KENT BARKER REPORTS:

Discussions have been held over possible future community ownership of the Hastings Pier.

A packed meeting of Pier shareholders considered whether they might be able to establish ownership of the structure now the Hastings Pier Charity is in administration. In any event the shareholders insisted that they should be fully consulted on the future of the award-winning structure.

The meeting, called by longstanding pier campaigners Lesley Davis and Jess Steele, heard criticism of the administrators – dubbed ‘undertakers’ by some – for refusing to disclose contact details of the almost 5000 community shareholders. So far these individuals who invested their own money to save the pier are not recognised as creditors by administrators Smith & Williamson LLP.

Jess Steele told the meeting that it might be possible to re-establish community ownership, perhaps working with an operator who would take on its day to day running.  It is thought the Heritage Lottery Fund which provided the bulk of the  £14 million renovation cost would prefer the community to take it on.

Individual shareholders agreed some basic principles  including: not selling the freehold; keeping admission free for all; and enabling shareholders to be involved in future decisions.  Some wondered whether there could be a conflict between those objectives and commercial operation but Jess Steele pointed out several other piers, including Cromer, are run this way. The meeting heard that plans had been drawn up pre-administration for a new structure at the end of the pier which would provide shelter for ‘a couple of thousand people’ attending events. Participants agreed to work toward obtaining planning permission for something similar. Suggestions of Crowdfunding or a second share issue to settle debts and pay for improvements came from the floor.

The organisers told the meeting that the pier had earlier been registered as an ‘Asset of Community Value’ which could trigger a six month moratorium on any proposed sale in order to see if the community could raise money itself to buy the structure.

A surprise guest asked to address the meeting. Sheikh Abid Gulzar who owns the Eastbourne pier and a series of hotels said he was “ashamed, shocked and unhappy” about what had happened to the money the community shareholders had put into Hastings pier, and he called on the administrators to ‘secure and return’ their investment.  However, after a show of hands, only one of the more than fifty shareholders at the meeting said they wanted their money back, and that would only be so they could re-invest it in future plans.

It was agreed to set up a temporary action group called Friends of Hastings Pier, which hoped to convene alarge meeting in May to which all shareholders and the administrators would be invited.

Shareholders and others wishing to contact the Friends of Hastings Pier group should email  friendsofhastingspier@gmail.com

 

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