Sheikh Abid Gulzar, owner of Hastings Pier, submitted long-anticipated planning and listed building consent applications to Hastings Borough Council (HBC) last week for enhancement of facilities on the pier. The statutory notices appear among others in the adjacent column of this page. Excitement turned to bathos, however, when it turned out that what Mr Gulzar seeks approval for –  part retrospective, as has been his custom in previous developments over in Eastbourne    is the installation of five sheds for a “temporary” period of up to five years. One of them, painted white, is the ice cream kiosk already in place. There will be four more of similar material and dimensions to be erected at the near end of the concourse.

The original design by architects dRMM which won the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2017 made much of its recycling of timber from the original pier; the visitor centre adopts scorched wood cladding as a particular feature. Reclaimed timber was also used to create the pier’s new furniture, manufactured locally as part of an employment initiative. Mr Gulzar’s sheds, described in his applications as ‘contemporary log cabins’, are made by Skinners, the Bexhill-based timber building manufacturer. It is no doubt creditable that the new owner has also selected a local employer which assures its customers that all the redwood timber it uses is “from well-managed, legal and non-controversial sources which carry recognised and acceptable certifications”. HBC’s planners, with input presumably from Heritage officers charged with conservation of the site as a Grade II listed building, will have to decide whether the new sheds are consistent with the existing design materials.

It is difficult to see how they can do this effectively, however, without considering the full context of the applicant’s plans. For his PR consultant, ‘Lord’ Brett McLean has been explaining that he has rather more radical proposals still in the course of formulation. A separate application for change of use of the current visitor centre to a “family entertainment centre” has also apparently been lodged with the council and is expected to be validated for public scrutiny within the next week or so. Asked what this centre will house, Mr McLean has told HIP that this “is the term adopted by us when introducing free standing leisure machines that will provide amusement for children of all ages and adults through the use of sounds and lights, identical to those that have been installed in the former Atlantis Night Club based on Eastbourne Pier”. It must be assumed they mean an amusement arcade.

Other ambitions, which seem to be at a more (let’s say) conceptual stage, include the introduction of a second pavilion and the reinstatement of the former landing stage giving an opportunity for leisure travel by boat between Hastings and Eastbourne piers.

What may in the meantime puzzle, not to say infuriate, many Hastings residents and others who crowd-funded the alternative bid by Friends of Hastings Pier to take over management of the pier back in the spring is not only the length of time it has taken Mr Gulzar to put forward any plans to energise the enterprise he has bought for himself, but also the feeble value of the investment that has been made thus far. In justifying their strict timetable for conduct of the sale which produced him as their preferred bidder, the Hastings Pier Charity Administrators spoke of setting a deadline that would allow “sufficient time for the pier to be fully marketed and to give the new owner the benefit of the summer months trading period”. They also stated that respective bidders had been “asked to explain their plans for running the pier and demonstrate their ability to pay the running costs for operating the business and the upkeep”.  No one except the administrators themselves, and perhaps the Heritage Lottery Fund for whom they were effectively acting, knows what answers Mr Gulzar made to these enquiries.

Then what has happened in the four and a half months since the sale? Mr McLean summarises the achievements of Mr Gulzar’s regime as adding “value, character and interest and generating footfall to the pier” by the introduction of fibre glass animals, horticultural specimens, additional seating, and two golf buggies to assist those with limited mobility. But the fact is that very little cash is being generated, and even less is being invested. And now it’s winter. Is this the vision for which the Heritage Lottery Fund granted over £14 million pounds?

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