The first cuckoo has arrived early at City Hall!
So much has been said and written, recently, about the future of Herne Bay pier that the electorate could be forgiven for thinking that there's a Council election in the offing!
Readers with long memories or comprehensive scrapbooks will recall that shortly before the last City Council elections the then Liberal Leader of a group that had been in power in the Canterbury district for more than ten years announced that when re-elected, they would rebuild Herne Bay Pier. That promise was carried as a banner front-page headline in this newspaper. Two years on, and following his re-election, when the council changed hands mid-term not a single act of restoration had taken place. I mention this unkind reality only because one or two of his local colleagues, presuming upon public forgetfulness, have recently sought to make some political capital out of the present condition of the pier.
Those of us, and I include in that number Jean Herwin of Herne Bay Leisure, the Sea Angling Club, myself and Herne Bay Conservative Councillors who have been pursuing the restoration project for some time, are only too well aware that the issue comes down to hard cash. English Heritage, who I invited to view the seaward end of the pier with me, declined to invest in the preservation of that portion of the edifice on the grounds that it was of "insufficient architectural importance" and it is plain that, solo, it would be hard for the coffers of the City to the matter to fruition.
There is, though, some light over the horizon.
We hope, my City colleagues and I, that it may be possible to re-open part of the landward end of the pier, at least for licensed fishing and in the fairly near future. This is not quite as simple as some have made it sound. The Chief Executive, potentially criminally responsible were Health and Safety advice to be ignored and an accident to follow, is rightly concerned that the structure is made secure before any other than real emergency use recommences. Money, not presently in the budget, has to be found to carry out this work but some modest short-term progress ought to be achievable.
The bigger picture involves the phased restoration of the entire pier, commencing with the property adjoining the beach and shore. The prerequisite for any such work is the future location, funding and construction of a new home to house the activities accommodated in the home of Herne Bay Roller Hockey, the Pavilion.
I have long made known my own desire to see built a combined Sports Pavilion and Performance Venue on the coastal strip. I recognise that this would cost a very considerable sum of money and that without commercial investment it would be hard to realise. We have, though, one bite at this cherry only. If we settle for second-best then the results of that decision will be with us for at least a couple of generations. If we believe, as I do, that the two-thirds of the people of the Canterbury City district who live not in the city but on the coast have a right to good sports and good performing arts facilities then that is what we must work to achieve.
The prospect of development funding from a small casino operator has, rightly or wrongly, been rejected. There are, though, others with an interest in investing in the regeneration of Herne Bay who, in partnership with a determined City Council prepared to bring its own real estate to the party, might yet bring about the realisation of aspirations that some of us have been working towards for a very long time.
Anyone who suggests, as some have in the past, that this project will be completed in short order, is either a charlatan or mad, but that it can be done should not be in doubt. Of those seeking to run Canterbury City after May 3rd I believe that only the administration at present in power may be persuaded to demonstrate the political will to raise both the game and the finance. After all, if Canterbury can find, as it must, some £25 million to rebuild its theatre then it can surely generate an equivalent sum to allow future generations on the coast to play sports and to walk along and to fish upon Herne Bay Pier.