Hastings Pier was set on course for a long and empty winter last week when the borough council withdrew licensing approval for several scheduled live and DJ music events. The franchise offered by pier owner Sheikh Gulzar to local company Music First Events (MFE) to conduct business on the decking for three months from early July was due to expire anyway after the weekend of 3rd/4th October. MFE director James Tovey had talked earlier of having an option to extend the franchise to a “Winter Wonderland” installation in November/December. It seems that this will not now proceed. Rather, the company will be counting lost revenue over the final fortnight of what had up to now been a hugely popular, and apparently lucrative, period of tenure.

PICTURE: Dave Young

The council explained its instruction to MFE to cancel its remaining programme by reference to the lack of social distancing among attenders at a music event at the previous weekend, 12th/13th September. A spokesperson said: “As a result of this, and the fact that infection rates have increased nationally and also to some extent across East Sussex, our environmental health team suggested that as a precaution the operators of the pier should reconsider the type of events they are staging, and how they are managed. The operators have responded positively to this suggestion, and have decided there will be no more live bands/DJs for the foreseeable future.”

First cancellation was of last Thursday’s HiddenBeach On The Pier gathering, due to be fronted by local DJ Remi Vibesman. A wholly ticketed eight-hour Queer on the Pier festival was allowed to go ahead two days later on the Saturday (19th September), presumably because the MFE were able to persuade the council that they had hired sufficient numbers of marshals to ensure that rigorous distancing controls would be maintained. 

But all subsequent events have been cancelled.

According to the council spokesperson, its environmental health team “continues to support businesses, including event organisers, to ensure they have access to and understand the guidance and how to operate safely according to it”. However, any application of rigid guidelines to outdoor gatherings on the pier arguably runs counter to scientific studies relied upon in the formulation of general government policy, which suggest that the risk of Covid-19 infection in well-ventilated outdoor environments is minimal. 

Jonathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, told the daily Downing Street briefing back in April that “there is a definite truism across all of the science literature that ventilation is a most critical part of reducing transmission from respiratory viruses”. Normal breezes and air currents appeared to quickly disperse any kind of plumes of breath exhaled, he said. 

Dr Chris Smith, clinical lecturer in virology at the University of Cambridge, previously told the BBC that the chances of Covid-19 transmission outside were “vanishingly small” because “the amount of dilution from fresh air is so high”.

No mainstream scientists in the field are known to have argued to the contrary. As for ventilation on the pier, enough said.

The Bier Garden on the pier will remain open until 4th October with slightly reduced hours: 1pm to 7.30pm Sunday to Thursday: 1pm to 10pm Fridays and Saturdays.

NB The pier will now close at 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays in line with the government regulation announced this week

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