THE Palace has been put back into the pier after a 16-year battle.

We can exclusively reveal that new owner Luke Johnson has decided to rename the attraction Brighton Palace Pier after huge public support and a dogged campaign by The Argus.

Pier bosses are now giving you the opportunity to design a new sign.

Anne Martin, general manager of Brighton Palace Pier, said: “We have always recognised and been grateful for the local support for the ‘Palace’ part of the name so we decided to make the change.

“However, we feel it is important to keep the Brighton part in there as it is so important particularly with overseas advertising.

“The sign is famous worldwide and is used in many countries not only to advertise the pier but also Brighton.

“We want to combine the two so we are going to call it Brighton Palace Pier.”

Previous owner The Noble Organisation caused controversy in 2000 when it renamed the Palace Pier as Brighton Pier.

Ever since then, The Argus and The National Piers Society have refused to recognise the new name.

But from today The Argus will call the attraction Brighton Palace Pier with pride.

Ms Martin, who has been at the pier for 12 years, said the new owner was planning a number of changes while attempting to retain the heritage and tradition of the attraction.

She said: “The rides will remain and there will always be candyfloss and doughnuts – that is all part of the British seaside experience.

“But that’s not to say we won’t be making changes. We are looking at all aspects of our rides, attractions and catering as we want to grow and develop as time moves on.”

Among the changes will be a focus on using more local produce and suppliers with the Small Batch Coffee company already approached.

The North Laine Brewery will also brew a special pier beer which will be sold in the bars.

Both companies Mr Johnson already has a stake in.

Ms Martin did not rule out creating a new restaurant, stating that Mr Johnson was keen to broaden their “catering appeal”.

However, she did rule out an admission charge, something other pier owners have used to boost profits.

With the i360 tower opening in the next few weeks, the pier will have more competition than ever along the seafront.

But Ms Martin said there were no concerns on her part.

She said: “Anything new on the seafront is a good thing, we were very sad to see the wheel go. I think one of the challenges for Brighton is that it has to maintain a vibrant seafront and attract tourists down here. I hope the i360 is successful and brings more people here.”

However, Ms Martin spoke of her concerns for the crumbling seafront arches which she fears could damage the city’s reputation.

She said: “The problem is that there is no answer any time soon. I fear that is dragging the seafront down.”

I DO FEEL A TREMENDOUS RESPONSIBILITY FOR IT

The Argus: Brighton Palace Pier general manager Anne MartinBrighton Palace Pier general manager Anne Martin 

JUST outside the managing director’s office hangs a black and white photograph showing the great and good of Brighton hammering in the pier’s first pile back in 1891.

It was a time when Queen Victoria was still on the throne, the two world wars were distant, far off events and Britain still had an empire.

A lot has happened in the 125 years since and the pier is a radically different beast.

Sitting in the board room with managing director Anne Martin, the floor vibrates with the techno music from the arcade below while outside the window Pierre the bear and Derby the dolphin – the pier’s mascots – entertain youngsters.

But for Ms Martin, her role remains much the same as those who have gone before her.

She said: “You feel the history of the place and I do feel a tremendous amount of responsibility.

“At the end of the day this is a business, a modern business and we need to grow and develop to survive and keep the pier safe.

“You see a lot of piers around the country failing and knowing the love, support and affection the pier has in Brighton, I do feel the pressure to keep it going and that really motivates me.”

Ms Martin has been in the position since January 2004, having previously managed holiday parks and service stations.

But now she lives and breathes piers and has made Brighton Palace Pier a thriving attraction while many others have gone into decline.

She heads a team of 350 in the summer – reduced to 150 in the winter – and deals with everything from health and safety and human resources to attracting TV and film crews.

Throughout her time in Brighton she has answered to The Noble Organisation. But as of April she has had a new boss in entrepreneur Luke Johnson.

The businessman, otherwise known as Cool Hand Luke, is said to be something of a character with an excellent track record.

She said: “He’s great, he has lots of ides and he clearly loves the pier.

“He’s now got a big picture of it hanging on his office wall, so he is very proud to be part of it.

“I think his greatest strength is that he understands the business. He loves the history, heritage and quirkiness but can see opportunities to develop and change.

“He sees a great future for the pier, otherwise he wouldn’t have bought it.”

But what changes can we expect to see? Brightonians are very protective of their pier, you only have to look at the reaction to Fringe director Julian Caddy’s comments where he described it as a “blot on the landscape” in April to see that.

Ms Martin has promised that there is plenty in the pipeline, with a particular focus on linking up with other local businesses.

She said: “I think we can work together with the rest of the city and can benefit each other.

“We have already been talking with Small Batch Coffee along with North Laine brewery about creating a special beer to sell on the pier.

