POLICE were called to South Parade Pier on Saturday because of a dispute over unpaid business rates.
Officers arrived at the Southsea attraction after its owners threatened to evict the company which runs its amusement arcade and is refurbishing its fish and chip shop.
They intervened after being called by joint-leaseholder Owen Harris, who founded Southsea Capital with his partner Rosie Clements to invest in the pier.
Owner Fred Nash claims that the pair owe him money for unpaid tax and bills, but on Saturday he was told by the police he could not take possession of the arcade and evict the leaseholders without a court order.
Along with business partner Dawn Randall, and a group of their employees, he met with opposition from Lib Dem Milton ward councillor Will Purvis, who argued the eviction would have been illegal.
But Mr Nash said: ‘If a company doesn’t pay, we don’t need to go to court.
‘We can use certified bailiffs. All we got on Saturday was people telling us our jobs. We were just bringing a bit of pressure to bear.
‘It is our pier. The police were coming down and being heavy-handed and I couldn’t comprehend why. The lease is in our name and if I had turned the electricity off they couldn’t have traded.
‘It was a lot of nonsense, there wasn’t any trouble.’
He added that his company has been served an enforcement notice for thousands of pounds worth of unpaid business rates – and he was trying to get Southsea Capital to pay their ‘fair share’.
But Mr Harris said he had been completely unaware of the demands until he received a call from his staff on Saturday.
‘As far as I’m aware there is no dispute – everything is in order,’ he said.
‘We need to take legal advice this week and see where we are. We have invested a lot of time and money in that place and it would be a shame to walk away now.’
He added that, despite the dispute, the arcade remains open and trading as normal.
Cllr Purvis said he had become involved because of concerns that the proper legal process for an eviction was not being followed.
Leon Reis is a committee member of the East Southsea Neighbourhood Forum and is trying to organise a community buy-out of the pier.
He said: ‘Saturday’s events show that the future of South Parade Pier is hanging in the balance. Our campaign to buy the pier for the community of Portsmouth and Southsea is progressing as fast as humanly possible.
‘We regard it as no less than a fight to save our beloved pier’s existence.’
PIER’S RECENT PAST
South Parade Pier has had an up and down recent past.
One hand, there have been grand £20m plans unveiled for the attraction. In October it was revealed that the owners wanted to see new floors and a restaurant overlooking the Solent.
However, six months before that the company which was created to buy the pier, Frenash Ltd, was put into liquidation over an unpaid electricity bill – although the amount was later disputed.
The pier is now owned by SPP South Coast Ltd.
In May, The News reported that health and safety fears meant visitors were barred from walking along the pier, with only fishermen allowed on. Now local residents want to take over the running of the pier.