaen head, the rock overlooking the bay, and its dazzling white walls.
Alas, the only constant in life is change, and buildings are never as safe as we believe them to be. After facing the harsh northern winds of the Irish Sea for over thirty years, the 70’s finally fell to an even harsher economic climate, and was killed off by a pen and a planning permission form.
The hotel was replaced by some very pricey blocks of flats that peer down their noses at the sprawl of the council estate I grew up on. To me, now a tourist to my home town, but once as native a Welshman as Owain Glyndŵr, Penmaen head will never be the same without that iconic palace of a building holding court over those below it.
However, a building built in the early seventies can hardly be called a piece of local heritage. Fetching and swish as it was in its heyday, it’s fair to say the 70’s was only so well known because of its exceptional positioning.
Okay then, what about my other imaginary town limit, a Grade 2 listed building, built in 1900 and as much a part of Colwyn Bay’s identity as the sea?
The pier has been a part of the Colwyn Bay scenery since the turn of the last century. Having survived fire and the worse Poseiden can throw at it; it too has now fallen to a callous fiscal environment and the apathy, and some may say malice of the county council.
I spent my youth on its salted boards, be it fishing with my tad and brother, playing the machines with my friends, or at the disco on my infrequent visits home as a young soldier. The pier wasn’t just one of my imagined boundaries; it was a statement of intent for the whole of the Bay area. The land Colwyn Bay sits on was bought by a group of Manchester businessmen in 1865 with the sole idea of making it into a seaside resort, and every seaside resort of note has a pier.
On the 12th December, 2013, the Conwy County Borough Council voted to tear it down. Citing a lack of funds for the project, a project that has been under their wing since March 2012, they’ve opted to demolish it and have done with the problem. No money they said, despite the fact they’ve recently spent millions on a white elephant on the seafront, (Porth Eirias stands on Colwyn Bay promenade, and has been nominated for The Carbuncle Cup, an award for the worst modern architecture built in the last 12 months) and paid for sand for a new beach to be pumped in from the sea.
As sad as that may be, for me, the real disgrace is that the pier’s death has been so horribly protracted and ugly. Riddled with egos and broken promises, the handling of the whole situation reads like a corruption scandal you normally expect to see in an Eastern European country. If the website run by the businessman who bought the pier in 2003 is to be believed, then I despair for my home town and its running.
Mr. Steve Hunt moved into the area with the best intentions in the world, namely to revive the Victoria Pier to be a functioning part of the town. He bought the pier as a private owner and set about refurbishing it. After a hotly disputed wrangle in the courts over unpaid taxes, Mr. Hunt was declared bankrupt in 2008 and the management of the pier was vested in trustees, Royce Peeling Green (RPG). Mr. Hunt maintains that records and money have been hidden so he couldn’t use them as evidence, of personal vendettas against him colouring the councils dealings and insanely careless book keeping.
His website routinely labels the Conwy County Borough Council as corrupt and has a list of crimes and misdeeds made by councillors that beggars belief. Obviously, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that Mr. Hunt is paranoid, maybe a liar and definitely suffering from a case of sour grapes. However, a visit to his website and the page titled, “Named and shamed. Council officers exposed”, sets his grievances down publicly in black and white, with this declaration at the foot of the page,
“Again I challenge any of the above individually, or CCBC as a whole, to sue me for Libel if they wish to allege any of the above FACTS are not TRUE.
Come on CCBC…
I dare you…
Your continued acquiescence proves your guilt.”
To the uninitiated, like myself, it’s a shocking state of affairs, and one I find hard to reconcile with my image of a benevolent county council seeking what’s best for its constituents. I was, at first, ambivalent about Mr. Hunt and his venture. The pier was a part of my childhood and youth, as it has been for countless other people, and for sentimental reasons I wanted it saved. Conversely, at such great cost to the taxpayers when money is so tight, I wondered at the practicalities of such a venture, and the running costs after its refurbishment?
However, after reading through Mr. Hunt’s website and the list of mismanagement, shamefully bad decisions and law breaking, I’ve found myself driven into the “save the pier” corner by my anger. The challenge at the bottom of the page says everything to me; Mr. Hunt can’t be telling lies if he so publicly throws the gauntlet down like that, can he?
Before the pier can be demolished it must be de-listed. The first foray into the battle will be to fight this in the courts. If you are from the North Wales area, or you have an interest in this subject for whatever reason, I urge you to visit Mr. Hunt’s website and have a read. You will be shocked, I promise you.
Hopefully there’ll be a petition soon, because the public voice is only ever heard when we stand together, and I’ll be asking you to please put your name to it if you have an interest in the subject.
Saving the pier is not impossible, I read in the Daily Post that a Heritage Lottery Fund application for £4.37m is currently in the second stage, and the council could still claim close to £4m from EU funding and £4m from community grant funds for renovation. However, when the pier’s gone, it’s gone, and there’ll be no going back. So surely it’s best to try and find the money rather than give up?
Thanks for reading.
Here’s the petition, please sign it. Many thanks in advance.