Weston Pier fire
Kerry is the joint third ever owner
"I'd give anything to have the old pavilion back"
Grand Pier owner Kerry Michael talks about his love of Weston, how he felt when he heard the devastating news that the pier was on fire and what his plans for the future are.
Like thousands of people, Weston's Grand Pier owner Kerry Michael has fond childhood memories of the attraction.
Although Kerry born in Bristol, he spent his childhood playing the slot machines and penny drops - when he was allowed - on the Grand Pier after moving to the area when he was one.
"I grew up looking at it and every morning it was the first thing I saw when I drew back the curtains. I'd give anything to have the old pavilion back."
The Grand Pier pavilion caught fire at around half six on Monday morning. At that time, Kerry had just arrived at a hotel in Spain for the start of a family holiday when he received a frantic phone call from his distraught sister and co-owner Michelle, who was still in Weston watching the pier go up in smoke.
The fire destroyed the pier in two hours
He then turned on the TV to see the incredible footage of the pavilion becoming an inferno and then completely destroyed.
Initially the fire crews had the fire under control but then something happened and the entire structure was ablaze with no hope of rescuing it.
It was then that Kerry got the first flight home.
"My first reaction was disbelief. Even though I'd seen images, nothing prepares you for seeing it in the flesh. Each day seems worse - it doesn't get any easier," he said.
What has struck the owners is the public's "unbelievable" reaction. Thousands of people have been left devastated by the fire, and were saddened to see their childhood memories go up in smoke.
"People keep coming up to me, wanting to shake my hand and tell me their memories of the pier.
"It was an iconic structure which everyone related to and they want to talk about it."
Some people have also likened it to 9/11.
"I've heard the 9/11 comment a lot. While other piers have burned down, none have burnt live on TV; the whole thing lived out on prime time TV. As we all watched 9/11 unfold, everyone saw the fire. It's devastating and dramatic."
Mr Michael said arson and a deep-fat fryer were not the cause of the fire however a spokesperson for Avon Fire and Rescue Service said the cause was unknown and that the investigation was ongoing.
Much has been made of the fact that the pavilion did not have any sprinklers fitted. Avon Fire and Rescue Service had sent a letter to the previous owners in 1995 after Brighton Pier caught fire recommending sprinklers to be fitted however they did not make such a recommendation to the new owners during a routine fire inspection in April. A spokesperson for the service said the current legislation for that type of building does not require it.
Attraction all year round
The Michaels are not letting the fire ruin the summer. All of the staff have kept their jobs and the pier re-opened three days after the fire with games, food stalls and other activities. A climbing wall is due to be installed as are other attractions.
Part of the pier re-opened of Thursday
Since buying the pier in February, Kerry and his sister Michelle have spent £1m on the pier, installing a climbing wall (which had proved popular during the ten days it was open) and an indoor go-kart track.
So what about the future? Kerry said he could not say what the pier would look like however he will meet with the South West Regional Development Agency and English Heritage to hear what their visions and aspirations are. They will then add their own.
He said he did not want to hold a public consultation into the new design because "you would never get people to agree and it would delay the re-build".
"With the design itself, the only aspirations we have is what goes into it. Regarding the timescale, I think the building itself is achievable in 12 months but it will be the design and planning which could take longer. We want it to be opened as quick as possible."
He said it did not matter if it opened in July or December because he wants it to be a "52-week operation" which will be open in all weathers and would attract both locals, holiday-makers and corporate businesses.
"We will do the best we can to deliver the best build and facilities," he said.
Weston-super-Mare has received a lot of negative attention recently. It was only last week that former resident, comedian John Cleese, said the area had gone downhill.
However it is clear that Kerry is passionate about the town.
He said before he bought the pier, he travelled around the country to visit all the other major seaside resorts and was not impressed and would not have swapped Weston for any of them.
"Weston has wonderful sandy beaches, a flat promenade, it's clean and tidy. People are quick to knock the town but they should see others before doing so."
And with that, he went off to hear more personal memories about the pier.
last updated: 24/10/2008 at 15:39
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