SOUTHWOLD Pier is to be purchased by Gough Hotels, the company behind the Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds and the Salthouse Harbour Hotel in Ipswich.

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The deal, which was announced to staff by the current owners today, potentially adds a third hotel to the Gough family’s business, with planning permission in place for the redevelopment of the main building at the shore end of the pier.

Stephen Bournes, who together with his wife Antonia purchased the pier in 2005, said today: “We are very excited about the sale. Gough Hotels are great operators and are passionate about Suffolk.

“They are keen to take on the hotel development and we see this as really good news for Southwold, and for Suffolk. We know Gough Hotels well and we believe we could not have found a better buyer.”

The existing pier business includes gift shops, a restaurant, cafés and an arcade of “alternative” slot machines, attracting a combined footfall of more than 750,000 visitors a year.

Plans to replace the existing pavilion with a 30-bedroom luxury Art Deco-style hotel were given the go-ahead in December 2010.

The pier ranks as the second-biggest employer in Southwold with a permanent workforce of 45, rising to nearly 100 during the summer season.

Robert Gough, managing director of Gough Hotels, said: “Stephen and Antonia will be a hard act to follow, but we are confident we can build on the success of the pier and in time develop the luxury hotel which will transform the business into a 365 day a year enterprise.

“This will not only boost the pier’s shops and restaurants, but increase employment and the appeal of the town as a year round tourist destination.”

Mr Gough said that although the start of construction work on the hotel was not imminent, he hoped to go ahead with the development as soon as possible.

“The planning permission for the hotel was a key reason when we decided to purchase the business,” he added. “To be able to build a hotel in Southwold is an amazing opportunity, as is being able to build a hotel on a pier.”

The value of the deal with Gough Hotels has not been disclosed. Mr Bournes said Southwold Pier was put up for sale two years ago and attracted interest from a variety of parties but no deal resulted.

Robert Gough had made an approach more recently, having been impressed during a visit to the pier when it hosted an event for the Visit East Anglia tourism body.

Mr Bournes added: “We have enjoyed eight years of hard work and great fun making the pier the landmark that it is today. We want to see the pier continue to thrive and our plans brought to fruition and we feel that Robert Gough is the natural successor.

“He shares our vision for the pier to be more than just another seaside amusement arcade, and with his hotel development expertise he is well placed to build the new hotel.”

The original Southwold Pier was built in 1900 as a landing stage for the Belle steamships, which carried passengers to seaside destinations from London, and was 810 feet long.

The present main building dates from a major refurbishment in 1937 but most of the pier itself is modern, having been rebuilt between 1999 and 2001 to a length of 623 feet, with major storms in 1934, 1955 and 1979 have successively reduced the original pier in length to just 60 feet before reconstruction commenced.

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