Published: 05:00, 05 January 2022
| Updated: 09:25, 07 January 2022
A town's historical society has raised concerns over the maintenance of a listed pier set to be sold off to a private company by the council.
Gravesham council revealed plans to offload Gravesend Town Pier and Pontoon to Thames Clippers with aims to introduce a regular Uber Boats rapid river transport service and improving the economy in the borough, which was approved by cabinet members last night.
The deal is expected to be completed in the coming weeks after councillors voted to delegate authority to offers to finalise the sale.
“Town Pier, the oldest remaining cast iron pier in the world, is a Borough landmark and we have been looking at ways to secure its future in a way that benefits the whole community for some time,” said Cllr John Burden (Lab), leader of Gravesham council.
“The sale to Thames Clippers safeguards this important community asset for future generations to admire and enjoy, while opening up new opportunities for strengthening Gravesend’s links to the River Thames.
“We have long-held aspirations to support river transportation from the town and while this sale does not guarantee rapid river links to London, it certainly makes their introduction more likely.
“We know Thames Clippers will be worthy and conscientious custodians of this important piece of Gravesend’s history.”
But Sandra Foder, from The Gravesend Historical Society, shared her fears of how the pier may once again fall into disrepair if history repeats itself as she claims happened last time the pier was not held in public ownership.
She added: "Without looking at the proposal, this would be a backwards step. I think that would not be the best idea.
"I do not know about Thames Clippers but I would like to know more about the company before I change my mind and their financial means.
"It is making me cautious."
Sandra who has been secretary at the society since 1996 also raised concerns of the pier's maintenance and how the company would keep it in working condition and prevent it falling into disrepair.
Geoff Symonds, chief operating officer of Uber Boat by Thames Clippers said: “We are delighted that Gravesham council has agreed to entrust Town Pier and pontoon with us. We appreciate its significance to the local community and are pleased to be investing in that community.
“It has long been our goal to expand the River Bus network further east, and the acquisition of Gravesend Pier will enable us to do this.
“This expansion has already started, with the select central London sailings from Gravesend and Tilbury in 2021 and with Barking Riverside Pier due to open next spring.
“Whilst we establish the long term service from Gravesend, we plan to operate more leisure sailings in the interim, further enabling as many residents as possible to enjoy the benefits of travelling by
The council took over ownership of the pier in 2000 and paid for restoration works and maintaining public access.
Historian Christoph Bull also spoke ahead of the plans: "If the council are unable to provide the funding to restore and maintain it let us hope that Thames Clippers will be able to - they must.
"The pier certainly needs work. We are talking about an extremely important historical pier. It is not just any old pier.
"We know Thames Clippers will be worthy and conscientious custodians of this important piece of Gravesend’s history"
"I do not care who maintains it as long as it gets done."
In the proposal report, the council outlined the terms of selling the land would include the continued use of the pontoon by the Gravesend to Tilbury ferry service and public access to the pier.
It intends to improve river transport by selling to an established river user and securing long-term management of the facility located off West Street, Gravesend.
The council has spent £530,360 on running the pier with the income only being £35,970 from 2016/17 to 2020/21 and running costs expected to increase over time.
Cllr Burden added: “We have achieved those ambitions of restoring the pier and maintaining public access and are now looking to protect its future by placing it in the hands of an established river user.
“On completion of the sale, the budget we have set aside for the maintenance of the pier and pontoon can be redirected to support the essential frontline services we provide for local residents and businesses, and further the council’s work to combat climate change, so the whole borough benefits.
“Officers are working with river users to identify other areas where it might be possible to open up additional access points for local people."
The pier is Grade–II listed and is the oldest remaining cast iron pier of its kind in the world which was built in 1834 in order to board steamers travelling to and from London.
It is estimated that more than three million passengers were transported between Gravesend and the capital from the jetty.
The pier was used to house offices during the 1980s after it was purchased by a water and oil barge company.
But when the local authority took on the structure in 2000, work on its restoration commenced and it was leased to two separate companies until 2019.
The council has since been in control of the pier and pontoon as it decided both should be managed by the same provider..
In 2012, a floating pontoon was opened, from where the ferry service between Gravesend and Tilbury now runs.
Update: Since the Cabinet meeting, the matter has been “called in” for further examination by the Overview Scrutiny Committee, which is chaired by the leader of the opposing Tory party, Cllr Jordan Meade.
The meeting will look at matters including whether the taxpayer is achieving value for money, whether the terms adequately protect public access and adequately safeguard the pier’s heritage, explore further the impact the sale will have on local businesses and recreational access to the river and to understand further the council’s need to sell it.
It takes place at the Civic Centre, Gravesend, on Thursday, January 13 at 7.30pm.
You can find the agenda here.