“We are thinking of a Christmas market for local producers and there will be space for pop-up shops throughout the year.

“We are always looking for new rides and attractions and we are launching a summer entertainments programme for local Brighton artists. In Horatio’s over the summer we will have local bands, comedians and artists. So if anyone wants to come along and play we would love to hear from them.”

She added that they would be considering all their catering options and did not rule out more restaurants.

However, she did rule out that, unlike other piers around the country, charging for entry.

There appears to be much to look forward to but Mr Johnson is coming on board at a particularly difficult time.

The wheel, which attracted people east towards the pier, has just closed down while the i360, which will take visitors west, is to open shortly.

Ms Martin added: “We don’t see it as a problem at all. The more there is on the seafront to attract people down to Brighton the better as far as we are concerned.”

However, she singled out the crumbling Madeira Terraces as a particular problem for the seafront, stating that they were dragging the reputation of the area down.

She knows all too well about maintenance of Victorian structures having got her own 1,719 ft steel frame to keep upright.

She said: “If you keep up with the maintenance the structure will last, it is as simple as that.

“It is a hugely expensive job but it is something that has got to be done.”

While she did not want to give an exact figure she hinted there was very little change out of £1 million for upkeep each year.

As Brighton Palace Pier enters this exciting new era, it would be fascinating to find out what those smartly dressed gentleman pictured more than 100 years ago make of it all.

But for Mr Johnson and Ms Martin, the most important thing is that the pier is around for at least 100 years more.

IT’S A GREAT DAY FOR US AND OUR ‘FUN-LOVING OLD AUNT’

The Argus: Luke JohnsonOwner Luke Johnson

TODAY marks the end of a 16-year campaign to return the Palace back to our pier.

For 117 years she has stood proud as an icon of our city, recognisable the world over.

She has survived two world wars, the Great Storm of 1987 and even an IRA bomb.

It is no wonder she is loved by Brightonians.

If the West Pier is our Grand Old Lady, Brighton Palace Pier is our fun-loving but wise old aunt.

Contrary to popular belief, when first opened she was not known as Palace Pier but instead Brighton Marine Palace and Pier.

But before long our forefathers shortened this to Palace Pier.

The iconic sign has featured on thousands of postcards over the year and has appeared in films and on TV.

But in 2000 The Noble Organisation sparked outrage when workers pulled down the Palace Pier sign and replaced it with Brighton Pier.

Noble’s bosses argued it was important for marketing and promotional purposes.

But you were having none of it.

Our postbag was bulging every day with letters of disgust.

“Who do they think they are to come down here and change the name of our pier,” one person wrote.

From that moment on we refused to recognise the new name and continued to refer to it as the Palace Pier in the newspaper.

The National Piers Society followed suit.

Throughout the early years of the new millennium we put pressure on the owners to see sense but to little avail.

Then in July 2011, we launched our Put the Palace back in our Pier campaign.

Councillors, MPs, celebrities and thousands of you got behind us but still Noble would not budge.

But when it was announced Luke Johnson had bought the pier back in April, we sensed an opportunity.

We kickstarted the campaign and issued a call to arms.

You responded and within hours, hundreds of you had signed the online petition.

When we spoke to Mr Johnson back in the spring, he said he would not rule it out. But it wasn’t enough.

But today we can bring you the historic news that he has decided to put things right.

He listened to you and has finally put the Palace back into our pier.

Long live Brighton Palace Pier.

HELP TO DESIGN PIECE OF HISTORY

The Argus: Pudsey the bear with Pierre bear

THIS is your opportunity to design a piece of Brighton history.

With the change of the pier name, a new sign is needed.

Anne Martin, general manager of the Brighton Palace Pier, said: “There are so many creative people out there who will have fantastic ideas. We know there is this great affection for the pier so we thought this was the perfect opportunity.”

Designs are wanted for the sign which will sit in pride of place on top of the pier. The design must incorporate the words “Brighton Palace Pier”. As well as having their design made, the winner will get £1,000.

A panel of judges is being assembled which will be chaired by crime writer Peter James.

Owner Luke Johnson and The Argus editor Mike Gilson are among the others who have been announced.

There is also a competition for youngsters with Mr Johnson keen to add a third mascot.

He is looking for those under 14 to send in their designs for a colourful character to join Pierre the bear and Derby the dolphin in welcoming visitors to the pier.

The prize for the winner is a year’s pass for all rides on the pier.

Mrs Martin said: “We are very excited to launch the competition. This is a fantastic opportunity for all to be a part of Brighton history.”

Entries for both must be sent to Brighton Palace Pier, Madeira Drive, BN2 1TW or by email to competition@brightonpier.co.uk by the end of August.