WBD team works with council to bring about the end of the pier legal wrangle in Weston-super-Mare

July 27, 2023

Lawyers from the Bristol office of transatlantic law firm Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) have advised North Somerset Council in its successful legal battle to acquire Weston-super-Mare’s historic Birnbeck Pier.

The council is working with the Royal National Lifeboats Institution (RNLI) and Historic England to secure the preservation of the Grade II* listed structure, pictured, which closed in 1994.

Opened in 1867, Birnbeck Pier is unique because it links the mainland to an island.

Prior to World War II it was a popular attraction for holidaymakers and local people, including attracting visitors from South Wales and Bristol via steamers.

The pier – essentially a bridge to Birnbeck Island – also played a vital role during World War II when it became HMS Birnbeck and was used for research and experimental purposes, including for the ‘bouncing bomb’ used in the famous Dambusters raid.

Restoring it to its former glory would enable the RNLI to resume operations from Birnbeck  Island’s lifeboat station, following their suspension when the condition of the pier made it unsafe to access the lifeboat station.

WBD was instructed by North Somerset Council in 2020 to promote a compulsory purchase order (CPO) under listed buildings legislation.

However, following the Covid pandemic, the owner applied to the magistrates court for a stay to order confirmation, which led to a substantial delay and extensive negotiations. An agreement was finally concluded two weeks ago.

WBD partner Richard Guyatt and associate Nicola Cotton from the firm’s planning team in Bristol led on compulsory purchase issues, assisted by apprentice solicitor Amela Kasemi, while partner Jon Cooper, legal director Ashley Borthwick and solicitor Andrew Westbrook advised the council for several magistrates court hearings on the stay in the order process.

The transactional instruction was led by partner Jo Beattie-Edwards, 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 in London were instructed as counsel for the CPO and magistrates court respectively.

Richard Guyatt, pictured, 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.”

He said the CPO had also showcased WBD’s wide-ranging skills across the number of disciplines required.

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