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Hastings pier has been closed pending its transfer to new - private - ownership.

The skies are grey and Hastings pier is closed pending its transfer to new – private – ownership.

FoHP still looking forward after pier sale

When it came last week, the news fell like a bombshell – Hastings pier had been sold to the owner of Eastbourne pier, Abid Gulzar. Despite the massive efforts of the local community, the Friends of Hastings Pier’s bid had been rejected. The Friends, however, are not going away – they intend to continue working to secure the best future for the pier, and are seeking an early meeting with the new owner. Nick Terdre reports.

For pier supporters the news of the sale felt like a slap in the face, not least because the administrators had given to understand that they appreciated the importance of retaining community ownership of the pier, even though they needed to be convinced of the financial soundness of any bid.

FoHP declared themselves sad and shocked, others expressed anger at the decision.

Within a few short months, the Friends had rallied huge support in the community and developed a detailed and imaginative business plan backed by substantial financial support.

Revised proposal

A revised proposal was put to the administrators just hours before the sale was officially announced, which, as Jess Steele, one of the Friends spokespeople explained, included legal heads of terms for a shared venture between FoHP Trust which would own the freehold and a private commercial operator who would operate the pier in close liaison with FoHP; both parties would contribute financially and were ready to take over the pier straight away.

In the final bid, as the Friends explain in a statement, “We had £750K guaranteed investment, £450K funding in the pipeline and a plan for £1.6m fundraising in capital for a new building, and we think that was hard to beat.” They offered to pay £55,000, while the administrators accepted Mr Gulzar’s offer of £50,000.

Justifying their decision, the administrators said that Mr Gulzar’s bid “demonstrated the best immediate financial capability as well as the operational capacity and experience, including from running Eastbourne Pier.”

Operating experience

FoHP also had pier operating experience on its side in the shape of Adam Wide, whose company ran both Cromer and Bouremouth piers, and who was involved in presenting their bid to the administrators.

The pier is due to reopen on Friday 22 June.

The pier is due to reopen on Friday 22 June.

“The FoHP bid…was imaginative, community based, and eventually had figures that stacked up (albeit late in the day!),” he told HOT. “It is a LOT easier for an entrepreneur to have deep pockets than a community group – but eventually FoHP had cash reserves of £750,000 available. Which is no mean feat after just five months. I was humbled by the energy and response to the Crowdfunder appeal.

“However, I hope that we can reach out to Mr. Gulzar with a hand of friendship and that a useful dialogue can take place…As we look at what happened and why the decision was taken, he has said that he will talk – so if possible let’s please try to give him a clean slate from which to start .. and have optimism for the future.

“Onwards and upwards!”, he said.

Looking to the future

There are questions to be asked, such as the use of commercial administration procedures for a community asset, and the strange role of the Heritage Lottery Fund which provided nearly £13 million for the restoration of the pier under community ownership, and further monies to keep it open after Hastings Pier Charity went into administration, but then settled for a sale to a private owner, but for the Friends the focus remains on looking to the future.

“We have come up with some ideas that could move us forward in our efforts to secure a sustainable future for our Pier that serves the community’s interests, not just private profits,” they said this week.

Among the priorities is a meeting with Mr Gulzar, “to raise our concerns and to explore ways of working together to achieve objectives that are mutually beneficial.” They also plan to meet with MP Amber Rudd and Hastings Borough Council to explore how they can help.

Meanwhile, the Friends are exploring options to revisit the administrators’ decision: “We believe it is important that we can be confident that the decision was properly made and that the best bid was chosen.”

Off to Parliament

They will also seek to raise the administration process in Parliament, as “community owned assets should not be put into commercial administration in this way ever again.”

Fundraising will also go on, “partly to fund our continuing work, but also to set up a Reserve Fund, so that should the opportunity to buy back our Pier or to buy a stake in it [arise], we are ready!” A new Crowdfunder campaign will be started.

Fun events will also be organised, under the rubric the Pier in Exile “to make sure that the community’s interest in the Pier is not forgotten, to make a public show of support, to raise awareness and also vital funds. We hope that you will join us!” they say.

 

The writer is a member of the Friends of Hastings Pier.

Posted 15:04 Thursday, Jun 21, 2018 In: Campaigns

7 Comments


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  1. Ian

    I have a controversial point of view, but I don’t think I’m alone. The current management team failed, the proof is they had to call in the receivers. And now they think they can do better, but then why didn’t they do it in the first place? That pier, as pretty as it is, had or has nowhere for me or anyone passing by to spend money! Last time I walked down there, a dismal Sunday afternoon in the spring, there was nothing to spend money on, not even a tips box to donate something. We’d eaten already…so what to spend on? Nothing to see, nothing to do, just a leisurely stroll. Fine, great for my legs, but it doesn’t make anyone money. I’m hoping that now it will be brought to life and one new building isn’t going to do that. It needs a lot more, things to do, things to see, a bit of excitement. And not just big open spaces that can’t make money year round. The last place you want to be is at the end of the pier on a cold windy day…so there has to be indoor entertainment to make year round profits. It might win architecture awards, but those awards clearly don’t look at the commercial viability.

