Companies could again be asked to invest in Southend Pier after it made a £1.2million loss last year.

Independent councillor Ron Woodley spoke as figures revealed by the Echo showed the 1.3-mile landmark cost £1.7million last year and only generated £537,000 in income.

This means taxpayers subsidised the landmark to the tune of £1.2million.

The scale of the loss has prompted the rainbow administration in charge of the authority to look to private companies to invest in the pier. However, the Lib Dem, Labour, and Independent administration has ruled out selling off the pier, pointing out previous attempts to work with the private sector on the structure have proved fruitless.

Mr Woodley, said: “We will consider opportunities in the future to work with other partners on the pier’s operation, but when previously offered to the private sector, no viable bids have come forward.

“The pier is an internationally recognised landmark and a major draw for both visitors and residents.

“The council has always retained ownership of this vital asset, so we have control over how it is managed and maintained and what attractions are on the pier.

“It also enables us to invest in a range of measures, including fire and sprinkler systems, maintenance of the structure and pier railway and other required works that if we did not have ownership of, we would not have direct control of.”

Last year, the Tories decided to close the pier on Mondays and Tuesdays over the winter period, which has saved £50,000 per year and the new administration has not ruled out similar measures.

In 2011, the previous Tory administration paid out £2.1million to install a sprinkler system on the pier, in a bid to avoid a repeat of the 2005 fire, which gutted the structure.

John Lamb, leader of the Tory group on the council, claimed his party, who were ousted from power in May, tried to get private developers to run parts of the pier.

He added: “The current expenses of the pier are not viable unless they can make sure they can increase footfall by getting more visitors on there.

“That’s why we put the Royal Pavilion on there – to give people a reason to go to the end of the pier.

“The problem with third parties is they are willing to invest, but want to keep all the profit and leave the maintenance to the council.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions with the pier – the train track needs updating soon, but who is going to do that?”

However, Mr Woodley added: “Our other historical assets are also vital to our tourism offer and also vital to the heritage of the town and it is right that they remain open and maintained for local people, too.

“Visitor numbers continue to increase at all of our attractions such as the pier, and in light of the economic climate and strain on public finances, we are continually looking at ways to generate income and reduce the burden on local taxpayers.

“However, we are committed to maintaining our heritage and seaside assets IT could be a record-breaking year at Southend Pier if tourists continue to flock to the attraction.

 

Southend Standard: Southend pier

...But it could be a record-breaking year for the attraction

 

In the first seven months this year, almost 190,000 people have flocked to the 1.3mile-long structure, meaning that tourists could top 300,000 this year.

If achieved, it will be the first time so many people have visited in one year, since the fire in October 2005.

This year’s figure also takes into account the closure on Mondays and Tuesdays during the winter.

Labour’s Ian Gilbert, deputy leader of the council, said: “The pier has so much to offer and I am delighted residents and visitors alike have swarmed to what is a wonderful asset to the borough.

“Obviously the good weather we have had has helped, but I also think it is testament to the excellent management by the staff, the investments made, and the diverse range of events that take place throughout the year.

“However, we are not complacent and we know there is scope for our pier to be even better. The increased footfall demonstrates the potential opportunities for investment and we are keen to talk to businesses about this.” In 2013, 284, 468 people visited the attraction, in what was the biggest influx of tourists since 2005.

Last year, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver filmed parts of his show at the end of the pier, with a host of famous names.

Upcoming events on the pier include the Barge Match exhibition, from 11am on Sunday, August 24, and the finale of the Summer Jazz on the Pier programme, being held at the Royal Pavilion, on Sunday, September 21.

Last year, the pier witnessed its first wedding, which took place at the Royal Pavilion.