A charitable trust still hopes that a new pier will be built at the site of the West Pier.

Since the 1980s, the West Pier Trust has been working to try and restore and later rebuild the historic pier after it first fell into a state of disrepair and was then destroyed by two fires.

Rachel Clark, the chief executive of the West Pier Trust, revealed that renovation and repair work was just "weeks away" from starting when fire gutted the structure.

Speaking on the anniversary of the first of the two fires, Rachel told The Argus she was at home around a 20-minute drive from the pier when she received a call from a colleague telling her about the news.

She said: "It was not significant at the time, but by the time I got there, it had become a raging fire. We just stood on the beach in helpless amazement really.

"There were masses of people on the beach and the emergency services there as well.

"It was such a terrible thing for everyone, not just for us closely involved but for the whole city - it was the best and finest pier ever built."


Rachel explained that work was "weeks away" from beginning to restore the pier after years of legal battles and efforts to secure enough money for the project.

Funding had been secured through the newly-created National Lottery following extensive negotiations, as well as from a private partner, but the plans faced opposition from the owners of the Palace Pier, who claimed unfair competition.

Rachel said that the legal challenges significantly delayed the project but that the trust was around eight weeks away from beginning its work to restore the "jewel in the crown of Brighton".

The Argus: Plans to restore the West Pier would have returned the attraction back to its heyday in the 1920sPlans to restore the West Pier would have returned the attraction back to its heyday in the 1920s (Image: Argus archive)

She said the plans would have returned the pier to the way it looked in its heyday in the 1920s - a time when it attracted some two million visitors every year. The restored West Pier would have had a range of cafes and restaurants, as well as shops and other entertainment and leisure activities.

Rachel said that the restored pier would have been a “lovely family place to go”.

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She said: "The work was absolutely imminent, but it was then seized away. That wonderful opportunity and moment to bring that incredible treasure back to life was robbed and taken by a criminal act. It's not exaggerating to call it a tragedy."

While the lottery fund continued to pledge to support the project after the blaze, a second arson attack a few months later ended hopes of restoration.

Even 20 years on, Rachel is still devastated by the missed chance to restore part of the city’s heritage.

“You accommodate it, but you can never really recover from it,” she said.

“It’s as tragic today as it was then.”

'i360 is a vertical pier in the sky'

Since then, the Brighton i360 has opened near the site of the pier, with some of the toll booths brought back to life.

Although the “vertical pier” has proved controversial among some residents and has fallen short of expected visitor numbers, Rachel still fully backs the attraction.

She said: “The pandemic was a very difficult hurdle for them to overcome, but the fact is they survived that and they are working very hard to improve their visitor numbers.

“We are huge supporters of the i360 and I am very hopeful things will work out for them - and I think they are working out.

“It is a great attraction and I think it is a vertical pier in the sky. In innovative and engineering terms, it does beautifully reflect the West Pier, because when it was built - the pier was very innovative.”

'West Pier not going to be there forever'

The Argus: Parts of the remaining structure of the West Pier have collapsed in recent years as storms battered the coastParts of the remaining structure of the West Pier have collapsed in recent years as storms battered the coast (Image: Sussex News and Pictures)

Questions are raised every winter about whether the remains of the West Pier will manage to survive another series of storms - a sentiment not lost on Rachel and the trust.

She said: “We nervously await what might happen next and, so far, we have been very lucky. I think it’s absolutely remarkable that so much of it is still standing 20 years after the fire.

“However, it is not maintained, and it will eventually start collapsing in a much more dramatic fashion.

“It’s not going to be there forever, but while it is it still has huge value for the city.”

Rachel expressed happiness that, despite being in the state that it is in, people still love the West Pier as a more macabre tourist attraction, with the remains sometimes featuring in TV shows and films.

“As far as we’re concerned, that’s great - it’s helpful for us to keep reminding people of this wonderful structure,” she said.

'There could be another pier on the site one day'

The Argus: The West Pier Trust hopes to restore one of the pier's octagonal kiosksThe West Pier Trust hopes to restore one of the pier's octagonal kiosks

Even after all the years since the West Pier closed and began collapsing into the sea, Rachel still remains hopeful that a new pier may one day take its place.

She said: “I like the idea that one day there could be another pier on that site. The i360 doesn’t preclude that possibility.”

In the meantime, however, the West Pier Trust is fundraising and working to restore one of the pier’s octagonal kiosks, which dated back to 1866.

The project aims to keep the memory of the West Pier alive, long after its ruins disappear from view for good.