By Emma Harwood

Visitors to Hastings pier were able to stroll on the deck for the first time in nearly four months when the gates reopened to the public on Monday. Owner Sheikh Abid Gulzar bought it – restored with £14 million of Heritage Lottery and public funding – in June last year for just £60,000, but closed it for “essential repairs” following a small, accidental electrical fire in the Pavilion restaurant in November. 

While the restaurant remained closed on Monday along with the visitor centre, kiosks and upper deck café, visitors could walk as far as some orange barriers, blocking off the seaward end. 

A couple who had travelled from The Ridge to visit two commemorative plaques situated beyond the barriers were told that this part of the pier was closed. They were forced to turn back and go home. “We’ll just have to wait a bit longer” said the lady, disappointedly walking back towards the gates with her husband. A staff member could be seen in the distance with a mop –possibly attempting to clean the deck which was caked in nearly four months of seagull mess.

Puzzlingly, one of Mr Gulzar’s vans was parked in the centre of the pier. A piece of yellow tape ran from the van to one of the picnic tables, though its purpose was unclear. Meanwhile behind one of the closed kiosks a tap had been left running into an overflowing bucket, with no sign of any staff members nearby to turn it off. 

Following its closure in November, Mr Gulzar had given a succession of dates when the pier would be reopened: Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, the end of March and May Bank Holiday were all cited. April Fool’s Day turned out to be the operative occasion. But, as people strolled in the April sunshine, questions remained unanswered about why the pier had been closed for so long and whether it is now going to be open to the public for the rest of the year.

In a letter to residents of 21st March MP Amber Rudd said she understood the extended closure was due to fresh structural damage, but urged Mr Gulzar to carry out repairs as a matter of priority. She also asked for improved communication between the pier owner and the community. “The pier belongs to our town and we must always remember that.”

Mr Gulzar, who stated on Hastings Pier’s official Facebook page on 26th March that he has now advertised for staff and people interested in hiring units ready for the reopening, had given a number of reasons for keeping it closed. 

Initially he said it was for essential repairs and improvements. He also blamed vandalism and thefts, while telling the BBC One Show in January that even partially opening it to the public “costs a lot of money.”

Most recently, on the BBC TV show Sunday Politics on 30th March, he said there had been “serious repairs” but went on to blame delays by Hastings Borough Council in considering his planning application to put up five temporary sheds. This scheme was approved by the planning committee on 7th March, however Mr Gulzar claimed that in the meantime the price of the sheds had gone up.

A further application for change of use to turn the £1.5 million visitor centre into an amusement arcade – described on the planning application as a ‘family entertainment centre’ – awaits consideration. 

HBC’s Marketing and Major Projects Manager, Kevin Boorman gave it his support on 29th March stating: “I support this application. Many, if not most, seaside piers have such entertainments centres, as indeed did Hastings Pier until it closed down (prior to the fire) in 2007. The amusement centres on the pier in 2007 were far larger than that being proposed….Such an attraction will provide entertainment for visitors and will also help to create an income stream which should help make the pier’s operation viable.”

However, one objector, Michael Savage, commenting on the plan on HBC’s website, writes: “In the present climate of concern about gambling and addiction, I think it is inappropriate to add to the possible access to machines of this type. There are plenty of amusement arcades already in the town, and to locate another one in an area frequented by children and families is not acceptable.”

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