What’s Next For Hastings Pier?
A look back over the twelve months since its sale. By Emma Harwood
When the historic landmark was refurbished with £14 million of public, Heritage Lottery and shareholders money, it seemed to mark a triumph of community – led regeneration. But after former owners, Hastings Pier Charity fell into administration in November 2017, it was placed on the market by administrators Smith & Williamson. Despite a community bid from Friends of Hastings Pier who wanted to keep it in public ownership, and a private bid proposing a £10 million investment from Roger Wade of Boxpark, it was sold to Eastbourne pier owner Sheikh Abid Gulzar on 15th June last year for £60,000.
Following the sale S&W said that out of the bids received Mr Gulzar had demonstrated the best immediate financial capability as well as the operational capacity and experience to help the pier move forward, stating:
“It is anticipated that significant cash for working capital and investment purposes, amounting to over a million pounds, would be required to make the pier sustainable.”
Twelve months on, the heritage asset which won the prestigious architectural RIBA Stirling prize, shows little sign of receiving any of that £1 million investment. No long term plan has been published, it was closed to the public for over three months during the Christmas and winter period and its full time engineering team are suing for constructive dismissal. Temporary “log cabins” (effectively garden sheds), were given planning permission by HBC in March, but have yet to be built. Its £1.5 million Visitor Centre, funded by HLF for educational purposes, has been granted change of use by HBC to become an amusement arcade with slot machines but so far these have not been installed.
Following the sale last summer Mr. Gulzar told HIP the pier would be open 365 days a year and that long term plans would involve reinstating the other pavilion building destroyed by fire in 2010. He said in the short term he planned to build an ice cream kiosk as well as various other outlets selling souvenirs and other merchandise. The kiosk did materialise fairly quickly, and has since been granted retrospective planning permission but is currently only open sporadically.
When asked again by HIP this week about his future plans he responded:
“It’s none of your business. The pier belongs to me, it doesn’t belong to the people…er, it belongs to me. It’s in my ownership and I will look after it to the best of my ability.”
Meanwhile Community Group Friends of Hastings Pier, who agreed at a public meeting directly after the sale to act as a watchdog on behalf of the community and try to build a positive working relationship with Mr Gulzar, said that so far, their aims had met with mixed success:
“It is particularly disappointing that we have not been able to obtain any indication from him of what his long term plans for the Pier are.”
“The most remarkable thing about the first year of the Pier’s new ownership is that very little has really happened, other than the sad three -month closure.”
There has been very little sign of the kind of long-term investment that the administrators, Smith & Williamson, said they had found in Mr Gulzar.”
The group has been in touch with Council leader Peter Chowney to ask him to look into holding an annual safety maintenance review of the infrastructure.
“It is vitally important that the Pier should be properly maintained for the future. We very much hope that the Pier owner will agree to co-operate with this suggestion.”
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