Ensuring pier’s long term maintenance and enforcement of planning regulations are key objectives.
By Emma Harwood

The new owner of Hastings pier, Sheikh Abid Gulzar, has erected a wooden hut and applied gold paint to parts of the grade II listed structure without obtaining planning consent. He is expected to submit retrospective plans for these alterations within the next 30 days, a spokesperson for Hastings Borough Council (HBC) said on Monday.

According to guidelines set out by Historic England, listed building consent is required ‘for all works of demolition, alteration or extension to a listed building that affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest’.  It is a ‘criminal offence not to seek consent when it is required. Not knowing a building is listed is not a defence to any criminal proceedings. This makes it very important that any doubt is investigated and discussed with the local planning authority.’

So is Mr Gulzar to be charged or injuncted? A spokesperson for HBC told HIP that the guidelines existed to prevent irreversible changes to important buildings and that Mr Gulzar’s alterations so far were not seen as such by the council’s planning department.

The sale process
While administrators have not officially disclosed the price at which Mr Gulzar bought the pier, nor the terms and conditions of the purchase, the community group Friends of Hastings Pier (FoHP) have now learned from ‘a reliable source’ that the sum paid was £85,000. They have also been told that there was no covenant in the contract to ensure that Mr Gulzar keeps it in good repair (though he has subsequently given assurances in a number of interviews that he will be keeping it open all year).

FoHP spokesperson and entrepreneur Adam Wide, whose company Openwide International successfully operates both Cromer and Bournemouth piers, wrote to the administrators in July with a long list of questions regarding the sale process. (His letter can be read in full alongside their reply here). He asked why there had been no criteria set out for potential buyers, no clear timeline and no opportunity given to FoHP to go back with a best and final offer. He called their response “a disgrace and a fluffy whitewash”, adding that there were still many questions to answer.

“It is a disgrace that a public asset should be treated as if it was a building on the High Street,” he added. As for Mr Gulzar, “he could just close it and let it rust.”

At a meeting at the White Rock Hotel last Friday FoHP, whose own bid to keep the structure in community ownership while leasing out the top to a private commercial operator was turned down by administrators, resolved to keep up pressure on HBC to ensure that it enforces both planning regulations and maintenance requirements.

Parliamentary inquiry
The group is committed to raising a ‘fighting fund’ which will mean they are in a financial position to bring the pier back into community ownership, should the opportunity arise. They say that in the meantime they are committed to safeguarding the future of the pier as a community and heritage asset.  They are also keen that lessons from the sale of Hastings pier should be used to protect other community assets for the long term. They will therefore continue to lobby for a parliamentary inquiry into the process, looking at other assets around the country in community hands and seeking to find ways of rescuing them if their long term viability is at risk, as well as seeking a more appropriate administration procedure to prevent them from falling, like Hastings pier, into private ownership, should they become insolvent. That prospective inquiry now has the backing of both HBC leader Peter Chowney and Amber Rudd MP.

FoHP spokesperson Jess Steele summarised:  ‘The administration of  Hastings Pier Charity was the wrong process and created the wrong outcome. The pier was rescued and beautifully restored with £14m of lottery, public charitable and community money plus thousands of hours of volunteer time. It has been sold to a private individual for £85,000 as part of an administration process, gifting a private individual a windfall of public and lottery money with no obligations or framework to ensure repair or sustained community benefit. It’s clear that the administration process is not fit
for purpose for community or civic assets.”

Having been destroyed by fire in 2010, Hastings Pier was designed and rebuilt with £14 million of public and Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) money. After it reopened to the public in 2016 the Hastings Pier Charity had plans to raise a further £800,000 to construct an all-weather structure which could be used for holding year-round events. However when further funding from the HLF was not forthcoming, and the local authorities East Sussex County Council and HBC declined to assist, the charity was put into the hands of administrators Smith & Williamson, who took over the pier and its assets in November 2017.
It was sold to Eastbourne pier’s owner Mr Gulzar, in June of this year.

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