    Comment by Ian — Friday, Jun 29, 2018 @ 14:42

  2. Bolshie

    Yes as Mrs Doubtfire points out here, the remark from Cllr Chowney about how he was “disappointed” and apparently “Angry, ” is really quite absurd.
    As said here, where were the council during all of this receivership sale. I don’t believe there was any councillor who said a word that uttered a word about the situation and the sale – was there?
    As for Cllr Chowney being so upset then how come his council did not step in and handover some money to save it from this Shiek or any other private hands. After all the council in the last two years have shelled out over £20million on buying Muriel House and two large retail units.
    As for the money spent on the Compulsory Purchase Order, ther was really no choice there for the council. They only had themselves to blame for signing over the pier to a Panamanian registered company. A country that we have no legal recourse with. Even though the director of that company lived in Kent!
    But the money the council spent does not end there as they got embroiled in a lawsuit with one of the amusement companies and lost – then against legal advice appealed it and lost again. So legal fees and compensation will have to be paid if not already. Another piece of secrecy with this long plank of wood and metal.
    Let alone trying to figure out how it cost £14m or so to rebuild it

    Comment by Bolshie — Friday, Jun 29, 2018 @ 08:33

  3. Andy Ammo

    An excellent article on a quiet scandal. Who is representing the interests of shareholders? How can an asset that carries so much public investment be sold off fast to an Eastbourne businessman for a mere £50,000? The Administrators have not explained why the Eastbourne bid was better than the local bid.

    Mr Gulzar’s cavalier attitude to planning permission in the Eastbourne area is well documented. In 2013 he was fined £45,000 and ordered to pay costs of £90,000 after being found guilty of damaging the Pevensey Levels.

    It’s also strange that the Lottery Fund and the National Piers Society backed the new deal so hastily, rather than seek a considered future for Hastings Pier.

    As for Hastings Borough Council, its Leader is quoted in the local newspaper of 22 June stating that ‘we have had no formal approach at all from anyone associated with Eastbourne Pier. So we have no idea what his ideas for Hastings Pier are — we’ve not seen the bid, nor have we been told anything about it’.

    But according to Amber Rudd MP in the same issue:
    Mr Gulzar told me that he had been disappointed that the Council had refused his offer to meet ahead of the process concluding, but that he looked forward to working with them.

    There’s a large gap between these two versions of events.

    Comment by Andy Ammo — Thursday, Jun 28, 2018 @ 17:24

  4. Sunbear

    Some pockets must be bulging. What is next? Bingo? Will it become the leper pier nobody goes to?

    How could this happen? Well, I suppose it is obvious. Just like a dodgy planning decision near me. And all over this town.

    Disgusted of Hastings.

    Comment by Sunbear — Wednesday, Jun 27, 2018 @ 20:49

  5. Ms. Doubtfire

    Its pretty cheeky to hear Councillor Chowney’s comments about how he is ‘disappointed’ over the sale of the pier – what steps did his council or previous councils take to protect the pier? First it was sold off to an off shore company and it would appear no checks were made to ascertain if the pier was insured by this company…then a CPO order was made….then the pier was closed and then a business on the closed pier took this council to court and won their case for compensation not once but three times despite vociferous warnings that Hastings council would not win this case.
    One has to ask how much money has been wasted which could have been put to good use to help protect the pier if help was needed.
    Something is not right here and we need to know precisely how much money has been lost in legal fees and we also need to know what level of compensation this council is liable to pay the aggrieved company which was trading on the pier before it was closed. Nobody has been able to dicover these figures. And it’s not good enough. After all it is public money which has been spent.

    Comment by Ms. Doubtfire — Tuesday, Jun 26, 2018 @ 18:13

  6. S.Moore

    Dan Matthews has started a petition via 38 degrees which I felt compelled to sign. Like many others, I found it hard to believe that the pier had been sold for a mere £50,000 after the community had managed to raise £450,000 in a crowdfund appeal! I thought my information had to be incorrect. Surely when administrators are involved a sale would go through with the highest bidder? I sincerely hope Dan Matthews manages to raise enough signatures to force an inquiry.

    Comment by S.Moore — Sunday, Jun 24, 2018 @ 22:46

  7. Sunbear

    But what can we do. It sounds awful after all that work and commitment. It sounds over with this Eastbourne bloke. Wonder how that choice happened.

    Comment by Sunbear — Sunday, Jun 24, 2018 @ 21:26

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